I’m often asked by Designers and Strategists alike, whether they should stay in a job they’re simply doing for the money (and deeply dislike) or leave, to chase a job where their creative abilities have more room to flourish.
"Do I work for the love, or for the money?"
I’ve been a creative person all my life—I’ve been actively drawing and creating since my childhood and I know deep in my heart that I will be a creator of some kind for the rest of my life.
I’ve discovered in this time that the endeavour of the creative person is a pursuit of something better, something new, something that satisfies the part of the brain that nurtures creativity.
Hindering this pursuit leads to frustration, a lack of fulfilment and in some cases I’ve seen, depression.
Spending hours looking through our favourite Pinterest boards, skimming through social media feeds or other curated bookmark sites and award winners, panders to this need to reach a level that some of us may never truly see, or is really there in the first place.
And all along we know, we just know that we have to pay the bills, put food on the table and put nappies on the bums of our children.
It seems that there’s something in this thing of ours that keeps us asking:
Should I do it for the love or the money?
I faced this dilemma many times and I've realised that there's something wrong with the question itself.
Anything less is second best
In the early 2000s I started mentoring younger designers and strategists. It was important to me to help answer the many questions most graduates had.
After all, I knew how difficult it could be.
Pretty soon I discovered something they all had in common. There was something that kept coming up often; bubbling to the surface, that resembled a stardom-chasing look in their eyes.
They too wanted to:
- win awards
- be known for their great creative work
- work in the 'glamourous' agencies
- have their name in lights (or a trade mag or two)
Anything less was second best and it wouldn’t be settled for.
I'm all for setting big goals and working towards them, but this aim for glory was, and still is foreign to me.
This type of drive ensures you have blinkers on and fails to allow you to see the reality of the the day-to-day of a business, glamorous agency or not, the day-to-day mechanics of a business can be quite a let down for most people.
The opportunity to do great work
Within the first fifteen years of my career, I had already had my fair share of jobs in the creative industry—most of which, at the time wouldn't have been classified as glamourous.
I’ve worked in:
- newspaper publishing, laying out a weekly community newspaper in two languages
- a book store; because I needed to save some extra money.
- a digital agency that did user experience design before it was the cool thing to do and we'd be laughed at for reading books on usability and consumer behaviour
- a software company iterating a product through launches whilst still trying to service clients
- a technology firm partnering with Microsoft to deliver enterprise-level tech to government
- setting up and running an in-house design studio for the international finance organisation
- working from home, freelancing for interstate clients from my bedroom
- a digital agency on top of a convenience store, across the road from a brothel and next door to a night club
Through all the twists and turns my career has taken, I realised that the best brief, the best job, the most rewarding, name-in-lights-potential was sitting right in front of me all along.
The interstate clients I serviced whilst sitting in my bedroom would eventually hire me as their Creative Director. I ran their show for a period of time and managed to work on some of the East Coast of Australia's largest tech and Government projects at the time (early 2000s).
The digital agency on top of a convenience store would be the place where I would meet one of the best graphic designers I've ever worked for (more on this in another post) and would mentor some of the most talented, young designers I've ever worked with — who would in turn, mentor me later in my career. Together we one a few awards as well.
The international finance company I worked for would eventually lead to me doing one of Australia’s highest impact digital transformation projects; 15 years later.
The tech firm I worked for taught me about innovation, strategy, product design and putting the user first at all costs — not to mention forge some of the greatest professional friendships I've had in my career. A network I feel proud to be a part of.
And even though, through it all I was still asking myself the question—“How can I find a job that pays the bills and fill my folio with great work?”—I failed to realise that what was in front of me at the time, was in fact the foundation for great work.
It was staring me in the face.
The opportunity to do great work is in front of you now.
Don't take what you think is a 'shit brief' in a 'shit job' for granted.
How you choose to respond to an uninspiring-no-name-in-lights brief will be the measure of your future success.
Bold sentence = important thing to consider.
Make a difference
If you’re asking yourself whether you should stay in a job you dislike, or pursue a job that will build your folio – my advice to you is that the question you’re asking yourself is incorrect.
“For love or money?” is the wrong question to be asking.
These are the correct question you should be asking:
Why am I doing what I’m currently doing?
Why do I do what I do?
Why do I want to be a Designer? Strategist?
Why do I want to do what I want to do?
What is my purpose as a Designer?
What is my purpose as a Strategist?
And if you think they’re easy — answer this question:
What difference will you make?
Instead of comparing ‘money’ with ‘passion’ — why aren’t you focussing on the difference the work you’re doing now (and the journey you’re on) is making to the people/clients you’re currently working for?
In my opinion, the question of love or money is limiting.
You have a set of skills. You have access to the internet, you probably own a laptop and a smartphone, and you know how to create, make, learn, design, concept a thing or two.
These simple facts put you in a position to create a huge difference in people’s lives.
A position that some people will never be able to attain.
A set of choices that some people will never have the opportunity to make.
Your skills as a Designer/Strategist — a creator and entrepreneur—are skills that most people don’t have and skills that can propel you—if you chose to put them to good use.
The energy you're currently spending trying to find the answer to 'love or money' is better spent developing a new idea and putting it out into the world and learn from the experience.
Your access is access that some people crave. Your ability to hold a mouse or Wacom pen and create something from nothing is an ability that some people dream of having.
You have an abundance of skill, access and talent that the majority of people do not.
You have so much value to offer and that value can make a positive difference.
So go and make a difference.