What motivates you, by Gemma Germains
This may be the last thing you need to hear right now, but someone has to say it. We, the people who hire, can’t distinguish one of you from the other. You’re just a cluster of incredibly talented young people. It hurts to hear it and it hurts to say it.
Before I go on, let me clear a few things up. Your education is world class. A bit pricey perhaps, but internationally renowned none the less. There have never been more opportunities for your continuous, lifelong learning. Nor has there been more knowledge for you to consume as you develop a talent that contributes £7.4 billion pounds a year to the UK’s economy. You’re about to step onto the bottom rung of the top most ladder. This faceless-ness you’re afflicted with is neither the fault of your education, nor the UK’s spluttering economy. We set the trends and then we buck them.
Sadly, somewhere in the middle of all this excellence and opportunity, emerging talent like yours is losing it’s way. Potential is squandered. The cream is sinking and we’re on a slow, unpleasant death march towards a freeconomy where we need creativity more than ever yet have never been less willing to pay for it.
In 2001 I was offered a junior position at Dazed and Confused. At the time I quite correctly baulked at the £12 000 salary. 13 years of back cycling later, we’re celebrating the sporadic, spluttering arrival of paid internships. (And let’s be very clear here, a paid internship is nothing more than a junior freelance role where you hold responsibility for your own tax and insurance with none of the rights an employee can call on for protection).
"A lot has changed this past decade, and it’s the emerging talent that’s worst hit. There won’t be many out there willing to fight your corner for you. They’re too busy meeting this month’s payroll."
Few are prepared to take responsibility for the predicament you’ve been lumbered with, especially those responsible. They’re far too busy protecting their own investments in an industry which simultaneously fetishises and cannibalises it’s young. Junior is the new middleweight and intern the new graduate.A lot has changed this past decade, and it’s the emerging talent that’s worst hit. There won’t be many out there willing to fight your corner for you. They’re too busy meeting this month’s payroll.
Wage bills are like caffeine, they keep you up at night. I run a small studio with two friends and we don’t hire what we can’t afford to pay properly. The temptation, however, to take advantage of cheap young talent is only ever one email away. Put simply, exceptionally talented people are seemingly desperate to work for me, for free. Why shouldn’t we skim a little off the top, dish out some “experience” and “exposure” in return for all of your hard work? We don’t, but lots do.
Young talent such as yours is ripe for the picking because if you’re going to work, it may as well be as fun and fulfilling as possible. We all want in, and are prepared to put up with just about anything to do so. Are you ready for another truth bomb because here it comes. The hustle doesn’t end once you’re “in.” I’ve been hawking creativity for a decade now. My whole career is just one continuous job hunt. In the next three years you’ll secure one, maybe two jobs. I’ll need ten times that number to stave off bankruptcy.
While you go toe to to with your alumni, I compete with my peers, my heroes and the plucky freelancer trying to look more established than they are. And thanks to globalisation, I don’t just compete with the UK industry, I’m up against Berlin and Barcelona, NYC and San Francisco. To me, you’re one of a thousand faceless graduates. To the people with the budget and the brief, I’m one of a hundred thousand faceless agencies.
Ten years is time enough to realise there are no patterns, no formula, no control over our survival and success. The best jobs don’t always go to the biggest talent. A chance meeting can change your life. Nobody is willing to admit it’s a lot about luck, because we can’t blog about being flooky.
"Nobody is willing to admit it’s a lot about luck, because we can’t blog about being flooky."
Even the points where we can exert control - the work we present and the service we deliver are subject to external forces. Our portfolios are a perpetual work in progress. Client tweaks dilute our best work. The Internet ensures our worst work can and will float back to the surface. Hard earned reputations can be tarnished in a tweet.
The only tool we can manipulate and control, when everything else has evolved beyond recognition, are the few reasons we even bother at all. The only constant throughout all this flex is what motivates us.
In the early days of my career, I was, and continue to be motivated by my need to support my family financially and emotionally. As a wage earner and full time carer I need as much time as I do money. Therefore, I am motivated to earn what I need to survive quickly, with minimal stress, for what’s the point of the time and money if I’m constantly sailing towards a nervous breakdown.
Knowing your motivations will help you better understand your place in the creative industry. It’s more than just wanting cash. Your motivations are what you want to do with your cash and what you’re prepared to do, and not do to get it. (Remember, your motivations are not your passions. The ‘passion’ argument is a lie trotted out by people to justify not paying creative people for their work.)
We are all motivated by different stimuli. Some want lots and lots and lots of money, some want fame. Others are motivated by a desire to make money helping people and some people are motivated by a desire to make money doing as little as possible. Knowing what drives you is your first step towards fighting anonymity. It will enable you to find an audience receptive to your schtick, an audience who may even share some of the same motivations. It’s not possible to be noticed by everyone, all of the time. But we can ensure that those people we want to be noticed by get the occasional glimpse. Your place is with people with whom you can simultaneously achieve your personal goals.
"Knowing what drives you is your first step towards fighting anonymity."
As a studio, we are motivated by a desire to earn enough to live happily, free of unnecessary pressure and frustrations. We don’t work late, we don’t work with unpleasant characters, we don’t abuse the trust our clients place in us and we don’t take anymore than we need. We’re vocal about these motivations because doing so helps us attract the kind of clients who allow us to continue working and living in this manner. We’re vocal about our motivations because we want to be noticed by clients who share them.
Those faceless creatives I spoke of earlier. I don’t know what motivates them. They didn’t tell me and I don’t have the time or inclination to find out. Creative thought is a great talent, one many people will never get to experience. It should not be squandered helping those with basic motivations (to be popular, to be rich, to be ‘the best’) achieve their goals.
Get a job. Start a business. Use your creativity to transform another industry, in another part of the world. Design flyers for mechanics if it can finance your dream of launching a type foundry. Teach, volunteer, write. Do what you need to do to live a life that motivates you to really live your life. Be ambitious. Be genuinely innovative. Be motivated by reasons greater than an interesting job title and your name in a magazine.
I’m not saying that a list of reasons to get up every morning will magically get you hired, it won’t. But it will force you to think with structure. It will force you to look at what you say and who you say it to. It will put an end to all those awful ‘whom it may concern’ emails you’ve been dishing out. Knowing your motivations will hopefully keep you out of strategy meetings with morons. Knowing your motivations may take you out of the creative industries all together, and let’s be honest, social care, politics and early years education could all do with a bit of creativity.
Intern if you must but consider the part that plays in perpetuating the system for the talent behind you. The first step from education to employment is a big one and the well worn paths don’t always lead where you need to go. We don’t all need to be a face in the crowd. Take a moment to discover the routes traveled by the people with their names above the door. They’re different, less direct but infinitely more interesting.
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