Vidsy Chats: Ellen McGettigan
Taking breaks and knowing when to let yourself refresh is a valuable lesson many people learn too late. It’s small acts of self-love that allow you to push forward, even when you have challenges ahead.
We speak with Vidsy Creative Strategist, Ellen McGettigan, about the beginning of her creative career and how her approach to managing wellbeing has evolved for the better.
When did you first want a creative career?
“I don't know really. I thought I was really good at maths at school, and then it got to A-levels, and it sucked. I had a lot of smart friends who were really advanced. I thought I was pretty good but it just caused me more stress than needed. So, I moved to subjects like graphics, where I wasn't as stressed and I did well. I thought: ‘I can actually do something with this and I don’t have to just become a struggling artist, I can make a career here’.”
So, do you think there’s still a stigma around choosing a creative subject or job?
“Um, I think it depends on who you talk to. When my family found out I was studying advertising, they were more the ‘I wish that kind of stuff was around when I was younger’ perspective. My parents were always supportive. I always got the backup needed, which I know, some people may not be as lucky to get. If you've got lawyer or doctor parents who've always thought you'd be a lawyer or a doctor to and then you're not, maybe that would be a little harder. I think more and more people are open to a huge variety of new creative fields.”
How did you handle your wellbeing when you first started your career?
“I probably didn't look after myself very much because it was so intense and everything was so competitive. Getting a placement was really difficult, that was a full-time job in itself. Then when you had one, then you had to find another while you were still doing that one, but you're trying to impress while you're there.
I worked in between all my placements, I went between an agency and then a pub, a different agency and then back to the pub, agency again and then working in the back of an office. I was very conscious that if I took a break that everyone would judge me, or if I booked a holiday while on placement they wouldn't want me anymore because I took a holiday. In hindsight, this was ridiculous. Like the most ridiculous thing. My creative partner and I would dispute over it because she’d take a holiday and say ‘you should too’. She'd have a break and come back so much better, and for some reason I thought I just couldn't stop.”
“Getting a placement was really difficult. That was a full-time job. Then when you had one, you had to find another one whilst you were still doing that one, but you're trying to impress while you're there.”
How has your approach to wellbeing changed?
“I think I’m just much more aware. If I need to leave work on time, then I’m going to. You can’t stay late every day, or you’ll burn out. I learnt to take time for myself, this came once I’d found a job I loved and the financial burden had eased slightly. Sadly, I think that’s the biggest thing that allows you to focus on how you're actually feeling.
Just take a bit of time, because you’ll burn out otherwise. If you can't physically perform later on because you're exhausted, then what's the point?”
“It's really hard to switch off from being creative because you just can't help your brain going places, but then sometimes you get the best ideas at 3am, and as much as you don’t want to get up, you end up with something sick and it’s really satisfying.”
So do you think creative people struggle with taking a break?
“You can't switch creativity off. Everything is so subjective that it's not like, ‘oh, I've done this task and it's complete’. It's, ‘oh, I've come up with two ideas’ and then at 3am you'd wake up like, “I just had two way better ideas and I have to present at 9am”. It's really hard to switch off from being creative because you just can't help your brain going places, but then sometimes you get the best ideas come at the most random times, and as much as you don’t want to get up, you end up with something sick and it’s really satisfying.”
What advice would you give to young people trying to join the creative industry?
“No one's going to judge you if you need a break. I always thought that everyone looked at me and thought I wasn't committed enough if I took a holiday. But I mean, just the fact that you're there and still plodding on is huge. Take a break and come back to it. That is the commitment, going away and coming back. But if you're not refreshed and your brain isn't taking a break, you won't come up with good stuff, and you're going to be judged more on the work that you do than on the fact that you took a week off.”