Life is rarely straightforward. There’s a saying that goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
And sometimes this can create a lot of self-doubt when it comes to figuring out what you want to do with your life, your career, and your creativity. Because–especially if you’re someone who is generally competent and good at lots of different things–it can sometimes feel like you’re lacking a sense of purpose or direction. Very few people are lucky enough to know what they want to do from an early age and pursue that one goal single-mindedly. Most of us have a more ‘scenic’ route to discovering work that fulfils us and makes us happy.
And the variety of things we may end up doing along the way often makes it hard to identify long-term career goals, own your creative path and communicate your brand to others.
One of my friends said to me recently, “Maybe I’m not designed to be great at any one thing – just competent at a bunch of things.” But I don’t believe that this is actually the case. Instead, I believe that every single person has a unique voice that desires, and deserves, to be heard, and often they just need a little help in clarifying what they care about and what they want to say. And when they do, the “how” is often blindingly clear.
So I began developing a framework which can help provide some of that clarity around what’s really important to you and what you feel called to do next.
The fact is, despite the appearance of randomness in our life decisions, we don’t choose to do things without a good reason. Sometimes that reason is pragmatic – we take a job for financial security rather than because it fulfils our soul, for instance. But even then, there is often a reason for choosing one particular type of work over another.
So if you’re struggling to figure out what you really enjoy, care about, and are good at, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
1: Identifying the work that takes me into a state of flow
- What was I doing the last time I totally lost track of time?
- What was it about that activity which drew me in?
- What do I consider my greatest achievements to date? Why?
- What moments in my life have I felt happiest? Why?
- What sort of books do I read for fun? Or movies/TV do I watch for fun?
- What topics do I geek out about? (Bonus points if my friends think it’s weird)
2: Identifying my personal brand
- What three people inspire me the most?
- If my work was the child of two celebrities/public figures, who would those people be, and why?
- And what attributes would that child have?
- What are the three (non-physical) adjectives my friends would use to describe me?
3: Identifying areas that aren’t working
- When do I find myself quickly bored or feeling depressed?
- When do I find myself procrastinating?
- In these instances, what is causing me to feel this way?
To help with the ‘why’: some common reasons we find ourselves bored by work or procrastinating on a task include:
- I don’t know where to start
- I’m afraid I can’t do it
- the work doesn’t interest me
- Someone has made me feel that I’m not capable of this type of work (e.g. “you’ve always been bad at math”)
4: Identify the common themes
Write down as many descriptive words as you can to express the above categories. Then group these words into broader categories. So for example:
1: Things I love doing/that put me into flow
- writing young adult fiction
- brainstorming new concepts for shows or films
- drawing character portraits from my favorite books and TV shows
- inventing worlds (fantasy or real-life) which my stories takes place in
- set design and theatre art direction
- stage crew set dressing/behind the scenes work
- organizing a school play for my class
2: Things and people that inspire me
- anime and manga
- YA novels like Harry Potter/Hunger Games
- the work of the WETA workshop (who built all the models and characters for Lord of the Rings)
- Japanese mythology
3: Things I felt proudest of
- building a puppet from scratch
- finishing a draft of my YA novel
- working stage crew for a college play and getting to design a portion of the set
4: Things I find difficult
- spending a lot of time in spreadsheets
- listening to someone who just wants to rant and won’t take my advice
- not having a voice at work in creative decisions
- fantasy and mythological imagery
- building things with my own hands
- constructing an environment/style for characters to inhabit
- creative, collaborative and people-oriented work rather than technical, analytical work
So here you can see that even though on the surface these different experiences don’t have a lot in common, at their core they’re all about very similar things. So this person’s creative brand statement might read something like this:
“I am a conceptual artist and art director, specializing in creating a vivid and naturalistic environment for fantasy and mythical narratives, in films and TV and as book illustrations. I take pride in building whole worlds with my own two hands, and I thrive in a collaborative atmosphere which allows me to support you in bringing your creative vision to life.”
5: Identify my working style
Which of these statements resonates more with me?
- I love sharing what I’m working on with others. I find that input from other people magically creates something greater than I could have come up with on my own.
- I need a lot of space to create – if I tell people details of what I’m working on, it demotivates me.
The first statement indicates a more collaborative style; the second, a more individual style. Both can be equally productive, but a person will usually find one approach much more beneficial than the other in terms of developing an idea or a piece of work. Trying to use the wrong style for you can lead to demotivation, discouragement, and lack of progress.
These questions are not exhaustive, but they can help get you thinking about the kind of work you love in a different way, and hopefully give a bit more clarity to the way you are approaching your career goals and your branding.
Often this framework works best when it’s used as support for a more intensive workshop process which I use in my work with my personal branding clients. It provides us with a jumping off point from which we can continue to explore what really makes them tick and how best to express that in their work and in taking the next steps for achieving a career doing what they love.
If you feel like you could use a bit more clarity, and want to go a bit deeper with this framework, why not reach out for a free discovery session with me? I can help you figure out what you want your next steps to be, so you can take the first step on a path to a more fulfilling career.