Organised. Reliable. Responsible. Helpful. Thorough.
Five perfectly sound skills I proudly identified with for the first three-and-a-half decades of my life. School reports, appraisals and even my CV were chockablock with words like this. Good, solid adjectives.
Two adjectives I certainly didn’t relate to at all during that time? ‘Creative’ and ‘ambitious’.
Yet, as I approached the third decade of my curvy career, I came to view both words very differently. And, six months into my job as a copywriter at Nice and Serious – my first agency role since graduating way back in 2003 – I wanted to share what I’ve learned about them along the way.
1. Creativity goes beyond making stuff
The thought of drawing or doing anything crafty has always brought me out in a cold sweat, and even writing by hand takes it out of me. I used to assume my lack of practical artistic abilities meant that I wasn’t creative, but I’d not realised that all the ideas crashing around in my head was my creative energy straining to find its way out.
It took 2020’s lockdowns for me to finally realise that creative writing was the outlet – the comfort – I never even knew I needed (I’m one of many writers who finally felt compelled to write their first novel during 2020 as a means of escape from the bleakness of reality).
Some people need to mould their ideas into objects to express themselves. Others, like me, need to transform them into words and stories that have a positive impact.
2. Changing your mind isn’t just okay, it’s crucial
We all know the world needs change-makers, but I reckon the trickier task we face is to create mind-changers – people who are comfortable switching their thinking and behaviours about thorny topics when they learn something new. And the joy of working for a purpose-driven creative agency like Nice and Serious is that this is precisely what we intend to do through our work.
But changing our minds shouldn’t be limited to our beliefs, it has to translate into action. Indeed, if I hadn’t kept changing my mind about my career, then I wouldn’t be writing this very post.
While I was always tugged towards jobs at purpose-driven businesses that had communication and storytelling at their core, none of them ever felt quite right. But flowing through all of my roles was a consistent and increasingly powerful current: writing.
After I had my first child, I decided to take a pretty major ‘step down’ in terms of pay and profile to focus on social impact copywriting for the first time. As soon as the briefs started coming in and my ideas were finally given an outlet, I knew this was what I wanted to do forever.
3. Great at solving problems? Then you’re creative!
I’ve always been a natural troubleshooter, and get weirdly delighted by efficiently addressing all manner of tricky quandaries.
But I didn’t understand that the very process of problem-solving involves deep creative thinking. It means making connections between ideas that others might not have thought of, reconciling contradictory perspectives and combining multiple concepts into a single solution.
I use these thought processes every day as a copywriter, because what is copywriting at its core? Finding the best way to communicate an idea or message in a more effective way than what existed before.
4. Progression looks different for everyone
I’ve never followed a traditional, linear career trajectory. It’s easy to see how this might be interpreted as a lack of ambition, but how about reframing what ‘ambition’ actually means?
For me, it’s become about pushing creative boundaries, taking risks that matter and challenging people to think differently.
It’s about expecting more of my own capabilities and seeking out opportunities for myself, rather than waiting for someone else to do so.
It’s about looking ahead to the next 25 years, and no longer seeing it as some kind of countdown to retirement, but as a massive, gaping hole to fill with purpose. Hundreds upon hundreds of months to collaborate with talented people and produce creative work for charities, NGOs and others who make a difference? Yes please. If that isn’t ambition, I don’t know what is.
5. Ask the silly question
‘What does that acronym mean?’
‘What does this thing do?’
‘What’s your favourite Alan Partridge moment?’
Honestly, though? If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s not silly. You’re gathering knowledge, absorbing expertise and connecting with people.
Feeling the energy emanate from someone who’s talking about something they love is one of the best parts of my job. And, often, the answers you get unlock the thinking on an entire project.
6. Creativity is seasonal…and never stops growing
I do what I can to fill up my creative well, but I’ve learned that the amount of care I’m able to invest in my craft ebbs and flows with the seasons of life, especially when you throw two kids and all the ensuing responsibilities into the mix. And that’s okay.
Stories and writing were always my primary sources of joy when I was a child. And, thirty years later, they came back to me when I needed them most, pulling me out of the darkest depths of lockdown.
It took me many years of making a living out of words and language to muster the confidence to call myself a writer, and to finally recognise my in-built creativity.
But those years taught me so much about language, storytelling, fulfilment – and myself. And the most wonderful thing of all about doing what I do for a job? Every single day, I’m learning even more.