Have you ever worked really hard to accomplish a BIG goal, and then once you got there thought: “Okay, I’m at my destination. What now?”
That’s exactly what happened to my good friend Claire Bridges, founder of Now Go Create, a creative firm based in the UK. Claire achieved early success in her career and experienced a defining moment when she had to find new purpose in her leadership journey and figure out what’s next.
Many leaders face this same challenge – I certainly have. Getting back on track with a new destination in mind is critical to finding joy in our journey. In this interview, Claire shares some very personal stories and powerful advice with us about how to:
- redefine the destination so we have new energy and purpose; and
- find that North Star to reignite our passion for work.
You can watch Claire’s video here or read the transcript below.
I also wanted to let you in on some recent news about Claire – she’s written a book, released just last week: In Your Creative Element, published by Kogan Page. This is a practical guide to bringing your hidden creative genius to the forefront and allowing it to power your thinking in new ways. I love this book, and it’s already helping me get unstuck in some situations by trying a fresh, more creative approach.
Elise Mitchell: Claire, you’ve had some amazing experiences that have helped you achieve success as an entrepreneur. But before you founded your company, you held leadership positions at other companies, and you were fairly young when you were hitting some big goals. What was that like?
Claire Bridges: Talking about the destination and the journey: I was 21 when I started out and entering a competitive work environment. My destination was money. I wanted to make more money, which meant getting promoted, which meant doing the best job and then getting promoted through the ranks. And I managed to do that pretty successfully as my destination.
But I had a mini-crisis at that point in terms of my journey because I’d earned the money. I’d said I want this much money by this age and I’d reached that. And suddenly I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I’m at my destination. What now?’
EM: I remember a story you told me about going on a sabbatical. Tell me more about that experience.
CB: When I took the sabbatical, I had been running a consumer team for about five years. Very fast-paced, very tough environment. Great environment, but very tough and very financially focused. I was going through a divorce, too. And I just felt like I had completely lost my purpose, my destination.
I did not know where I was going personally or professionally and I decided to take some time off. That really was the right thing to do. The business said, ‘Look, take some time off. See where you get to and if you want to come back to us in three months’ time, then do that.’
So I went traveling and did all the sort of things you would expect – it wasn’t quite a midlife crisis, but I did some clichéd stuff. One interesting thing I did is go to a retreat in Austria. It was there that I had a real big, kind of life destination moment where I realized what was wrong with me was not about my body, which I had thought, but it was about my mind.
That was a massive penny-drop moment for me. So when I did return to the agency I had been working at, I returned as a Creative and Planning Director. That was a massive turning point in terms of looking at my internal compass and working out what my journey was – it set me off on a completely new journey, which seven years later really brings me to where I am today.
EM: How does somebody do that? If you’re thinking: ‘I don’t know what my purpose is and I feel like I’m working all the time.’ How do you make that shift from being just a destination leader to also having a journey mindset?
CB: I took the decision about two years prior to that to take a four-day week, without any children. I had no children as an excuse or a reason to do it. I just felt that I was burnt out a lot of the time. I was exhausted. I wasn’t doing my best work, I wasn’t being a good leader. I was tired. I wasn’t able to give my team and the people I was working with what they needed.
So I decided for myself and for them that I would take this extra time. I was Managing Director, running a big team at that time, about 30 strong. Most of the people I worked with – they were board level, senior level – all thought I was nuts. I mean, they just said to me ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you ill?’ ‘Are you pregnant? What’s going on with you?’
They could not understand that I just didn’t want to be at the office 50-60 hours a week. Which a lot of them, whether they wanted to, that’s what they were doing. But again, the agency I worked for was incredibly supportive. That they let me do that, I think that just made me so much better at my job. Because I could never switch off.
We all know what it’s like, you’ve got work to do. You’ve got ideas you want to incubate. But you can’t do that just sitting at your desk 9-5. So actually that day that I wasn’t in the office didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about work, it just meant I had a lot more time to think. That idea of time to think, it would be one of the key things that I would say to somebody if you feel stuck, or if you feel like you’ve lost your purpose: You have to be able to make time to think for yourself.
EM: I know you’re passionate about your family. You’re married again and you have a beautiful little boy. Talk about the challenges of blending work and life. You’re an entrepreneur but you’re still working as hard as ever. How do you make it all work?
CB: I think it really comes down to knowing your destination, what you’re doing it all for. Because it’s a lot easier when you have a North Star and you know that you’re doing it for this.
Certainly having a child has made me really focused on being the best mum that I can be when I am with him. So that freedom value is so important – if I’m with him one day a week, I’m with him. I don’t look at my emails, I don’t talk to my clients, and everyone knows that’s how I work.
Actually, there’s a lot of freedom that comes with that – if people don’t like the way that I work, then I don’t work with them. I want to work with people who have the same values that I do. And you just don’t have that freedom often in an organization that is so focused on the bottom line.
So it’s a constant balance. Every mother says that same thing. It is a constant juggling act between focusing on business, giving to your child, loving and nurturing your child, as well as your personal relationships. As well as earning money, the money that you need in order to have a particular lifestyle or way of living. So I’m not the adage of work hard, play hard. I would say I work hard, relax hard.
EM: You’re building a company, you’ve got a master’s degree, you’ve written a book. You’re definitely still a destination leader but you’ve redefined your destination. What is it now?
CB: This comes with age, as well, but I think you do meet a point — I’m nearly in my mid-forties — and I am starting to think about what I want to be doing when I’m 55. What do I want to do when I’m 60? How am I going to build something that lasts, that will serve me and maybe serve other people beyond that time? And not just be here today gone tomorrow?
My passion now is helping others believe in their own creative ability. That’s what I would like to be known for. I run workshops and I hear professionals from all walks of life say to me ‘I’m not creative’ and that just isn’t true. What is true for them is that their experiences have made them start to believe that they’re not creative. So what I really love doing today is helping people find their confidence and their ability to be creative and to tap into that. That’s my destination now.
Claire Bridges is founder of the UK’s leading creative training consultancy, Now Go Create, whose philosophy is ‘that everyone can be creative’. At 32, Claire was one of the youngest Managing Directors ever working for a global PR agency, part of the world’s biggest advertising and media company WPP. Bridges is one of only 55 people in the world to hold MSc in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership from City University London, on which In Your Creative Element is based. She also has 20 years of front-line experience working in the creative industries with clients including Starbucks, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Danone, Sky Media, Save The Children and ASOS on thousands of creative projects and training over 10,000 people.