Chair’s Blog: Week 17 – Follow what inspires you…

When I was at Raynes Park High school, back in prehistoric times (the late 1970s), students were generally categorised into ‘arts / humanities’ and ‘maths / science’.  Then there was also the quite new, at that time, emerging discipline of business studies and career related subjects.

I broke their model a bit with my A levels as I enjoyed English Literature but was also alright at Maths. So I ended up doing both, much to the annoyance of the timetable master. Economics was on the syllabus for the first time, so I tried my hand at that too (despite it not being offered at O level). We had a great Economics teacher who really brought the subject to life, and I was persuaded by my careers advisor to go down that route for my degree course, alongside accounting.

Looking back on it that was the turning point.  I scraped through my Maths A Level but was good enough to use it for all the financial stuff that was to follow in my career. But sadly, all the fun stuff – reading respected literature and plays as well as performing them (I did quite a lot at school) –  largely passed me by for several years after that as I focussed on my studies and chosen field of work.

Things have changed a bit over the decades, but back in Thatcher’s 1980’s Britain anything that was arts related was generally considered non-vocational and not worth pursuing. I was never quite the radical at school, being far too inhibited by my largely conformist background, but was nevertheless intrigued by the counterculture of the time.

As years have gone by I have developed more of an appreciation for some aspects of the wider field of the arts and got involved in theatre, music and tried my hand at writing, but I remain slightly in awe of those people who have sought to develop their career in any artistic field as it’s very tough to make a decent living and be true to your art form.

I’ll openly admit I’m no expert in any specific artistic field but the more that I dig into how different cultures have developed, the more I’ve come to appreciate the sacrifices that some artists have made to challenge the orthodoxy of the day without any expectation of reward. Some ‘artistes’ these days go into their chosen field (particularly contemporary music) in the hope of achieving fame – despite there being enough scare stories to suggest that isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

But for a lot of people, it’s about that opportunity to find that creative outlet to express yourself and hopefully find an audience to connect with your ideas and to enjoy yourself too.  Here in Merton, we have plenty of events celebrating new and existing writers, musicians, artists, and performers, local and beyond to engage and challenge us, many of which you can find here on our events pages.

You don’t need to look far to see the way that art and new technologies are often blended together these days to create new life experiences. And let’s face it, art isn’t just about challenging the status quo, important though that is, it can be about entertainment, escapism and the sheer joy of living.

What I’ve learnt since taking those career decisions back at school, is that we all need a channel to express ourselves, use our imagination and connect with that inner child, even if it’s just a ‘hobby’.  I’ll be honest I spent far too many years working hard without that creative outlet, thinking that work in itself was a purpose, much of which, in hindsight, I didn’t really enjoy. The work ethic is still important (to me), but channelling that inner creative child is also important to all our well-being.

It may appear disingenuous, advising people to follow their heart these days, when so many of us are struggling with the cost of living, but I sincerely believe if you enjoy your work the rewards will come one way or another. And whether it’s your vocation or not, there are other channels for expressing your creativity which can be a great relief when facing life’s challenges: next week’s topic.

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