How to deal when you’re a creative spirit working in a corporate world

Sitting a cube with fluorescent lighting wearing black slacks and smelly but practical flats isn’t exactly how I envisioned my work environment growing up. As a writer, I was thinking something along the lines of an industrial-type building with exposed brick filled with young and ambitious thirty-somethings. The conversations would be a combination of philosophical questions sparked by a NPR piece someone heard on the radio and more trivial topics like what cheese describes my personality. I would feel excited to go into the office knowing that I would be able to crank out something that is what I’m passionate about and that day-by-day my craft was getting better.

The reality of life is that we don’t always get what we want. Although job environments like the one I described above do exist, I took a corporate job. I think we can relate to taking jobs that don’t fully stimulate our creativity. We grapple with whether a stable paycheck and working our way up the corporate ladder is worth pushing our creative talents to the back burner. Just like anything else in life, things are never black and white. The truth is we can have both. It’s a common misconception that you have to choose one or the other.

There’s a sea of articles telling us to quit our jobs when they don’t make us happy. I agree that we shouldn’t stay at a job that isn’t supporting our career development. But no job will make you happy 24/7. It’s called work because it’s work. Impulsive decisions like throwing your papers up in the air and telling your coworkers how you really feel may give you an ego boost, but it doesn’t pay the bills. The job market is a tough one and on top of paying the bills, you also need to pay your dues.

If you’re lucky you will be able to find ways to incorporate your creativity into your current position. Many companies appreciate new ideas and this could be where your creativity comes into play.  Show your company how your creativity is valuable to the company. Just be prepared for not all of your ideas to get a gold star. There’s no shame in hearing “no” and no harm in trying.

However, for some there’s little room for creativity whether it be technical or artistic. This is when it becomes a little more tricky. The hardest part of this process is to gauge how much of an outlet you need. If there were a numerical scale rating your desire to express your creativity on a daily basis, I would rate myself a six. I freelance on the side and contribute to other sites that I enjoy reading in my spare time. It breaks up the monotony of my normal day to day job and also keeps me constantly busy. One would be categorized as needing to take the occasional drawing course or seeking out a hobby every year. Ten would be starting your own company to sell your own artwork or finding a way to open a yoga studio. I think figuring out where you fall on this scale will help you figure out whether you should tap into your entrepreneurial side or just have a side hustle.

If you’re a 10, like I mentioned earlier you need a plan. It’s a terrifying idea, but you build up to it. You test it out first (on the side). If your dream job requires certification, find a way to take night or weekend classes. If you really want to make your passion a career it’s going to take time.

Regardless of where you fall on the fictitious “desire for creativity” scale, finding a way to express yourself is key to being happy in all aspects of life. Everyone has a creative side. Some may have just tapped into their creative juices sooner than others. A common misconception about creativity is that if you don’t write, draw, paint or sing you lack creativity. This is a myth that needs to be debunked. It’s human nature to want to produce something that has worth. We want to create something that represents us. This is the reason why we may feel trapped in our careers.

The challenge is being able to balance this desire while sustaining your lifestyle. As a former journalist, money was not the driving force in pursuing my career. And now as a writer, that definitely is still true. But aside from occasionally having to eat ramen for dinner every once and awhile, I’m lucky have found my creative equilibrium. Anyone can find theirs it just takes time to think about what you like, and in my case what I didn’t like. The process of elimination is a great starting point for discovering what you’re good at and enjoy.

So figure it out first. If that means working in an office for a period of time, you’re not selling out. Look at ways that you can incorporate your creativity at the office, and if not at the office, use your downtime for creative expression. If you’re reply to that is “I don’t have enough time.” Ask yourself “Do I really need to watch six episodes of ‘Law and Order: SVU’?” We all can and should make time for creative expression. You can do it! Don’t give up.

Becky May works in custom publishing and content marketing in Los Angeles. When she isn’t a slave to her cube, she spends her time writing in coffee shops that offer bottomless deals and offer free wifi. Her work can be found in Profile, Hispanic Executive, American Builders Quarterly and the lady zine Selfish. 

[Image via Universal Pictures]