Making It On Your Own Terms

One of the best things about social media for me is the ability to connect with like-minded people from all over the galaxy. I’ve been independent, i.e. not had a desk job, on and off for nine years now – with a few spurts of full-time employment and time off to start a family in between. Don’t ask me where the time has gone, I couldn’t tell you.

What I can tell you is this: I am happier being independent. No question about it. While I admit there are many benefits to having full-time employment, I don’t believe that any of them compensate for being unhappy.

Maybe I never found the right job with the right company, or maybe I’m just not suited for corporate life. But, as long as I can get by, and live the life I want to lead without a desk job, then that’s my right to do so. Apparently many others out there are feeling the same way.

Not that I need anyone else’s experience to validate my own, but I have noticed a tidal shift in the way people are describing their post-corporate lives on social media…

“I left my job because I couldn’t take the emotional abuse anymore,”

“I felt empty and unfulfilled,”

“I was making money, but buying expensive toys didn’t make me happy,”

“I was working so hard I collapsed one day, and my doctor told me if I kept on at that pace I wouldn’t have much time left,”

“My daughter asked me, why does she never see me? Telling her I had to work didn’t seem like a good enough excuse,” and so on…

Corporate Drudgery Is Bringing People Down

Just today I saw a post on LinkedIn from someone, which summed up the above dissatisfaction with working life that many are feeling – but are perhaps too reticent to admit. 

If the text is too small for you to read, I’ve copied it here:

“After 11 years of climbing the corporate ladder and buying nice material toys, I feel empty and uninspired inside. I know that many of my millennial peers feel the same way and I’ll therefore go on a Round-the-World trip today, visiting 20 countries on 4 continents for about 4 months to find out what I want to do next! I also will be freelance writing for Business Insider about international retail and franchise innovations during my trip. Itinerary attached, see you all in 4 months… Meysam”

I had a quick look at Meysam’s profile – as you do – and see that he has held directorial jobs for the likes of Pizza Hut and Google. The sort of jobs that impress most people at dinner parties, and make your parents proud. But what happens when your job don’t make you happy? In fact, it leaves you feeling empty and uninspired, as Meysam admitted his career had? What if family commitments or mortgage payments or health issues or whatever stops you from taking a hiatus and traveling the world,

But what happens when your job doesn’t make you happy? In fact, it leaves you feeling empty and uninspired, as Meysam admitted his career had? What if family commitments, or mortgage payments, or health issues, or whatever, stops you from taking a hiatus and traveling the world, Meysam’s rather ingenious answer to his existential crisis? Do you carry on stuck in your rut, or do you make a change some other way?

I love that Meysam has had the foresight to line up some freelance work while he is traveling, and is turning his trip of a lifetime into a legitimate source of content for a well-known publication. A smart strategy for budding freelance writers and consultants out there. Meysam is keeping his skills fresh, covering some expenses, and opening new doors for himself in the process — ones which hopefully won’t lead him back to a desk job he can’t get excited about anymore. Follow Meysam on LinkedIn to keep up to date with his physical (and metaphysical?) journey. I personally am intrigued to see where he ends up, something that would never have been possible without social media (SM bashers be damned!)

Speaking to Real People Making it On Their Own Terms

Claire Cardwell is a British artist living and working in South Africa. I met Claire on social networking site Bebee, and after a few rounds of comments on each other’s posts, we got to talking on messenger and found out we have a bit in common. We both went to King’s College London, and we both love photography, travel, art, and writing.

Claire has her own architectural design studio and also makes and sells her own art. It’s people like Claire that make the world a more interesting place. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all worked for Pizza Hut and Google? Wouldn’t the conversation at dinner parties get stale pretty fast?

Over the next few weeks, on the SMS blog, we’ll be showcasing talented independent individuals from the four corners of the earth, to learn about their challenges, their achievements, and their motivations for doing what they do.

If you’re feeling stuck and need some inspiration, then these interviews may be what you need to make a positive change. And no matter how small that change is, it’s a step in the right direction, and if you need us, we’re here to help!

Keep reading for my full interview with Claire Cardwell below…

Hi Claire, thanks for joining me. Tell our readers a bit about you?

Hi Sandra, I’m an Architectural Designer (Blue Designs, owner & Houseplanssa), Artist (Blue Indigo Art owner & ClairecardwellArtist), Journalist (The Naked Architect), and writer (Africa’s Lost Children and The Angel with No Name and No Face).

Where are you located, Claire?

Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Why did you move to SA and what do you like about living there?

I moved to SA in June 1999. I had a lot of South African friends in London and followed them over a few months later. As soon as I got off the plane and my foot hit the tarmac I felt that I was completely at home. Totally relaxed and in tune with the vibe here. I felt that I could finally breath and be myself.

What do you do?

I work for myself mainly as an Architectural Designer. Recently my more technical articles on Architecture have been picked up and published by other magazine type websites. However I am increasingly disillusioned with continuing to practice Architecture in South Africa. Hence the possible move to the North West. I have several thumbs in several pies, so there is Blue Designs which I started in 2004 after having worked for 9 months on a building site – the Featherbrook Estate. Then there is Blue Indigo Art (August 2013), (April 2016), The Daisy Chain Network (August 2013) and The Treehouse Competition SA (August 2015). Due to losing 3 staff members in the last year or so I am a bit behind. I intend to take my RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and AIA (American Institute for Architecture) qualifying exams later on this year.

How long have you been doing it?

Since August 2004

Tell us about your art/writing?

I am first and foremost an artist. I am a very visual person, so usually when people speak to me I see in pictures – almost like watching a movie clip. Writing and painting come naturally to me. More than architecture – which is tough and very detailed.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I go into a kind of trance when I paint or write. Sometimes I am in silence, but more often I am listening to Jazz or House Music in the background. It just flows out of me.

What does a typical day look like?

A typical day starts with me either waking up horribly early (5am) or going to bed at 3am…. I am a bit of a night owl, but here in SA people get going v. early. Especially the builders.
They think nothing of calling me at 6:30am! I make coffee, and pray and meditate for about an hour. I have a notebook with me, so if I have any ideas I just jot them down to mull over later. Then I start planning my day and make decisions as to how and where I am going to advertise my business and get some work done. Then I check my notifications and emails etc. I do a few quick posts and then turn the tunes on.
I dance and exercise for about an hour and on and off during the day. Then I get cracking with the real business of the day. Helping others promote their work and their art and promoting myself as well. Then it’s either painting, drawing or writing for the next few hours. I often have a short afternoon nap. Then I work through to about 11pm. Checking notifications and doing some marketing. After that I chat to my friends until my eyes start closing. It doesn’t seem to matter how much coffee I drink or what I’ve been up – once my head hits the pillow I am gone. I sleep.

What were your business /work highlights of 2016?

I actually had a really tough year last year. In Oct 2015 my draughtsman Fernando was killed, then I had 3 court actions – including one that is ongoing with my ex-business partner  who is still using my architect’s license to submit plans to council…..
I guess the take out from all of this was a) me realising that I have to hire a competent lawyer and not handle all that crap myself as it’s too time consuming and b) stick to your guns. I have also started implementing plans to further promote my personal brand, and to promote myself as an artist, writer and assist with social media marketing for small companies.
This year has also been rather tough as I have been pretty ill, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about where I am going, how I am going to get there and who can I bring in to assist along the way.

What are some challenges you face? (Can be at work, career-wise, or growing your business)

There are several challenges I faced, especially starting out. I look very young for my age, so even now people don’t take me seriously when I insist on changes or things being done a certain way on site.
One of my builders actually called me ‘Hellfire’ for a while. Then again, he witnessed me kicking down a big wall in my high heels….. The challenge is to overcome being seen as a little woman in construction, let’s face it – it’s very much a man’s world all the way. I have yet to work with a female builder or project manager. I’ve had my ex-business partner (a guy, interior designer – more of a scatter cushion technologist really) pulled away to have a serious technical conversation. Within seconds he was saying that it was me they needed to speak to!
The other challenge is to get your name out there and actually start charging what you are worth. There are still too many ‘designers’ who only charge R25/m2. I charge about R150. People don’t seem to appreciate the amount of work that goes into producing a set of full construction documents to submit to Council. Unlike most architects that submit working drawing to

How do you intend to overcome these?

I am a very stubborn woman! Once I get my teeth into something, I keep going until it’s finished!

What keeps you motivated?

Every day is different, a new challenge. The great thing about Architecture is that there are constant new discoveries, new innovations that keep you learning and on your toes. Years ago someone told me that Architecture is not a career, it is a lifestyle. Too true!

What advice do you have for people looking to get started working in your industry / start their own business in the industry?

As far as anyone starting out in Architecture is concerned :- keep persisting, keep trying, keep banging on those doors. Keep writing and designing – publish your own blog/website.

Do you do marketing for your company? If yes, in what capacity?

I do all the marketing for myself and Blue Designs. I used to work for the Financial Times in the sales and marketing department. I also hold a diploma in journalism. I enjoy the marketing.

What are your growth goals for 2017?

As far as my goals are concerned for 2017 :- 1.) Get my mentor Pedro to take over the day to day running of Blue Designs. 2.) Tie up all legal and loose ends in the next month. 3.) Start actively promoting my art and writing. 4.) Finish my book – Africa’s Lost Children and 5.) I am going to be helping to start a self sufficient artists community here in SA and also in the States. 6.) I have also been invited to help design a self sustaining village for the poor here in SA. 7.) Continue actively promoting myself and my colleagues. Take on some more small businesses and promote them too. I think it’s vitally important to try and give back. Pay it forward, Umbuntu!

Do you feel you are investing enough time and resources in marketing to achieve growth goals?

I am probably not investing enough time into Blue Designs at the moment. It’s a struggle to get the actual work done to be honest…… Up until recently I had 3 members of staff working for me. So things have been an adjustment over the last year or so.

How did you hear about beBee?

I heard about beBee though contacts on LinkedIn. Intrigued I checked out in May last year and was hooked right from the word go.

What are your social media pet peeves?

I hate it when there is trolling or negativity. Fair enough you don’t agree with something you have read/watched. There is no need for name calling etc. Just block scroll on past and move on. I have nothing against people commenting on my posts, even if it’s dissent. Debate is healthy and keeps you sharp and on top of your game. Constructive Criticism is after all Constructive isn’t it? Other peeves are constant pictures of what people are eating, or facile status updates – you’ve been to the loo – excellent! Also the long religious rants and maths quizzes on LinkedOut are really irritating. Also I hate having to wait for the advertising etc. to scroll past before I can read an article!

What are your social media tips?

As far as my Social Media tips are :-
1. Be consistent – always post every morning on all your platforms and your website.
2. Comment and share other people’s articles about 1/3 yours to 2/3 their’s.
3. Re-post, ask for comments & advice. 4. look for groups where you can post your work etc.
4. Try and be creative – try and solve a problem rather than merely saying – here look at me aren’t I great at what I do! and
5. Have fun, if you are not having fun – you are not doing it right. But the most important thing is to be authentic. Be real. Be honest. People buy people. If they sense you are being say ‘economical with the truth’ you will crash and burn.

Do you have a blog?

I have blogs – on the website , The Naked Architect on beBee and Facebook and of course my blog on beBee.

How important is your personal brand to you and why?

Your personal brand is vitally important. When people feel that they know you then they are more likely to book you.

Thank you, Claire for that! Where can people learn more about you online?

Thanks, Sandra – at any of the links below!


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2 Comments on “Making It On Your Own Terms

August 2, 2017 at 11:28 am

Good Article Sir Thanks

Sandra Smith
August 11, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Thanks, this post was written by me – Sandra – and it’s madam to you! 😉


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