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Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 3

The Pleasure of Creative Work is Not Found in a ‘Creative’ Career

You ask: if satisfaction in work comes from pleasure in creative ideas, why not work in a creative career job? I can come up with creative ideas for an advertising company, or another creative media job and at the same time be paid generously. Aren’t people in these jobs using their creative capabilities?

Not in the same way. Advertising is called a creative industry, and does require original ideas to sell its products. A public relations executive has to write creative copy to publicise their clients’ good or service. But their pleasure in this work is in the sense of, ‘I have satisfied my bosses/client and will be handsomely paid in return’. Not in the creative idea itself, because the idea does not have genuine value to them.

Everyone has their own genuine personal values for what they like and dislike in books, in music, in food, in toothpaste. But your genuine values are of no use in a creative industry, and working in these professions in fact results in the suppression of your own personal views. The marketing executive in book publishing learns to declare all books they help publish as ‘fantastic’, regardless of their personal opinion. When they start the job this may feel odd to them, as they declare something good when in fact they think it rubbish. But they must do so, because this is the opinion they need to repeat in their advertising copy and press releases.

Your opinions about books, about music, even about toothpaste are an expression of your values and personality. Being creative for a company means learning how to suppress your own values and personality. After a time the marketing executive who advertises processed food forgets that they themselves like to eat healthily and that their work contributes to others not doing so. To work for a company in this way, your values must become the company’s values. You must forget your own opinions of the company’s products, and later, you must forget that you have forgotten, or else go mad.

Many schoolchildren and graduates aspire to work in the media, in creative jobs. Why is this? Because they themselves enjoy the product of these industries, books, television, or film, and think that to help produce them will provide them with creative pleasure. The majority of jobs in the media do not require creative ideas at all. In my twenties I had a friend who worked as a runner on a feature film, but she derived no pleasure from the creation of the film, for not only did she have little connection to the actual filmmaking in her day-to-day tasks, but also the film had not been her idea. It was not even a film she would have chosen to watch. (At the time she took pleasure from the glamour of telling people she was a runner on a feature film. She later admitted she hated the job, partly because emotional bullying is rife in the film industry, the victims of it uncomplaining because they so want to keep their glamorous job.)

I have worked for book publishers. Here you help sell books written by other people – it is not your books you are selling. The pleasure in creative ideas in book publishing comes at the point of writing the book, not in selling it. In helping to sell it you are merely making this book’s ideas available to the public. Even if it is a book whose ideas you think of vital public interest, something that happens very rarely, the author’s pleasure in their creative ideas will not somehow rub off on you. For this you need your own creative ideas. A full-time career in a creative industry does not provide you with pleasure from creative ideas.

But maybe sometimes, you point out, there are creative jobs, where you truly come up with your own ideas, ones that you genuinely think have value. What about the designers of the book covers?

It is true. Book cover designers do originate their own designs, ones they themselves value and in which they take pleasure. It is a short-term pleasure that is repeatedly quashed by the stress of deadlines, the criticism of editors and authors, and the constant interruptions of emails and phone calls. Many designers’ ideas come to them only outside of work, when they are left alone and have time to think, at a time when they are not being paid for their ideas. After a while they forget about trying to find artistic pleasure (the reason they went to art college and applied for their design job), and settle into drawing a salary just like any other careerist.

Don’t squander the pleasure of ideas in a full-time career, however appealing it looks from the outside. The pleasure from creative ideas is found outside of paid work.

But maybe you think this doesn’t matter, that you never thought of work as a place to use your genuine capabilities anyway. That if you have a job with a good salary you do not mind performing tasks dictated by someone else, because this salary will provide you with the means to pursue the things in which you are really interested.

related post:  The Purpose of Your Creativity is Not Making Money for Your Employer

next: Part 4 – Full-time Careers Leave no Time for Your Own Creative Work