Articles - 7th August 2020

What do you do when your industry is gone?

Words by Marisa Bate
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Like walking outside after a storm, industries are slowly starting to assess the damage of the global pandemic. It’s very early days, of course, but big changes have taken place already. Thousands of jobs have been lost. Plenty of us have made plans to pivot. Some have taken jobs in supermarkets or have started fruit-picking. A job-hunting friend sent a link to one morbid opportunity; funeral hearse driver. We all need to be braver than ever in this new world.

But what happens if you’re emerging into the daylight of the so-called “new normal” and the industry that you once belonged to before Covid-19 is no longer there? Or, at the very least, no longer recognisable?

As a freelance journalist, this has happened to me. The places that would pay me to write for them no longer have a budget. Media outlets are collapsing. Covid-19 is an earthquake that is pulling even the most prestigious and stalwart of institutions to their knees. In the UK, the BBC is cutting 450 jobs, the entire Buzzfeed news team was disbanded, and most recently, the Guardian announced the much-loved Saturday supplements will close. Friends at magazine companies who are still being propped up by the government’s furloughing scheme whisper warnings of the dire straits waiting ahead when that financial crutch is removed in October.

Of course, some versions of media will continue. It is not extinct. And hopefully new ones will materialise in time. But the one I used to know, the one I’ve known for the last decade or so, is simply not there anymore.

It is not just journalism either. I have seen members of the advertising world suggest that the old, extravagant  ways are behind them. For struggling corporations, advertising and marketing are often the first things to take a hit. Agencies servicing clients who are running out of cash will have to rethink their use (and of course, freelancers are always the easiest place to make cuts). Furthermore, in a post-Covid world, is there space for expensive client dinners and fancy offices in big cities, things that were once such an integral part of the industry’s culture?

Beyond what we read and buy, physical entertainment of all kinds are heading towards a new reckoning. I think of the festivals, the talks, the gatherings, the indoor food markets, the panel talks that were such a vibrant part of my personal and professional life. We all know that an Instagram live is simply not the same.

But will we file back into packed auditoriums ever again, buzzed from the collective experience shared with strangers? Will we sit shoulder to shoulder in a tent in Wales to hear our favourite author speak or singer sing? Will we find ourselves at super clubs with cocktails or comedy clubs laughing loudly? This industry is, without doubt, on hold.

As the working landscapes mutate, reshape and reform, there will be many of us wondering where our place is now, especially as the government will offer one last part of support in August and then we’re firmly on our own. If, like me, you’ve spent the last decade working towards an industry that has dissolved or pulled up the drawbridge or morphed into something you don’t recognise, you have to start putting your energy elsewhere.

But where? And how do you know where you want to move to if you’ve only ever wanted to be in that one place? I’d never considered anything but journalism. So, what now? Do I have to refind a passion?

Karen Eyre-White runs Go Do, a productivity coaching business. She made a big career change when she left behind being a Chief Exec to become a business owner. Re-finding passion and purpose – be it through choice or because you have no alternative – is something she also helps clients with.

Eyre-White advises against the knee-jerk reaction of picking the first career that comes to mind and endlessly trawling job sites. “Give yourself time to do some blue sky thinking,” she says. “Take yourself and a blank notebook to a cafe for a few hours and brainstorm what you’ve always been interested in and passionate about. What do you read about in your spare time? What topics have always sparked your interest? Write everything down, even if you don’t see how it could be linked to your career. If you trust the process and give it time, themes will start to emerge”.

This can feel indulgent when we need to see money coming in but for me it also seems crucial. I’ve never even considered another career. A careers quiz at school said I would become a truck driver (I still don’t own a license). While I love an open road and adventure, I’ve been singular in my career aspirations for well over a decade. The idea that there’s something else out there that I might find meaning in and explore (possibly even involving a truck!), for the first time, actually feels quite exciting.

If and when you find yourself in an area of interest, Erye-White suggests exploring it, be it either by starting a blog, signing up to voluntary work, or joining a Facebook group. Consider who you could reach out to for an informal chat about the sector. She also suggests asking friends in related fields if you can virtually shadow them to give yourself a sense of if this is actually the right move for you. One thing I can vouch for is that when you’re feeling unsure and directionless, the very worst thing you can do is nothing. Use whatever time you have to research, investigate, and explore. It will help you feel a bit more in control.

Of course, finding a new sense of purpose, a new career you think you could commit to as much as the old one won’t happen overnight. Like all the best creatives and inventors, we have to be prepared to experiment and fail in order to discover the right thing.

It is important to mourn what is lost and the future you thought you would have. I thought I’d have the sort of career people 10, 15 or 20 years older than me have, people I watched when I first started out. And I have clutched this idea close to my chest for what feels like an eternity. There is a sense of grief when you give up on a long-held dream. This is not an easy thing to do. And this can quite easily, and potentially very dangerously, be internalised as failure. But we have to work hard to maintain perspective. An unrealised dream isn’t always a failure, it’s a building block. You just don’t know what it will lead to yet.

Ultimately, it is a process of letting go. And only in letting that go, you are opening yourself up to all sorts of opportunities for what could be. And as much as you’re leaving anything behind, you’re also taking skills and knowledge and experience with you. It might be a shock if you look around and think what now? It might be bewildering and frightening. But in time, with thought, trial and error, and a brave redrawing of the map, it could be the open road and adventures that you’ve always wanted. You just didn’t know they could look like this.

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