Who is caring for your creative career?

When building a creative career as an individual, there’s a stereotypical path we’re taught to follow: go to some form of school to cultivate our creative talents, then go into some sort of apprenticeship to gain experience, followed by beginning to gain some professional experience, and then we get an agent / manager to connect us with others and grow our career into prominence. Yay! Sounds great! And it does happen in that way, for maybe 1% of people who enter creative fields.

So what about the rest of us?

In my work as a mindset and career coach for creative entrepreneurs, I frequently see wonderfully talented people bemoaning their lack of work and thinking the answer would be getting an agent. “If I could just get an agent,” they say, “it would be so much easier.”

Well, maybe. But if you ask people with agents, they will tell you that having an agent doesn’t always equal getting more work. Sometimes, but not always. There are a lot of factors involved. For many of these people, there is often the same frustration that those without agents have, just experienced in a different way.

And so for those who wish an agent would represent them and for those who are frustrated with a lack of work despite having an agent, the issue is the same: I want to be working more.

Lack of jobs. Lack of opportunity. Lack of funding. Lack of experience.

These are some of the things people blame for not being able to work more. Comradery seems to grow out of commiseration, and the more the merrier since no one likes to feel alone in such things. It seems like an inevitable course.

But then there are those who are thriving despite all the things that tend to cause challenges for creative fields. How are they doing it?

These people seem to have some things in common, and here are some of the characteristics I’ve noticed:

1. The person caring most for their career is them.
If you think having an agent will solve your problems, it won’t. Just ask someone with an agent. You must care for and nurture your career more than anyone. An agent should work with you to build, not work alone. Every agent I’ve interviewed confirms this. You need to be cultivating relationships and creating a presence and building opportunities. If an agent helps with that, great. If not, fine – you’re going to do it either way.

2. Creatives who thrive are always innovating.
Always creating is one thing – most artists are fine with doing that. But what about figuring out ways to get that work out there when no one is doing that for you or when there’s a lull in your schedule? Those who are thriving are thinking out of the box when traditional opportunities aren’t available or aren’t coming through. If you must wait until audition / submission season once or twice a year to see if someone will give you permission to put your art out there, and you don’t get that permission, then what are you going to do, not put anything out there and wait to try that again next year?? There’s nothing wrong with traditional opportunities, but they aren’t the only possibility. You’ve got to look beyond this. Sometimes it’s an unconventional venue or a different kind of audience or program. Who knows unless you’ve explored? All ideas are just “crazy ideas” in someone’s head until that person makes them happen.

3. Creatives who thrive can switch between their creative hat and their business hat.
If you want to make a living at your creative skill, it’s almost impossible to do so without also being an entrepreneur. So congratulations, whether anyone told you or not – you’ll need to acquire business skills, and you’ll need to put them to use frequently. Those who are thriving treat their creative endeavors like a business, and there are times for creating and times for everything else, like administrative work, networking, marketing, investing, producing, strategic planning, etc. You can do those things or you can hire someone to do them for you; either way, they have to be done.

4. Creatives who thrive don’t go it alone.
Those who are thriving have a creative team. They delegate, collaborate, and reach out for support frequently. No one succeeds solely by themselves – we all need to rely on others for different things. These people acknowledge that getting help and having others in their lives who support them will only move them ahead faster, and they make sure they have those business and personal support systems in place.

5. They surround themselves with others who are thriving.
One of the best ways to get ahead is to be in circles with others who are already thriving. You have a much better chance of meeting people who can be helpful in some way, and those people can be inspiring and motivating. Others who are actively thriving are great people with whom you can brainstorm and problem solve, as there’s a good chance they have experienced something you’re navigating or know someone who could help. People who are not constantly looking for ways to move ahead and instead choose to dwell on what’s not working are not typically in a place to support you in your quest to thrive. It’s important to be aware of friends and family who are more interested in keeping you where you are because it’s comfortable for them rather than cheering you on as you take off.

So if you’re ready to thrive, that means you’re ready to take charge – woohoo! Start by taking inventory of what needs to be done to make that happen, and make a plan from there. And remember, if you want someone else to believe in your talent, you must believe in it first. Go for it and make your dreams your reality!

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