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Work / Opinion

Why choose the career ladder when there’s a climbing frame?

Creativebrief managing editor Kara Melchers writes about the importance of side projects and how those peripheral paths can often lead to the dream job.

Recently at Creativebrief we were all asked to take part in an online personality test. I’m an ENFP and the diagnosis was pretty accurate, if not slightly flattering. For me, the most reassuring discovery was that seven percent of the population also ask a question similar to “why can’t I fly helicopters AND be an oceanographer who writes songs and cooks?” I can’t do any of those things, but I’ve always felt the need to have a side project on the go.

My latest love is making furniture, in fact this particular love has been around for a while. A hark back to my architecture past, I feel like my body was never made to sit solely at a computer. Earlier this year I took the leap and dropped to a four-day week, inspired by friends who have found new ways to merge their work and life. Now the idea of a nine to five job or “climbing the career ladder” has started to sound antiquated. While with the fifth day I’m happy to dip my toe in the water, others have succeed by diving right in.

I was recently introduced to The Tempest Two aka James Whittle and Tom Caulfield. Two friends with no previous boating experience who decided to row the Atlantic. Less of a lifelong dream and more of a drunken pact, the project was destined to end with the night. However, 18 months later, and one successful crossing, the adventurers have quit their day jobs and made a business from exploring the world. Not jealous at all.

So it is possible to turn your dreams into a career, but how about convincing your workplace to bring your dreams to life? Did you notice the eight-metre-wide inflatable breast that loomed over the city of London on Mother’s Day this year? Part of the movement #FreetheFeed, the idea was the passion project of Katie Mackay and Ana Balarin who head up strategy and creative for the ad agency Mother. Their personal project jolted 8.4 million people to reflect on the taboos surrounding breastfeeding in public.

Whether it’s an inflatable breast, or in my case, learning to weld, the end goal may seem impossible, but it’s amazing how many people come out of the woodwork to help. If you can’t find a mentor then go looking for one. She Says began as the passion project of Laura Jordan Bambach and Alessandra Lariu, who alongside their roles at top agencies have been helping to connect creative women all over the world. While festivals like Women of the World, the passion project of Jude Kelly CBE, celebrate female role models and inspire women to overcome obstacles.

My furniture may not inspire millions just yet, but I have gained a greater understanding for how things are made. You can’t ethically buy a piece of clothing for £4, and a new table costing £10 is likely to fall apart. This is interesting insight for someone who writes about brands, where more often than not the process of making is not part of the story.

Being surrounded by the stories of women, and men, who have brought their ideas to life has inspired me to find a way to combine my love of making and my day job. Your destination is not always reached by a ladder. In my head it’s more like a climbing frame, one with tunnels and slides and ropes; as long as you’re enjoying the journey, you’re going in the right direction.

On 14 November, Kara is speaking at Bite Live alongside Jude Kelly, Katie Mackay, Laura Jordan Bambach, The Tempest Two and Alain de Botton.