This is a short story of a long, enjoyable, solo creative career (mine);
of how it seemed to reach a puzzling impasse;
and of the surprising ‘cure’ – I built myself this new website
As a kind of vision-review, it brought dramatic insights for me - and I’d like to seriously suggest the same to anyone who wants to re-empower a flagging creative career.
By the way, I knew nothing to start with about websites.
Creative crash – excellent!
The blogosphere is full of articles about mid-career creative crash.
Many experts advise on how to avoid or resist or power through the ‘problem’ – to get back to ‘normal’ asap.
I prefer what Oprah Winfrey says
“There is no such thing as failure — failure is just life trying to move us in another direction”
But very few Creatives seem willing to talk about their own mid-career meltdown. Are they afraid to look weak? The reverse, surely.
Who could not be charmed by Illustrator Greg Paprocki when he says
“What I didn’t realize is that I was slowly painting myself into a corner”
At any rate, amongst creative professionals mid-career ‘crisis’ seems
and to me, ultimately wonderful.
Crisis? not me!
Crisis seems to take as many forms as there are Creatives out there.
For some, it’s classic ‘writer’s block’ – the ideas stop coming. Not in my case – I am greedy as ever for the delight of a new design challenge.
For others, it’s growing boredom. Again, not me – I feel more thrilled than ever to be at the cutting-edge of Eco Architecture.
I am grateful to have a career of independence and self-responsibility, a great blend of creativity and practicality – and to feel more enthusiastic about it than ever.
I had become more and more confident that clients would meet me, like me, trust me and commission me without competition. They would continue to trust me through the long testing journey to an excellent outcome. It just did my thing – and it worked.
What’s happening to me?
So when it began to no longer work, I was lost.
It began when initial client meetings seemed to go as well as ever, but some began to not commission me on the spot but would talk to other architects.
Occasionally I actually noticed when I said one thing too many, and their trust turned to caution. A suspicion crept in, that I’d breezed unconsciously through up till now, but some deep flaw was beginning to run things.
It came to a head on a gem of a little project, that I put everything into because both the brief and my very tight-knit solution were so right.
I got crucially over-ruled, then blamed for the consequence.
I persisted too long, after others sensed that the project was doomed.
I fought to get paid but it left a foul taste.
I felt exhausted and disempowered, because although in all these cases there were external explanations, I had no doubt that the trust-problem and the answer began and ended inside me – but I had no idea what.
Finally, I ‘lost’ two more initial client meetings. I had a couple of projects ongoing but was basically out of work for the first time (apart from the 2008 crash).
Opportunity to go out into the garden, breathe – and get myself the website I’d never had time for.
As a longtime solo Creative, not yet exploring how it should be, how could I brief a web designer to do it right for me? In that core area, I had to discover it all for myself – maybe that trust thing again - although I readily trust collaborators in adjacent areas.
Victoria Whelan recommended Sean Buchan and Hanna Henshall of If Not Now Digital - Hanna to brilliantly mentor my website self-build (complete) and then Sean to introduce me to the scary world of social media (just beginning).
They advised WYSIWYG drag’n’drop Wix site-builder and I chose Jaaxy for SEO keywords optimisation.
I learned a raft of technicalities, skills and conventions – what you see now is v7. In mastering SEO, I got a view into the bizarre half-man half-machine world of the secret algorithms that increasingly rule us.
More, much more than this, in doing it my way, I rediscovered my long creative and professional history, which yes, I had really forgotten.
No wonder clients no longer felt my experience and authority.
No wonder, a bit like Greg above “I was slowly painting myself into a corner”.
I realised I had become more and more expert in a more and more specialised field. I had continued to find clients who wanted just what I offered, but it felt like all wings, withered roots.
Now suddenly, diving into dusty files in the basement in search of photos, I was stunned at the depth and breadth and variety, the evolutionary continuity of what I had learned, managed, designed and often got built, in my career.
While deploring the gimmickry of so much current architecture, I had been at the same time psyched-out by the glossy pics of other architects’ work.
Now suddenly I saw a consistent thread running through my own work
for modern living and working
but rooted authentically in local history,
and fluidly shaped for the interior experience and to the exterior site
which had generated a quite unique look and feel.
As www.TomFosterArchitecture.co.uk launches in somewhat bare-bones form so far and with the whole social media thing still to come, will it rebuild my workload, even make me rich?
I’ll keep you posted.
Much more fundamental is how this re-write of the back-story of the out-there segment of my life, leaves me feeling ...
From here, I continue to Practise; I could also Teach, I could Blog, or all of the above … everything seems possible.
If your creative career needs a mid-term refresh, I recommend a good look through your photo albums and your old files – to really recapture the feel of what you’ve been doing, right back to the beginning.
What about you?
I’d love to have a conversation here between Creatives (most broadly defined) about different kinds of career setback (whether early-, mid-career or late-) that happened within themselves – and with young’uns who haven’t had it – yet!
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