Stay focused on your career

 11 February 2012

There’s no time like the present to start following your ambitions. So stop adding to your ‘to do’ list and start putting the plans you already have into action.

Karen Arthur balances a full-time career as a teacher with her passion for making handbags.
Karen Arthur balances a full-time career as a teacher with her passion for making handbags.

Creative Careers Coach Rebecca Quansah offers advice on how to keep focused. While Karen Arthur explains how she balances a full-time career with her passion for making handbags.

1. Take control of your destiny

If you think you don’t have enough time for the things you want to do, then it’s time to reassess your priorities and ‘reclaim’ your time. That’s the advice of Rebecca Quansah, "think about what you want to do in a specific moment in time, like now."

The biggest hurdle that stops people pursuing their creative goals is fear.

The most common issue Rebecca hears is from full-timers who want to start a part-time creative business, but it’s not just career-driven ambitions.

A creative goal could be to write a book, or to gain the confidence to sing at an open mic night. It can be a big goal that you want to work towards (a 'five year plan'), or small goal you want to achieve this month.

Karen Arthur, a teacher and handbag designer, based in South East London, was drawn to sewing as a teenager but in recent years it has become her lifeline.

"I bought a pattern for wrap around flares when I was 15 and with help from my mum, made my first piece. After university I moved to London and started a family.

"But eventually it was my personal life that led me back to making. My marriage broke down and I used sewing as a way to occupy and empower myself."

Karen had a stall at her daughter’s school fete where her African fabric print bags were snapped up. This made her realise bag-making was in her destiny, so she set up Reddskinbags.

"Set boundaries," Rebecca advises. "This means being strict on deadlines. Don’t say 'I want to write a book one day', change it to 'I’m going to start writing a book this year.’"

2. Set clear goals

You shouldn’t try to replicate someone else’s success, but set goals that are achievable by you.

Rebecca explains, "test your options. Many people have a lot of ideas but rather than rushing into one, or trying to do them all, give yourself six months to experiment and put your energies into the one that works."

Two years ago Karen discovered Twitter which opened up a world of creative networks.

"Up until that point I had been selling at markets, but through Twitter I discovered Folksy, an online market place where British maker-designers can sell handmade crafts. I opened a store so I can have an online presence without having my own website."

Karen’s goal has never been to make money. Her motivation is to do something she enjoys, and she’s recently discovered her niche, in the form of holding Open House events where she sells her designs directly to friends, family and the public.

"I love being in my house and hosting parties so it’s ideal! I prepare a playlist, make homemade nibbles and exhibit my work in the living room. There is no pressure to buy – visitors can handle the items at their own leisure, have a drink and a chat and then if they want, purchase something too."

This year Karen's challenge is to host an open house on two consecutive weekends, so her current goal is to making new stock.

3. Get a support network

"Keep your main focus but be open to other opportunities. These may alter your plans in the short term, but not your overall goal."

Having support in your creative ventures is beneficial though it’s not always easy to find.

Rebecca says, ‘In the early days, people don’t like to share their ideas in case they don’t work out. Sadly sometimes it’s those who are closest to you – friends and family – that criticise ideas. Over time you will develop the confidence to brush these negativities aside."

Karen had similar experiences, "People have told me my work is too expensive, or that instead of making I should put my bags into production, but that’s not me or why I do this."

How to juggle a full-time career and still undertake a creative venture is a question many people need to address. The key is understanding work-life balance.

Karen explains, "I would never compromise my teaching. That comes first, but my school know I make handbags and being able to sell them at school fairs is great because I already know the parents and they genuinely like coming to see what I do."

4. Be flexible

Although it’s essential to set timelines, missing them should not dishearten you. Maintain flexibility to allow for issues that arise. Rebecca says,

"Keep your main focus but be open to other opportunities. These may alter your plans in the short term, but not your overall goal."

You should also be realistic with what you can physically achieve. Rather than be put off by the large mountain you need to climb to reach your goal, break it into smaller manageable tasks and schedule these in.

Karen normally gets home at 5.30pm, spends an hour or so unwinding, and then works on her bags in the evening until midnight.

"I have an even stricter schedule when I’m nearing the date of an Open House though when I need a night off I take it!"

5. Identify blocks and barriers

"If there are fundamental things stopping you achieving your goals, don’t be put off. Just change your focus."

The biggest hurdle that stops people pursuing their creative goals is fear.

Rebecca says, "fear can be related to failure, or not being able to cope with success. Some people think they’ll be exposed as a fraud if things go well. One of my roles as a creative careers coach is to help people develop self-belief that they can achieve their goals, and I’ve had some great success stories.

"One client wanted to work in television, but because it’s so competitive she didn’t have the confidence to even apply. Then she beat off competition from 400 applicants to land her dream job. In the sessions we focussed on opening up her mind and getting rid of the negative thoughts."

Karen too has suffered from lack of self- belief. "Sometimes I work myself into a complete state, where I can’t focus on my goals and on top of that I am a serious procrastinator! But then I’ll get a sale and suddenly be filled with motivation and be ready get going again."

Rebecca concludes, "If there are fundamental things – such as finances – stopping you achieving your goals then don’t be put off. Just change your focus.

"You could start saving up, or enrol on a course to gain new skills. So that in a few months times, even if it’s later than you first planned, your ambitions are finally underway."

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