The struggles of a creative mind in a process-driven workplace

I’ve been in jobs now for 15 years. My heart was set on marketing when I was 16 years old and I fell in love with my work experience placement at an ad agency in Dublin. Since then the longest I’ve been in one job was 3 years, the others all 18 months. And in between those 18 months, I’ve also leant new skills, moved to new houses, gained new flatmates, anything new really to spur my creativity and desire for learning and keeping things moving and interesting. My brain likes to be challenged. Not in a crossword, bridge or chess sense, but with new ways, processes, things to figure out and fix.

I’ve always been creative and had an active imagination (my Mum will testify to that!) so I probably should have done something that was more creative for a career, but I wasn’t an artist, a musician or a filmmaker and those weren’t really career options that were talked about when I was choosing my subject options. Communication Studies was only just becoming a recognised thing, and even then it wasn’t given the credit it deserved as a valid university degree.

So I’ve gone through my career with the same struggles, over and over, and really only until recently after a lot of self-analysis, personality profiling, and some tough appraisals figured out why I’ve struggled. The appraisals were the main catalyst for looking into this further — my last appraisal which left me in tears after 3 hours with me thinking that all my ideas and suggestions weren’t valid and that no one would listen without taking it as a challenge!

My brain works like this. I see something, I see how it works, I see the process that you go through, and I evaluate it. Be it the way a business functions, the way the train barrier works when you place your oyster card on it, the process of putting up a tent, or the journey a customer will go through to purchase a product. I then figure out a way of making that process more efficient to save time and frustration.

So I question things. Everything. Why does it work the way it does? Why do we do it the way we do? What can we do to make it better, easier, faster?

I’ve been this way throughout my career. Clients love it, my managers hate it. I have to now pre-explain that it’s not because I’m challenging them, I just want to understand why, so I can apply the learning myself in future without having to just keep asking the same questions and nodding along without ever knowing or understanding the answer.

I’m happy for someone to push back, give me the argument, the rationale or change my mind. I enjoy the debate and discussion around why it is like that. I enjoy being told and I enjoy learning.

Even in my personal life. I’m happy to be persuaded. If I ask someone where I should go on holiday — Africa or Asia? — and they say Africa, I’m going to ask why, and I’m happy to hear their rationale. But I will also probably keep asking until my mind has all the information it needs to then make my own decision.

So where has that left me. Well after a healthy and happy career in marketing, I decided it was the people aspect I liked more so I moved into Recruitment. Matching people with the jobs that would make them happy. Interviewing them, questioning them, analysing their personalities and profiling to see where they’d best fit. I loved it. It was a problem to solve. And it’s now my longest standing job at 4 years.

But I do still struggle with the 9–5 and the routine of the alarm clock and the office. As soon as the process gets repetitive and I can’t improve it, I need a new challenge.

So following some amazing encouragement from the likes of The Yes Tribe and Exploring Mindsets, I’m now working a 4-day week. I have the salary to pay my mortgage, and satisfy my need for security, but I also have the freedom to explore some of my own ideas.

I can’t recommend it enough. The shift in mindset away from being ‘tired’ all the time, run down and getting home in the evening and feeling like I deserved to just sit and watch TV, the washing could wait ‘I’ve been at work all day’.

It’s been 4 months so far. I’ve had 16 Mondays to myself. And I already feel like I’ve achieved a lot. I’m working on 3 different business ideas, I’ll develop them all to keep the variety up and to have more than one thing to work on, I’ve had a clear out of my flat, sold a tonne of things on ebay and gumtree, upholstered some new dining chairs, and have been doing more of the things I love and enjoy.

The long term aim is to build up a portfolio career. To have income coming in from multiple sources so that I can eventually be free from an office and have the freedom to work on many different things to keep my creative brain active.

It’s work in progress, and I’ll let you know how it’s going after a few more months, but for now, I’d highly recommend considering it.

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. You can have security and still be free. As a good friend said to me “What is the worst case scenario, I bet it’s not even that bad”. He was right, and anything above that will be a bonus.