We have long parted with expectations of spending one’s life at one company carving out a career for ourselves. Now, discourse evolves around job hopping to achieve higher salaries faster or working only as much as our pay suggests. We have numerous examples of successful people who have chosen to pursue their passion leaving aside formal education or those who have carefully crafted their career through different academic programs, internships, and incubators. Everyone needs to find their own path and I believe that looks different for every individual. With this article, I want to offer some reflections on how I think about my professional development. This mindset has saved me many a times when I started spiraling and went to the place of defeat that many of us are familiar with when we compare ourselves to our seemingly more successful peers.
From childhood to university - carving a path
Growing up as a son to a family who owned a small local bakery, I was surrounded with the highs and lows that owning a business entails. As children of a family-owned business, my sister and I were constantly asked if we were planning on taking it over at some point. Fortunately, there never was any pressure from my parents to do so and I knew early on that running a small bakery was not a life goal of mine. Hence, I needed to create my own path. The arts were (and continue to be) my passion and I set out to find a way to pursue them. Through pursuing after-school lessons and researching what it means to attend university in Germany, I saw that there was a somewhat clear and linear path to becoming a professional artist. However, I had so many interests that it was too early for me to pick one and I instead focused my efforts on a liberal arts education in the UAE. There, I was able to delve deeper into music and theater. Upon finishing my undergraduate education, I found myself somewhat lost and didn’t quite know how to proceed. I knew that I did not want to go back to Europe to pursue a more straightforward, and still challenging path, to becoming a professional artist. I needed to set new goals and choose a place where I could continue to grow. In order to make that choice, I had to define success for myself, and I went to work on my mission. You can read more about that process in The Path to My Personal Mission. Reflecting on my time in the UAE compared to my experiences in the US and Germany, I realized that staying in the UAE would provide me with the necessary stimulation and challenges to push myself out of my comfort zone.
While the UAE’s visual arts economy and commercial creative economy was quite developed, a formal infrastructure for performing arts was hard to identify when I graduated. Trail-blazing institutions such as the fridge and The Arts Center at NYUAD have made a positive impact in the last couple of years and are offering artists amazing opportunities for growth. However, the existing fellowships tended to prioritize visual arts projects and working part-time while pursuing artistic productivity was not an option due to the necessary residency visa which I could only obtain through an employer. Much of this has changed now with new visa regulations that are aimed at giving artists and professionals in the creative economies a wider range of opportunities. I was genuinely excited to pursue a full-time job at the time and imagined that working as a marketing consultant and later in programming and marketing at an academic art gallery would give me valuable insights that can inform my artistic practice. In fact, as I struggled with the choice I made not to pursue a professional artistic career – sometimes I felt like I was betraying my ambitions and the years I spent honing my artistic skills – I had to adjust my mindset to save myself from falling into a hole of self-loathing. Through conversations with my friends and mentors, I was reminded that everyone’s path is different, and I knew that in order to be an artist-entrepreneur, I needed to learn about marketing, selling yourself, institutional processes that can advance an artist’s career, and the ecosystem in general. So, I set out to acquire those skills while trying to continue with my arts education at a slower, more relaxed pace.
Changing my mindset to embrace non-linearity
The newfound mindset completely transformed my approach to life, and I became really excited to be a generalist who knows something about as much as possible. The mindset being: accumulate a diverse skillset and life experiences that inform my activities, interactions, and projects. You can read more about this shift in relation to the arts specifically in next week’s blog Being an Artist – An Attempt at a Definition.
In the arts, we were taught to have faith and trust in our work as a basic foundation for others to believe in it too. The thinking behind it is that if we don’t think that our work is meaningful, why should anyone else? Remembering this lesson in addition to my newly embraced mindset has instilled a strong resolve in my different activities. Whenever I reach a moment of self-doubt, I remind myself that I made choices intentionally and one activity builds on the others before. I truly believe that the cumulative weight of my arts education, my professional experience, and further educational activities such as my MBA will come together at some point. In fact, I am already observing a convergence in beginning my forthcoming podcast The Arts in Business, and I am actively integrating my generalist mindset with some specialization in my business .beyondcomms.
Often, I imagine that I am wandering through a forest with a path that twists and turns, sometimes obstructed by a tree, and at others a fork at which I have to make a choice. Personally, I love forests and wouldn’t want to walk along the paved country road cutting through the trees. Obviously, for those who prefer a different approach along that road, there are curves, turns, and obstacles as well that might lead them temporarily into the thicket of the trees. Getting back on the metaphorical professional road is always possible and we certainly need to walk along it sometimes to give our body and mind rest to focus on other aspects of our lives. However, if you choose to walk in the forest, you will find beautiful clearings that illuminate your life and maybe some clear, bubbling brooks that nourish you for the next part of your journey. Pursuing a non-linear path might not be attractive or even possible for some (I consider myself privileged in that regard), but for those of you who embrace their journey, I commend you and would love to hear more. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments or through DM. I hope that choosing and changing your path with intention and the faith that your activities are meaningful and impactful will bring you peace and calmness in moments when the constant drone of social media and inevitable comparisons seems too overwhelming. Despite the countless step-by-step guides to wealth, peace of mind, or building a career, no one has a roadmap to their lives, and everyone makes it up as they go along. Why not embrace the madness of it all, and enthusiastically and courageously walk our own path, sometimes in the footsteps of those before us and at others into a seemingly wild overgrown bush behind which might lay an unexpected trail.