We are quickly approaching the three-year mark since the pandemic, and most creatives have found their new normal. Our new "normals" are all unique, but the common thread is a re-evaluation of our goals, priorities, and non-negotiables as working artists. WeTransfer and TRIPTK polled over 6,500 artists from 180 countries about success, fulfillment, and happiness. The 57-page report was released as The 2022 Ideas Report, and I'm here to share the results. First, let's start with a quiz. Grab a pen, and let's see how on target you are with the state of the industry.
Who Was Polled
Before I share the results, let's dive into the highlights of this fascinating 57-page report. From photographers, to videographers, advertising strategists, and TikTok creators, over half of the respondents (52%) work full-time, 25% are self-employed, and 8% are part-time. Take the quiz below to guess the results before I reveal them.
The Culture of Personal Sacrifice
An overarching theme of the findings was a narrative of being pushed to execute a broad range of work, with strenuous hours, and a disappointing sense of appreciation. "The Ideas Study" reports: "Creative jobs are often cast as 'dream jobs' where 'doing what you love' will naturally, inevitably lead to success... [yet] thriving in the creative sector today isn’t about effortless genius but about mad hustle." Creatives express that succeeding in this sector involves a lot of work and compromise. An overwhelming majority of respondents (78%) expressed that they were willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve their career goals. This attitude was particularly prevalent among the 25 and under Gen Z'ers (82%) and black creatives (90%).
WeTransfer summarized the sentiment expressed:
Creatives are no strangers to overtime, rush jobs, and all-nighters. There’s a general acceptance of the culture of personal sacrifice and sweat as a price for working in the industry. Dinner plans are moved, doctor’s visits deferred, vacations postponed in the name of perfecting a deliverable or accommodating a late-breaking client request. Nearly 70% embrace the notion that toil, and not unique talent per se, is the key to success and they are willing to make sacrifices to achieve their career goals.
Many creators, such as Tech Entrepreneur Marty Bell, expressed the yearning to have clearer ends to their workday and more defined lines between their personal and professional life. In his interview, he states: "I'd love to be able to detach my work and my life. To be able to view my career as a job like a lot of my friends do. To be able to entirely switch off at 6 pm and enter ‘personal life’ mode."
A question he has begun to ask himself is: "In a year, will I regret not doing this?" This question helps him sort out what's worth the sacrifices and what's not.
This is a sentiment that came from many respondents in the survey. The post-COVID workforce expressed a collective desire to be more assertive in their boundaries. When asked what skill the creators most wanted to acquire: it wasn't creating reels, learning to market oneself better, or new craft skills, it was "saying no." It may be that the forced pause on society caused many to want to draw firmer boundaries around their work lives. Olivia Lopez, creative strategist, laments the “scope creep.” It's the notorious practice of adding tasks to a project outside of the contract. As a whole, artists shared a collective exhaustion in their workload and a desire to be able to disconnect from the demands of the job outside of work hours.
A Redefinition of Success
There were intriguing findings about success. When asked if they felt successful, only 44% of respondents expressed that they did feel successful, leaving more than half conceding that they felt a sense of failure as creators. I was quite surprised by this next finding: when asked to define success, respondents did not put an impressive client list or recognition as the prominent marker of achievement, rather the feeling of making a difference (22%), self-development (19%), and having time outside of work (18%) as their top indicators of success.
Views on the Future
Interestingly, WeTransfer and TRIPTK uncovered that a whopping third of creatives changed jobs in 2021. In the coming year, a more conservative 20% say that they’ll be looking for new opportunities, while 15% prefer to wait and see how hard the potential recession will affect them. Furthermore, creatives confess to feeling unprepared for the future defined by technologies like AR, VR, and AI.
The Quiz Results
You may have picked up on many of the answers as you read the article. If you missed them, here is your answer sheet.
Upon stitching together the facts and phrases of this report, I found myself dispirited by how bleak the state of creatives seemed. "We are tired, we are underpaid, we have no personal life anymore," the study seemed to voice.
Ding, 9:49 pm. I swipe up. My client asks if "It's too late to do a GIF, oh and maybe a Christmas tablescape for tomorrow's shoot?" I struggle between saying yes or no. I keep working on my article. I understand the sentiment I am summarizing.
There's a feeling of guilt when experiencing some of the complaints expressed in the study. We feel as though having the privilege of practicing our craft as a profession somehow cancels our eligibility to be dissatisfied with the challenges of the job. However, as I thought deeper about the results, I wondered if it really was just creatives? Would we feel any different if we worked in health insurance or accounting? According to the literature on the matter, including this Forbes 2022 article "Burnout Is A Worldwide Problem", creatives are no different than the rest of society with the same strife. People are tired. So, what do we do?
Could I, just another artist in the mix, dare to have any solutions to worldwide exhaustion and creative burnout? Certainly not. Still, I have learned in my 14 years as a full-time artist some strategies that work for me. One is visualizing myself working in an office for a boss I have to report. Cringe. The visualization of a cubicle, fluorescent lights, and someone to report to makes me instantly grateful for my circumstances. It doesn't solve any immediate problems, but it reminds me of an alternative that I do not want to choose.
Another strategy I've developed is one named in the study: the skill of saying no. I had to read the book When I say no, I feel guilty twice over before I even saw the smallest bit of improvement. Saying no is a learned skill and one that leads to a healthier and more fulfilled life. Lastly, I've learned to block off "unstructured time" in my calendar and be fiercely protective of it. "I'll be a better creative if my mind is healthy". Everyone wins, even my clients, when I take time to ignore the incessant stream of communications. It was Thomas Jefferson who said: "If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.” So, maybe your action point from this article is taking a notepad and answering: "What am I not doing anymore?" Then, you have to actually stick to it.
I think if COVID taught us anything, it's that life is unpredictable, and health is important. What's your takeaway from all this? Are these results surprising to you? Are you waking up, creating your best work, and living in a space where you feel valued and supported? Or, do you resonate with some of the findings of the study? Have you dealt with burnout. What have been your takeaways from those seasons? I would love to hear about your experience and strategies for creating and cultivating joy in your work.