Learn from others and celebrate the small things

Before I start this month’s column, I have a confession to make. I haven’t updated my CV as I said I would. The post-it note is still on my wall. Quite a few things have happened since my last column, and the CV didn’t get done.

Firstly, I applied for a compressed working week, one of the options I was deliberating last month. Sadly, I was unsuccessful. I desperately need at least one day to myself to try and progress my creative career and had been led to believe this would be a simple request, alas no. I’d a heads up that I might not be successful, so I felt oddly calm and at peace with the outcome. When a decision is taken out of your hands, there’s little you can do. Becoming angry isn’t going to achieve anything, so while I’m frustrated, I also feel relief. I need to focus on my paid job, because I’m lucky to have one, and now I won’t feel guilty for not trying to do more on the creative side. If I can do bits here and there, great but if I don’t, no one is going to bang on my door. As I keep reminding myself, career change takes time, and sometimes life gets in the way.

Secondly, I found out a colleague in my team has also been running a side hustle throughout the pandemic, building a portfolio as a photographer. I was excited to be able to talk to someone who has the same ambition as me, to do more than work a 9-5 (I wish!) and can relate to the constant push and pull of the job that pays the bills and the creative outlet that is their passion. Changing career is hard and finding people to talk about it isn’t easy. Families may have reservations, friends might be in a completely different place to you, and you don’t necessarily want to tell work colleagues, who although you spend more time with, might let it slip. The last thing you want is questions about your commitment to the job or the assumption you’re looking for a new job.

My colleague Chloe and I had spent more time talking recently, mainly due to the pandemic. (Why does it take a pandemic to talk more?!) As we weren’t in the office, we were more proactive in checking up on each other, but apart from a joint interest in fitness, we didn’t have much in common. A 13-year age different might also play a part. So I was genuinely intrigued by the possibility of having a connection with her over and above work.

It turned out she too had her request for a compressed working week turned down. We commiserated with each other as she’d wanted to spend more time on her photography. Chloe’s done a lot over the last few months; taken courses, steadily built her photography client base and admitted she struggles to juggle both jobs. Her main gripe was finding time to plan content on her socials. At this point, the alarm bells started to ring; I don’t have a content plan.

Whilst I came away from our call relieved to be able to talk to someone I know about my career change, and excited to have something new in common, I started to feel jealous and frustrated. When I saw Chloe’s content marketing plan in action on her daily Instagram feed, I began to panic. Why don’t I do this? Why haven’t I created content and posted more things on my feed @r_a_word? It appeared she was achieving more than me, and I’d done nothing of significance. Rather than applaud and support my fellow sister, I focused inwardly on the lack of effort I had made.  I mulled these feelings over for about a week, flipping between being supportive of her work then wondering how I was going to find the time to pull together a content marketing plan let alone decide what content to push out that was of interest.  Digital content marketing is vital to be able to build awareness and interest in a business, but I struggle to think about what to share. Photography is a reasonably clear-cut profession; mine is a little more varied. I develop website copy (check out Helena Carrizosa’s creative coaching website if you’re stuck in a creative rut), write features and take part in flash fiction challenges, most recently for The Story Seed. I still haven’t figured out what my niche is, which is probably stopping me from promoting my work in the right way in the first place – that and not being 100% proficient on Instagram probably.

I forced myself to step back, gain some perspective and get a grip. Why was I fixating on a ‘content plan’? I know I have achieved things, and as luck would have it, there on my wall for precisely this moment was a message to remind me of my progress. Last month I’d added a post-it note to my pinboard with the headline; ‘Achievements’ and a small list of what I had achieved since June. I can measure my progress by putting pen to paper and laptop, doing what I am good at, writing. Not via an Instagram story or quiz.

I had and continue to write. I actively learn, whether by talking to other writers, listening to talks or doing courses. I put myself out there on The Dots in May and stuck my hand up to offer my services without really knowing what I was doing. I’ve emailed people and started to build relationships that I hope will bring in more work. I speak to other writers, recently with the previous sub-editor for the Monocle who turned out to be the husband of a colleague! And I write this column for you. I’m not paid for my writing currently, but I am writing and receiving positive feedback, and that’s a start, something to be proud of, especially with a full-time job.

But if I’m not actively promoting my work, I’ve no hope of being seen. I recognise I can and should do more, though I don’t want to push stuff out for the sake of it. Perhaps that is why I struggle to update LinkedIn or my CV; it’s not the right channel for me anymore. Until I build an online portfolio, my Instagram feed needs to be my writing CV; so long as it’s authentic to who I am. And this is where I think imposter syndrome and the very British way of behaving is hindering me.  How many of you promote yourselves, perhaps act more American, or dare I say it, more male? I think it’s difficult for us to toss aside the humble attitude and share our expertise in a way that doesn’t sound arrogant. It’s a delicate balance, and I think Chloe has the answer. She has a ‘client review’ section on Instagram, where her clients share their feedback. It’s not Chloe boasting. So I will do the same. Ages ago, I asked clients for testimonials, and I have a bank of them ready to share. Yes admittedly it still feels a bit ‘look at me!’ but I need to share my talent if I am going to try and claw back a day to myself in the new year, be ready to accept work, and get paid for it. It’s promotion time folks!

And as I finish this column, an email from the brilliant copywriter, Kate Toon, has just popped up offering entry to her digital marketing coaching community. Serendipitous, I think!

By the way, if you’re looking for a photographer to capture a special occasion, wedding or family event, then do check out my colleague @chloecaldwellphotography. She also does some good quizzes 😊  

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