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How To Give Your Creative Career More Stability In Times Of Change

How To Give Your Creative Career More Stability In Times Of Change


DATE: 22 April, 2024

In this ever-changing world of fast-paced ever-changingness, the pace of change is also changing. In case you haven't noticed, I'm here to tell you: the world is getting ‘changier', faster.

This can be exhausting. And also terrifying, because marketing has marketed itself as a cutting-edge industry. This means our ability to keep getting paid by the marketing industry feels like it is directly linked to our ability to keep on keeping up, to learn that new skill, to acquire that new knowledge, which makes me more than a little fearful of what will become of the old skill—the old knowledge. And more than a little anxious about how I'll continue to ‘invoice my way to happiness' by supplying those ‘old' skills and knowledge.

“For creatives looking to build sustainable, rewarding careers (and in the interests of being deliberately anti-bleak), I'd like to propose an alternate path to this eternal hamster wheel of reinvention.”

I'd like to introduce you to the concept of ‘Career Throughlines'.

With the benefit of hindsight*, I've come to recognise these ‘Throughlines' as core interests and skills that have persisted across roles and even industries. They've provided me with a strong sense of creative identity and continuity, even as my specific job functions have evolved over time (sometimes gradually, sometimes with the grace of a meteor impact).

One of the most enduring values I've found in these ‘Throughlines' (you can call them passions, skills and even methodologies**), is as anchor points that transcend any single role. You can become known for these attributes, the go-to person when they are needed.

They mark you as a source of wisdom and experience or, failing that, outright enthusiasm. When everyone around you is trying to out-cynic each other, allowing yourself to demonstrate a little unbridled joy in the craft can cause you to shine like a diamond.

Need an example? My Throughline

Even though I'm a writer and Creative Director, I consider audio to be one of my strongest personal ‘Creative Throughlines'.

I turned my high school obsession with indie music into a regular Sunday night radio show, co-hosted with my best friend on the community FM station in the town where we grew up. It was my first experience of broadcasting and communication. I made sure to pick sound production subjects in my uni course and when I was lucky enough to land my first advertising job, I eagerly put my hand up to do a mountain of radio ads—completely unaware that it was a deeply unfashionable medium that no-one else wanted to touch.

I learned my way around a studio, directing talent, selecting music and engineering soundscapes to create ‘the theatre of the mind'. Along the way, I made friends with several studio engineers, sound designers and composers. I probably annoyed many more.

Through television commercials, corporate videos, digital experiences, events and even the occasional DM pack, I would always spend more time on the sound than was expected (or scoped). And I always loved doing it, even if Client Service hated the effect it had on my timesheets.

Along the way, I went out of my way to collect knowledge and skills that allowed me to bring depth and craft to this specialised medium, which I see now was the ‘Purposeful Development of my Throughline'. 

My advice to you

Think about identifying your potential Throughlines (you can have multiple), early in your career. Be intentional in nurturing and investing in these core skills and interests over time.

If you see them as complementing your more immediate (and often transient) role-based responsibilities, you're on your way to developing a multi-dimensional creative identity.

“By layering these Throughlines into your professional identity, you can build yourself resilience, confidence and a sense of self that transcends any single job title or industry.”

You're on your way to becoming a Professional Creative as a collection of interests and abilities rather than defined by a singular (perhaps soon-to-be-devalued) occupation. Luckily, creatives are better placed than most to cultivate robust Throughlines, as creativity itself is a potent meta-skill, applicable across disciplines and industries. Creativity (the ability to develop new expressions from pre-existing elements) is the foundational skill required for building T-shaped expertise***.

How to tell if you're already harbouring a strong Throughline?

You keep thinking of ways to bring your areas of natural interest or skill into literally every project (although you do have to develop the professionalism to know when it's not appropriate), and you find yourself pursuing it in some way, even outside your job.

My audio Throughline recently resurfaced outside of work when I decided to learn to DJ—I'm now playing regularly at a few bars around my area and loving every minute of it. In the realm of work, we've recently developed and launched ‘Plugged In, Switched On' a podcast by the Splendid Group (Spotify, Apple Podcasts), exploring the career journeys of some of the world's most dynamic B2B Technology Marketers.

Sitting in the Splendid Group podcast studio, wearing headphones and facing the microphone, it almost feels like I'm in the booth at 2AAA FM on a Sunday night, back-announcing a New Order track with my mate Colin.

A good Throughline can take you a long way into new territory and feel very familiar, all at the same time. I hope you find yours.

*I have, if we're being honest amongst friends, been doing this one career for quite some time.

**I feel it might go too far for me to call them philosophies, but I invite you to do you.

***A great explanation and a rebuttal of the idea of only specialists having high commercial value. I encourage you to look this up if it is unfamiliar to you.