When I think of “professionalism” in the traditional sense, I think of working 9-5 in a cubicle wearing some combination of black dress pants and a button-up shirt. Most likely there's a cardigan involved.
Don't get me wrong. I love a good cardigan, but I discovered early on that a career in corporate America just wasn't for me. So what should professionalism look like for a creative entrepreneur?
This Can't Be It
Early in my college career I had a couple internships that fell in the corporate realm, where my days were spent creating infographics and PowerPoint presentations for executives with little aesthetic sensibilities. I fit in fine and did my job well, but I remember being bored even then and thinking that this couldn't be all there was to having a creative career.
After I graduated, I networked as much as I could and scheduled a meeting with a designer at a major financial institution to discuss job openings, career advice, etc. I was hoping this would result in a job offer, until he finished paging through my portfolio and gave me some very unexpected advice.
He told me, “You're young, talented, and clearly very passionate. If you're looking for creative freedom and to set the world on fire with design, this isn't the place for you.” Looking back now, that was some of the best advice I could have been given and it set me on the path to where I am today.
The Creative Professional
So what should professionalism look like for a creative entrepreneur? You'll be pleased to hear that there's a glorious spectrum of answers waiting for you, and the possibilities are infinite. From the corporate scenario I described above to the complete and polar opposite. Essentially, defining what it means to be your most amazing creative professional self is completely up to you.
I've found that way too many of us let someone else color our perception of what being a creative professional should look like. We waste so much time and energy on what other people think we're supposed to do and be, and it's ridiculous. As creative professionals, we're constantly striving to find unique and creative solutions in our work. So it stands to reason that we should absolutely be bringing that same unique and creative spark to how we work.
Time and money invested in how and where you create is money well spent.
I've always found a lot of creative fulfillment in creating and curating my wardrobe. This can be such a great means of expression, and as a creative entrepreneur it can even attract the right kind of customers to you. Often the unique style that creative bosses are nervous to show off is often what gets them noticed by and engaged with their dream clients.
Personally, my favorite thing is that I don't have a “work” versus a “life” wardrobe. I dress the same way regardless of whether it's work time or free time (obviously with the exception of special occasions and working out). I love being able to express myself through my wardrobe, which most often means intricate braids and brightly colored pants. Don't be afraid to show off your style—this is a facet of your personal brand that makes you stand out.
As creatives it's essential that we encounter inspiration constantly in our daily lives to keep those creative vibes flowing. Since we spend a substantial amount of time in our offices, studios, and workspaces, these are no exception. For me, it's essential that I make my office somewhere I want to be—somewhere that's positively pleasant and beautiful.
Granted, the amount you can invest in your workspace will depend on your budget, but it's amazing what a fresh coat of paint, some functional shelving, and new office supplies can do. I rock an antique desk, inspirational art prints, a DIY glitter ampersand my cousin created for my bridal shower, some Ukrainian nesting dolls from my grandparents, and all the natural light I can get.
You're not going to find your perfect professional fit right away, and it will likely change with time. Like so many other facets of your own brand, it's an evolution. Start small and commit to showing up every day. Honestly, all the little things really add up.
It may feel excessive or silly, but it's not. Time and money invested in how and where you create is money well spent. It's essential to create an environment and life where you can be the happiest, best version of yourself.
Start to define your brand of professionalism today, and day by day you'll mold the life you want to be living. Stay tuned next week for Part 2, where we'll focus on what professionalism means for your mindset.