Many people working in corporate America feel stuck in their jobs, constantly stressing about their responsibilities and wishing they could devote more time (or any time) to their creative passions. After more than 20 years as an advertising executive, Colleen Hindsley has recently left the corporate world behind in order to focus on her creative life. In Episode 53 of Claim the Stage, Colleen shares her strategies to jump start your creative path while working a corporate job.
1. Embrace what makes you different
Colleen talks about how at her first job, she really stood out in a “buttoned-up” corporate environment. “I was such a weirdo. I think I purposely did that, because I was sort of miserable working there, but I was young and I needed to have a job… but I would darn well wear a weird punk rock t-shirt,” she laughs. But she thinks that her supervisors at that job saw something in her:
“I think the reason that they let me stay there was because even then those people saw something about me that was good. I may not have seen it in myself at that time, but they saw it.”
Colleen gives a quote from Ben Platt, an actor who recently won a Tony Award for his performance in the musical “Dear Evan Hanson”: “Don’t waste any time trying to be like anybody but yourself, because the things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” And Colleen agrees with this wholeheartedly; those things that set her apart were what shaped her growth trajectory. “There were times when I would go into my corporate job, and maybe I wouldn’t say the right thing, but I was myself and I was authentic…” and that was one of her biggest strengths.
2. Carve out time for your creative pursuits (and protect that time!)
While working at her corporate job, Colleen often felt as if she had no time for her creative pursuits because her work just seemed to take up so much time. But as she realized a few years ago, “We all have that same 24 hours in a day, we have to just use it appropriately.” So she started carving out the time to write, to read fiction, to go to storytelling open-mics, and once she started going to events, she started meeting people in creative communities who invited her to other events. But it wasn’t easy to get into the routine:
“Scheduling the two hours [to write] is huge. Protecting the two hours is the fight.”
We’re all focused on our jobs and on our emails and social media accounts, and it takes time to do counter-programming and retraining. Colleen says it can be really discouraging at first, if a week or so goes by and you haven’t thought about your creative projects, but you have to remember that it will take you some time to retrain your focus onto your creative pursuits. “You have to forgive yourself a little bit,” Colleen reminds us.
3. Make a schedule and set goals for yourself
One thing Colleen found helpful was setting a schedule that worked for her and setting goals. “I’m creating a schedule that works for me,” she says, “…It’s about having enough flexibility in my schedule to [take a break and think about her consulting business], but also realizing where there’s not flexibility.” What Colleen decided was mandatory for herself was getting creative time: “I have something that I do every single day that advances me toward my creative goals, and if it’s not there, I’m not doing myself a service.” Colleen has never been a “super-planner” person, but she’s found the structure a schedule imposes to be good for protecting her creative time. She also has a meditation exercise that she does every morning, and part of it is writing down a goal three times. She says,
“If you’re thinking about your goals every single day, then you have no choice but to achieve them. And you have no choice but to choose to do things that get you to achieve them.”
4. Don’t think of yourself as stuck.
One really important piece of advice Colleen shares is: “You’re not stuck. No one is stuck…. When you believe you’re stuck, you are stuck.” Doing both your pay-the-bills job and your passion takes some time and planning and commitment, but you can do both. Colleen says, “Once you start to rewire your thinking, you can take action to move forward.”
Colleen Hindsley shares more insight and tons of laughs with Angela in Episode 53 of Claim the Stage. To hear more, listen to the full episode.
Mira Kennedy is a current junior at UMass Amherst, studying English. She’s with the Speaker Sisterhood as an intern, where she proofreads, edits, and creates content for the Speaker Sisterhood website and marketing materials.