What’s Your ‘Second Act’?

One morning over the holidays I got up with a question on my mind:

“What’s your ‘Second Act?’”

I think every creative professional at some point ponders on this same question. If you’re as fortunate as I’ve been, you’ve been getting paid to be creative for some time now. Even the most creative types though reach a point in their career where things just aren’t doing it for you like they used to. You’re not completely unhappy, no, but you’re not at all satisfied. You want more. You want to get excited again about going to work, you want to leap onto a project with glee rather than gloom, you want to feel like you’re going somewhere with your career and talents rather than spinning your wheels doing the same thing day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Guess what? It’s ok! You should want to grow and tackle new things as you progress in your career.

So that brings me back to the question: what’s your second act? Have you ever given thought to what’s coming next for you? If you’re classically-trained artist fearing that your talents are more a hobby than a real profession, what can you do to change that? If you enjoy blogging, how can you turn that passion for writing into a profitable business venture? If you like making stuff in general, what can you do to turn that fun activity into a job you’ll enjoy? The answer to this question  is what will become your second act.

Second Acts in your career are hard work. Sometimes it means slamming the breaks on what you’re used to and feel is safe to venture into new territory. For example, when I first entered the job market back in 2006 I was all about print design. While I had some knowledge of html coding, by no means did I consider myself to be a web designer. Fast forward to present day 2013. What’s happened to this area of my career that I once dreaded and resisted? Well, I’ve gone on to learn a great deal about WordPress. It started off as a hobby and once I saw that the company I worked for suffered from hard-to-manage websites, I convinced them to convert their sites over into easy-to-use WordPress CMS (content management systems.) After graduating from college in 2006 I was really opposed to doing anything that felt like school. As of today, I’ve taken 3 courses in web design, furthering my knowledge and experience with XHTML, CSS and Dreamweaver. Point is, what I used to resist I’ve now learn to embrace and turn into the “second act” of my career.

Everyone has something they can do for a ‘Second Act.’ Perhaps it’s something that scares you, or something you think is boring or too complex for you to learn or try to break into at this point in your career. But really, these days and in today’s economy, who has the time to be complacent? Few people are going to be able to stick with one job for their entire lifetime as you may have seen or heard from your parents, grandparents and old television shows. Things change; technology evolves; your professions and jobs change and those who don’t stay ahead of that curve will find themselves wishing they had a ‘second act’ to fall back on.

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Tips for Young Creatives: Be Careful of the Bridges You Burn

A couple days ago I mentioned the article by Doug Bartow in the January 2011 issue of How magazine on tips for young designers. While the article may have been geared toward those in the graphic design field I believe his tips are ones that apply to people in all sorts of creative career paths including (but not limited to) writers, video and audio, film, painting, etc.

The second tip following “sweat the details” (which I posted about last week) was to play nice. Now, this sounds like something we all learned back in elementary school and have been told by our parents as we were growing up. You would be surprised by how we forget this savvy business rule as we get older. Working, especially in today’s economy, gets stressful. Our first reaction rarely is to ” let it go” and  in all fairness, it’s hard to just let something go when it really gets to you. So what do we do? We pick at it, we think about it non-stop, we complain to our friends, co-workers, family about it and usually we let those little things build up and seep into our professional careers and work. We’ll belittle a client who doesn’t have the slightest idea what a person with your creative talents really does; we’ll refuse to go beyond our definition of our given profession because we think or say we’ll never be compensated for our hard work; we’ll get online or go out in public and completely tear down somebody or a group of people because we think it’ll make us feel better to vent and let it all out.

Be careful of the bridges you burn in your career. Let’s get honest and real – we all have bad days, we encounter people in our careers who really seem to defy logic and reason and in some cases we are undervalued and mistreated. That being said, there is no reason for us to completely burn bridges in our professional careers that will leave us up the creek. You can’t anticipate the future or what’s to come. Say you’re laid off (which I have been) and all of a sudden you need references or help with leads on a new job. If you’ve played dirty and have had a reputation for not being a team player, you may find it a tad bit hard to find someone willing to help you out in your time of need.

The same goes for what you do online. We’ve heard countless stories of how seemingly nice people at work suddenly turn to the darkside online. They’ll go on Facebook and will rip a certain co-worker, they will complain about how much they hate their job, they will rant on and on about things related to their career giving you the impression that perhaps this person is in the wrong line of work. Don’t be that person. I’ve personally adopted a policy of not talking about work outside of the confines at work, and complaining while you’re at work seems like a waste of time. If you have nothing but complains and negative things to say about your job, you should probably be seeking new employment elsewhere.

So people, play nice. It’s harder than it sounds and takes more effort than simply ranting and raving about the downside of being a professional in today’s economy, but it’s worth the effort.

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Being An Effective Creative Manager, Boss, Leader

With graphic designers, photographers and other creative professionals facing layoffs and cuts in today’s job market, one has to ask or wonder – what gives? Some will say that technology and the digital age is rendering certain workers extinct. Then there is the usual spill: creative professionals aren’t … ready for it … creative enough; they aren’t skilled enough; they aren’t working hard enough; they aren’t bringing in enough business or revenue like the sales people. This got me thinking – why is it in today’s job market we automatically assume the employee or creative team member is at fault? Why aren’t we looking at the managers, bosses, leaders and evaluating them on a higher standard and level?

I think television tends to be a decent enough reflection of how society views certain groups of people. Think about leaders or boss-type figures. In the old days, the boss in a show or sitcom was hands on. He or she was a part of the regular cast; they contributed to the team; they were always present, always adding something to the pot. They were intrusive, nosy, and their interest in their employee at times went beyond the confines of the office. I think about Darren on Bewitched who worked in a creative ad agency. Remember his boss Larry Tate? Larry was forever present, hands on, always in Darren and Samantha’s business. Though this presented many stressful occasions for Darren Stevens, he never really seemed to mind. Larry was a good boss, one that was demanding yet friendly. Consider other television bosses of the past: Lou Grant of Mary Tyler Moore; Colonel Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie; Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women; Leon on Roseanne. These were bosses that yes, at times were nosy, demanding, over-the-top but in the end, they weren’t bad guys. They were pretty good and likable.

Now, consider the role of bosses in today’s television. They’re usually aloof, bad, imposing, demanding, hated figures. What happened? I believe to a great extent it’s because unlike in the past where the workplace was all about team building, we’ve come to expect a lot less from the office. Especially in terms of creative teams, we’ve gone from the collaborative environment where everyone contributes to the overall product to an environment where everyone works in isolation, in his or her own office, in his or her own space. The boss figures aren’t really a part of the team experience since the team itself is a bit ambiguous and loose. Now the boss is more of an overseer and often times the point person who communicates with clients or another boss figure. Kinda sad isn’t it? Perhaps the creative workplace is in distress because bosses, managers and leaders are choosing to keep their distance from employees. Before we shift blame to employees and wag a disapproving finger at them as not pulling their weight, let’s take a look at the bosses, leaders. Here are some of the boss types I’ve seen in the workplace:

1. “Charlie” – Like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, this type of boss is hardly seen but can be heard dishing out orders and making requests of their employees only in times of need or distress. This presents a problem of course because this type of boss has no real connection with his or her employees. They can come off as imposing, daunting, uncaring and disconnected. In a creative environment, the “Charlie” is a creativity killer. They are known as handing out orders and making demands, not for collaborating or taking part in the design or creative process.

2. “The Swiss” – This boss, like Switzerland, chooses to stay neutral. They want to be liked, they fear and run from conflict. This boss is usually well received but can come off as indifferent, too nice or indecisive in their attempt to please all parties. You don’t want a “Swiss” as a boss if you need to be creative – the Swiss may have a hard time giving you feedback and criticism that will push you to be a better designer, photographer, writer or whatever your creative field is. Sure, they may agree with you in an argument or question imposed on them but are they really on your side or are they attempting to keep the peace by making you and everyone else happy?

3. “The Susan Lucci” – This person has been around forever. They’re viewed as a company staple, an integral part of the business but not so much for their contributions or measurable success but the fact that they’ve stuck around through thick and thin. This boss can be many unpleasant things and described with many colorful adjectives that can’t be listed on this blog. What drives a Lucci? His or her quest for recognition that they feel they’ve earned and have not been rightly given, mostly. In their quest to prove themselves to the company and perhaps their superiors, they are the types to make your worklife nearly unbearable. Your contributions will suddenly become his/her ideas and you’ll be left to fend for yourself.

4. “The Ewing” – Money is everything to this type of boss. Your life, happiness, issues matter little to a Ewing because his/her eyes are always on the bottom line. You have his or her ear when you’re talking money or a way to make them look good. Try as you might, you’ll never feel like an equal in the eyes of an Ewing. Similar to a Charlie, you’ll hear from this boss when something is going wrong or when they have a job for you. Unlike Charlie, an Ewing loves to be seen and will make him or herself very present and visible if only to remind you who’s the boss. Don’t be surprised when you get the boot or tons of work dumped on you and impossible expectations imposed on you by an Ewing – he or she will sit back and spend money lavishly at the expense of your time, effort and stress.

These four boss types are humorous but unfortunately very real in today’s workplace. We need to return to the days where we worked as an ensemble or team. Sure, an effective creative manager, boss, team leader or supervisor can’t ever be a real equal but the level of how far removed he or she is from the team is really up to the individual. Want to be a good leader or boss? Lead, mentor, foster trust amongst your team and not only will you be viewed as an authority figure but as a good leader, boss and dare I say it – friend to your employees.

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