Since I can remember, I have always been very creative. I painted a lot as a child and invented my own games. Later on, I discovered my passion for knitting, crochet and stitching and ended up making all my Christmas presents myself – stitched cushion covers, tablecloths and bibs, knitted hats and crochet bags. Some were more successful than others. But I really enjoyed the process. I even tried to sew clothes for my Barbie dolls (this was one of the less successful examples).
When it was time to choose a university and course, I briefly thought about applying for fashion design. But very soon I had to admit to myself that I could probably not compete with all the amazing talents out there. I did not think I was good enough. Maybe I was also scared to give it a try. Job perspectives with a fashion degree in the early 2000s were really limited. I opted for a “safer” option, one which would allow me to have a plan B – Business. I thought it was a good base and whatever I would try later and would need a backup, people always need accountants. (At this point in time, I had no idea how little I would enjoy accounting.) Once I was in the hamster wheel, I soon forgot about my creative ambitions. If you are smart and ambitious, a degree in Business teaches you to aim high (mostly, financially). And many creative jobs do not pay as well as a bank or a consulting firm.
After my PhD, I joined a big conglomerate in Finance – the future leaders have to know the numbers, I thought. I moved from position to position, learned new things, but something was missing. It took a long time until I realised what it was, until I was assigned a special task in one of our leadership trainings. We were all given one word and we had to prepare an interesting elevator pitch of no longer than one minute. It involved one drawing and had to introduce ourselves in a way that our counterpart immediately wanted to hire us. My word was “door”. I have to admit, I do not remember my exact pitch. My drawing was quite simple: a stick figure and a door. I did not think much about it and just started talking about the many doors I had opened so far and which doors I wanted to open together with my conversation partner. I thought it went alright. Silence in the room. I did not know if that was a good sign. Then, one of the coaches stood up, moved to my drawing and said: “Well, that was a creative one. You are clearly way too creative for Finance.”
What came so easily, was a talent I had long ignored, I had buried it somewhere. The small flame was probably still burning, I just never really let it out. At this point in time, I had already had the gut feeling that it was time for something new. I ended up starting a tech business where I worked with graphic designers, photographers and creative directors for the first time. At the same time, I started this website and also began to experiment with photography and illustration.
Fast forward seven years and here I am sitting in the middle of a colourful pile of beach towels for Pelagona. They just arrived from India and were woven by a collective of artisans in Kerala. And who designed them? Me! From trying out the materials, to mood boards, to drawings, to Pantone colour schemes – 17 years after I decided not to pursue a degree in design, I actually am designing products. At the same time, I have to be on top of market trends, data analytics and, of course, my accounting and financial planning. Probably because I enjoy working on the products so much, I do not mind the tasks which I previously dreaded. I opened doors and closed some, there are exciting but also really tough times. But somehow it all panned out.
I am sharing this because I think as a millennial, I tried to fit into one specific box. It seemed that for a certain career there were checklists: Do you want to work in Marketing? Enrol in a degree in Marketing and already have some experience in Marketing before you start. Then, only work in Marketing. For some, this may be the right career strategy. I once complained about this “silo career” to one of my mentors. I said that HR wanted to put us into certain boxes. “Because it makes their life easier. Smart people with a lot of interests, the future leaders, are way harder to place because very often they do not fit into one of these predefined HR boxes,” they said. Looking back, they had a valid point. As an entrepreneur or leader of an organisation, it is not enough to only be good at one thing. Flexibility and willingness to learn are key. And (re)discovering your inner fire as well.
I hope you give your small fire which may be still burning somewhere a chance as well! Have a good week ahead!
PS: The beach towels mentioned above are going online on Pelagona this week. I will link them here. If you happen to be in Vienna this weekend, Pelagona is participating at WAMP Design Market at the Museumsquartier. Come by and say hi!