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Career Realities podcast #5:
Matt Callard on mentoring, speech therapy and finding work you love

May 15th, 2015 No comments

This Career Realities interview is with Matt Callard, who is a mentor at speech therapy group the Starfish Project. Since attending the project for his own stammering eight years ago Matt discovered a passion for speaking and advocating for the project and speech therapy. In the interview he talks about his criteria for finding both paid and unpaid work (and how pay is not the important factor), about how people are much more approachable regarding unpaid work than you think, and how trying out ten jobs unpaid for a day is much better than trying out one job paid for six months.

Of particular interest was Matt talking about how the fulfillment you take from work is also down to the frequency with which you do it – that even work that you love pales in enjoyment if you begin to do that work repeatedly, day after day. Although Matt was not talking about artists here, this feels particularly relevant to artists: how you might strive to get paid for the particular art that you enjoy, but once you come to do it as a paid job, it becomes just that, a paid job, and the pleasure from it disappears. (It’s something I’ve had a problem with in keeping this website, and this podcast. I haven’t found the answer.)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On asking yourself the question ‘what do I like to do?’

[When trying to work out what work I really wanted to do] I was literally getting a piece of paper, and writing down a load of things. And then I found it quite important in hindsight that some of them much more suited being unpaid, and some could possibly fit with being paid. And again some things fitted with not having any restriction on frequency. I remember thinking at the time that I really like being outdoors, I really like exploring places. But if I had a paid job doing that it’s likely that you’d be restricted in doing that, you couldn’t just go where you want, when you want. So if part of your passion is being outdoors, maybe that fits better with being unpaid, in your own time. […] The most important thing was going out and trying loads of stuff. I never intended being a mentor, but I went on this course and discovered that’s what I wanted to do.

On the importance of the frequency of your own work

So a good example for me is, regarding my speech, I’ve been lucky enough to do a number of things in the last few years that have involved quite exciting opportunities, like speaking on the radio […] But if I was to say I wanted to speak on the radio all the time that’s quite a difficult thing to get in to. It’s possible but actually my enjoyment is in the random opportunities that have come along and because they’ve not been paid or require that frequency they’ve been more exciting to me. Whereas if that was restricted by the need for a certain frequency, or payment, there would be a lot less opportunities. I certainly would have done a lot less of the things I’ve done if I’d needed to be paid for it.

On trying stuff out to see what you like

That’s so much easier to do when it’s unpaid. Because I’ve done quite a lot of work experience when it’s just for one day. Go and meet a few people doing certain things you might have some interest in. You might discover after that one day that you have no interest in it. But that’s quite useful. […] I’ve always liked sport and healthfitness, and I’ve approached a lot of local sports clubs, and quite quickly you pick up, do I get on well with these people, do I like this sort of work they’re doing. And you could get a paid job and realise that after a few months.

On approaching people for work experience

I used to write a lot of emails and go and visit people, just in areas I had some interest in, and people would generally respond I found, just because it’s not a paid approach, you’re just asking them for a bit of advice.

More about stammering support and the Starfish Project

Career Realities podcast #4:
How Can I Work As a Musician?

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

This week’s Career Realities interview is with Dave House, musician, founder of Edinburgh music studio Noisefloor and graphic designer. Dave studied Digital Composition & Performance at Edinburgh’s College of Art, and talks, among other things, about the point when you feel able to call yourself a musician, and the gulf between your creative design ideas at college and what you are actually asked to design out in the real world… (Apologies for some of the sound quality – Skype dropouts!)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the difference between graphic design college  and commercial work

It was a fantastic course, and I got so much out of it, but I think the thing was when I went into the world I was going to be this cultural mover and shaker, designing all this amazing stuff like say record sleeves, all the reasons you went into it when you were a teenager and think this is what I want to do. And the reality of it is that it’s much more routine and humdrum than that […] and quite quickly I started to think, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

On the expected working hours in commercial agencies

My project manager came into the studio every now and then and said, ‘well, I hope none of you have plans for the weekend’ … and it was just expected. I didn’t mind because I got paid extra as a freelancer, a contractor, I was on an hourly rate. The poor staff who worked there didn’t get paid any extra, they just had to do it.

On being brainwashed by the work culture

[This approach] obviously worked, because once I was going to get some lunch, and I remember one full-time guy saying to me, ‘Oh, eating is cheating’ […] and I’d get up to go home at five past six or whatever, and I’d get a sarky comment like, ‘oh, half day today then’.

Career Realities podcast #3:
the Charity Founder/Public Sector worker/Musician

February 3rd, 2015 No comments

This week’s Career Realities interview is with Paul Richards, founder of charity Stay Up Late, a charity that promotes the rights of people with learning disabilities to live the lifestyle of their choosing. Paul spent fifteen years as a musician in the band Heavy Load, and he talks about combining being a musician with actually earning money, how the band lead to the opportunity to set up Stay Up Late and to work he really valued. Along with how he discovered he really didn’t want to work in a bank… He keeps a blog called Pressure Drop about how to run a charity off your back table.

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the difficulties of making money doing the work you love

Q: Did you make any money from the band?
A: Just enough to keep going. It used to keep us in chips and beer. The band was self-sustaining, and we did some really good stuff on the back of that, we went to New York, we did a couple of Glastonburys, we did some other overseas trips as well, and released three self-funding albums. So we did all the things that we wanted to do as a band, but it didn’t pay the bills in any way.

On setting up a charity

Someone said, ‘what’s the secret to your success?’, I don’t know if it’s success. But I think it’s always thinking really hard before you say no to anything. I think it’s just about being opportunistic, I think that’s what we’ve done, we’ve just seen opportunities and we’ve gone with it. […] Any great general will tell you that no battleplan survives first contact with the enemy. You can have a bit of a plan in life but you’ve got to realise that you’ve got to tear it up and write a new one.

On the ambiguities of training

If you want to study a course, you’ve got an idea in mind that you’re going to be getting into some sort of career in a certain area if you follow that course. But who knows, the amount of people we know who are doing jobs that they didn’t train for. I mean all these people in Brighton trained in social media. I mean they didn’t train for that!

On your personal values conflicting with those of your career

This [job in banking] was back in the early nineties, all the personal loan repayment mis-selling, that was going on all the time, I could see it and I disagreed with it and there was this culture of selling and it was just horrible. So I thought, what I do like is working with people, and what I don’t like is sales targets, so I need a job that’s working with people with no sales targets.

Find out more about Paul’s work at Stay Up Late and Pressure Drop.

Career Realities podcast #2:
the Workshop leader/Photographer/PA

January 13th, 2015 No comments

This week’s Career Realities interview is with workshop leader and photograper Jackie McCullough. After full-time careers as a PA in the music industry and other professions, she now runs workshops, works as a mentor and makes photography projects around the subjects of fostering and families. Among other things we talked the difficulties of realising that you can yourself be the kind of person who just makes stuff and starts projects, how to start working freelance, and the best balance of paid work and work for yourself.

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On the difficulties of people not understanding the answer to ‘what do you do?’

They want to put you in a paid work box and understand that that’s who you are, and sometimes I think it’s a lot harder to explain that you have a number of different personalities and ways that you work.

On not thinking of yourself as someone who can make stuff

I didn’t understand that I could be a creative individual, I just thought that I was a person that could assist in those things, but not really be at the forefront of that, because it was never really talked about or considered that that was an option for me.

On school not identifying all your talents

There’s lots of things that I’m good at, there are a lot of things that aren’t taught in school – [you understand that] the characteristics that you possess as an individual have some value.

On balancing paid subsistence work with work for yourself

I took on a full-time job in a really brilliant theatre/charity organization in London […] but I found that didn’t give me the opportunity to do the other creative work that I wanted to do. So I found that I’d gone from being freelance and not doing any other work, and working full-time and not doing a huge amount of my freelance work. Now I do a three-day-a-week personal assistant job that pays me money, that pays me enough money, and then I do other things in my other time […] and that I feel is a much better balance than I’ve had either way.

On living cheaply

I don’t want or need for much. I shop second hand, I don’t go out for dinner huge amounts, I like having people round. So I don’t live an expensive lifestyle, and that’s not really what I want out of life anyway. I don’t live a lifestyle that would warrant having huge amounts of money and that works for me.

You can find out more about Jackie’s work at www.jacquelinemccullough.com.

Career Realities podcast #1: the Painter/Teacher

January 4th, 2015 No comments

The first Career Realities interview is with painter Edwina Bracken. A former full-time (and then part-time) art teacher, Edwina has recently completed an MA at Glasgow’s School of Art. She talks about the difference between her expectations and the realities of a teaching career, and how she came to (just about) earn a living as a fine artist. (Apologies for a few glitches in the recording – a few Skype dropout beeps!)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On combining a teaching career with your own painting work

I thought with the time off that you get with teaching I could fit my other art career in around the paid teaching work. That was my idea. […] So I went and did the course, and I was really overwhelmed at the scope of the job, it was a much heavier, labour intensive job than I had imagined from the outside. It was horrendously difficult to train.

I said to her [my mentor], ‘when does this become easy?’, and she said, ‘oh, after about three years’. […] But before that it was just full-on all the way, and every holiday we used to get sick.

[My own painting work] was non-existent. I didn’t do any painting or any of my own work for about five years. The teaching job was so intensive that the holiday time would come around and you would just fit in the other things that you would do in your life, […] the things that you didn’t have time when you were teaching.

I couldn’t move forward with my own art practice if I remained working within that stricture that the teaching job dictates. You know where you’re going to be on the 1st of September, you can’t really deviate from the plan, irrespective of being part-time.

On the psychological barriers to overcome when you quit a career

I felt I’d become slightly institutionalised because I’d worked in teaching for ten years, and on the one hand knowing where you’re going to be on the 1st of September can be quite frustrating, but on the other hand its really reassuring because you know you’re going to have a fixed income. So I had to come round to the idea that that was going to be a liberating experience. [Q: And was it?] Yes, it was great!

On deciding what paid work to take

I find that a lot of jobs that I would like to do are full-time jobs, and I can’t do them, because clearly I would have no time to make my work, research it and then put it out there. It can be a really tough call.

On advising my younger self

Look for a mentor. Because I think mentors are so valuable. Even if it’s not in art, just to look at how somebody can work for themselves, the way to manage your time and a work ethic. I don’t think it matters what it is you want to do, but you need to find some practical way into that.

Networking is crucial. I think sometimes it gets a really bad press. Sometimes people think it’s an ‘I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine.’ But your network is just who you can ask questions to, and then from there who do they know. Also speaking to people about what you are doing in any situation leads to networks, saying who you are and what you are doing and what you are interested in, and you never know where that leads.

More information about Edwina’s work can be found at www.edwinabracken.com, and you can contact her on Twitter @EdwinaBracken.