Advice — Words of Wisdom: Craig Oldham on staying motivated when work slows down

Posted 27 June 2018 Written by Craig Oldham

As many students begin to wrap up shows and find their way into the working world, we’ve pinpointed some of the questions we’re most commonly asked, regarding those crucial next steps. Over the next month we’ll be handing over to multitalented designer, studio founder and writer Craig Oldham to respond to some of these queries, as he draws on personal experiences, and new-starter gold in his book Oh Sh*t What Now?. This week, we ask Craig: How do you stay motivated (as a freelancer or job applicant) when things slow down?

Well, hello again. I’m Craig. And for the newbies joining us – this is my agony uncle bit, just for you, via Lecture In Progress. Welcome to week two.

Now in last week’s column we covered the topic of rejection, and this time round we’ll be touching on motivation. To prop up my own thoughts on the matter, I thought I’d start this piece by roping-in fellow creative traveller and wisdom dispenser Sarah Boris – a distinguished designer who runs her own eponymous studio. In response to the question, ‘How do you stay motivated when the work slows down?’, Sarah had this to offer:

“I think most of us ‘freak out’ at the prospect of things slowing down. Personally, it has taken me about 11 years of my career to learn that slowing down is a great thing, and should be embraced. So now, when commissions slow down, I feel it’s a great opportunity to take a break, check in with your family, volunteer, go and see exhibitions, work on that personal project you have been putting off, go to the library or visit an archive. It’s a chance to contact and meet with people you would love to work with, but never had a moment to approach. 

“We live in a society that is in a constant race, so being able to stop, make time and look around is a good thing.” – Sarah Boris

“A slow-down in commissions can be a time to reflect, refuel and simply do something different. I used to be anxious at the idea of this, as of course it has financial implications. It can cause moments of self-doubt, so to stay motivated, it’s important to see it as an opportunity, rather than a failure. 

“We live in a society that is in a constant race, so being able to stop, make time and look around is only a good thing. There is positivity in everything. And as Gandhi said: ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed.’”

Well, what Gandhi said was good – but what Sarah says is brilliant too. And just as universal. 

Though this question might appear to be aimed specifically at getting work for a freelancer or studio, it is just as relevant for someone applying for a job; or someone who wants to do something for themselves, rather than for a client or agency.

When the job offers or commissions aren’t coming in quite as quickly as you’d hoped, that extra bit of time is a good time to reflect and reassess. It might be an opportunity to change tactics and approach (if affordable, of course). 

It’s also vital for self-improvement and self-investment. Use spare or slow time for you; put it into your creativity, your inspirations, influences and interests. Because I can guarantee you folks, if there is nothing coming in, then nothing will come out, and that’s hardly motivating.

Regardless of your situation, slowing down offers rare time to redirect energy, and reflect on status quo. So when you think about it, it’s less a case of doom and gloom, as boom and bloom. Treat it like this, and, if nothing else, you certainly won’t be short of motivation.


For more Craig wisdom, his book ‘Oh Sh*t What Now?’ is available via Laurence King.

Posted 27 June 2018 Written by Craig Oldham
Collection: Advice
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Photography, Illustration
Mentions: Sarah Boris
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