By Douglas Kruger
NOT everyone wants to work at a bank. Some feel the pull of the farm, others the tug of the sports field. A select few head off for national service. The options are myriad.
Then there’s a weird sub-group. The outsiders. The misfits. The brave and tortured souls who dream of becoming this generation’s authors and artists. By golly, if they only knew what they were in for.
Financial services companies are big employers on the Island. Give them credit, they offer startlingly generous opportunities, many of which don’t require degrees. Their doors are wide open, and anyone who jumps on that ladder, then puts in the work, could be prospering in a matter of years.
Still, it’s not for everyone.
Some souls yearn to be novelists, comic book illustrators, YouTubers or musicians. Among us today are would-be filmmakers and photographers, actors and Instagrammers. The species needs its visionary soul-stirrers and offbeat bards.
But there’s a catch.
If your goal is to build a full-time creative career, you will have to put in Herculean effort to build your name from scratch. We don’t tell young people this often enough, but the reality is: nobody builds that dream on your behalf.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth it…
If you hope to see your work in print, in galleries, on the screen, or mounted as a live production, the onus is on you to initiate. You must build it.
This was brought home to me recently when one of the financial institutions held an open day, an admirable initiative that they all engage in from time to time. The idea was to attract young talent and provide career opportunities. Lamenting a lack of similar opportunities on the creative front, I heard one young person ask, “Where are the offers for the arts?”
I wish it worked that way. I wish it were possible to scroll through job offers until one found: ‘Novelists wanted’, then simply apply and become a full-time writer, sipping Merlot and churning out tales.
But it isn’t. I know, because I’ve gone through it myself.
I’m not a numbers person, and frankly I’d be hopeless working for a bank. Instead, I spent the first 20 years of my career building a brand as a public speaker. Now I write scary novels. In effect, I have launched two consecutive creative careers, and more than any other insight, I wish I could share this with young dreamers: the path is phenomenally tough.
It genuinely requires years of input before a creative career – any creative career – begins to gain traction. I have a mountain of advice that I wish I could offer to my teenage self, much of which amounts to: ‘Start sooner!’ Because waiting is the death of your dream. By contrast, producing is everything.
So, let’s talk about this key difference.
In a corporate career, the workflow tends to be a known quantity. There’s a job description upfront. You are hired to hit certain performance indicators, and expectations are defined. There are metrics against which you can measure your own performance, guides who might coach you, and even advancement tends to be an intelligible affair.
Creative careers are nothing like that. They tend to feel like walking out into a mist, all alone, in the hopes that there might be a destination somewhere up ahead.
You must dig deep and get started. You must generate the work from scratch. You must prove yourself before anybody will take you seriously. There is no great benefactor in the sky, waiting to usher you onto the path.
My novels are published by one of the big four publishing houses. As such, I can attest that there is nothing quite like strolling into a bookstore and seeing your own creation on the shelf. That’s the glamorous part.
The part no one sees is how it took 20 years to get my first novel published.
You know the standard writers’ joke about being able to wallpaper a room with rejection slips? I didn’t keep mine. You can’t fit a mountain inside a St Helier apartment; it causes landslides.
The same was true of my speaking career. It took me only ten years to become an overnight success.
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t say this to discourage the aspiring artist. In fact, it’s the opposite. I want you to start sooner, and generate your own sense of urgency, because no one else will. You must own it. Start making, creating, producing. Do not wait around for someone to build it on your behalf; you will squander an entire lifetime, and time is everything in this game.
There are many things you will learn along the way about the business side of being a full-time creative. Each lesson learned may carve years off your growth curve. But more important than all else is the weight of your total production. Your output. That is what ultimately tips the scales. So, start producing.
Right now, nobody knows that you’re a genius. Nobody can hear the music inside your head, or guess at the yearning you wish to express. And nobody is coming looking, waiting to offer you a bursary so that you can prove yourself during a long period of financial ease. You, dear artist, are a different creature.
You must go ahead and begin building your brand, starting now. Be industrious. Be relentless. The art itself is your strongest argument.
And don’t stop after creating the first one. Whether it’s a video, a song or a book: go on to number two, then number three. Begin to think in multiples, not just singular projects. Most novelists, myself included, only ever get published after writing their third novel. Getting to number three should be the goal. If you stop at one, you might simply never get there.
Living creatively is breathtakingly hard. But it’s also worth it.
If you genuinely believe in your dream, then please heed this advice: never relinquish your power to succeed by waiting for someone else to open that door. They won’t. You must do the work. Then you must do it again, and again. Keep going, until the world can no longer deny the astonishing monument of your excellence. Keep going until they can hear your music.
Here’s wishing you the audacity to wrestle that dream to the ground and make it your own.
Douglas Kruger is an award-winning professional speaker and author. He was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. His books are all available via Amazon and Audible. Meet him at douglaskruger.com.