Ask Anna: How can I relaunch my career as a creative in my 40s?

Here, our agony aunt Anna Higgs advises a reader on the best way to begin a new career as an illustrator in her 40s, and in a time of recession and change

Dear Anna,

I would like to know how I can relaunch myself as a creative in my 40s. A career in illustration has always been something I wanted to do, and Covid-19 has given me the opportunity to pursue this – I’ve retrained online through Falmouth Flex (and it’s been amazing, btw). But how does this translate in a Covid crisis? What can I tell an employer or have as my USP?


Dear Anon,

In my experience, your 40s are the best decade – though I always caveat that with “so far”, given that’s how far I’ve come myself! I think I feel this because, if you’re lucky, you’ve racked up enough life experience to know what you really want, and so have the right combination of energy and attitude to risk that enables you to make big changes. So it’s great to hear that you’ve embraced this by retraining online and are now looking to live your dream in illustration.

To the question of how this translates, I’d say this is entirely up to you. If there’s one silver lining to the huge upheaval and uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has created, it’s that everything has had to be reconsidered, reshaped, reinvented. Workplaces that were previously obsessed with presenteeism now understand that working from home can not only work well, it can also deliver amazing results for the right people. Meetings that might have excluded people due to location or a disability, for example, are now way more accessible as everyone has had to get their heads around video conferencing.

In my most optimistic moments, I like to think the notion of ‘new normal’ means there’s actually no such thing as ‘normal’ any more. Because normative behaviours and culture are, by their very nature, exclusionary. They force people to assimilate rather than provide space for difference – difference that can be hugely beneficial to any business, particularly creative ones. In this context, you get to start with what ‘you want’ rather than what a ‘company wants’, and have a chance to work out how you fit into a particular job-shaped hole.