Change naturally occurs as careers evolve. Sometimes change is forced upon us; other times we have to make it happen.
Based on the principles laid out in his book, How to Grow as a Photographer: Reinventing Your Career, creative consultant, artist and educator Tony Luna created Crafting a Meaningful Career, a series of Art Center at Night courses aimed at helping mid-career professionals revitalize their career perspectives.
We recently took a much-needed break our day-to-day assignments to talk to Luna about these courses.
Dotted Line: Tell us about Crafting a Meaningful Career.
Tony Luna: The course is loosely based on my own personal life. Looking back at my career, I realized that every five to seven years there was some change that had to take place. Sometimes it was caused by the economy, sometimes it was caused by technology, and sometimes it was caused by boredom. I started talking to other people, and virtually everyone I spoke with experienced the same challenges. The basic tenet of the course is that we have to change and we have to grow, so the Crafting a Meaningful Career courses are about taking control and creating a new path for yourself. It could be a small change, or it could be a large one. I advocate that people take a serious, mature look at what they’ve accomplished, give themselves credit for all they’ve been able to achieve, and then plot out a plan for where they’d like to take their career.
Dotted Line: Do people commonly feel like they need to start all over, and that all they’ve done up to this point is useless?
Luna: People acquire skills along the way that they don’t even recognize. They pick up organizational or communication skills, learn new languages or become computer savvy. And they think that’s just what they had to do. We often float through life and not recognizing the impact our personal experiences can have in expanding our business opportunities. I have a class assignment called “asset matching,” in which I ask students to examine their personal skill sets, experiences, interests and influences. They write down what they have going for them, and then as a group we try to find new options for how they can turn their career into something that makes them excited about starting each day. That’s the “meaningful” part.
Dotted Line: So it’s not just about landing the next big gig, but rather doing something that is personally fulfilling?
Luna: We often have preconceived notions about where we think we’re supposed to be, and that holds us back. We don’t know why we feel disenchanted; we just feel like we’re treading water. But when you get into a situation where others start to recognize what you have going for you, then you start believing in yourself. There might be some dramatic options that open up. But even if they’re not dramatic, they’re valuable options in that they can make you feel like every day is really more exciting than the last.
Dotted Line: So your classmates can see things in yourself that you can’t see, because you’re too close to it?
Luna: Right. I give another assignment in which each student walks up to the whiteboard and presents a timeline of their life. They can pick up at any point they want to—their birth, graduation from high school, whenever—and bring it all the way to the present. They draw a horizontal line and above the line they list significant events that happened in their personal life and below the line they list significant events in their work life.
The outcome of that assignment is that students can see, in a very graphic way, how there are certain times when they have been highly productive and other periods when they’ve settled for mediocrity, because everything is safe and everything is cool. But that always begs the question: What are you going to do when things come to a screeching halt?
Dotted Line: Who takes your class?
Luna: Usually mid-career professionals, people in their late 30s to mid-50s. But not always. I do get some students in their 20s, and that amazes me. I wish I had taken a class like this in my 20s, because I would have known what to expect. It helps you be a little more prepared for the future if you recognize that there will be times when you’re working hard, and it’s wonderful and you think it’s going to go on forever, and then there’ll be times when nobody returns your phone calls. And what do you do? You can sit there and have a pity party and say the world doesn’t love you anymore and that you’re no longer relevant. But once you get past that denial and anger you need to figure out what you’re going to do and work your way out of it.
Dotted Line: These sound like pretty universal problems you’re dealing with.
Luna: These issues are pervasive. They’re not only directed towards photographers, graphic artists or illustrators. They’re directed towards the general public. I’ve had people from all areas of interest take my class.
I received an email from a stand-up comedian who picked up my book, How to Grow as a Photographer: Reinventing Your Career, and he wrote, “You know, if you swap out ‘photographer’ for ‘stand-up comedian,’ this is the same stuff I deal with.” We all have our ups and downs. Everybody has a time when they need to give themselves credit for what they’re doing. And we should look forward to doing something different and satisfying, and so unique that it’ll set the world on fire. And the very best part about this course is that you get to create a template for how to execute positive effective change for yourself.