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Two Paths of Creative Careers With the Same Endpoint
By: Tom Roarty
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One of the greatest things about having a long weekend is getting a chance to catch up with friends and family. This past three-day mini-vacation, I was lucky enough to catch up with one of my best and most talented art director friends I have while visiting my old stomping grounds. Paul, who has been specializing in direct marketing for healthcare companies, has been a professional designer for more than 20 years. In talking with him, I realized that being a “specialist” isn’t always as good as it might sound.
Throughout my career, I have always wanted to try new things, and in going from print to web to animation and everywhere in between, I believed that knowing a variety of medias would make me more marketable. Whenever I had received more than one offer during a job search, I always tended to go for the one I had the least amount of experience in to try and add another skillset to my resume. Paul, on the other hand, started in healthcare and never really veered off the path. These days, he does get paid a lot for what he does, but as most creatives know, there is more to art than money.
In our conversations, we talked pretty openly about why we chose the fields we did, and although my incentive for new opportunity has always been based on learning and seeking new experiences, his was to find a field where he would be secure — something we both agreed no longer exists in the design world today. As not all of my choices have been good ones for my career, I am able to look back on them as lessons in learning what I do not want in my life. I have also come to learn that even if you find yourself in a position that you truly love, there is no guarantee it will stay that way, and your fate is not always determined by your abilities alone. What I found very surprising is that even as a specialist, Paul’s wish for stability, even with all of his experience, was as illusive as it has been for me.
Over the past 18 months, Paul has changed jobs four times. There was a time where he had gone more than 12 years at the same agency before being laid off, and ever since then things just haven’t been the same. He stated, and I believe, that being a specialist only proves that you can tackle a specific task, and when companies have the need for that ability they call you in, but once you are done with what they need, they are usually done with you. This is not to say that he isn’t paid well for what he does, but for years he dedicated himself to a craft that has no plans of repaying him for any length of time.
So what is the lesson here? With all of the creative outlets there are in the design world, find one that makes you unconditionally happy. There is no guarantee it will provide all that you expect from it so make sure you love it just for what it is, if nothing else. There is no perfect formula for picking out the perfect career, so the best you can do is just be open to new experiences, keep learning all that you can, and when something comes along that you really enjoy doing, be grateful and hold on to it for as long as you can.


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