When I was at high school, the adults in my life told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. By “anything”, they meant a doctor, a lawyer, a professor or a business tycoon.
Instead, I chose to go down a creative path and studied journalism. For this I blame Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and their representations of crusading journos Woodward and Bernstein bringing down President Nixon
After graduating from uni I spent months looking for a job, and ended up taking one as a technical writer for a management consulting firm – not at all what I had imagined to start my career, but at least I was using my writing skills.
Since then, I’ve had a series of creative and not-so-creative jobs, in a variety of industries, always related in some way to writing, and now I run my own consultancy. I’ve never regretted my career choice, but I sometimes reflect that life would have been easier if I’d just become a more traditional desk jockey in a more lucrative field.
Fast forward to 2012, and the sins of the father have been revisited upon the children. Both of my kids have just finished uni, with creative-type degrees, and they’re now trying to find a role that fits with their passion and what they’ve studied.
So from the perspective of someone who has worked in the creative space for a generation, what advice do I have for my Gen Y kids as they start their careers? In the spirit of “Sh*t My Dad Says” (but with less profanity), here are my words of wisdom:
• Regardless of what you read about successful people, a creative, stimulating job that starts at 9 a.m. and finishes at 5 p.m. is probably non-existent – at least I haven’t discovered it yet.
• Chances are you will feel caged in by a ‘normal’ job and will want do your own thing. But though you may hate working for The Man, it pays the bills.
• And while you may hate working for The Man, in the early days of your career you can learn a lot from him before you strike out on your own.
• Don’t expect other people to share your enthusiasm for your work. If you’re doing your creative stuff as a way of gaining approval from others, you’re using the wrong motivation.
• You can choose to do the creative stuff in your spare time rather than as your main source of income – but it is hard work. Bryce Courtenay used to get up at 3 in the morning, strap himself into a chair and work on his novels for four hours before grabbing a shower and heading off to his day job.
• It’s OK to not know exactly what you want to be when you grow up – I still don’t know! Especially today, there are so many options that you don’t want to close off too many of them by going strictly down one path.
• You may not end up living in the biggest house, or be able to send your kids to Europe on that school excursion at the prestigious private school, but you will be the one people want to invite to their dinner parties because you have the most interesting things to say.
• Never give up on trying to do something that really makes a difference in the world. It may not happen until you are doing volunteer work after you retire, but the opportunity to make a difference will always be there.
I don’t expect my kids to heed my advice – I certainly didn’t listen to anyone, particularly not my parents, when I was in their shoes – but I wish them the best of luck in finding out all these things on their own.