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Celebrating 8 years as a coach and 38 years as a creative professional!

This month I’m celebrating these milestones and looking back at how my career and work as a creative has taken many turns and had many iterations.  I want to take a moment to share how I've built my career and grown as a creative professional over 38 years.

I started out, after completing a BFA with a major in design, as a product development assistant in my family’s manufacturing and wholesale distribution business in the candle, giftware and home decor industry. Over 17 years I took on additional roles and responsibilities including marketing and sales and eventually became Senior Vice President of the company.  My creative work over those years included product creation and sourcing and design of packaging, print collateral and merchandising. My work also evolved to include business strategies, budgets and managing teams of people over several departments.  It was a very creative, dynamic and entrepreneurial enterprise with a strong focus on style trends, presentation and sales growth. 

My parents sold the business in 2004. As an employee with no official stake in ownership, it was a pivotal moment that disrupted my professional identity, earnings and life. It was also a disruptive moment in the industry.  Business was shifting quickly from independent family run enterprises to big box retailers who were sourcing more globally and knocking off products at lower prices as fast as small local suppliers could bring them to market. Many companies in the industry were being sold or closing. Ultimately, it felt like the time to leave the nest of what had been the family business, the town I grew up in and the industry I cut my teeth in. I was just turning forty. I hadn’t had a job interview or need for a resume since high school. I sought out and worked with a coach who encouraged me to explore how I might take another direction as a creative professional. 

I followed my heart to pursue a more art focused direction. I took a risk and seized an opportunity to help out a friend of my sister on a short-term volunteer basis as she was starting up the Gladstone Hotel, one of Canada’s first art hotels. In short order, I was offered a key position primarily responsible for marketing and communications and to support start up of some arts programming. I became instantly immersed in the burgeoning Toronto WestQueenWest arts scene.  I had the opportunity to work closely with the owner and collaborate in articulating and developing the business strategies for artistic programming and partnerships. I flourished in the collaborative, values driven, community engaged environment. I wore many hats during those years and my creative work evolved towards facilitating and supporting and eventually creating artistic programming and innovative arts based initiatives and partnerships. I had the pleasure of working on well over 100 different projects with hundreds of artists and arts organizations. Some were one off others continued as annual programs for many years after I left.

Five years in I felt compelled to seek out a role where I could wear fewer hats and have a more focused impact working with individual artists outside of a business environment. I took a new turn and a new job as a program manager at Workman Arts, an arts and mental health non-profit focused on supporting artists with lived experience of mental health and addictions to develop in their practices. Over the next seven years, I poured my creative ideas, energy and skills into creating multidisciplinary artist projects, professional development and income generating programs for artists, and before I left, an organizational scaling initiative to bring similar programs to other communities. 

At 50, I was tired of being an employee. I felt the pull to channel my creativity and all of the experience I had under my belt to create a business of my own. I sought out the same wonderful coach I had worked with previously to support me in this new transition.  With her help I began to imagine what it might be like to build my own practice focused on supporting individual artists and creative professionals. She supported me to seek out professional training, strategize the steps I needed to take and shore up the courage and confidence to take those steps.. As part of my transition plan I returned to the arts hotel as a strategic project manager working a four day work week so that I could invest time and energy in training to build my skills and attained credentials through the International Coaching Federation. I coached my first client on June 25 of 2016 and worked to build my practice alongside my work at the hotel. Somewhat ironically, my strategic project work at the hotel ended with helping to sell that business to new owners. The closing of the sale coincided with the lockdowns due to the pandemic.  Just as I was ready to devote myself full time to my coaching practice.  

Like many other creative professionals, I was forced to make adjustments to my practice and how I worked. I became immediately immersed in the joys and challenges of being self-employed and working from home while supporting many of my clients to do the same as they navigated sustaining their creative practices and businesses or thought through new directions and pathways for their creative work and careers. I also rediscovered writing as a creative practice and have integrated it into my coaching practice. My work and writing as a coach and creative have grown and evolved and become a great source of personal fulfillment. I work with artists and creative professionals around the globe, at all stages of career development, in all disciplines and across a huge spectrum of directions and approaches. My creative work now is focused on empowering other creatives to maximize their personal and professional potential, build sustainable careers and live fulfilling lives as artists and creatives. 

I’ve loved all of the various iterations of my career as a creative professional. I’m grateful to have had such diverse creative and growth opportunities and a lot of fun and magical moments along the way. Not that it’s all been fun and games. There have been many stressful situations, challenges and events that were outside of my control. I am proud of the turns I’ve taken along the way. I’ve also come to realize that all along - in all of my roles, in the family business, the art hotel and working in arts and mental health - what came naturally to me and what I came to excel at and enjoy the very most, was being a thinking partner, helping to articulate creative visions, championing and collaborating in navigating how to bring those visions to reality.  That’s what coaching is really all about - I’d been doing that all along and I’ve become better at it with each iteration. Looking back over my career as a creative professional I’m feeling like I have a lot to celebrate. 38 years and counting!

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll be sharing 38 things I’ve learned as a creative professional.

Image Credit: Cylla Von Tiedemann

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Congratulations on your incredible 38-year journey as a creative professional, Chris!

Your thoughtful coaching has greatly impacted my own creative journey. There were times where I felt stuck and your support and guidance have helped me break through self-imposed barriers so I can reach new milestones.

Thank you for your dedication and passion for fostering creativity in all your work. It's a gift to all of us who have had the pleasure of working with you.

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