I read a very thought-provoking article in the July issue of Elle UK that had the same above title. It was written by Alexandra Jones, and she was of the opinion that, ‘Career decisions are not decisions about, “What do I love most?” but about “What kind of life do I want to set up for myself?”
She even goes further to state that the inspirational and now legendary Steve Jobs careers speech that he made to the graduates of Stanford University in America in 2003 where he urged them to, ‘Find what you love…don’t settle…’ was ‘the worst piece of careers advice you can be given.’
I have to say I am on the fence with this one, if someone had asked me whether one had to love their career eight years ago, I would have replied that one certainly had to enjoy it. Reason being, at that time I was about to transfer from a legal profession to fashion, not because I hated law but because at that point I wasn’t enjoying the type of law I was working in and when I envisioned my future; I wanted to be in a profession that was more visual and creative. Furthermore, like Madonna, I believed that although I wouldn’t be the best creative in the world- ‘I had something to say’, which I wanted to express through styling, writing and any other creative medium possible.
Fast forward eight years, and a few fashion incidents have moved me to the fence of this debate. In the Alexandra Jones article, she uses horror stories of fellow fashion colleagues to illustrate that doing what you think you are ‘supposed to do’ or ‘love’ doesn’t necessarily get you to ‘where you want to be’.
The part I loved in the article was when she used the example of a corporate colleague who was ‘ambivalent’ about her job, but that job had ensured that the colleague at age 25 could pay a £125,000 deposit on her first flat and pay off her student loan. Jones added that the corporate friend’s job had, ‘given her the kind of life that makes the rest of us feel like we are missing the point of what jobs are actually for.’
I don’t have to look to fellow fashion colleagues to identify with the fashion/creative horror stories Jones mentions in her article, as I have some of my own. Yes, I have made some commendable career achievements in my fashion profession, but if I was advising a 17 or 18-year-old who wanted to work in fashion because they ‘loved it’- I would simply say something I read recently about affairs of the heart- ‘Follow Your Heart But Take Your Head With You.’
For the last six or seven odd years of my fashion career I most certainly got carried away with my love for fashion and the creativity it allowed me and for the most part, I took leave of my business and financial senses. This led me to working for some professionals with the most shocking ethics and exposed me to some unprofessional practices that shook me to my core both professionally and emotionally. One of my most recent horror stories to date involves an African online company, upon learning about what the Creative Director of the Company was trying to do- which was to ultimately build the African fashion industry- I offered my writing services as this is an area I am very experienced in and very passionate about.
At the beginning of our working relationship, I offered my blogging services for free because the company had just been set up and was not making any money. The Creative Director also told me at the time that although the company was not making any money, should the brand ever host an event where they had financial backings from certain companies- that was when I would have an opportunity to get paid. It was this statement that gave me the fuel to churn out my blogging articles for the site for free.
Fast forward a year of working for the site, I still had received no money, decent promotion or any significant perks and when I would bring up the topic of payment to the Creative Direction and the fact I wanted an Editorial title, this would always lead to conversations where I would be asked to do more work for free to be entitled to either of the above, and I will never forget the classic line the Creative Director once told me,
‘You wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t getting something out of it.’
Imagine being told that, when you are getting no financial remuneration for your work, nor any health or pension benefits. But I have to take the blame for remaining in a toxic relationship and for allowing things to get that bad- I have found out that working for some fashion ‘professionals’ is rather like being in a domestic violent relationship- one takes the beatings, and fools themselves that the abuse will stop when things get better, if they work harder or if they try to be better. And of course, the situation doesn’t get better, it only gets worse.
And in my case, they certainly did- about a year and a half into the brand’s set up, it hosted an event where they collaborated with bigger brands and the Creative Director asked me to come on board. However, after about a year and a half of working and getting no financial payment I gave the Creative Director my quoted fees for the jobs. The Creative Director’s response to this was to cleverly oust me out of the team, without a formal dismissal but by replying to my emails extremely late or not replying to them at all.
I also recently went to the site’s website and the Creative Director- without my permission- had changed the name of all the blog articles I had written to the name of the company. When working for the company I had specifically stated that I had wanted to have my name attached to all the articles I had written because-
1. I wanted to be able to refer future employees to the site and have them see expressly how I had contributed to the site
2. As I wasn’t getting paid, I had wanted this wish of mine to be carried out
However in a blink of an eye, this was disregarded. Luckily, I still have other proof to show that I did indeed do work for the site for over a year.
And this is how many a ‘professional’ relationship is ended in the fashion industry, and it is shocking and disgusting, but it exists and as a freelancer I have learnt a few tough lessons the hard way, for e.g.
1) If you are part of an editorial team and the company is not paying you- ensure that you get a contract that lists that you are a part of the team, and that the terms of your agreement clearly states the notice period for dismissal.
2) Be wary of editorial sites where the owner of the site refuses to list the creative team and instead just lists his or her name. If they do the latter- more often than not-it is because you are not ‘part of a team’, what you are is part of a ‘one man show’; and you are working for free to help that person get to where they want to be.
So this horror story is a classic example of someone doing what they love and it not bringing them professional, career or emotional satisfaction.
And so, the question remains- Do you have to love what you do? And I will repeat, follow your heart but take your head with you. If you take your head with you it will stop you from entering toxic professional relationships that threaten to make you despise what you love. It also allows for a more positive outcome where your creative achievements are matched with professional and emotional satisfaction.
I am happy to say that since my move to Berlin, I am no longer in any toxic professional relationship and my bank balance and peace of mind thanks me for that.
So over to you, what do you think? Are you in a profession that you love or does your career simply allow you to do the things you love outside the office? Do you have to love what you do?
In case the tone of this article was too serious for some, I’ll leave you with the image of a beautiful dress and an image I styled to keep those creative juices flowing-