Fell into marketing... mid-life crisis a-go-go... how to escape?
November 18, 2015 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Through a series of un/fortunate events, my CV is littered with copywriting, marketing and social media management experience. I set up my own business several years ago, doing all such things. On paper, I'm a marketeer. First problem? I can't stand it any longer. Second problem? Where do I start...?

Will try to keep my first ever question concise, though I'm full of conflicting feelings, so please excuse me if this bangs on and goes all round the Wrekin.

Some background: I'm a 36yo woman living in the UK, within commuting distance from London. My partner lives with me, though we've recently been through some tough times where we've both questioned our commitment and came close to splitting up. I am lucky enough to own my home so am not subject to crippling rents, though would not be adverse to a move if it meant greater freedom. I am open to the idea of using a careers coach and have about £10,000 in accessible savings.

I am aware that a lot of the following would sit nicely under a list of first world problems and have lots of feedback from friends and relatives telling me how good I've got it, however I'm at the end of my tether, so 'suck it up, buttercup', whilst perfectly valid, isn't really an option for me any more. I've been sucking it up from the marketing trough for about eight years now.

I have finally admitted to myself that I hate marketing. Using my creativity to prise people's attention away from good and gainful things, towards whatever crap I'm trying to shill this week? Nope. Can't do it any more.

I've been running my own copywriting and marketing business from home for the last six years. As I kind of hated what I was doing, I would charge lots of money for it, and that would pacify my soul somewhat. However, I've been running the business down over the last year to the point where I only have one client now - blogging for a semi-ethical business. It's enough to pay the mortgage and bills, though I'm chipping into my savings about £200 a month to keep going.

I've been using my time to update LinkedIn and build a Wordpress website for the business, because I feel like it's what I should do. I just looked at the LinkedIn page and I don't even recognise myself. The website is built and I spent ages tweaking the design, but I can't bring myself to write any copy for it. I know I could probably find additional marketing work quickly if I tapped up contacts, but I don't wanna! Boo hoo! Am I just being childish?

I'm a scanner. I process information quickly and gain/lose interest quickly. Ideal for a role in social media management :) but what else can I do with this? Consciously sticking to a career seems impossible. I have read 'What Do You Do If You Want To Do Everything', 'What Color Is Your Parachute?', 'Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway' and a whole host of other self-help / life planning books and feel like I could teach a decent life-coaching course, yet nothing seems to sink in on a personal level.

I would love to do something ethical, practical and creative, working within a fairly non-hierarchical team, but I don't know where to start. If I could turn back time, if I could find a waaaaaayyyyyyyy, then I would take my half-hearted degree in Photography and instead do... what? I was an academic all-rounder at school, one of those annoying straight-A people who find both practical and theoretical exams easy. My family were deeply irritated when I decided to pursue a creative degree, instead of becoming an engineer / doctor / lawyer / programmer / money-wrangler / etc.

My partner is a very prolific musician and artist, not super successful but respected and driven. He's supportive of me and would like to see me doing something I love. Pretty much all my friends are creative or frustrated creatives. I do regular acting classes and have found my people there. I've had several photography and performance art exhibitions and have found my people there. I've written for radio performances and have done voiceover work and have found my people there. However, whatever I do creatively, it seems like as soon as I'm told that I have talent, the spark goes out for me. I don't want to do it anymore. For example, I had my first paid acting role this summer and afterwards the director told me she had a part in mind for me in their Christmas play. I didn't get in touch with her or respond to her emails about it. Cue guilt. Same when I was asked to become part of a photography collective.

I've read Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, umpteen times and this helps temporarily assuage the panic I feel before and after making work (during = flow state), however again the lessons never seem to be learnt by heart and I find myself forgetting a daily practice within a day or two of beginning it.

My fantasy? Rent out the house (in my town, rents are £££ - but that seems unethical too, argh), move somewhere cheap, green and leafy. Have dogs and a workshop at the bottom of the garden. Live in overalls. Make pots/paintings/films/stone carvings/whatever. But I'd probably be bored in ten minutes.

Just in writing this question, I've decided that I need to go back into therapy again, to try to address these stuck feelings. I feel crap about this as I thought I was 'cured'! Yes, it's possible that all these feelings are related to depression, though I've never been diagnosed as such, however I've not been depressed for the whole of the past eight years and I've pretty much always felt icky about marketing for a living. I want to be proud of what I do!

Wow, I'm even feeling conflicted about posting this question as I'm worried that it's too messy. I got it bad. All suggestions gratefully received. Thank you for reading!
posted by doornoise to Work & Money (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Why are you working on your own? Have you considered hiring someone to do the stuff that you don't like and being a creative director or manager? Or, better yet, going to work somewhere for awhile to hone your chops in a different direction while not being responsible for constantly marketing yourself? One issue you might be having is just self-driven burnout. When you let someone else drive the bus by being an employee, it often frees up mental energy to do things like participate in a community play or take a photography class. The photography collective just sounds like another self-driven energy suck. I don't know that this would necessarily help you.

Can you just get a job? Pick a direction and walk toward it. If it feels good to you, pick an ethically-driven company that needs marketing help. When it stops feeling good, go in another direction. Use the time working for someone else to explore what motivates you.
posted by amanda at 1:04 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, set a timeframe. "I'm going to look for a new job really hard for 1 month." Even going on interviews can be really energizing. It's great to talk about all you've accomplished and have someone very interested. You might surprise yourself.

And then, set another timeframe, "I'm going to work here for three months and assess the affect it has had on me." Have a personal goal, such as: save your money for a getaway where you get to work your body with physical labor or hiking or something where you bring your camera and disconnect.
posted by amanda at 1:09 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Service design. It's a creative, ethical industry (usually) that involves a lot of talking to people, solving puzzles, being kind, and moving onto new projects quickly.

There are students just now getting degrees in service design, but it's largely self-taught at this point. It's tremendously marketable. And -- my favourite part -- it's about focusing on other people instead of yourself. Perfect for clever, anxiety-ridden jacks-of-all-trades.

Source: recovering marketer in London at a service design firm
posted by harperpitt at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Should you want to, you can use your marketing skills to prise people's attention *toward* good and gainful things. It is an option. Think of "save the whales!" ... that's still marketing, but positive.
posted by aniola at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your fear of jeopardising earnings by taking a big leap is very challenging. Most artists who declare as such on their taxes make between £3,000 and £5,000 per year, statistically. How much time would it take to make art worth between £3,000 and £5,000 per year and then figure out a way to sell it?
posted by parmanparman at 1:19 PM on November 18, 2015

Best answer: As long as you're feeling like you describe above, you are very unlikely to be able to do the work necessary to launch yourself into a totally new career. Realistically, what you probably need is some kind of structure where you are accomplishing something that you don't feel utterly crappy about. Dog walking, or something similar, where you have to show up and do the work consistently (and you get lots of validation) will probably help a lot. What you want is to create a system of positive feedback - right now you're digging yourself deeper and deeper into negative feelings and thoughts and behaviors. Volunteer to teach people how to act, or give marketing lessons to disabled small business owners, or whatever. Something that happens basically daily, where you can't just blow it off.

Dog walking is what you're doing while you're in therapy, BTW. If you're in such bad shape that you can't manage dog walking, your problems are quite clearly in the realm of serious professional help rather than MetaFilter advice.

Oh, and that "can't endure a job for more than a day" kind of feeling could be something other than just depression - ADHD comes to mind. Be sure that whatever professional you see doesn't immediately skip straight to "CBT for depression" without talking through exactly what you're experiencing (and how big of a pattern it is for you, and so on.)
posted by SMPA at 1:25 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Non-profits and advocacy organizations often need marketers. Big companies often need on-staff writers/marketers. Would something like that appeal to you?
posted by jaguar at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't get a job, you will be only more miserable. Majority of us are like those hamsters going round and round just to pay the bills and the mortgage for a house that is overpriced and too big for us. So stay away from that.
Teaching might be an option. Another is to use your skills for a good cause or just start your own non profit. Find something you feel strongly about and volunteer there, if only for an hour a month. Another aspect is to look closely at what really interest you-science? medicine? computers? painting?. Imagine you were shut in a room for a month and could do only one thing-what would that be?
posted by stepup at 1:44 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just want to say...I feel you. Hey I'm in marketing too...maybe it attracts folk like us (creative but easily distracted)?

I like the dog-walking idea; that or anything where you aren't alone in your own head/have to engage with other people/the world around you is going to help get you off this carousel of confusion. Volunteering is also good for this.

Other than that, yes to therapy, and also: don't tell yourself you have to decide on your One True Passion in order to do anything. Maybe you don't have just One.

You're trying lots of things that you like--acting, photography--but don't want to do as jobs/repeatedly. Ok. Well now you know something you didn't before, yes? So then it becomes, do you stop wanting to do them because they will be A Job, or because they're not enough of a challenge, or because you're just too restless/distracted by some unfinished mental business that you can't focus on any of them right now? That's going to take some time to figure out.

Give yourself that time, if you can. Volunteer to do Good Things, if only to get you out of your own head. Then try to look at the situation more clearly. You might still have to try a few things to find something that works.
posted by emjaybee at 2:14 PM on November 18, 2015

Best answer: My fantasy? Rent out the house (in my town, rents are £££ - but that seems unethical too, argh), move somewhere cheap, green and leafy. Have dogs and a workshop at the bottom of the garden. Live in overalls. Make pots/paintings/films/stone carvings/whatever. But I'd probably be bored in ten minutes.

Look for an intermediate, scanner. Lots of non-profit and charitable organisations hire people who have your skill set to do contract work. Do you have a cause about which you feel particularly enthusiastic, especially if your enthusiasm or interest have last longer than ten minutes? If so, those are good places to start. Send an email to someone in the writer's group (or human resources, etc) asking if they have any work in mind that could be done on a contract basis.

Working under a contract, you can still do the rental income approach while living in your cheap and wonderful garden. Take work on as you see fit, or as you need it. If you need more than one organisation can provide, add in a second. And so on. Or adjust your quality of living expectations down a notch and keep the amount of work loose, low and flexible. Enjoy your access to free time not dictated by a permanent boss or your own full-time business.

I did a similar thing about ten years ago. I got fed up pumping out research for a series of unethical laboratories, so I took a pay cut and became a consultant for a couple non-profit organisations. I liked one so much it became my full-time job, with the stipulation that I would work from my home and never commute to an office as an exchange for the pay cut I took. I haven't looked back one bit.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll jump on the bandwagon suggesting you look into nonprofit communications, either as staff or a consultant. There are consulting groups that specialize in serving nonprofits. There are many kinds of nonprofit communication needs. It won't quite fund the early retirement you envision, but maybe the rent plus working remotely for non-profits, while wearing overalls, would be a nice, generally ethical life.
posted by salvia at 5:23 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a scanner too, and like you, hoped to find a creative job that I would magically take to. It didn't happen and with every fizzled project my sense of self-worth would plummet even more. Then I discovered social entrepreneurship - both as a space/community and a way to structure a business.

This organisation runs out of the UK, and although I don't have personal experience with them, I've heard about their events and projects from social entrepreneurs in my country.
posted by A hidden well at 8:00 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I kinda want to throw out the suggestion of using your marketing skills for better aims. You know a lot of frustrated creative types? Help them find a broader audience. Use your marketing skills on their projects. I know that I, for one, absolutely hate trying to learn and run the parts of the artist business that's not "drawing my weird comics".

I mean, it's not likely to make much money for a while, but it'd probably feel a lot better than marketing fast food or whatever.
posted by egypturnash at 9:38 AM on November 19, 2015

Nonprofits saved me. Like you, I fell into marketing through a crack in my otherwise-sound career path. I landed at a firm that wanted me to sell Oreos to moms by telling them it would make their kids drink more milk. During that time, I left work each day covered in a thin, invisible film of mental slime.

I moved to a firm that only worked for non-profits... and then a few years later moved into a corporate marketing position with a nonprofit health care plan that serves low-income moms and kids. I'm still a cube monkey, but at least now I go home every day feeling like I'm doing some good in the world. I can't even explain how much of a difference this has made in my daily emotional state.

The money isn't terrible, either -- I'm not rolling in it, but I'm doing far better than 'I work at a non-profit' tends to imply. And Marketing is so easy to travel with -- find a company doing something good, somewhere the weather is nice, and go there. (Pro-tip: Don't pick Boston. Little known fact - it snows here.)
posted by kythuen at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

You have skills that can be used in the service of good instead of evil. Yes, like kythuen, egytpturnash, stepup, aniola, et al suggest, do this.

I moved from market research to using those same skills for the consumers. Much better.
posted by lathrop at 4:04 PM on November 19, 2015

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