Every once in a while, creatives find themselves at a crossroads: a moment when there’s an opportunity to change direction or focus, and to find what’s next. Whether the opportunity is presented directly, or you just start to feel like change is in the air, facing a crossroads is a normal part of anyone’s professional life—even if it can feel uncertain or scary.
But how do you know if you’re at a creative crossroads? And perhaps even more important: how can you find out which path to follow when you’re facing that crossroads?
If you can recognize your own creative crossroads, find the right next path for you, and maintain a positive mindset, a crossroads can be a hopeful opportunity for positive change and growth, rather than a fearful venture into the unknown.
How to know if you’re at a creative crossroads
It’s not always clear that you’re facing a creative crossroads. Maybe you’re telling yourself that you couldn’t possibly change directions at this point in your career, and that has closed your mind off to other possibilities. Maybe you’re really good at what you’re currently doing, and the thought of trying something new is scary. Or maybe you’re simply so busy and wrapped up in your daily work that you don’t recognize when another opportunity is presenting itself.
No matter the reason, your creative crossroads might be hard to recognize. Here are a few indicators that you might be facing a crossroads of your own.
Burnout is a special type of stress—usually caused by work—that affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Burnout leaves you feeling tired, incapable, and overwhelmed. Creative burnout is burnout that is directly tied to your creative efforts.
Some common signs of creative burnout include:
- Dreading work
- Feeling stuck
- Regular procrastination
- Consuming more than producing
Burnout can also be a sign that you’re at a creative crossroads. Why? Because burnout sends a signal that something is off in your professional/creative life. And when something is off, that’s cause for a change. Pay attention to your burnout; it’s trying to tell you something.
Change in motivation
You had a reason for starting down your current creative path. Does that reason still resonate with you? Does it still apply to your life, beliefs, and values? Will it still help you reach your creative goals?
Maybe you’ve started to notice that you’re passionate about something else lately. Maybe you’ve realized that all the fierceness that was once behind your creativity has died down a little (or a lot).
If your motivation has changed or diminished, that’s a good sign that you could be at a creative crossroads, and that you could be better served by applying your creative efforts in a different way.
Inability to focus
Are you finding it harder than usual to stay on task and get your work done? Does your mind wander to other projects or topics? Have you noticed that it’s harder than usual for you to get to a flow state (or maybe that it’s been a while since you experienced flow at all)?
This difficulty focusing could be a sign that the path you’re on isn’t the right one for you anymore. Perhaps your subconscious mind is drawing your attention away from one path in order to encourage you to pursue another.
Many creatives place a high value on the contribution they’re able to make to a project and to the world. If you feel like you aren’t adding value in your current space, maybe it’s because you need to reevaluate. Maybe you’re under- or over-qualified for the work you’re doing. Maybe you’ve lost your sense of purpose along this particular path. Or maybe part of you has just decided that you aren’t the right person to bring this particular idea into the world.
All these things are possible signs that you’re coming up on a creative crossroads. (And for what it’s worth, all these things are valid reasons to start down a different path.)
More than anything else, self-awareness can help you see that you’ve reached a creative crossroads. That’s because self-awareness can help you see all these other things happening—burnout, discouragement, low motivation, and more. But more than that, being self-aware can tune you in to your feelings. It can help you sense when something is wrong before you even have solid evidence for it. It makes you your best source of information and your best ally.
If you can become more self-aware, you’ll be better able to recognize when you’re at a crossroads.
5 questions to help you find what’s next
So you’ve acknowledged that you’re at a creative crossroads. Now what?
Realizing that this crossroads could represent a huge turning point in your life—perhaps a start down an entirely different path—can be intimidating. If you’re facing the crossroads, how do you decide what direction to take?
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself to help you find what’s next for your creative life.
What are you passionate about?
Your best creative work is driven by your passion. Passion fires your inner dragon—the fierce creativity that lives inside of you and fuels change and movement toward happiness. Recognizing where your passion lies can help you find what’s next for you.
When in doubt, follow your passion. It’s what’s going to motivate your best work. It’s what’s going to get you out of bed in the morning. Your passion can add light, inspiration, and hope to moments of discouragement. Passion is worth going after.
Where does your mind wander?
When you’re having trouble focusing on your current work, where does your mind go? Start to track those thoughts. Recognize where your mind naturally wanders to. Those are the ideas that your subconscious self wants you to explore. Give yourself permission to explore them!
Exploring the things you want to think about gives you more data to use as you try to decide which path to follow at your crossroads.
What are you excited to work on?
If you’re not excited by your current creative efforts, what does excite you? If you can’t think of anything, what has excited you in the past? Doing work you love, and that you’re excited to do, is going to help you keep going when (not if) your work starts to feel hard. If you’re facing a crossroads and you aren’t sure what should be next for you, following the path you’re more excited to follow is always a good call.
Are there any opportunities already open to you?
A crossroads sometimes presents itself as a result of your mental or emotional state, but sometimes, it’s more direct than that. Maybe a friend or coworker has already presented you with a new opportunity. If that’s the case, finding what’s next could simply be a matter of seeing what’s already in front of you.
What is the end game?
To paraphrase a lesson from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: if it doesn’t matter where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what road you take.
Conversely, if you know where you want to go, then the road you decide to take matters very much.
Do you know where you’re trying to go? Do you know what you want out of life? What does “create happy” mean to you? What kind of person will you be on the other end of the changes you’re trying to make? Where is your inner dragon trying to take you?
At Design.org, we believe in beginning with the end in mind, and then drawing backwards to connect the dots from where you want to go to where you are today. This helps you establish a direct course of action that will help you make the kind of progress you want to make. This course of action will make your next step a whole lot clearer.
Facing a creative crossroads can bring up all kinds of feelings—fear, insecurity, doubt, and more. But each crossroads you face presents you with an opportunity. An opportunity to pivot, fine-tune, reconsider, and reshape your creative efforts so that they are more true to yourself, to the person you want to be, and to the happiness you want to create.
So embrace the crossroads. See them for what they are. And allow yourself to be honest as you explore what’s next for you.
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