Creative Space – creating space

I’m delighted to share a guest blog post by Katie Barnett. Katie recently took part in my career well-being research project and here she shares some of her thoughts about why a portfolio approach is good for her well-being. Over to Katie for:

Creative Space – creating space

Keys, wallet, phone. (And did I remember to close the bathroom window? And I should definitely buy more milk on the way home.) I have a pretty standard checklist any time I leave the house, but somewhere on my person you’ll also find a notebook and pen. It helps with remembering to buy the milk; it’s also incredibly useful when, inevitably, inspiration strikes on the train, and I’m left scrabbling to scribble something down before the idea is lost. This could be any number of things: an idea for an article, a thought about how best to teach a class of teenage girls about advertising culture, a way of resolving a thorny plot tangle in the children’s novel I have been writing (and re-writing) for the past three years. I have learnt, over time, that this is how I work best: many projects, many thoughts, many notebooks full of seemingly random, sometimes interconnected thoughts. The challenge for me most recently has been working out ways in which I can incorporate this need for creative space into my own career.

Recently, I was interviewed by Jayne as part of her on-going research into portfolio careers and their impact on well-being. Jayne’s questions really got me thinking about my own motivations for pursuing a portfolio of work at this point in my career, and how those motivations relate to my own desire for balance and creativity.

I started working portfolio out of necessity, after leaving a full time job to focus on completing my PhD. I began to take on a variety of work alongside my research, starting with a job in a distribution centre and moving on to a number of different part-time teaching roles, and a variety of work for a higher education careers service, including CV advice, a research project, and workshop delivery. What began as a necessity has gradually become a choice, however; having recently finished my PhD, I have designed the next stage of my career around the appeal of developing and maintaining a portfolio of roles.

I think ‘designed’ is an important word here, as often the assumption is made that a portfolio career is a response to having failed to find more ‘secure’ work. For me, designing my career around this idea of a portfolio is important, particularly with regards to my own well-being. When I was interviewed by Jayne, she told me that only 20% of people enjoy what they do every day, according to research by the Gallup organisatin, and for me having a portfolio of work is one way of ensuring that I fall within that 20%.

Part of this revolves around doing things I enjoy: my portfolio is increasingly focused on teaching and working with students, particularly in further and higher education. However, working in this way also allows me to carve out time and space for my own creative projects, and this is something that I value immensely. Some of these projects relate to my own research interests; others are creative writing projects, including the children’s novel I have been working on in my spare time. Maintaining a balance between these different jobs and projects takes some effort, and isn’t always straightforward; however, creating space for these things is one of my priorities when it comes to building my own career. Having time to work on my writing, or pursue my own research projects, makes me happy. I have also found that it improves my creativity in my other roles—something that has been particularly valuable as I have taken on more teaching work and have been challenged with thinking up innovative approaches to a range of subjects in order to keep different sets of students interested and engaged.

The idea of making space in your work week for your own creative endeavours may seem like something of a luxury, but I believe it is crucial to my own well-being, and keeps me focused on the things that I am passionate about. Inspiration might still strike halfway around the supermarket, or squished in a corner on a busy commuter train, but by actively creating space in my working life to explore and work on a variety of projects, I feel like I am taking steps to recognise my own well-being as central to my career development.

If only I could remember the milk.

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