Be Smart About Art

When the voice in your head exclaims: "Why am I doing this?!"

written by: Susan Mumford July 31, 2016 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 1872 views

When the voice in your head exclaims: "Why am I doing this?!"

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

I recently answered a question for London-based business coach for creatives Deborah Henry-Pollard’s monthly interview ‘Take Five’ series: “What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

As recently or long ago as that might have been for you, it’s fascinating, and potentially useful, to ponder. And who knows, you might be able to take your own advice and apply it again today.

My answer was along the lines of every single job, project and the like being a great learning experience. When I landed in England in year 2000, there was enough savings in the bank account to last three months. Determined to stay, the solution was a retail management job in the natural foods industry. After a year of long and knackering shifts that blurred into one another, I awoke one day and questioned what on earth I was doing, for I was supposed to be pursuing a career in the arts! (I had managed to squeeze in modelling for a figurative painter who was studying under Lucian Freud.)

Although I didn’t see any value in the laborious work at the time, I was later grateful for the experience. It’s where I learned about handling challenging customer situations with grace, navigating British social rules, recruiting staff, managing teams of people and much, much more.

Subsequently working for small independent galleries, in which the owners had appalling management skills – or even a complete lack thereof – made me grateful to have learned about business from a different sector. As the months and years passed, I found myself calling on the multiplicity of skills acquired.  

As stark a contrast such early jobs might seem to your career many years down the road, there are still occurrences that provide useful perspective. You might be working the bar at your own event or operating the door and asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?!” The temptation is to think that you shouldn’t be doing such a task, that you ought to be mingling with guests. While that’s fair enough, sometimes you need to pitch in and get it done (trust me, I know). So rather than wasting your energy wanting to do something else, go back to that piece of advice given to someone starting their career. In short, consider how it’s a useful experience.  

For example, when working the bar, you might notice what could be improved with the setup. You could be reminded of what’s important in engagement with visitors that might be included in training or preparing your team (even teams of assistants or freelancers). Or it might simply be a reminder of what bloody hard work it is, reminding you to give bar staff credit where due!

Looking at the hula dancer and surfer dude in today’s photograph, I wonder what they can learn that could be implemented later in their careers? Her acute understanding of body language could be useful in confidently holding herself in an ‘open’ position while talking with prospective clients. His ability to overcome fear could be helpful in facing up to difficult situations.

Whatever your stage of career, catch that little voice in your head that’s asking you why on earth are you spending time doing X. Think instead about what you can learn from it, and be grateful for the experience


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Another great wake-up read for a Sunday. Not that I've just got up at 15:30 but it makes me stop pause and think. "Transferrable Skills" is one of those things I think could be introduced into schools/College curriculum. Have done a little coaching with teenagers along the way and it's the one piece of advice I give them - Do Something and note how you can use that Something in other areas of your life and different work environments - helps them when job applying/writing CVs too. Off to the studio now :)