In our digitally driven age, finding the free time for creative expression can be difficult. But could another job be the answer? Helen Kirwan-Taylor explores the benefits of having a portfolio of careers.
As I type this, I note with resignation that I have once again dripped red acrylic paint across my keyboard. This sort of thing never happened before I decided to embark on a new life as a “co-careerist”—a person who does more than one thing for a living. For the past two years, I have divided my time between journalism and multimedia art. My second career came about by accident. I used to make artworks for friends, then I showed one to an American retailer who said, “I want to sell them.” Subsequently, a gallerist in London suggested we do a show in six months. Had I not experienced years of working with tight deadlines under extreme pressure, I could never have done it. I now earn about as much money in my studio as I do at my desk. And I am, of course, not alone. Today, countless people have more than one job. Many are obliged to do so to pay the bills. For others like me, however, it’s about finding an outlet for personal expression in an increasingly technology-focused world. It is not, after all, financial necessity that inspired Gwyneth Paltrow to add food writer and businesswoman to her CV, drove Angelina Jolie to tie a humanitarian string to her bow, nor, I suspect, induced Yana Peel to become the new CEO of the Serpentine Gallery, as well as an investor, philanthropist, children’s author, and CEO of the debating forum Intelligence Squared.
Psychologists call it an “effort-driven reward”—the surge of serotonin you feel when admiring a creative task you’ve just completed. “Many of us put a passion on hold while moving up in our careers. Then, you get to middle age and you feel you have to express yourself,” says Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in addictions, who recently applied to study for a masters in creative writing. “It’s easier for people who have already achieved in one field. They have a sense of accomplishment and, to a certain extent, are allowed to fail.” In her case, writing her book affords her some much needed respite from the reality of her demanding medical career.
However, there is more to this trend than personal fulfilment. Having several jobs may mean you become better at everything you do. Josephine Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black’s organic chocolate, is a serial entrepreneur and journalist who is evangelical about the benefits of having a portfolio of careers. “The solution to one work problem often comes when I’m focused on something different,” she says. “When I took time off, I found I was bored and boring.”
“Creativity is combining things that weren’t combined before,” explains Robert Root-Bernstein, a professor of physiology at Michigan State University, and also an author and a professional artist. “Therefore, creativity requires more than one line of expertise.” He argues that the “co-careerist” brings the skills from one job to the other. Most notably, it’s the imaging, abstracting, and body thinking—using sensation, emotions, as well as analysis—themes explored in his book Sparks Of Genius, written with his wife Michele, a creative writing and history lecturer, author, and haiku poet.
Certainly, I find that the more time I spend on my art, the more fluid my writing becomes. As a journalist, I’m used to everybody wanting to talk to me. As an artist, I have to make four calls for one that is returned. Consequently, I’ve grown a thicker skin and have more tenacity. When writing gets stressful, I dream of my studio. When an artwork isn’t turning out as I want it to, I seek solace at my computer. Journalism can be done on demand; art requires the right mindset. In both sides of my life, I no longer procrastinate (because that means going back to the other job, and nothing focuses the mind more than having a paying client).
Of course, there are sacrifices to be made. I structure my life to be up early, so that requires less socialising, and I work weekends and holidays. I stop if I’m tired, but that rarely happens—switching worlds makes one feel fresh and new.
Gwyneth Paltrow adds food writer to her portfolio