My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”
“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”
The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.
“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”
O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The quote “we’re not like the others” from the above passage has always stuck in my mind, and it’s a remark that could easily be shouted from the rooftops by many of us creative types. We often feel like a square peg in a round hole, especially when it comes to work.
I’ve worked numerous jobs where I’ve felt seriously miserable, yet others around me seemed to be fine. I mean they would probably prefer not to be there, but it wasn’t seriously messing with their soul or anything.
I felt isolated and wondered if this was some terrible personality flaw of mine. I will own up to having my fair share of such flaws. But it’s not just me who feels like this at work, there’s a lot of us out there who feel the same.
Stuck in a rut
A few years back I realised I was going nowhere fast. Ok, I’d gradually moved up the ladder in the civil service and got better paid jobs with more responsibility, and it looked fairly realistic to say I could continue to do so in the future, but the fact was I didn’t want to. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse.
I decided a career change was going to be necessary but I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice – I’d already spent four years doing a Communications Studies degree and didn’t feel it was at all worthwhile in career terms as it was a pretty vague and woolly subject with little in the way of vocational training (also I was very young and unfocused at the time).
I decided to research possible careers as thoroughly as I could before making the decision to go back to full-time or part-time education. Especially as I couldn’t afford it and was reluctant to get back into debt.
The truth is, I’m still working the day job, and still researching, still trying to learn new skills in my free time, from books and the internet. But some of the resources I’ve found have really helped me on my mission to become either more clear-minded or more creative, and in this new series I want to feature the best of them.
When looking into changing careers I first read the Guardian book How to Change Your Career, which gave me some initial encouragement. They even have a quote from psychologist Dr Charles Johnson who says: “being stale at your work is a way of ageing quickly.” At last, an explanation for my receding hairline and premature grey hairs. They also said that age shouldn’t be an obstacle to changing careers, so being in my 30s wasn’t necessarily a problem either.
The book has some useful info in it, with lots of details about specific jobs/career paths. But none of them seemed right for me. I mean journalism was the obvious choice, but I’d already done quite a bit of arts journalism in my spare time and found it hard to find work, and I wasn’t interested in news or sports. Plus, the journalism industry was now in disarray due to the ubiquity of the internet.
The next book I picked up at least made me feel a lot better about myself. The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, by Carol Eickleberry, spoke directly to my experience. (note this is an affiliate link – for more details see foot of post).
Eickleberry focuses much more on the psychology of finding the right career/job and for me this was a breath of fresh air compared to most other career books which only really skim the surface. On the first page the author invites the reader to start their own personal adventure. She says: “the adventure begins when you set out to develop your own unique potential instead of following conventional expectations to become like someone else.”
This was a different approach to careers than those I’d seen before which you could paraphrase as ‘pick a profession which sounds like it might be ok and risk years of your life and a small fortune on the chance that a) you might enjoy it and b) there might actually be some jobs available in the field’.
Eikleberry goes into detail about Holland’s theory, that “there are six basic personality types in the world of work, and six corresponding work environments”. She provides exercises to help you determine which type you most closely correspond to (please note that the theory comes from a psychologist named John Holland, not Jools Holland, former Squeeze musician turned TV presenter).
It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that I scored most highly in the ‘artistic’ category. I also scored fairly highly in the ‘social’ category, which included possible job roles such as counsellor or teacher. Eikleberry explains that knowing this second category is useful if you’re confused about what artistic avenue to pursue or are drawn to a number of different directions.
She also quotes statistics which show that there are a lot more artistic types out there than there are artistic jobs. Again, I started to understand better why I hadn’t yet found a job I really enjoyed.
The Reasons Why You Hate Your Job
In fact the book goes a long way towards explaining my seemingly incurable workplace malaise:
“Creative work requires a very high level of skill. It feels bad to have a high level of ability but not use it. One major study found that underutilisation of abilities is positively related to job dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and depression.” I certainly felt this way about the lack of writing/creative opportunities at my job at the time.
She also says that non-artistic types (the majority) can consider artistic types (the minority) in a negative light, or even choose to ignore their talents and accomplishments completely because they’re unwilling to see an alternative to their own value systems and beliefs. This lack of understanding, whether intentional or not, can mean constant misinterpretation of what the creative person is all about:
“Many creative people look like chronic malcontents to outsiders, because they are always searching for what can be improved.”
Coupled with our desire to do things our own way, and therefore difficulty in bowing to authority, it’s no wonder some of us don’t fit into traditional workplaces! And the news wasn’t good when it came to mental health either:
“Because psychological adjustment is defined, in part, as the ability to fit in, it’s not too surprising to learn that artistic types as a group demonstrate the least confidence and the greatest psychological distress of all six types.”
Once it has laid out the reasons why a traditional job is not suitable for creative types, the book goes on to give plenty of advice on working out your abilities, interests and motivators (there are plenty of resources for this on the accompanying website) as well as how to ‘compose your ideal career’. Eikleberry also suggests some specific roles you may want to look into further, based on what you find out about yourself.
The book didn’t give me all the answers by any means, but most importantly it made me realise I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t ‘broken’ in some way, I was just different. And it’s made me determined to find work that suited who I am, instead of trying to fit into to a role which someone else expected me to fulfil.
Was this post useful? Let me know what you think.
If you’re interested in buying this book, I’ve included links below to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. These are affiliate links which means if you buy it I will receive a tiny amount of money for recommending it, but it won’t cost you anymore than it would otherwise.
Main image by meddygarnet