Writing: Career advice for young creatives

Will I find a job? Am I studying the right thing? What do I want to do with my life? Can I afford to dream big? 

There is more than one road to success. I know – I’ve been down a few. Creatives are better positioned to change careers and explore opportunities than people in other industries. 

As a schoolgirl in the 90s my dad said I would never find a job as a creative. So, inspired by the legal drama Ally McBeal, a hit TV series back in the day, I enrolled for a law degree. I hated it. After two years I changed direction to interior design and I loved it. But then my money ran out. My parents cut me off. I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town and started working as a decorator – not having finished my studies.

I was 23 and earned R1500 a month. Having to live and pay a student loan, I painted furniture and murals to make ends meet. Three years later, bored and desperate, I needed a career. Wanting to work for a magazine but doubting myself and my dream, I bamboozled my way into a design and communication business. Not knowing anything about publishing or print, I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I never said no and I always did more than just my job. After eight years, I packed up my life and transferred to Jo’burg where I was later promoted to managing director of a branding agency. Two years after that, at 36 I was head hunted to join a large international retail group. This opportunity – although hard, working 12-hour days, six days a week – opened doors, increased my network and took me all over Europe.

This year, at 45, I changed again. I became a student.

I was the oldest student CityVarsity. I learnt the basics of media ethics, the art of story-telling, writing features and hard news, doing interviews, cutting sound, crafting flash fiction and editing video in Premier Pro. I had to learn how to write exams again, and was forced to do homework, but most importantly my fellow journos taught me what it means to be woke, that Insta is your brand and lives are lived on a cell phone.

With fellow journ students on a field trip to the eNCA studios in Cape Town. Photograph: Giovanna Gerbi

Constant learning and the ability to re-invent ourselves means we can follow our dreams and realise opportunities. There might be people who insist that you’ll never find a job if you pursue a creative career, but a report from South African Cultural Observatory’s chief research strategist Prof Jen Snowball shows that people working in the cultural and creative industries are “good at having multiple jobs and can adapt in tough times by diversifying their income streams – making them resilient and resourceful in times of economic strain – something we all need to learn as times get tougher.”

That means that we can be whatever we want to be at any time in our lives! We can dream big if we are willing to see opportunities, stay relevant and are willing to work hard. Learning and growing from each experience is a part of the journey.

People working in the cultural and creative industries are good at having multiple jobs.

My top seven lessons in 27 years since matric

  • Stop thinking and do. Over thinking things wastes time. Get out there and get your hands dirty. You will soon find out what works for you and where you actually want to go. But don’t job-hop ‘just because’ – at least learn something first.
    Being a decorator wasn’t for me but I used the job to pay my loan and get experience.. Although I felt uninspired, I learnt how to run a small business, interpret client briefs and used the time to look for other opportunities
  • Take on extra assignments. Show your character, work ethic and willingness to grow, get more experience and open new doors – you never know where they might lead. If you see a gap, suggest something and make it happen. An idea is only a good one when it’s realised – be the producer of your own ideas.
    Always receiving poor quality photographs I started taking my own pictures for work projects. Many of my photographs were published in company reports (as part of my job), now I get commissioned to do photography. 
  • Re-invent yourself. You can always change your mind. If you want to move on, move on, but learn from your experiences! Re-inventing yourself keeps you interested and interesting.

    I changed careers three times: from interior decorator and paint artist; to working in branding and design; and then corporate communications. Next is telling stories. Photograph: Me hosting a client function at HKLM, own archives (2008)
  • Step through open doors. Doors will open to opportunities. Step through them and see what’s on the other side. There might be nothing, but you might be surprised what you find.

    I knew nothing about rugby or sponsorships. Thrown into the deep end I had to work on the Springbok Sevens sponsorship. I meet super cool people, and traveled with the team to Las Vegas and London where they won the world championship. Photograph Ajee Valentine (2017)
  • Keep on learning. Supplement your existing knowledge and skills base by continuously learning. You will be able to cross-task, it gives you confidence and positions you as an expert.

    Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 19.19.04.png
    For six weeks I rushed to a copywriting class after work – for fun. After that I scripted more than 15 corporate videos in five years. I realised I like producing movies and have already enrolled for a video editing course.
  • Know what you don’t want. Sometimes this is more important than knowing what you think you want. If you can figure this out quickly it puts boundaries in place and prevents you from wasting time. Life’s too short.
    My law studies showed me that I did not want to be stuck in an office behind reams of paperwork. I knew I wanted to be creative and not office bound. 
  • Never burn bridges. Always practice good manners and don’t piss people off. People buy people and professionalism first – talent and ability comes second. You never know who you might need to open or shut a door for you.
    I’ve always treated everyone with respect (even when I didn’t like them). Those are the people who are now calling me to manage projects. Always be on your best behaviour – no matter what!

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