Why Creative Careers Fail [And Why You Will Succeed]

There are just as many ways to break into the creative industries, as there are people working in it. Similarly, there are as many reasons for failure as there are failed creative careers.

I’m going to cover a few that I have seen, (or even experienced myself).

A Creative Career Is (Not) A Job

a creative career is a job tooA creative career is like a job. You have got to go to work. You have to earn money. You will have to please the person who is willing to pay you that money.

A creative career is often also unlike any ‘normal’ job. In many cases you work from home. It seems you don’t have to go to work. This brings challenges to people who struggle with discipline and face procrastination at home.

Once you accept that this new creative career is in many ways very much like an ordinary job, it is time to understand exactly what type of business we are talking.

A Creative Career Is Not An NFP Business

Not everyone considers it normal that you get paid when you have fun doing what you do.

The reason? Before you choose to make your hobby your job, you have a not-for-profit relationship with it. You are absolutely fine with the fact that you don’t get paid. It may actually cost you money.

In order to be successful, this relationship must change, and this is easier said than done.

In fact, acquiring the right mindset may well be the hardest objective to achieve in your quest to establish a career that is both creatively and financially rewarding.

People who succeed, don’t see a problem in sending an invoice for their services. They also don’t see a problem with paying for services in the creative sector. Every successful writer I know, has at some stage paid for writing-related services. This can be writing classes, software packages, editing services etc.

You Have Been Misinformed

creative careers - newsThe stories you hear about the creative career you want, are filtered.

In the real world of ‘normal jobs’, you get accurate information. In our precious entertainment industry, you rarely do.

So many people aspire to become a pro screenwriter after hearing stories about 7-figure deals. What they don’t realise is that for each deal of this kind, there are a thousand that bring in peanuts – or that simply don’t happen at all.

When a screenwriter sells a script, you hear about it. When a pool company wins a new client, no-one cares (even though the pool money may be a lot more). This sort of misinformation leads to the expectation that you will start earning a lot more quickly than is realistic. This, in turn, will lead to frustration and the belief that you are failing.

You are not failing at all. You were just not realistic in your expectations.

creative career goal-settingYou Focus Too Much On The Outcome

Many self-improvement programs teach you goal-setting. They encourage you to have clear goals with milestones. And work towards those, relentlessly. This is certainly a valid approach and many have made it work for themselves.

I have not.

In my own experience, this can cause more frustration than anything else.


Because in the context of our creative career, often we set the wrong goals. We aim to finish a script by Christmas. To win a contest and sell a script next year. We’ll be financially independent in two years’ time.

Out of those four goals, only one is realistic. Do you know which one?

It’s the one about finishing a script. Do you know why? Because the others are out of your hands.

No easier way to frustration than to set goals you need others to achieve them.

Instead, set your goal to write X number of pages per day. To email Y number of producers/agents every week. Now, you are accountable. And you can be proud to achieve those goals.

Once those achievable goals are set, do the work, and don’t fret about the results. In fact, I believe the more you focus on the outcome, the smaller the chance you will achieve it.

You need to focus on doing the work, on a daily basis. Continue with it.

End don’t beat yourself up over the lack of results.

They will come.

You Doubt Your Creative Talent

We are all born with a thousand times more creativity than we realise. Sadly, our modern upbringing efficiently erases this. We are told that we don’t need it. In our everyday life, all we need is a rational mind, right? (Wrong.)

As a result, most people simply forget about their immense power of creation and imagination.

So we need to reconnect with this. Without it, the only outcome can be derivative drab.

Get in touch with your creativity and imagination. Meanwhile, keep confident.

Above all: keep working.

(There are heaps of techniques to unlock your hidden creativity. I boost my energy, ideas and creativity by practising Vipassana Meditation.)

a creative career in the moviesYou’re In It Because You Love (Watching) Movies

We can all wax lyrical about our favourite movies, and how they inspired us to pursue a creative career.

Make no mistake; watching movies is not a job. Unless you want to be a movie critic. And they don’t get paid any longer, because just too many are willing to do this for free.

The more people aspire to a particular job, the harder it will get to make a living in it, and the lower the entry level payment. Just look at the exploitation of musicians these days.

In order to build a successful creative career, you need to shift your passion from the finished movies to the making of them.

Can you be just as passionate about writing, planning, producing, problem solving, people management, and all other aspects of a creative career in the movies?

You Don’t Get What The Job Is About

Writers rarely write what they want, once they get paid.

You are free to write and be creative on your own terms – as long as you’re doing it for free. The moment someone starts handing over money, you will write what THEY want, using the style THEY want to read.

This is the paradox of the Writer’s Dream: the moment you have achieved what you think you want, the dream is really over.

Not only will you have to write to a brief; you will also have to deliver to a deadline.

The stress you experienced while fretting over the state of your bank account, now suddenly doubles.

Perhaps there are other aspects of this creative career you’re chasing that you don’t know about.

You know what? It’s never too late to learn.

You Don’t Spend The Time To Learn

Creative Career - LearningSo many want to become directors, producers and screenwriters. But they don’t want to go through the long learning process it takes to achieve excellence. They find it tedious.

Or they tell themselves that it cannot be learned. “Either you have it, or you don’t”. Now there’s a really easy way to fail even before you have started.

Learning is critical, in whatever you do. Rest assured that while you’re reinventing the wheel, thousands are getting ahead of you by learning the essential skills.

Successful, happy writers find it exhilarating to explore how movies work, how stories are built.

If you don’t, perhaps this is not for you.

It’s never too late to quit.

Or …

You Quit Too Early

I once heard that it takes seven years to make any business profitable. You are a business, too.

When things are not as much fun as expected, people get out. The fighters sit it out.

A creative business is not necessarily more fun than any other, as you may find out…

If you are in it mainly for the results (a movie in the theaters, a house in the hills), it’s going to be a very long wait for your kinda fun.

So this is where we can tell apart the quitters and the fighters.

Read Seth Godin’s book ‘The Dip‘.

Ask yourself, are you a quitter … or a fighter?

-Karel Segers

P.S.: Failing is cool.

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