The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond

Ep 14. 5 Starting Steps for your Post-Ac Creative or Professional Pivot

February 23, 2022 Carmela Season 2 Episode 14
The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond
Ep 14. 5 Starting Steps for your Post-Ac Creative or Professional Pivot
Show Notes Transcript

You've heard the inspirational stories and the affirmations and now you are looking to get started on your own new creative project or professional pivot. In this episode I talk you through some common, concrete starting points to jumpstart your next move.

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Speaker 1 (00:09):

Welcome to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani, and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram and to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page I hope you enjoyed the episode. 

Welcome back to the millennial PhD. This is me, your host, and today's episode is about five starting steps for your creative post, a professional pivot. So today is a little bit more about the nitty gritty, getting into a couple of really broad action steps for how you can get started if you're thinking about making a professional pivot out of academia or creating a side hustle for academia, especially if it's something creative, right? So this is the focus of this show, um, has been specifically kind of a little bit more geared towards creative industries and the arts, really broadly speaking. So I'll, I will kind of be focusing on that, but I do think today's episode is broad enough that it applies to a number of things. Before we jump into it, I do wanna recap and say, if you're looking for more of a, uh, an, an episode that focuses on affirmations or just talking through kind of the woes of academia, feel free to pop back to the episode before this, which is just a series of creative affirmations for your TAC post act, non act professional pivot. 

And in that episode, I share a little bit about my own story and my trajectory as an academic and as a dancer, and as now a creative producer and consultant, which is another area I've been working in more recently. Today is gonna be a little bit more, like I said, those concrete kind of action steps. If you're thinking about making a creative professional pivot and you're not really sure where to start, there's a lot of commentary and a lot of advice out there. And I will say no, 25 minute, 30 minute podcast episode or two page article online is necessarily gonna be able to encompass the experience of getting into the nitty gritty of doing a professional pivot of thinking about where you wanna go creatively, what you need to do economically, and what you, what you'd like to do politically and socially. So these are starting points. I hope that you can take something useful out of it. There are things that I've tried at various points, and they've worked for me in to varying degrees, right? None of these is magic solutions, but again, just some starting points. If you listen to the last episode and you felt like, that's great, yeah, but what do I do? Like what, how do, how do I get into this process? Maybe this one will be helpful and will be something that you can utilize. 

So the first starting step actions that, that I would say is the first thing we're gonna wanna do. I mentioned in the pre, in previous episodes, and it's come up a lot, that there's a good amount of mental and emotional work that goes in up front to making that professional pivot or starting a new creative project or a new creative endeavor, right? Even if you're not ACA in academia, this is probably really relevant to you, right? If you're jumping in and you're trying to do a new creative project, you think it's all about the ideas or, or the execution, but there is a good amount of kind of preparing oneself for that process. And I was really quick to write that off. Um, but it's, in my experience, it's been really critical. And one of the ways to get that out is in our step one is to write it out. 

Okay? So the first thing I would ask you to do if you're considering a creative professional pivot is to sit down with yourself, carve out a couple of minutes in the morning and write out what you see for yourself in an ideal kind of trajectory going forward, right? So this can be something as simple as what does your ideal day to day life look like five years from now? Or if that's too much, you could do, you know, two or three years from now, what do you feel like would bring you joy and bring you maybe the economic, uh, success. Success is a rough word, but what would bring you joy and the economic necessities that you're looking for? And then I would ask you to step away from what you've written down. And this can be the challenging part, but it can be really helpful to sit down right through this process and specifically having something focused to write out, like that conversation of what does the day look like for you in your, your, your dream scenario? 

Step away from it and come back to it. And one day you get one, one way you could do this is to write it out one morning, step away from it for a day or two, and come back a few mornings later. And when you come back to it, read through what you've written down about your ideal scenario and notice how your body reacts to what you've written down. Okay? Sometimes I've, I've gotten the advice before from a mentor to literally rank how you're feeling about different things. If you've made a list or if you've written about different components, you could rank on a scale from one to five, kind of how excited or good you feel about something at a five or as compared to a one or a two, which would be not so good, not so excited that might work for you. 

I found that to be a little bit overwhelming for me. But what I do think you can pay attention to is how does your body feel when you read about the scenarios that you've written down, right? And our bodies know, um, what is anxiety inducing and a little bit of fear is okay, a little bit of anxiety is okay, but if something feels like it's shutting you down, then maybe it's not the thing that you jump into first. Whereas the thing that continues to draw your attention probably is, and I do have, I have a free resource guide that has five writing prompts that can get you started on this. And I promise this episode is not like a prolonged advertisement for that. This is the only time I'll mention it, but it can be helpful to have some guided prompts if you don't like the material that I have up, which is in the Instagram bio for the millennial PhD. 

You can scour the internet and look for some writing prompts that might help you do, um, you know, kind of a five or seven day reflection on what the future looks like for you. But the main piece that I would definitely say is write it out for yourself and step away from it. The other powerful thing about this is that it may be that maybe you don't get off the ground right away with this, this new creative project that you're working on or this professional pivot that you're working on. And one of the things I've found is that we sometimes forget how long we're thinking about something or how long we're hoping for a particular dream. So something that maybe the case is that you write down something and see it again in the future, three or four months down the line and say, Wow, I didn't realize that I was already dreaming of that three months ago. 

I was already dreaming of that a year ago. Okay? So again, that first step is all about write, write it down, step away from it, come back to it to see how your body feels in reaction to what you've written down, what still feels fantastic for you and what feels not so good, right? And I had a great episode, I think it was episode four of this podcast with, um, Jasmine Taha, who was talking about moving toward where you feel the fear. And I do think that can be a powerful guide as well. The fear and the excitement, the exhilaration maybe is a great word to think about. So if that's your personality, that's fantastic, but if what you're looking for right now is security because you've been in a precarious position in academia for eight years or something, for example, um, then maybe that, maybe that's not what you'd like to focus on at the moment, but it can be a powerful guiding force as well. 

Number two, second starting step. And this one is real, real straightforward and real tangible is to make a list of your skills without negative self-talk. Okay? So without bringing in the question of whether or not you feel like other people feel like you are actually good at the skill that you're writing down, sit down and make a list of your skills. Try and shed, if you're coming out of academia and you're listening to this, try and shed whatever assumptions have been put on you by your program, whether it's your grad program or some of the work environments you've encountered that tell us that you need to receive certain types of, um, approval to, for something to be considered a skill, right? So I'd say divorce yourself from the norms of academia, right? Which are very tied up in these particular and obscure milestones like the peer reviewed journal article. 

Forget that. What do you feel like you are good at really broadly speaking? Are you really good with pulling together a syllabus the week before the semester <laugh>? Are you really good with working with students and connecting with them? Are you really good at writing? Um, because a lot of us are, are not, um, but many of us are, right? Are you really good at writing? Are you really good at editing copywriting? Are you really good at getting along with your colleagues? One of the things that I have been thinking about a lot is how much of academia for me in my experience and everybody's is different, was about project management. Um, just bringing a project from to fruition, from idea it through development and then disseminating the findings and making something that was nothing but an idea into something concrete. So sit with that. 

I would also recommend during this step, if you're thinking about what are my skills, how can they be transferable to the area that I want to go into? And I know this is all over the internet, and I'll just say it again, If you're leaving academia, you need to think about translating the abundant skills and talents that you have into a language that is going to make sense to the field that you're going into. Okay? So I'm not saying that, that I'm, you know, coming up with this idea, <laugh>, this is certainly not, I'm not the first person to say this is it's advice that's all over the place, and it's really, really important. Um, I've had interviews, um, in the not so distant past where I've successfully translated academic skills and communicated how they're valuable to a client. And I've had interviews where I was not so successful in that step. 

And the, I'm the same person with the same, the same capabilities, but the difference is really clear in how people are gonna see you and relate to you. So thinking about the fields that you might wanna get into, especially if it's things like entertainment or creative fields, you're gonna wanna think about how your academic skills translate over there. Make a list of skills. And one way to do this that can be illuminating for you is to start by making a list of things that you feel like you're good at. Then make a list of things you've been told that you're good at by other people or that, that you, you've have been commented on by other people. Because sometimes amazingly, these, these things are not necessarily the same. Um, sometimes people feel, I hear from people about a skill set that they think that I have, that I would not have thought of partly because of the negative self-talk, maybe because of the particular structures that you're coming out of, whether that be academia or a corporate environment or an abusive environment of any type. 

So, not that we believe every single thing that comes out of everybody's mouth, but if you've heard consistently that, Oh wow, you have an amazing energy. Like you really connect with people while like you have a powerful energy when you walk in the room or something like that. Maybe you weren't thinking about that in particular, but if it's bring being brought to your attention, there's a reason and it's because it stands out. So you make this list of how you view your skills and make a list of maybe some things that you've heard from other people or that have been commented on, that you've, that you've, you've been told that you're, you have strengthened, try and shed the assumptions of your field once again. And if you feel energized by this step, or you feel like this is, this is useful or something that you haven't taken the time to do before, and if you already know what area you're hoping to move into, if you're starting a new creative project or making a professional pivot, this is also a great moment, again, to translate those skills into the language of the field that you're going to. 

How can you do that? There are guidelines from random companies all over the internet that do this work for you, right? So think about the types of companies that you're interested in Google Way, and you should be able to find a PDF or a PowerPoint somewhere that gives you a spec, the specific language that's popular in that field. There are other ways of doing it, of course, there's, there's, um, connecting with people from that field, which we'll talk about in a moment, really looking into, I mean, there's LinkedIn learning and there's all these courses, but I would say as a starting point, if you're relatively early in this process, you can do this really with a thorough Google search. And I think a lot of the academics on here are, I mean, research is one of the things that we're supposed to be able to do. 

So get out there and look for a guide from some company that puts this out. That's, uh, that is about translating skills, translating your skills for industries. Um, so if you feel stuck by that, the information is out there for free. Um, for sure, if you wanna move to the next step, there's other steps you can take, but this is a great starting point. Number three is if you, especially if you are in academia, but also if you're trying to pivot away from an industry that you're not happy with or work practice that you're not happy with, I would strongly recommend that you build at least one skill or work on at least one project that is un that is separate from your main program. So I always talk about this is the big theme for this season, is this big idea of building a creative and economic lifeline outside of academia or outside of your current professional situation. 

Because I always talk about how it, it shocked me to my core, but dance became this outside medium for me while I was getting my PhD. That wound up giving me the opportunity to develop a bunch of skills that I had not anticipated and, and, and gave me kind of a, a, uh, a place to express myself outside of academia. Yes, sure, but also an economic opportunity outside of academia. And ultimately, it helped me build a skill set that was unrelated to my program, and that meant that it can't be touched, right? So if you're so many people, if you're suffering with from abuse in an academic context, which so many people are, and you hear this all the time, try to work on something that cannot be touched by that program, that cannot be touched by your grad program, that cannot be touched by the hiring committee at these different universities. 

Now, I know for this, this, this step, right, this starting step, it can be challenging because we are all swamped. And I know that some of us are listening to this, like, when am I supposed to just like randomly build and work on a separate project? Because I know that we have our economic survival to worry about our work, to worry about our program, to worry about family members, kids, elders, community members to take care of. I know everybody has a lot going on. So if this is not a possibility for you, that is also fine. It doesn't have to be this step, but if it is, if you're able to work on some sort of project that cannot be touched by the forces within academia or by the forces within your company that you're working for at a given moment, this is a, this is to me something that can have a lot of power and can have a lot of resonance. 

Some really simple things that can be done, for example, would be if you wanna write about topics in a way that's a little bit more accessible and gives you some practice, you can put up articles on, right? This is, you can commit to a monthly article and just put it up and put it out into the world and continue to commit to it and work on that pair, pair up with a friend or, or, or two friends to build some sort of project together. And the reason, again, that I say this is because it's so critical to have something that is beyond the scope of the, the forces that be within academia, Excuse me. So I would really encourage anybody to work on some sort of side project. And I do think for a lot of people that the, the side project or the side job that they're working while they're in academia does wind up being something that becomes their main focus or their full-time job. 

You hear a lot of narratives from, from folks who have pivoted away from academia about how they were working part-time in a nonprofit to make ends meet while in grad school and then ultimately fell in love with the work and or were, were offered, you know, a better salary and benefits to work there. So I'd strongly encourage you, if you're listening to this and you're like in year three of a grad program, and all you've heard is that you need to do your classes, find mentors in your program and publish and, and get something out there, I would encourage you, if it's at all possible for you to carve out a couple hours a week to work on some other project, because academia won't necessarily love you back, and it feels really good to not have all your eggs in one basket. 

Starting step number four that could work for some of us is that yes, you do need to do informational interviews if you can. So informational interviews are, again, this is not like a original information that's coming for me that I dreamt up on my own. Of course, this advice is all over the internet, but I, I do wanna talk about it because apparently it's super critical and super important. And informational interviews, if you're just not sure what that means, means reaching out to folks in the industry that you're interested in going into and reaching out to folks maybe that are in the type of position that you'd like to work in and asking them if they'll have a, a 15 or 30 minute zoom coffee with you, right? At least now we have Zoom, so we don't have to do it, do it all in person. 

And a lot of people will say yes to this, uh, and plenty of people will ignore you. But a great way to do this is through LinkedIn, which again, is apparently critically important, right? We, we, we don't typically get a ton of training on that in academia. Maybe your program was special, but LinkedIn is really important. Presenting yourself in a particular way is important. Now, I don't believe you should do this if it does not feel in alignment with the type of work you wanna do, the type of networks you wanna have. And especially if you are working on revolutionary political and social change work and you don't feel like it does not feel good to you. If it does not feel good to you to jump on LinkedIn and, and try to schmooze with people, I feel that you should not force that. That's me. 

I'm sure anybody would, a lot of people would disagree with me. That being said, there are amazing people out there doing great work. And if you, if you are doing political work or community organizing work, then that typically would mean that you're really plugged in with your community as well. Um, and you know, the power of those voices. So the whole point of informational interviews is really to get to know people and for people to get to know you more importantly. So whatever that looks like, building on your communal networks, I believe in the power of community. I believe in the power of communal networks, whether it be for a job or creative outlet. So building those networks is, is, is really critical. And I will say, I started this podcast not as a gimmick to get myself a new job, but I started this podcast because I wanted to talk to people I saw around me on social media or through my networks that were doing really interesting, really incredible, often creative and artistic work, great political work oftentimes. 

And I was like, Man, I wanna talk to these people, like, I wanna hear about how so and so is doing what they're doing. And I wound up making it a podcast so that, hey, I have an excuse to reach out to people and say, Hey, like, will you spend 30 minutes or an hour with me on Zoom and B so that I could share? I figured the interviews would be a useful resource for others. And I think that they are. So if that appeals to you, maybe make some, maybe make a fun project out of it, maybe write about it, maybe start podcast, whatever. But definitely you're gonna wanna reach out to people who are doing the type of work that you're interested in. This is especially true if you're try trying to dive into something like entertainment or a creative industry that are mysterious and based a lot on networks. 

This can be kind of tricky ones to reach out to people in, but it, it turns out that a lot of people enjoy talking about themselves. And so it's worth it, especially if you ask for 15 or 30 minutes of people's time. I also wanna make the stipulation, because again, I said, I said with the previous step, I know not everybody has the time like that to be spending all these hours doing informational interviews. Um, one thing that I would say is an okay replacement for this, if you don't have a lot of time, but you still wanna start to poke your nose into a particular industry, is that I would recommend to pick a social media network that you're comfortable with. I loathe Twitter, so I just stay away from it, which is probably not great for me. But if you love Twitter, go out there and be great. 

But if you're pretty comfortable with Instagram or you're pretty comfortable with t or, or LinkedIn, I guess, um, then what I would say is once or twice a week, go ahead and go in and make a substantial comment on a post done by somebody who appears to be doing the type of work or working on the type of creative project that you're interested in, because people pay attention to that, and they read it and they respond to it. And it's not magic. None of these steps are magic. Um, but it's, it is a legitimate way of forming connections with people. And I've observed folks who are really talented at kind of utilizing social media in that way, or who just genuinely enjoy big upping other people in their network and saying like, Wow, this was a really interesting post that you made. The information you put out here is fascinating. 

Oh, I love what you're doing with the project that you're posting about. People pay attention to that. It means a lot to them, and I think it's a legitimate way of networking, and I'm sure that there are some objections to that from folks. But if you're fairly fluent in a social media network, I would recommend it because again, it, it gets people's attention and it's nice to support and affirm folks in your network who are doing something and posting about it on social media. And it's a legitimate, at this point, besides like Instagram or a legitimate replacement almost for website, for people's individual websites. So it's a great way of just connecting and kind of showing your face if, and again, that that could take a couple minutes a week. So if you don't have time to do the whole informational interview things, I would recommend it as kind of a secondary or a backup measure. 

Okay? So number five, starting step. These are not meant to go in order, by the way, although they could, but, um, take, take what works for you, <laugh>, and leave what doesn't. Number five is to do the mental and emotional work to prepare yourself for a new creative endeavor or a new professional endeavor. And I have to say, I completely turned my nose up at the idea that this was really critical. I was like, I'm in my thirties, like, I know what I want. I know what I need. I got this, don't worry about me. And it is, it, it is incredibly helpful if you're gonna dive into a new process. Anything that you try to do is going to requi require that you take the time to do some reflecting and do some emotional check in. Especially like I I said, if you're coming out of academia, or I would say anyone out here who's coming out of the entertainment industry and looking to pivot into something else, which may be some, some folks listening, if you're coming out of a corporate environment, there may be some, some trauma, there may be some emotional work that needs to be done. 

But any steps that you try to take are going to require that you continue to position yourself mentally and emotionally to be open to a new endeavor. Okay? And like I said, I'm typically very adverse to, to, I have been at times a verse to this conversation, but I have also found that it, it's really critical and it's nothing to be afraid of, and it's nothing to turn up our noses at, right? Even <laugh>, if you're, if you're dreaming of working on big social change, then great, but social changes are made up of individuals. And the point is, I would say don't ignore this step. Maybe it's something that you can share with someone else. And doing the mental work to prepare yourself for good things to come your way is can, I think, can be challenging for a lot of us, and it's really important. 

So I'm, I have an episode coming up in a couple of weeks from now about kind of reconciling this idea of the abundance mentality with the sociological imagination. Um, and this is a little piece of that, which is this idea of, of allowing ourselves to be open to the idea that we are gonna be successful in something new, that it's going to be better than what we hope for, that it's going to be tremendous. And if it's not that we'll move on and find something else, and that our communities hopefully are gonna pick us up in that process as we move along. So this is another area where there's a tremendous amount of free resources available online. If you scour the internet, I think I have a few things up that might help with this, um, on, on, on my page. But if that's not to your liking, this is something that you can look into to look for folks who specifically are putting together really great content about how to help position yourself mentally and emotionally for these big transitions. 

And I also wanna say for the creatives, dancers, anybody who's out here because of listening, because of my creative network, this, the same is true if you're thinking about trying a new creative endeavor, if you're trying to start a new project or do something in a different way than what you've done before. Or if you're trying to bring an idea to fruition that you have had sitting with you for months or years, and now you're trying to move on it, this mental and emotional work up front is going to be really helpful to that process. 

Okay, so those were the basic kind of five, five ideas, five starting points and starting steps. Like I said, take what works for you. It's not all gonna gonna resonate, but I hope some of it does. The first was to write it out, step away, and then come back to it and see how your body reacts to what you've written. The second one was to make a list of your skills, shedding any kind of negative self-talk and shedding the boundaries that may have been put on you by a program or an environment that you were in previously. Writing down what you've done, what you feel like are, are your strong points, even if it's something you weren't thinking about as like, um, productive or quote unquote profitable. And then what have you been told can be a skill set for you. I actually wanna pause here to just share that. 

I recently, um, was talking with, with, with someone about their skills and their passions, and they went through this whole process of one of the, the documents I have about with writing prompts. And they said they wound up writing down that they were good at reading and kept coming back to it as the prompts pushed them along to return to things that were bringing them ease and bringing them joy and felt, they felt like this is so random. Like, what am I gonna do with reading only to go through this process and come out the other end with the idea that like, what they really want is to write a children's book. And leaving the, that process with the feeling that that would be something they felt like was really a really powerful and impactful process that they could go through. So make a list of your skills was number two. 

The third idea for starting step, especially if you're in academia, is to try to work on at least one project that's unrelated to your program. Try to build at least one skill through one project that is unrelated to your program, and it cannot be touched by your grad program or the program that you're teaching in, or the nameless, faceless job hiring committees within academia. The fourth starting step was to do some informational interviews, if you can. If that's too overwhelming in terms of time or anxiety, I would say go ahead and use social media for what it was, what, what it, what it can do, and make a a few substantial comments. We're asking students for anyone teaching online currently. We're always asking students to make a substantial comment on discussion boards so we know what they are, we know what substantial is versus not. 

Get out there and tell people if you love their work, get out there and tell people if something that they posted resonated with you, people are gonna notice and respond to that. And that's one kind of less time consuming way of growing your network. And the final one was to do the mental and emotional work to position yourself to be successful. And by successful I mean, I mean joyful, and by successful I mean happy and working on the types of projects that you'd like to be working on. Okay, and I wanna have one more kind of bonus mini conversation, which is to talk just for a moment about coaching, because this is a big topic of conversation that's come up now. A lot of people are working as career coaches or life coaches, even specifically in this is genre of all DT coaches. Um, maybe there, there will be creative coaches going forward. 

I'm sure they're out there for sure. And I did kind of turn up my nose initially at the idea of coaching mostly because it can be prohibitively expensive and it wasn't totally clear to me on the value of that. That being said, I did at a certain point about six months ago, break that down a little bit and I did work with a coach briefly, which was incredibly helpful. Um, and even that being said, I will say, if you have the resources available to you and you see someone in your network that seems like they're offering a, a great service in terms of coaching, go ahead and jump, jump in on that. It can be really helpful. Um, but I would also say, and I'll say this as someone even who's, I'm launching a short coaching program soon, but I would still say you don't need a coach to make this professional pivot, right? 

Because like it's not a magic bean. Um, it can be if you can find maybe somebody who's starting out and offering a more affordable price or if you can find, if you have the resources available to you, it can be very helpful and it, but it's mostly about accompaniment, right? The coaching, some people bring a great expertise to it, which is fantastic and a lot of people have really valuable information to offer as the coach that I worked with did. But it's partly about having community and having somebody to accompany you in your process. So if coaching is out of reach for you at this moment, you have a couple of options. One is to move forward using all of the free resources that are out and about in the universe right now. Most people who work on coaching put a series of free resources out. 

Some are more helpful than others. Look, re do some research and look for the helpful stuff. Another thing is to partner with, you know, a colleague or a comrade who's going through something similar. And another option is to reach out to folks again, who are doing, maybe are early in their coaching journey or maybe are offering something like a free meeting and see what you can gar garner from that, right? So use the resources that are at your disposal to move from point A to point B. And if there's a program out there that seems clear to you and seems like it's gonna help you in your process, it can really speed things up. So it's something to consider if it's within reach for you. If it's not, it's not, you know, it's not the end of your your journey. There's definitely other ways to move forward with diving into a new creative project or making a professional pivot. 

Okay, So these were our big kind of five potential starting steps for your creative post. A professional pivot. I hope that you enjoyed the episode. Let me know. Send me an email at the millennial if anything resonated with you or send me an email if you wanna call me out <laugh> and tell me that something was bad advice. I'm happy to hear that too. I would love to dialogue with you. Once again, my name is me. You can connect with me at the millennial PhD Instagram page or at Mell uio, which is my personal Instagram page. See you next week. It's been real. That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial PhD with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.