Taking the Next Step in Your Creative Career
It’s never too late — or too early — to plan your career path.

Whether you’re a junior designer or a freshly promoted creative director, you should always have your next steps in mind. But even with several years of experience, it might still be daunting to figure out how you’ll achieve those milestones.

In this episode of Real Creative Leadership, Adam Morgan shares tips, books, and real-life examples that can help point you toward your next creative destination whatever that looks like. 

Watch this webinar to learn:

  • How ten creative leaders got to where they are today
  • Three questions to ask yourself as you plan your career path
  • How to know when you’ve finally reached your destination

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Transcript

Adam Morgan:

There are many that may feel like I'm either too late, I've missed all this opportunity or I'm too young. Right now you can be more purposeful. You can start and make a plan now, even if it's like you're five years away from retirement. It doesn't matter where you are in your career. Start [inaudible 00:00:15]. Welcome to Real Creative Leadership, a place where creative leaders can find insights and practical guidance on the day-to-day job of being a creative leader. We focus on real issues, topics, and insights of creativity in the business world. Join me as we explore the best strategies for developing your team, getting others to embrace your vision and generating amazing experiences. This webinar series is produced by the Stoke Group. I'm your host, Adam Morgan, Adobe executive creative director and author of Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business. And this is Real Creative Leadership.

Adam Morgan:

In this session we're going to talk about taking the next step in your creative career on purpose. And this session is not just for people starting early in their career. It's not just a how to get started in the career. This is for any step of a creative career, whether you're starting or you're deep and late in your career and looking for the final steps of what you're going to take. All right, first off, welcome to the creative rollercoaster. It is an emotional ride for all of us. And this is not just people who are first starting out. Even for me, there's always the ups and downs, the highs, the lows. You put yourself out there as a creative person. You get a lot of criticism, you get a lot of guidance, you get a lot of praise and we're all on this creative roller coaster.

Adam Morgan:

In my experience, I've noticed that there are so many in this industry that have just fallen into a creative career. Maybe you start out wanting to be a lawyer, you wanted to be in finance or whatever it was, and it just didn't fit or feel right. And so you ended up over here as a designer or a writer or a videographer, and you just kind of fell into a creative career. And you know, it's fine. It's very organic, but I'm going to talk today about, rather than just kind of letting that Zen moment take you from one step to the next, to the next, which a lot of creative people do, they just kind of feel it out and see what fits next. But I want to talk to you about crafting a career and making a plan on purpose. How do you maximize, how do you get the best out of your career? How do you make a career that's fulfilling and makes you happy and makes you feel alive? That's what we want. We want to create a career that is impactful for you and successful.

Adam Morgan:

All right. So here's an agenda of what we're going to talk about. First, we're going to talk about your why, and this is really important. You've got to know why you're going down this path before you pick anything or else it's all for not. And the next, I'm going to share a whole bunch of common paths. I'm going to share trends and things that will expose you to all the different options that you have so you can make a good choice on where you want to go next. And then after that, I'm going to talk about lessons and milestones. I interviewed a lot of great successful creative people, and we're going to look at actual paths. We're going to go through half a dozen or more and look at what they did at every step of the way and the milestones and the lessons learned that they found along the way. And finally, at the end of this presentation, we're going to talk about crafting your path. All right.

Adam Morgan:

So first, let's talk about the why, what is your why no matter where you are in the path? And when I say the why, what is your motivation? What makes you feel alive? Why are you getting into this creative career? Is it for the fame? Is it for the money? Is it for the craft? Is it for the excitement of being around other people? Really thinking deeply about your personal why of why you want a creative career? It really, really helps a lot. And there are a few things I want to give you to help you think about that.

Adam Morgan:

I'm going to give you a few books that are awesome. First book is How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen? This is a fantastic book in that Clayton used to be a consultant and helped all of these big, huge companies figure out their purpose and their plan, and then take action. But he thought about it. And he's like, "why don't we do these things for ourselves?" It's like the cobbler's shoes, right? We do all this work for other brands and other people, but we never do it for ourselves. And so throughout this book, he really talks about how do you bring purpose to your career? And he talks about things that are like intangible benefits. That it's not always about money and titles and power, but there are a lot of other things, that intrinsic value that we find as creative people that will help make us feel more fulfilled.

Adam Morgan:

All right, let's move on to the next book. The next book is Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis. I'm a huge Chase Jarvis fan and I have been for many years: listening to his podcast, Chase Jarvis Live, or going to Creative Live and watching learning videos. A creative career isn't always about a map. There isn't a map that's perfect for it. In many other industries, maybe it's finance or whatever, they may have a map of where you need to go. And your parents tell you these things like you need to go here and need to go to school here, and then you need to get this job and you need to move up. And it's like this set program. And what he says is in a creative career, it's not like that at all. It's more about having a compass. And that's why I talk about the why. When you have a compass and you know where you're going and why and what you want to achieve, it doesn't matter where you're going to go. There are so many paths that can get you there. So focus on the compass, not the map. That's really, really critical.

Adam Morgan:

All right, next, I went to this workshop a while back at Northwestern. It was all about figuring out your leadership story. It was a leadership class. But I want to kind of craft things I learned from that and really focus on what is your career story. And this is not a summary, a history of your career, but think of it as a mission statement or an elevator pitch of what your career is going to be. When you do that and you write it down, that makes it real. So it's really important that you do that.

Adam Morgan:

And here's a lesson about that, that I learned early in my career. When I started in the mid-nineties, my first ad agency was Down, Smith, White and my client was Intel and we did tons and tons of TV spots back then. And one lesson I learned from my creative director is that she told me it's not about trying to come up with a spot that has a million twists and turns in the story. Right? She told me a really good story can be summarized in one sentence, a single sentence, that's it. Because anything longer than that, it's just too much to communicate. So focus on a single sentence and write down your story in one sentence. Just try it. It's the beauty of restraint and it guides all the other decisions you want to talk about. So if you pause and just focus on writing your current story in one sentence. What is it all about? What is the purpose of it? Better than that, the more we practice the skill of synthesizing, you will have a superpower, whether it's in strategy or creativity as a leader. This is an awesome skill, so go ahead and do that.

Adam Morgan:

Now that you've done that and we've talked about the why, now I want to show you options. How do I even know what my next step is in my career if I don't even know what the options are. I'm going to go through common career paths and there's actually going to be a little bit of an evolution. It's going to be how I thought of career paths early in my career towards the end of my career and what I thought about them. So let's start out.

Adam Morgan:

Early nineties this was the career path if you were going to become a creative director: you start out as a production assistant maybe down in the mail room running errands, and you just kind of comp things together and then you worked your way into a designer and the designer's job was to take all the ideas of the art director and make them real and make them pixel perfect. And then you would finally elevate up to an art director and you get to call the shots on the big ideas. And then finally, you move up to associate creative director and creative director. That was a linear path. And there were many problems with this.

Adam Morgan:

And here's the next, early 2000s up to 2010. This was kind of the plan that I would tell about career paths. And the point was like, back in the beginning, people were maybe really good at either design or really good at art direction. And they're different things. And even like production artists, they may be really talented at technical skills. And back then, they were all trying to ... the only way they saw growth is if I'm a production designer, I have to learn how to be an art director. I have to learn how to be a designer in order to make my way up the chain. And part of my point with this model was, you don't have to be.

Adam Morgan:

There are awesome paths that can go all the way to the top. You can start out as a junior production assistant and move your way up into a senior production designer and get paid well and do awesome and not have to become an art director if that's not your skillset, if it's just not in your DNA. You can be a writer and go all the way up. You could be a front end developer. It didn't matter. The point was you could start as a junior and move your way to senior. And then anyone can become a creative director. Creative directors can come from a writer, can come from a production designer or an editor, it didn't matter. Because once you get to that step and you cross that huge chasm from being a senior creative, going into a creative director, it's a completely different set of skills. It's all the soft skills and selling and presenting, and vision and all that good stuff. And so it didn't matter which path you came from. And I thought that was really, really important back then, but boy, there's a lot more to learn.

Adam Morgan:

Now we're going to get into what today's career path looks like. And I'm just going to do a build here because there's so much to it. So sure enough, some of the similarities in the beginning are you got to start somewhere.

Adam Morgan:

Some of the similarities, in the beginning, are you've got to start somewhere. So whether that comes this path is going into agency job, or this path is going into a brand, or it's even just freelance, you wanting to work freelance. You start out as a junior and then moved to mid and then go up to a senior. And it's really, really important to get those skillsets as you move along. It's really, really important. And then beyond that, this could be a path for UX designers, photographers, illustrators. It doesn't matter. This is just kind of showing that you start out as a junior, and you move your way up. And then what's the next step. Sure, there's still that big jump into management. You still... any of these paths... photographer can lead to a creative director. It doesn't matter [inaudible 00:09:41] developer. It doesn't matter.

Adam Morgan:

It's all about getting good in your path and then move. And then once you get to that management layer, you've got to learn all the skills of all the other disciplines before you move into becoming creative director. But here's where things change. Going into management is not the only option. I think there are so many people that feel like, "As I move up my career, I've got to suddenly become a creative director. I've got to manage people. That's how I'm going to be successful." And that's not necessarily the truth. There's a new path. It's an individual expert path. And I've found this at many companies now. You can even have a career level higher than a creative director. You can be paid more and have just as much respect without having to go the management path. And so, there are a lot of options there when it opens up of how do we get more from our career without having to go into management?

Adam Morgan:

And this is where you could still be a senior writer or designer or whatever. But you can also be a researcher. You could be a fellow. You could be a director, executive producer, and many even jump into other disciplines. Maybe you start out as a writer, and then you move over as a marketer or a strategist, or you're doing content strategy. Any of those things, it can be interchangeable. A lot of people are moving from agency side or brand side into freelance or vice versa. And so, really near the top of your career, it's not just that you have to move into management. You could move over into this kind of entrepreneur, solopreneur, freelance, whatever model you want to call it. You could become an author or a writer or speaker. Be a designer or creative director that's freelance, and you will work at just for short periods of time at different companies, or maybe you want to be a consultant or investor or a founder, or a board member. You start your own brand, start your own company. A lot of people are doing that.

Adam Morgan:

And I think it's really, really interesting. In fact, I knew another... just telling a few stories. There was another guy who at my last agency I worked at before Adobe. He had his own little agency but was feeling like he needed to learn something or try something new. He actually came over to our agency and just volunteered as a... for one month. He's like, "I'll give you my services for one month for free, just so I can learn and get exposure." And it was an awesome move. Of course, at the end, we ended up hiring him because he was just fantastic.

Adam Morgan:

But that was a bold move from him to go from freelance to going to an agency. And the last step I want to talk about now is a lot of people may feel like, "Okay, great, I've moved up. I'm either an individual or a manager or have my own company, whatever it may be. And I'm at the... near the top of my ladder." And some may feel like there's a glass ceiling for creative people. In the past, especially moving in-house. It was like there wasn't a lot of opportunity. And that's why most people felt like going in house was a trap. But now, with the design-led movement, in-house creative people really have a much better seat at the table, and they can guide the brand and the expression of the brand. But many times when we feel like, Oh, we just stop at that at being a creative director.

Adam Morgan:

And actually, I'm seeing a little bit more movement in a new path, which is creative people moving into CMO roles. Creative people moving into chief digital officer or even CEO. And my question is, why not? If you're ECD at some company, why not become CMO? Why not? Sure there's a lot of other things you have to learn. But in terms of... thinking it in terms of this. To [inaudible 00:12:56] today's environment, one of the biggest differentiators that brands have are customer experiences, and creative minds are the ones leading these customer experiences and helping brands retool themselves and focus on experiences and design and creativity. I mean, that's where things are going, with everything else becoming a commodity. Creativity is the new superpower. And why shouldn't we have more creative leaders at the board of directors level, CMO, CDO, CEO? Why not?

Adam Morgan:

You can certainly learn the numbers. You can learn the finance. I'm just here to say it doesn't have to be that all boards of directors are going to be made up of operations people and finance people just doesn't make sense. We should be... many of us should be looking towards running companies, bringing creativity, bringing the humanity back to brands, and making sure that's the guiding light more so than just operations or finance. So, consider that if you're later in your career, why not give it a go? All right, now that we've looked at some common paths, so we know what the options are. Now. I want to really dig into what people have actually done. So as part of this presentation, I wanted to get examples from really successful creative people. So I went out and interviewed some of the world's top brands, people who are leading creative at top brands, top agencies, award winners, entrepreneurs, New York Times bestsellers.

Adam Morgan:

I went and looked and interviewed a lot of these people so we can actually look their real career path. So it's not just theory of here's what's possible, but let's actually dig into their career paths and see what they did and see what lessons and nuggets we can learn from their careers. So the first person here is Scott. Scott started out in agency. He was a copywriter at BBDO and went on to work as a writer and a senior writer at really famous agencies. Next, he moved his way up. He worked into a management path, became a creative director, a group creative director. And then he did an interesting thing that a lot of us that I'm seeing this happen a lot more is the jump over to brand side. So he was a creative director at Apple and then creative director at eBay.

Adam Morgan:

And then, eventually, the global executive creative director at Cisco. And then, afterwards, the end of his career, he's gone back to freelance. Now, let's see what we can learn from some of his milestones. So early on, he said, "After a while, the craft is easy, but the client management is hard." So if you've worked in agency, and I know this firsthand, it really is tricky because we're dealing with people and emotions and choices and all that good stuff. So in the beginning of your career, maybe a focus on the craft, which is really important. As you get into the middle of your career, it's definitely going to be about how do I sell? How do I pitch? How do I convince? How do I tell stories? And the next thing he said that was interesting. He's like, as he moved away from agency over to the brand side, he said, "The best way to avoid ego is to try job on the other side."

Adam Morgan:

So whether you're in freelance or you're a brand side, or you're agency, try something else and get rid of your ego because it's too often, it's about us versus them, right. So next is Xanthe Wells. She is currently the senior director in global ECD at Google, and we had an awesome conversation. And here's her story. She actually started [inaudible 00:15:53] the brand at production assistant at Pixar, and then moved over to agency. So she went the opposite. Worked at agencies and had some great mentors along the way. Great fit, famous agencies, Chiat Day, Ground Zero. And then she ended up coming back over to the brand site again. She worked at MAL for Good. At Nest as the global creative director. And then finally at Google as the senior director ECD. Here's some of the lessons she learned. Early on, she says, "Get a mentor sooner than you think you need one."

Adam Morgan:

That's really important. Sometimes we think, "Oh, it's not until I'm really cooking that I need a mentor or maybe just at the very beginning." But just always, you should always find mentors. In the middle of her career, she said that the best doers are strategic thinkers. And I think that's critical. The more insight you can bring around an idea, the better it's going to do. Next, she said, "Leadership is all about mentoring [inaudible 00:16:39] being good, kind, and patient." I think that's what's gotten her to where she's at, so good lessons. If you're going to become a leader and a manager, don't be a turd. And then finally, "Find your level. Not everyone wants to be a VP. There's a lot of maturity in knowing yourself." So I think that's really critical. And we're going to talk more about that later. All right, next. This is Jim Real.

Adam Morgan:

He's currently the director of creative experiences and products at Yellow Shoes at Disney. So a high-level Disney executive. Here's where he started. He again started out in agency as well. I think there is some truth in starting in agency. I know that's what I did. And it's like dog years, right. You just learn so much in a short amount of time. So he worked his way through different agency jobs as a writer and then moved up to associate creative director. And then he actually went freelance for a while. So he did the opposite. He went freelance for a while just to get more exposure. And then finally went brand side at Disney. And then he did a little stint as an instructor at College. But then basically had been working at Disney since 2011. Here's some of his lessons learned. "There's no substitute for hard work and doing your homework."

Adam Morgan:

I think that's critical. Before you take the next step, do your homework, know what you're getting into. Next, "What brings you to the table isn't what moves you around it." I thought that was brilliant. So even though you may, in one company, get a seat at leadership, that's not going to be the one that's going to help you grow or move around. And lateral moves sometimes are really, really important, especially if you're planning out that career. And then this last one is awesome. He said, "Sometimes you just need to raise your hand for a new opportunity." For him...

Adam Morgan:

[inaudible 00:18:00] is awesome he said, "Sometimes you just need to raise your hand for a new opportunity." For him, they had asked, "Who wants to go out to Shanghai and run the creative team out there for a couple of years?" And he raised his hand and went out there and said it was one of the best experiences he's ever had. So, raise your hand, try something new. Maybe the opportunity will come to you.

Adam Morgan:

All right, next. This is Laura Wimer. She was just named on the Creative 100 list by Adweek, which is the top creative minds in advertising media and culture. And she's currently the Executive Creative Director at Mekanism, an independent agency. So, she started out in agency, working as a designer. She moved over to the brand side at Dollar Shave Club, and some other places, and then went freelance for a while, and then back to agency, as the Executive Creative Director. Great career path.

Adam Morgan:

And then here's some of the lessons she had for us. "Stop making money work the way your boss did it. You got to find your own style." Early on, it's easy to just keep replicating what our creative director does, great thing to start out with, but you got to learn to eventually move beyond that. Next, "Intense passion shows at every step." I think that's so awesome. It doesn't matter what step you're going to take next. One of the best ways to show that you're ready for it and they should hire you in that next step is to show passion, show passion for the work.

Adam Morgan:

When she talked about going into management, she said, "If you're ever saying, "Oh, I did this." Or, "I'm the one that did this." Or, "I'm the one who..." Blah, blah, blah. Then you're not ready. You're not ready for management. You've got to get rid of that ego." So, I know that was true for me. I kept thinking, "Oh, my ads, or my ideas are the ones that are always being sold. Why am I not a creative director?" And it's because I wasn't ready. I was too focused on me and my own path to really think about the big picture. Next she says, "Don't overstay your own path for personal growth." And, "Vision outperforms credentials." That's awesome.

Adam Morgan:

All right, next. Chris Do. So, he is the founder of The Futur. It's a creative podcast, one of the top podcasts out there, and his whole business is all about helping freelancers make a good living, and make a good business as a freelancer. So, he started out at an agency and then went over to the Epitaph Records, he wanted to design records and found out that wasn't for him, so he jumped back to agency. And then he jumped into academia and tried that for a little while. And then he went back to another company doing UX design.

Adam Morgan:

So, really he was exploring this space a lot, just figuring out, "What are different things just so I can find it that's right for me?" And then he ended up becoming a producer and went around speaking on topics, doing all these great things, and then eventually founded The Futur, which is awesome. So, if you haven't seen it, go check it out, you need to go check it out.

Adam Morgan:

But here's some of the things he had taught us along the way. And this first one is so critical, we're going to talk about this later, more. "Learn to speak the rules and play the game after." Meaning, so many times when we think about the next step, we think what got us there, those are the same rules. If I'm a really good writer or a good designer, then the next step, that's all that matters, is if I'm good. And that's not true at all.

Adam Morgan:

Douglas Davis, I had him on my podcast, Real Creative Leadership. And he talked about when he was a designer and finally figured out strategy. It's like, "I got in these rooms and something kept beating me and I didn't know what it was." And he's like, "When I finally identified that it was strategy, then I had to learn it. I knew what it was. Those were the rules. And I had to learn to speak that language." And once you do that, then you can take the next step, but you've got to learn the rules. So, with anything you're doing, don't just assume that you know what it's like. All of these other paths, all these other jobs, there's just a completely different set of rules perhaps. So, make sure you learn them.

Adam Morgan:

He also said that, "Your ability to move is all determined by how much you can tell a story and sell." So critical. "If you're uncomfortable, then you know you're taking the next step." You're actually getting there. "Never take it the next step if you can't see your own gaps." That's so critical. Self evaluation is so, so important.

Adam Morgan:

And then, "Those who are good at management, are those who read more." You're going to see that as a recurring topic. Reading, which is, of course, you're like, "Oh, I'm sure [inaudible 00:21:49] good writer." No, whether you're designer, a videographer, or anything, read, read, read, because that's where you get more and more exposure to big ideas.

Adam Morgan:

Right. Next. Brandon Mull. Brandon Mull is a New York Times bestselling author. He's got 17 books on the New York Times bestselling list. And he was number one on several. So, here's his path. He started out doing improv, and then he was doing marketing for an improv group, which is really interesting, I'm sure... You could see he learned how to break things apart, and learned from all the best, and then molded it into his own stuff.

Adam Morgan:

And then he went to a film company and was a copywriter selling all of their movies. And then he went and worked for a bookstore as a senior copywriter and a creative director, basically writing all the little blurbs for every book. And I'm sure all of that helped him know like, "Oh, here, book..." How do you synthesize a book down to a single sentence? That's what he did again and again and again.

Adam Morgan:

And then he finally broke out with his first series and then has been writing ever since. And his advice at the end is, "If you find that dream, just keep doing it. Don't give up on it. Don't feel like you have to do something else." Even though he did say... He cracked the code on one thing, which helped him crack the code on the next thing. And we do that as critic people. So, use that skill of cracking the code to get to the next step. But if you love it, don't move.

Adam Morgan:

All right. Now, the last one, This is Kim Grob. She is also an entrepreneur. She started her own agency and it's a thriving, awesome business, called Write On. But here's her career path. She actually started writing news in a newspaper in prisons in California for all the different prisoners, telling their story. And then she went into a magazine for bicycles. And then she kind of went into this non-profit thing for a while and then to academia. And then finally ended up in agency later on in her career, which is an interesting twist. And then from there she broke out and just said, "You know what? I'm more of my own person." So she started her own company.

Adam Morgan:

And here's some of the lessons, "Accept that you are a writer or designer." Too often, we just don't believe that we're a writer. We don't think that, "I'm a writer." Or, "I'm a designer." Accept it. And then move on from there. And remember, this is just work, this is not live, so don't take it too seriously. And find creativity in everything that you're doing, even if you're [inaudible 00:23:52] later on and you're ECD at some company, and it feels you're not doing the work anymore, put creativity into process, put creativity into the other things that you're figuring out.

Adam Morgan:

And then last of all, "Don't think that there's only one path." That's really, really critical. Yes, you saw earlier on my chart, there are a million different paths and it's not like there's only one for us. There could be many, so explore them and let's find them.

Adam Morgan:

All right, now we're done with examples, let's talk about your path. I just want to go through how you can craft your path, what you can do. Let's learn, not just from these examples, but I also want to talk about common elements that I saw as I interviewed these people and as I've studied it, as well as my personal experience, and then we want to apply all of this to you.

Adam Morgan:

First of all, start where you are right now. There are many that may feel like, "Oh, I'm either too late. I've missed all this opportunity." Or, "I'm too young." It doesn't matter where you are in your career. Right now, you could be more purposeful, you can start and make a plan now, even if it's like you're five years away from retirement.

Adam Morgan:

And let's talk tools, first of all, there are a few tools that we have as creative people. It's our portfolio, our body of work, and also our resume, or more often than not, LinkedIn. And these are really critical because these are usually the ways that we get jobs, we show portfolio, we show our experience. Early on, I would say in my career, it was all about the portfolio, and then later on, it's not so much about portfolio as it is my lived experience as a leader.

Adam Morgan:

No matter what you do, and this is my one big piece of advice around these tools, and that is, if you're thinking about taking another step, people are going to be evaluating your portfolio or your resume in terms of the next step. So make it match where you're going, not where you've been. So often, so many people are just like, "Here's what I've got, here are the ads that I've done, here's the portfolio that I've got, and then I just want to present it." Think deeply about it. Maybe scrap it all and do a completely different portfolio, or maybe go into your LinkedIn profile, and make it match what you want to be. Tell a story, but tell it for the step that you're looking for. That's super important.

Adam Morgan:

All right, next, we're going to go through a series of questions, and these are questions that, as I have been thinking about this, and interviewed all these people, these are really important questions to ask yourself as you take each of these different steps. Really, really important. So, we're going to go through these one by one.

Adam Morgan:

Number one. Start out, "What are my options?" You may be in a job that you don't love, act in the short term, plan for the longterm. This is the Clayton Christensen thing. "What do I want out of my life? What do I want out of my career? What type of work? Where do I want to work? What company or industry? Ownership level, do I want to own my destiny or do I want to work for one boss or 100 bosses?" Think deeply about what your options are. And I hope that the early part of this presentation helps show you some of the options that are out there.

Adam Morgan:

Number two. "Now, once I know what my options are and I've made a plan, how do I know if I know the language of the next step?" We talked about that with Chris Do, this is really important. You need to assess your skillset. And I'm talking about not just hard skills of like, "Do I know Photoshop? Do I know XD? Do I know Adobe products or other products?" It's not just about the hard skills, about those products. Those are important, but it's also the soft skills. Are you really good at vision? Good at leadership? Good at creating relationships. Good at...

Adam Morgan:

... Good at vision, good at leadership, good at creating relationships, good at selling, all of that stuff, so assess your skills. And more today than ever, we have access to so many things. There's learning platforms. There's places we can go. I got a master's degree in strategy, just so I could learn a little bit more about it. Go learn everything you can about these next steps. Learn the rules, and then you'll be able to write it later.

Adam Morgan:

All right, number three, this is the introspection. Do I really want it? When you're looking at that path, make sure you really want it. Look at all these people who, near the end of their career, they've given up all this leadership to go back to be a freelancer because they love the craft, right? So follow your heart for sure. What kind of project types do you want? What kind of pace? Maybe you have a cool opportunity that's really awesome and pays a ton of money, but it's a terrible work/life balance. How important is that to you? If it's a short term, you might, "For two years, I can totally do it because I need to get to X." But for me, I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at an agency that focused on outdoor advertising as far as outdoor industry, hiking boots and car racks and all that stuff, and I absolutely loved it. And it wasn't necessarily the best step. It wasn't like going into big cities, but it was the best experience for me in work/life balance. It was awesome.

Adam Morgan:

So what do you want? Where do you want to live? Those are important things. And then really think about, is this the right one for me? Is this the right level? We learned from Xanthe Wells, not everyone needs to be a VP. Maybe that's not the right path. Try something, learn it, experience it. I've had many talks with people about becoming a creative director, and once I tell them everything you have to do, they're like, "Eh, I don't want to do that." But maybe it's right, so figure it out. And then also appreciate when it's working. Just like our marketing and our advertising, we tire of it much faster than our customers do. It's okay to enjoy your job, so have some gratitude. That's okay.

Adam Morgan:

Next, if you are, "Yep, this is for me. I definitely want it," how can you get exposed to it? So exposure is where we discover if it really is the right fit. Be curious. Don't limit yourself. Get into meetings. Ask to be in the room and just listen. Be a fly on the wall. Be a student of the room. Another great way to get exposure is get a mentor. Ask a bajillion questions to them, people online. Read job descriptions. I've done that sometimes where I go and just look at the different jobs I'm considering and read the job descriptions to see if it's a fit. Attend conferences like this one. This is a great place to get exposure. Read, learn, explore, get exposure to as much as you can before you jump into it.

Adam Morgan:

Next, after you've kind of done the work. Up to this point, you've read the rules. You know what it's all about. You've been exposed to it. You're thinking deeply. Do all of this before, and then see, am I ready? Can I write the next step? First you've got to know the rules, then you can write the rules. And if you are, then the truth is this, in most circumstances, you're probably going to have to do the job for a while before you get that promo, right? You have to show that you're qualified, that you're actually writing the rules before you get the credit for it. So that's okay, and usually I've found that if you really get into this question of, can I write the rules? Most likely if you're doing all the work, you'll to a point where you're like, "I'm already doing it, and when I look back, I've already made the step. I'm already there. I'm already doing it."

Adam Morgan:

And then finally, let's say you've done all that stuff and you're ready, like, "Okay, I'm ready for this job, but I'm not getting it at my current work." What do you do? This is where you start looking, and this is a hard truth. Number one, it's a common phrase that I use all the time which is, a prophet is never accepted in their own town. Unless you have a great culture, a great manager, most likely you're going to have to go somewhere else to make a big jump, at least a substantial jump. If you have a great company and they value you, awesome. Prove it out. Have meetings with them. Talk with them, and get that next move.

Adam Morgan:

But the next thing I want you to keep in mind, the other truth is, your loyalty should be to your career first and not your company. So many times people are loyal to their company and they don't want to leave people hanging, so they stay, stay, stay. Don't do that. This is a tough industry. There are so many highs and lows that I've experienced over time. And no one is going to be thinking about you and putting your best interests in mind. It's you. You need to do that. You have to focus on what's right for you. And maybe that's staying at your current job, or maybe it's finding a lateral move, maybe it's going somewhere else. There are so many options.

Adam Morgan:

But when you're looking for that opening, if you're not finding it, start networking. Look at your connections. Job listings, sure. But I had a job opening and I had 900 applications for a creative director at Adobe, 900. It was too much to sift through, so the recommendations helped a lot. So get recommendations. Do your homework. Meet with the recruiters if you find a certain company you want to go after. Or if you want to start your own company, great. But own your path.

Adam Morgan:

Okay. So these are just questions. These aren't rules. These are just to help you build a plan.

Adam Morgan:

A couple last things. Number one, there is no standard ladder. I mean, that's the beauty of creativity, right? In the beginning my premise of this whole presentation was so many of us fall into a creative career, and it's just kind of chaos and we're just kind of wandering around. But if you take lessons, like from Chase Jarvis, find a compass, find your why and know what you're all about, and use that compass to get through this. But that doesn't mean that there's a linear path like in finance, right? There may be a windy path, or there may be multiple paths. Kim [Grow 00:32:01] told us that. There's not just one path.

Adam Morgan:

But the thing you can do is make sure you do it on purpose. Find where you want to go. Look where you're going to go tomorrow, and it may be something that surprises you. For me in my career, if I really think like at the end of my career, where do I want to be? I want to be a landlord. I want to have a bunch of rental properties and be a landlord. That sounds fantastic. So I'm working towards that. I'm reading books. I'm studying. I'm getting prepared for it right now.

Adam Morgan:

All right. Here are the key takeaways. Number one, make a plan now on purpose. Don't just wander, make sure you know what you're doing. After this presentation, sit down and just write down some notes. Think about your why. Think about what you need to do next. Where are some places you want to explore?

Adam Morgan:

Next, learn to read before you can write the next step. Super, super critical. Make sure you understand what's going on in that role. What are the expectations? What do people do there? Before you just jump willy nilly into it.

Adam Morgan:

Next, learn from other people's paths. I hope that's what you're doing here. Learn from all the stuff I'm sharing. I'm going to talk to you about how you can get the deck here in a minute, and you can look through those job paths and really think about it. But create your own path, don't just follow someone else.

Adam Morgan:

And finally, if you find the dream, keep doing it. Don't just quit because you feel like you have to and you have to try something else. You don't have to go into any of those paths, management or building your agency. You don't have to do any of those. Just do the one that's right for you.

Adam Morgan:

All right. Finally, you are a creative. You're a storyteller. No matter what medium it is, whether it's video, whether it's words, pictures, it doesn't matter. This is your chance to craft your story. You've done it for other brands for years, right? Why not do it for yourself? Don't let it happen by chance. Create your own path on purpose.

Adam Morgan:

Thanks for listening to Real Creative Leadership. I'm your host, Adam Morgan, and this series was brought to you by The Stoke Group. For the most effective marketing use both sides of your brain to align your strategy, creative execution, and analysis. Connect with The Stoke Group for help designing each step of your marketing plan and creating a coherent vision. Visit thestokegroup.com to learn more.