A Creative Career Is an Apprenticeship of Its Own

Allison Burney

The sooner we realize this, the better off we’ll be

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Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read yesterday about the process of building a creative career and making a full-time living as a creator.

In it, Ayodeji Awosika talked about the climb as being more exciting than “arriving” at whatever destination you have in mind.

For a writer, that destination might look like achieving J.K. Rowling, Elizabeth Gilbert, or Stephen King level status or recognition — writing something that reaches so many people and is adored by so many that your books are made into movies. Hollywood actors and actresses play you or your characters on the big screen. (I still can’t fathom how awesome that must be!)

For other types of creatives, “arriving” might look completely different. It might be building a successful business that gives back to the community and the world. It might be inventing a product that helps millions of people, or providing a service that solves a need people have.

Whatever your destination is, it’s most likely going to take a while to get there.

“3 to 5 years is probably how long it’s going to take to get your creative career off the ground,” Awosika wrote. “So wherever you’re at, just focus on the climb.”

Many others have written or talked about the importance of taking a long-term view when it comes to building any type of creative career.

In many ways, building an artistic career is like being an apprentice in the trades.

My boyfriend is currently in his final level of schooling for his electrical apprenticeship. Once he completes this round of 10 weeks of school, he’ll be eligible to write his exam — and once he passes that, he’ll officially be a licensed electrician.

Receiving a piece of paper with a designation on it may not seem quite as exciting as, say, having a hit movie series made from your books, but it is definitely worth celebrating.

He’s almost completed a long, sometimes boring, sometimes challenging, sometimes tedious, sometimes downright exhausting five-year journey from first-year apprentice to fifth-year apprentice.

During that time, he’s grown from tool-holder and supply-fetcher and wire-puller to team leader — and that’s the power of time and experience.

On a job site now, he’s the one directing the other apprentices he works with. His co-workers with less experience in the field look to him for guidance and support. He’s often the one interacting with the customer, helping plan out the job, and ensuring that it gets done the way the homeowner wants it.

Compare this to the first six months of his apprenticeship, when all he did was watch other people work, pass them tools, and carry stuff, and it’s like night and day.

And he still has a long way to go — another three years of working in the field before he can become a master electrician, if that's what he decides to do.

The point is, becoming skilled at anything in order to see any kind of success in that area requires consistent practice over a long period of time. It also requires dedication and commitment.

Even to make it this far, he had to decide to keep going when it didn’t seem to make sense. He had to push through the years he was getting paid peanuts, and keep showing up day after day, even when he felt like he was getting nowhere.

He knew that one day it would be worth it — but it wasn’t always easy to keep the focus during those years in between.

That right there is what the climb is all about.

It’s about sticking with something long enough to finally reap the rewards of your labour. It’s about learning, growing, stretching, and improving.

I think the first time I came across the idea of building a writing career as an apprenticeship of sorts was in Jeff Goins’ book, The Art of Work.

He was explaining how a craftsman became a professional in the Middle Ages, and it involved a process that often took upwards of 10 years in total.

10 years!

As Goins writes, “An apprenticeship was an excellent way of learning a skill under the guidance of someone wiser and more experienced.”

We now live in a world where we have all kinds of opportunities to be an apprentice; we just have to make them for ourselves.

There are all kinds of writers and entrepreneurs further along in their journey that I look to for guidance. I can learn from what they’ve done, and use their experiences as a blueprint for creating the career I want.

If I approach my writing knowing that I’m an apprentice, and that each day I write, I’m engaging in my apprenticeship, then I have the sense that I’m going somewhere.

I may not be getting there quickly — but that’s not the point of an apprenticeship.

Looking at it this way does make a lot more sense to me.

It takes away some of the urgency, and the sense of pressure to “hurry up and be successful already,” replacing it with a focus on creating for the sake of creating, and being true to myself.

When I look at building a writing career from this perspective, it becomes very clear that I’ve barely even set foot on the path yet! I’m like a baby who’s only three weeks old, yet already trying to run.

No wonder it’s not working.

Before babies learn how to run, they must first learn how to walk. And before that, they must learn how to stand up. And before that, they must learn how to crawl.

There are all kinds of stages between crawling and running that I know nothing about yet! I haven’t got to that part in my journey yet, but instead of being where I am and taking it all in at my own pace, I keep trying to jump ahead to the finish line.

The value of an apprenticeship — a long term, 3–5 year apprenticeship at the very minimum — is all the things you learn along the way and all the values it helps instill in you.

I think the sooner we realize this, the sooner we’ll start looking at our paths differently.

We’ll start enjoying the process more, and embracing the climb.

And that’s what will allow us to end up living our wildest dreams 3–5 years from now.

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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