Let’s Talk About…Career Creativity

Still humming ‘The Only Way Is Up’? It’s time to change your tune, says Davina Greene.

“Onwards and sideways” a great colleague of mine used to say, usually in moments where a great idea had encountered a committee that seemingly wanted to strangle it slowly, but the light at the other end of the tunnel had finally begun to emerge.

And oh, how we laughed. But, thinking back, it’s not the worst motto in the world at all. It’s actually quite a sanity-inducing one. How much less career torment would there be in the world if people could see ‘sideways’ as a satisfying, progressive option?

Yes, there’s still satisfaction in moving upwards, taking on probably a lot of extra responsibility for an extra bit of cash. But, if you are currently petitioning for a promotion, would you consider anything else? (and, based on everything you know about the company, will they want you to move up or will you be knock, knock, knockin’ on frustration’s door?)

Lateral can be a great move – staying at the same kind of level but trying something new (transfer those transferrable skills!). You can achieve that where you are, or anywhere else. But before you run away from your current role, have you exhausted the opportunities of where you are now? Is it the role you’re running from or a person, or maybe a culture? Be very clear before throwing it all away – a local fix can sometimes be easier than a dramatic exit, once the real problem is defined.

Down can be a useful – even vital – direction if you’re overwhelmed or have temporary external responsibilities, such as acting as carer for someone. Self-preservation must always remain an option. All in all, which is right for you will depend on your life at that moment and what kind of person you are.

Often, the “good girls and boys” get the greatest itch around this theme – in coaching, I notice it in peoples’ 30’s. They followed the rules, got the grades, went to college, got the mortgage and generally did what was expected. But suddenly their true potential perhaps not being used. The ‘Am I making a difference?’ question rears its ugly head. Their energy is low, making the whole thought process slow, uncreative, and easily influenced by scaremongers. Career creativity, impossible.

Recently, during an interview, I asked a question about performance management – specifically when someone’s productivity and morale appears to decline. The interviewee, situated on another continent, had someone on his prior team whose productivity had dropped immensely. He called her in and it turned out she pined to be an artist. He basically said (and I confess that I may have Irish-ified this a bit)

“Listen, my dear, we’d all love to be artists rather than tapping away on keyboards all day, but why does your love of painting have to have a negative impact on my love of running a department? Sure, isn’t it this job that’s going to buy you all your paints and brushes, and put food on your table? If you love it so much, why can’t you switch off the TV and paint in the evenings? Why does it have to be one or the other? Other people are going to tell you to give it all up, follow your dreams, reach for the stars. I, on the other hand, am aiming for kindness through realism.”

And I fell in love a little bit. This is the kind of perspective-giving realism we all need when trying to choose between things that don’t need to be chosen between. Find your Kind Realist – they’re worth their weight in gold.


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