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How to carve out a creative career

Follow the lead of the individuals who combine creative fulfilment with making a living

ALEX MAGUIRE

When you think about how many of our waking hours we spend working (84,171 in a lifetime according to a 2018 study), it’s no surprise that the latest holy grail in life isn’t chasing a perfect figure or a bigger salary, but a career that gives us a sense of fulfilment. And, nurturing others aside, there’s nothing more satisfying than harnessing your creativity. From Instagram to Ikigai (the Japanese Venn diagram-like concept that roughly translates as ‘a reason for being’), abandoning the typical nine-to-five role to pursue that dream job or project is very much in the air.

But why now? Pioneering organisations like The School of Life, which helps people lead more fulfilled lives through courses and coaching, have been onto this for years, but there appears to be a generational move towards embracing creative career paths. ‘I think we’re experiencing a huge shift in collective consciousness right now. We’re questioning the endless cycle of work, earn, spend,’ says Nina Karnikowski, author of new book Make A Living Living, which profiles people who have carved out careers that are more sustainable, creative and self-directed. ‘A good salary is no longer enough – we want to express ourselves, to have more free time and flexibility in our schedules, and to find meaning and purpose in our work,’ she says. Seeking out the most interesting creative professions, from a supper-club host to a tiny-house builder, Karnikowski intentionally selected people who were self-made, proving that living the dream is achievable for anyone with enough passion.

Ownership of our careers and how we choose to live allows our true attitudes to be reflected

From pottery and shopkeeping to floristry and chocolate-making, the common theme that runs through these creative pursuits is control. Natalie Jones, founder of design store Caro Somerset, agrees: ‘With the political and social horizon as it is, people feel that their voices are not being heard and life is a little out of their control. Having ownership of our careers and how we choose to live our lives allows our true attitudes to be reflected.’ For Jones, a former account manager at a London design agency, moving across the country to be with her boyfriend was the catalyst to setting up her own shop. ‘I found myself in a frame of mind whereI thought, “If I don’t do something for myself now, I might never do it.”’

Her experience in making the leap inspired her to launch Outland, a new creative consultancy that encourages people to follow suit by ‘exploring foreign territories, boundaries and places, whether that’s learning new skills, changing environment or getting out of a relationship that’s not making you happy’. Established with former fashion PR turned boutique owner Kate Simpson, Outland’s first set of online courses focuses on branding and design for small businesses and how to set up a successful shop.

Natalie jones of caro
Natalie Jones, Caro in Somerset
Caro

Swapping desk-based ‘jobs for life’ for work that requires more hands-on skill sets is a familiar story for Alice Olins, personal development coach and founder of the Step Up Club, a school and members’ club that aims to help women fulfil their career potential: ‘A lot of our members have hands-on businesses. Interestingly, many have pivoted from service-based careers, making the change all the more noteworthy.’

This rings true for Alex Hely-Hutchinson, founder of London’s 26 Grains and Stoney Street restaurants. She came from an economics background, but was inspired to embark on a career in food after living in Copenhagen. ‘Food was something that had always engaged me. I love the social side and creativity of it. Copenhagen introduced me to a new way of thinking about food; appreciating and celebrating the seasons and local produce and making beautiful food from really simple recipes and techniques.’

On returning to London, she sold porridge to commuters from Old Street underground station, then ran events all over the capital before securing a one-year pop-up in Neal’s Yard, which became her first permanent restaurant. ‘The pop-ups allowed me to learn what did and didn’t work in a relatively risk-free environment – they were a good place to start,’ she says.

People are looking to step away from highly lucrative, stressful jobs

Social media has been an empowering tool, aiding the rise of small creative businesses. ‘Digital technology enables you to start a business with very few overheads, or too much at stake. Our Instagram obsession means the world is a very visual place, and that has led to a new validation and interest in creativity,’ speculates Olins. On top of that, she says, ‘there’s a movement – very much endorsed by Step Up Club – that we all need to be drilling down into what success really means to us individually.’

Will Harvey, an executive life coach, agrees that the definition of success is changing: ‘More and more people are looking to step away from highly lucrative, stressful jobs, in favour of more fulfilling work that they enjoy, that has a positive impact and allows them to spend more time with their families.’ If this speaks to you but you’re plagued by self-doubt, take heed of Karnikowski’s words: ‘To my mind, not doing the things that matter to you seems as big a tragedy as any kind of failure.’ And as Harvey points out: ‘Everywhere you look, you will find numerous examples of people doing your “dream job” that you’d give your right arm for. If they can do it, the chances are you can, too.’


EXPERT TIPS: HOW TO GET CREATIVE

‘Identify your core values, look to ways that you can align your job/business to these in the short-term and then plan for how you are going to pivot that way for the future. Remember: change takes time.’ Alice Olins, Step Up Club

‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the career you choose next needs to be an evolution of what you do now. A better approach is to start from what you want your life to look like and then reverse engineer from that outcome.’ Will Harvey, executive life coach

‘Build up a nest egg to soften the financial blow and edit your lifestyle, learning to be happy with less. This will also help you focus on what you really want.’ Nina Karnikowski, author of Make a Living Living

‘Seek out a few great teachers and mentors. They’ll keep you motivated and help you navigate through the difficult patches.’ Nina Karnikowski, author of Make a Living Living

'Don't try to succeed to someone else's – or society's – definition of success' Alice Olins, Step Up Club

Read on for more on those creatives who made the leap…


THE GO-GETTERS

Four self-starters featured in Nina Karnikowski’s book Make a Living Living reveal how they made the jump from nine-to-fivers to dream-completers.

Pippa Jamieson

Dan Wilton, Make a Living Living

While working as MTV’s head of marketing, Jamieson came up with the idea for The Dots, an online network for creatives that she launched in 2014. At the time, friends were pursuing freelance careers and side projects, but she noticed there was no easy way for them to communicate. She and her partner threw themselves into launching the platform, quitting their jobs and investing savings in it. Part of the appeal of running her own business was the ‘work-life blend’– the opposite of working to live.

Graeme Corbett

Alex Maguire, Make a Living Living

As a TV casting director for shows such as ‘The Voice’, Corbett watched hundreds of hopefuls following their dreams as part of his day job. Having dabbled in side hustles like dealing vintage homewares and starting a pickling firm, it wasn’t until he enrolled on
a floristry course that he found his calling, going on to found Bloom and Burn Flowers. From his garage he grew his client base and style, using Instagram as a way of seeing what people liked. His goal is to make enough money to be comfortable while enjoying work every day.

Aleph Geddis

Tommaso Riva, make a Living Living

Splitting his time between Washington state, Bali, Bulgaria and Japan, woodcarver Geddis says leading a nomadic life keeps his art fresh and prevents his work from being too much like a nine-to-five job. Owning a successful vintage store (that sold pieces picked up from his travels) left him with less time for his own artworks. Making the leap to being a full-time artist was financially challenging, but now he exhibits globally and also teaches carving alongside creating his works (alephgeddis.com).

Nicole Leybourne

Jack Salter

In two and a half years, New Zealand-based Leybourne went from novice knitter to Net-a-Porter supplier. Before this, her craft was just a hobby which she learnt by watching YouTube videos. After setting up a website, she was soon overwhelmed with orders for her striking sweaters and moved in with her parents while she set up shop. Splitting her time between Auckland andLima, Peru, her production helps keep local craftspeople in employment (theknitter.co).

This article appeared in ELLE Decoration March 2020

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