Career Transition for Creative People

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Carol Eikleberry, Ph.D, has written a career guide for creative and unconventional people. Her 2007 book holds up well over time, and should be required reading for workers or parents of children who considered themselves to be work challenged because they are creative.

Eikleberry is a licensed psychologist who has studied creativity, been a career counselor, and is a self-described “Idealistic liberal arts major” who struggled to find an outlet for her creativity that would also pay the bills. She identifies with people who think that they’re doomed to dull and uninspiring work unless they have A-list talent.

Eikleberry starts out by talking about what being creative means. She describes the Holland Self-Directed career assessment, which classifies jobs according to six basic types:  RealisticInvestigativeArtisticSocial, Enterprising, and Conventional.  Realistic jobs deal with things, repairing, managing, or building them. Investigative careers include science, criminology, or other jobs where you’re seeking information.  Social careers deal with people: social work, nursing and teaching are common examples. Enterprising careers deal with business and sales, and conventional careers include accounting, administration and other ordering and counting professions.

Artistic careers include the fine arts, performance arts, and careers in business that require creative skills: writing, graphic design, fashion or interior design, or public relations.  No surprise, probably, that I always score high on the Holland creative preference.

One of the challenges for creative people is the way they’re perceived in the workplace.  The Holland site starts the ball rolling by describing creative people as complicated, disorderly, emotional, impractical and impulsive. Ouch. Of course, we also have some redeeming qualities (according to the site): we’re idealistic, imaginative, independent, and intuitive. Did you notice that all those words start with “I”?  Non-conforming also describes creative types, we’re not always the consummate team players, or eager to blend into the background.

One of the issues that creative face is that there are so few ways to make money using your creative skills.  Fewer than half of professional actors bring in the majority of their income through acting. The “aspiring actress slash waitress” cliché is based in reality. Creatives face another factor that other professionals don’t. Competence is not enough to be successful; you must have talent. Lots of talent, if you want to break into the 1 percent. You rarely hear the word “talent” mentioned in any of the other careers, but it’s the driving force for success in creative careers.

That means that you could study, train, practice and work harder than 99 percent of your peers, and still never make a living at your creative endeavor. That’s a sobering prospect, and the reason most parents try to discourage their children from going into a creative career. The odds of real success are small, and the odds of making a lot of money are even smaller. The average actor member of the Screen Actors Guild makes an annual salary of about $5,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, actors who work 40 hours a week average about $39,000 a year. That’s less than the manager of a moderately successful fast food restaurant. The average orchestra musician starts at about $28,000 a year, less than a call center worker. Ouch again.

Enter the day job. Someone’s got to pay the bills.  But Eikleberry says that day jobs, though necessary, are often painful for creative types. They often have to take low paying jobs that offer flexibility and time off for creative pursuits.  They don’t always fit in with their coworkers, perhaps because of the personality traits Holland lists above. They’re seldom taken seriously at work, because it’s well-known that they’d leave the work in a minute if they finally got their big break.

And quit they do, if the big break comes. Stephen King worked in a commercial laundry and taught English (earning a whopping $6400 a year) before he sold his first book.  Mick Jagger and Gwen Stefani scooped ice cream. Tom Cruise was a bellhop; Demi Moore was a debt collector.

We’ll discuss how having an artistic personality affects how you approach work in another post.





2 thoughts on “Career Transition for Creative People

  1. […] my first post based on the book written by Carol Eikleberry, Ph.D, which is a career guide for creative and […]


  2. I can relate to your story. My payment was really low when I worked as an Art Director. Right now I work as a PHP Senior Backend Engineer. I didn’t expect that I would love this job so much. There are no limits to creativity. I use it every day in my job. I work for a really innovative company, so that really helps.


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