The following article appeared in the Art Center on-line magazine, The Dotted Line, which featured a conversation with Tony Luna, Creative Career Consultant, on the topic of the classes he teaches through Art Center at Night to mid-career professionals who are looking to take their careers to the next level.
Tony Luna on Crafting a Meaningful Career:
Change naturally occurs as careers evolve. Sometimes change is forced upon us; sometimes we have to make it happen.
Based on the principles laid out in his book, How to Grow as a Photographer: Reinventing Your Career, creative consultant, artist and educator Tony Luna created Crafting a Meaningful Career, a series of Art Center at Night courses aimed at helping mid-career professionals revitalize their career perspectives.
We recently took a much-needed break from our day-to-day assignments to ask Luna more about his course.
Dotted Line: Tell me about Crafting a Meaningful Career.
Tony Luna: The course is loosely based on my own personal life. Looking back at my career, I realized that every five to seven years, there was some change that had to take place. Sometimes it was caused by the economy, sometimes it was caused by technology, and sometimes it was caused by boredom. I started talking to other people, and virtually everybody I talked to had the same kind of challenges. The basic tenet of the course is that, no matter what, from time to time we have to change and we have to grow, so the Crafting a Meaningful Career courses are about taking control and being able to create a new paths for ourselves. It could be a small change or it could be a large change. I advocate that people take a serious, mature look at what they've accomplished, give themselves credit for all they've been able to achieve, and then plot out a plan for where they'd like to take their career.
Dotted Line: You say people need to take credit for what they've accomplished so far. Do people commonly feel like they need to start all over and everything they’ve done up to this point is worthless?
Luna: People acquire skills along the way that they don't even recognize. They pick up organizational or communication skills, learn languages or become computer savvy. And they think that's just what they had to do. We often float through life and don't recognize the impact our personal experiences can have in expanding our business opportunities. I have an assignment in class called “asset matching” where I ask students to examine their skill sets, their unique experiences, their interests and their influences. They write down what they have going for them, and then as a group we try to find new options for how they can turn their career into something that makes them excited about starting each day. That’s the “meaningful” part.
Dotted Line: So it's not just about landing that next big gig? But rather doing something personally fulfilling?
Luna: We often have preconceived notions about where we think we're supposed to be and those hold us back. We don't know why we feel disenchanted; we just feel like we're treading water. But when you get into situation where other people start to recognize what you have going for you, then you start believing in yourself. And there might be some dramatic options that open up. But even if they're not dramatic, they're valuable options in that they can make you feel like every day is really more exciting than the last.
Dotted Line: So your classmates can see things in yourself that you can’t see, because you’re too close to it?
Luna: Right. I give another assignment in which each student walks up to the whiteboard and presents a timeline of their life. They can pick up at any point they want to—their birth, graduation from high school, whenever—and bring it all the way to the present. They draw a horizontal line and above the line they list significant events that happened in their personal life and below the line they list significant events in their work life. The outcome of that assignment is that students can see, in a very graphic way, how there are certain times when they have been highly productive and other periods when they’ve settled for mediocrity, because everything is safe and everything is cool. But that always begs the question, what are you going to do when things come to a screeching halt?
Dotted Line: Who takes your class?
Luna: Usually mid-career professionals, people in their late 30s to mid-50s. But not always. I do get some younger people in their 20s and that amazes me. I wish I had taken a class like this in my 20s, because I would have known what to expect. It helps you be a little more prepared for the future if you recognize that there will be times when you're working hard, and it's wonderful and you think it's going to go on forever, and then there will be times when nobody returns your phone calls. And what do you do? You can sit there and have a pity party and say the world doesn't love you anymore and that you’re no longer relevant. But once you get past that denial and anger you need to figure out what you're going to do and work your way out of it.
Dotted Line: These sound like pretty universal problems you’re dealing with.
Luna: These issues are pervasive. They're not only directed towards photographers, graphic artists or illustrators. They’re directed towards the general public. I've had people from all areas of interest take my class.
I received an email from a stand-up comedian who picked up my book, How to Grow as a Photographer: Reinventing Your Career, and he said, “You know, if you swap out ‘photographer’ for ‘stand-up comedian,’ this is the same stuff I deal with.” Everybody has their ups and downs. Everybody has a time when they need to give themselves credit for what they’re doing. And everybody needs to look forward to doing something different and satisfying and so unique that it’ll set the world on fire. And the very best part about this course is that you get to create a template for how to execute positive effective change for yourself.