How to Stay Creative In a Non-creative Job

How to Stay Creative In a Non-creative Job

When I first got out of college, I’m embarrassed to admit I considered myself a Rock Star designer. I sort of figured that I’d land a job within a week or two and be the next Saul Bass within a few months. Then I started working in the newspaper industry. As a layout and ad designer, I realized the reality was that explosive creative energy was unwanted here. When there are 47 ads in the queue and they all have to be done today, there’s virtually no such thing as a creative process. And when you contemplate the fact that you’ll have to do it again tomorrow, and the day after and most days for several years you may feel your design heart growing its own defensive exoskeleton to fend of the industrial volume of startbursts hurtling at it.

Ultimately, I didn’t choose to become a designer because I thought it would be cool or the money was good or the market for designers was booming. I chose to become a designer the same way one might choose a religion. I became a designer because I believe in design. I think it’s important and can make a difference. Graphic design is a post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in my psyche by the design gods. If I don’t act on it, I suffer what can only described as psychical torture.

So what does a creative person do when lost in the wilderness of ad requests to “make the logo bigger, there’s too much white space”? Here are 4 survival methods I learned. I hope they’re useful to you as well.

 #4: Stay focused on the big picture.

You are not your job and your job isn’t you. I had to learn to compartmentalize and accept the quiet nobility of going to work, slaying dragons and then going home. Once off the clock though you do need some sort of plan. Whatever you need to do to stay optimistic, do it. Exercise, eat and sleep well and take time to rest. If you work at staying positive you’ll actually start to notice that there does exist a modicum of opportunity for creativity at your current job.

 #3: Pounce on opportunities to be creative.

They may not be frequent, but once in a while you’ll come across a creative challenge. A sales rep might actually land an interesting contract and communicate effectively with you. Or an internal position might open up which might suit you better. When you find a sweet spot like that, flex your creative muscles. Go all out! Open right up! It’ll be the boost you need.

 #2: Get design jobs you want on the side.

On the days your main job doesn’t eat 16 of your 24 hours, get your rest of course. But as much as you can, take on passion projects where creativity is valued. It’ll recharge your batteries and keep you motivated to stay creative.

 #1: Surround yourself with creative people.

Don’t let your soul starve. Feed it art. Find the art galleries in your town. Meet the people involved. Seek out local bands. Whatever art event is going on, try to be there as much as possible. Not only is it hilarious fun but its also necessary for creative health. You can do the same online. Follow design blogs and podcasts. Find like-minded and knowledgeable creatives on twitter and facebook or whatever other social media. Be kind and awesome to the people you meet and they will enrich your life with stimulating conversation and probably opportunities to expand your career into more creative places.

Your job doesn’t have to define you, it’s just a thing you do to get to where you want. Though you may not currently be doing exactly what you hoped to, your life is still yours to design to your whim. Layout your goal and plan for it. When you create your life in this manner, you build an ecosystem in which opportunities can bloom. And who knows, you might move 6000 kilometers to seek new creative opportunities and at just the right time, come across a slick design blog who will publish one of your articles and link back to your portfolio.

Good luck! I’m on your side.

jason newcombSince 2006, Jason Newcomb has freelance graphic designed and plied his craft in New Brunswick, Canada’s newspaper industry. He recently moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he expands his career and upgrades his studies at the Emily Carr institute. His life goal is to work full time in branding or get abducted by aliens. Look at him show off here:
www.jnewcomb.ca and follow his cosmic dream tweets here:
http://twitter.com/thejasonnewcomb

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(9) responses

Andrea Vargas

April 16, 2012

Oh My G*d, than you for this, it literally just made my day and gave me a good laugh. I have been working for a week now with a media agency as a Graphic Designer and this literally spoke to me. Might have not seem much to other people, but spoke to me :D

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Jason Newcomb

April 16, 2012

I’m glad you liked the article Andrea. Good luck with your new job!

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April 17, 2012

[…] The Deep End Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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Natalya Bruner

April 17, 2012

Hey just had to say thank you so much for this post it really helped me come to terms with working in a non creative job. I landed a graphic design gig working as a government contract this week i.e. no imagination required. I was racking my brain wondering how I was going to survive it. Your article really keeps in perspective how designing is more of a lifestyle than the current job I happen to be in. Again thanks for the post, I will be continuing to read your excellent blog!

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Jason Newcomb

April 18, 2012

Hey Natalya,

Congrats on your new gig! I wish you success.

Glad you liked my ramblings.

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css submission

April 19, 2012

Great effort taken, Congrats

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Elias Jones

April 23, 2012

Great insight Jason! Your survival tips apply for the long in the tooth pro as much as the new kid on the block. My first job was in an ad agency overseas and, like you, I assumed I was a design Rock Star. When I returned to the states, I found that was SO NOT the case & I had to humble myself (and, also like you, landed at a newspaper). I’ve enjoyed a long career in design that has culminated for me now in managing a marketing team. I enjoy leading a team of creative coworkers, but the “business” side of the work leaves little time for me to wear my designer hat. Thanks for the reminder to stay creative!

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Jason Newcomb

April 23, 2012

Thank you for adding your insight Elias! I find it energizing.

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nicole belliveau

May 4, 2012

AWESOME!

Super happy to have read this Jason; Inspiring! All the best with the new move! You guys are going to bloom beautifully here!

From the New-B to BC :)

“Dont let your soul starve, feed it art” = LOVE IT!

Nicole

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