A thousand little crossroads towards full-time creativity – A case study


If you want to boost your creative abilities, it’s important to be open to change and to have a healthy level of curiosity & courage. Each of the experiences in your life will trigger a learning curve that allow you to evolve as a person and at the same time grow your skills & competencies.

For this post, I’ve asked Wouter Moerloose to share his journey in becoming a full time creative. The reason why I approached him is that he never ceases to surprise me in his endeavors. He has had a very interesting career track before becoming a full-time writer and he’s been inspiration to me in pushing my own boundaries! In the pursuit of finding his personal purpose & passion, his life has turned out to be non-conventional thus far (to say the least) with plenty of richness & freshness. You’ll notice that he has approached his post in a structured way with some takeaways (guess that must be a side-effect from having been a consultant). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading his post and can say that it provided several aha-moments for me!  Obviously, I truly hope you’ll enjoy it as well and that you’ll gather some insights that will inspire you to push yourself & believe in yourself so that you too can enhance your creative juices and make a real impact in your life.

Thanks again Wouter!

Guest post, by Wouter Moerloose:

When Niels asked me to write about my journey towards my creative Nirvana, I felt both flattered and somewhat under-qualified. In an unguarded moment, like most us, I still attach some sort of semi-sacred, artistic meaning to the word ‘creative’, like it’s a rare talent only very few people posses. Of course, if we take a breath and think more about it, we know that nothing is less true. As NC outlined throughout his previous insightful posts, creativity resides in all of us. It just comes in as many different shapes and forms as the number of people who will read this entry. Therefore, I’m happy to add my two cents and share my story, in the hope that you might recognise certain crossroads in your own journey and get a perspective on how to deal with certain dilemmas. Note that ‘a perspective’ is the operating concept here, because there will be many other views about how to get more creativity in your life.

What I found in my journey towards where I am now (speaking to you, writing this article) is that there is not one major decision that frees you from inhibitions and allows you to let your creative juices flow more freely than before. I believe it’s a journey of a thousand little crossroads. A thousand little decisions we take and dilemmas we solve that bring us closer to what we really want to do. Throughout your life in general, and your career in specific, there are moments where you’ll reach such crossroad, and you have a couple of directions in which to proceed... Make no mistake – the crossroads I’m talking about are not always super-visible, obvious decision points in your life. The real crossroads are often modestly disguised as a person you meet, a conversation you have, a thought in your mind or even a blog post you read.

The decisions we take are to ‘listen to an advice’ or to make a small change in our daily routine based on something insightful we’ve read, etc. It’s a bit similar to the well-known (and slightly over-used, I’ll admit) butterfly effect. Those small decisions can have major implications for your career and life journey going forward. The aim of this post is to shed some light on the crossroads I’ve faced, and explain the process (or the lack thereof) of deciding my direction. I’m going to take you on a 10-stage ride that spans over two decades and brought me at the following stops:

1. Doodler in my class-notes -> 2. Engineer -> 3. Supply Chain Manager -> 4. Brand Manager -> 5. International Product Developer -> 6. Sabbatical traveler -> 7. Marketing Director -> 8. MBA Student -> 9. Management Consultant -> 10. Nonfiction author & digital nomad

Let’s start at the beginning… Once upon a time, in a land very far away…

1. Doodler in my class-notes

Think back to when you were younger. Think about what you really really liked to do. This is often a good indication of your creative outlets you (secretly) still possess as an adult, even with a fast-track career and great responsibilities. In my case, it was drawing. I spent hours doodling in the margins of my class-notes (and my room’s wall paper). I had my space ship period, my dinosaurs era, my abstract lines years, my calligraphy obsession,… you name it. I wasn’t particularly good, but I just couldn’t stop doing it. So much so that it became my way of focusing on what was said in class. I kept that habit during business meetings later in life, and I found myself scrambling more than once to explain that I really was paying attention…

Takeaways: “Never give up on something that you can't go a day without thinking about.” ― Winston Churchill. I would also suggest not to underestimate the power of your early interests.

2. Engineer

Some people know from a very early age in life what they want to do. We all think of Steve Jobs, Christiano Ronaldo and others who’ve had the luxury of being able to spend their entire life with a singular focus towards their life goals. I’m certainly not one of those people, but I used to envy them quite a bit. Coming out of high school, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At that crossroad, I decided to pursue a degree that would leave a maximum of options open for later. Commercial Engineer was the most logical fit, even if I knew at heart that I would never be an engineer…

One of the great things that came out of my University studies was the chance to spend a year studying abroad (Schenectady, New York). It’s there that I met Niels, and our roads have kept crossing ever since.

Takeaways: It’s fine to postpone decisions for a certain time because it stops you from closing too many doors too early. Optionality is great for a while. In the mean time, seize as many opportunities as you can handle!

3. Supply Chain Manager

Having finished my studies, unsurprisingly, I still didn’t know what to do… On that important crossroad that many career starters face, I decided to take the route of a company that I liked and I felt aligned with rather than keep fretting about what jobs I would apply for. I signed at L’Oreal as a supply chain manager. The latter was a very natural fit  for a graduating engineer, so I didn’t think twice. Once one foot in the door, I figured out relatively quickly that – although I was learning a lot – this job wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Getting containers of shampoo to the right place at the right time doesn’t leave much room for creativity, so the fit was limited (at best). However, during a training seminar within the company, I had a forum to be more creative and took the chance. HR was present and spotted some ‘character incompatibilities with my current role’. After a couple of interviews, they proposed to transfer me to the (more creative) marketing department…

Takeaways: In hindsight, not all ‘bad decisions’ are that bad. I’m a firm believer that not taking any decisions is worse than taking the occasional wrong decision. Also, sometimes, you need a bit of luck with place and time (e.g., people spotting something in you, etc.). In general, those lucky breaks do come around, so don’t worry too much about them.

4. Brand Manager

So there I was, a brand manager in a cool FMCG company, a competitive salary and a BMW to show off with after a couple of years of loyal (and enjoyable) service. Life was good. I could spend quite a bit of time and resources on creative and aesthetic projects. But jobs are a bit like relationships. Even if you’re having a good time, you project yourself going forward in some relationships and not in others, even though it’s sometimes hard to admit at the time. Professionally, I felt the same. I was okay. Love and life are too precious to be ‘just okay’. When the opportunity to take an international role in L’Oreal Headquarters in Paris came, I faced another crossroad. I had to let go of my comfortable life (and even my company car) to take a shot in the dark. I can assure you – no regrets.

Takeaways: Getting closer what you really want to do comes (often) with given something up. Don’t be afraid to do so, because if it’s for the right reasons, you’ll get it back many times over later in your journey.

5. International Product Developer

I arrived in Paris with with pretty mellows knees. Another adventure. Pretty soon, I realised that – finally – I had something that was different enough to start writing about. I started a blog about Cosmetics Backstage, that ultimately led to a deal with Flair.be (biggest female weekly magazine in Flanders) to blog in their website. Some of the small crossroads of the past gave me all of a sudden a voice with about 30k people a day. Of course, I accepted, and I wrote for them for about two years – entirely for free… For me, it was a great way to get some exposure to writing. Being in Paris allowed me also to look closely at the nervous centre of a mammoth multinational and see how things are done in the world of big corporate. It was around that time that the idea began to develop that having a classic corporate career wouldn’t make me happy in the long run, since it was too far away from who I was and what I wanted out of life.

Takeaways: Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them. Often, you don’t know what would fit you best, until you try some options out for yourself. If you keep learning while you do that, you’ll get closer to your goals with every crossroad you pass. Some things you like doing so much that you would do them for free. Those are the things to keep in mind when you think about discovering your creative profile.

6. Sabbatical traveler

During my time in Paris, I decided the time had come to take a break from the rat race. Even though I enjoyed what I was doing (for the last six-odd years), I’m a big fan of taking time to reflect. I saved up, and I left France for a six-months solo world trip. The system in Belgium at the time (cfr. loopbaanonderbreking, etc.) was really accommodating, so logistically, it wasn’t too hard to organise. Additionally, I had negotiated my return position within L’Oreal before actually leaving, so professionally, the downside was limited. Practically, going away for six months was intimidating enough, but entirely on my own, now that I found downright scary. In fairness, it was one of the reasons why I decided to do it in the first place. To harden up a bit, get some McGuyver skills under your belt. That trip is still one of the better memories I cherish.

Takeaways: Trying new things and stepping off the beaten track doesn’t mean that you have to burn all bridges or turn half-anarchistic. Make sure you use all resources and options with your employer and the government when you’re reaching out to discover your true self. Also, sometimes it’s nice to try things that might seem scary at first. Fortune favours the bold!

7. Marketing Director

I came back from my sabbatical to take on a marketing director role in Belgium. Since I’d discovered in Paris that big corporate wouldn’t be my destiny, I knew that this would my last position with my first employer, no matter how cushy the present and shiny the future looked. Even though I couldn’t put my entire heart in the new post, I’m happy I stayed long enough because it made sense on a couple of levels. It was a solid contribution to my CV, and this position still pays dividends in my current self-employed existence. It also allowed me to find out what to do next (remember – I’m not the one to know easily what steps are next, even though it all looks relatively consistent in hindsight)

Takeaways: If you think about going towards a career that is more in line with who you really are and what you want to do, there is no harm in waiting for a smart time to do so. Sometimes, spending a bit more time and effort in a place or role you’re not in love with isn’t procrastination, it’s being smart. In life, good timing is a not-to-underestimate asset.

8. MBA Student

So I was a thirty-some who was still looking for direction with an OK resume. The smartest way to buy myself more time to figure out what I really wanted is going back to school. Once I persuaded my parents that leaving a 15-people team to go studying wasn’t professional suicide or a sign of mental instability, I enrolled at London Business School for a two-year MBA program. In fairness, when I started, I had NO idea where it would lead me, regardless of what I said to the recruitment officer who interviewed me. The only thing I knew was that I would invest this time and (significant money) in myself. Somehow, I thought that would be a better (long-term) investment than buying a flat in Sint-Niklaas. My assumption remains to be validated/falsified. Nevertheless, during those two years, I learned Russian, tried out a role in banking, made some lifelong friends and laid the foundations of my nonfiction book. My early doodle addiction also got me the title of “official LBS cartoonist” – true story.

Takeaways: Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your education. Even stronger, if you have a hunch, don’t hesitate to bet on yourself. Bet large if you have to. I also think it’s important to remember that time is the ultimate limited resource (maybe at par with health). It triumphs money and status any day of the week. 

9. Management Consultant

During my MBA, I enjoyed the writing more than anything else. I felt that I could do this for living… And imagine to ever get paid for it? Finally, I could lock in my professional-creative target. However, I couldn’t afford to be naïve because the bills need to get paid. It was time to save some money. As many MBA graduates, I applied to consulting and was offered a job at BCG in London. Since I really wanted to stay in the city that stole a piece of my heart, I knew it all made sense. I also suspected that I wasn’t a ‘natural born consultant’… The latter was an understatement. However, in between the dreaded late nights, I found a (commercial) angle for my book, and I learned many skills that would allow me to get closer to my dream going forward. And oh – I also met my (then future) wife without whom the next chapter or this article would probably not exist.

Takeaways: Be pragmatic. Sometimes you have (financial or other) imperatives that make more radical moves less desirable. If that is the case, don’t worry and just focus on making those work first. Once you find that itching feeling of what you really want to do, you’ll automatically find ways to make it work as well. Remember what Churchill said in the beginning of this post, “Never give up on something that you can't go a day without thinking about.” – just hammering the point home.

10. Nonfiction author & digital nomad

Stop 10 brings us full-circle back to today. My wife and I have both left consulting earlier this year to focus on what we really want to do. I crowdfunded and published my first nonfiction book (ELOVEATOR PITCHESA Management Inquiry into the Ups and Down of Love and Relationships | available at http://amzn.com/1512312045 ), my wife is currently running an online running coaching website (www.titanirun.com ), and we have time to pursue projects we believe in. In preparation, we’ve sold everything we had in London on eBay and aggressively let out our spare room on AirBnB for a couple of months. Now, we travel the world (working online) and we live rent-free as house-sitters (looking after pets, pools and patios while the owners are away). This allows us to control our costs while we’re building up our revenues. We’ll see where the future brings us, but for now, all I can say is that every day really seems to matter, in the best possible way!

Takeaways: The last insight is about consistency. When you make a decision to pursue a dream, a new career or even a new relationship, you’ll realise that many things are within reach. You also have to realise that you have to accept the entire set of consequences (the good, the bad and the ugly) of the crossroad decisions you make. You can’t have it all. Or better, you probably can have it all, but not at the same time. You want to live of creative pursuit? Develop a lifestyle that can accommodate the (short-term?) drop of income. Too afraid to break free or addicted to the monthly pay check? Than those consequences will have to be absorbed as well.

So, I hope this little journey we took together has provided some food for thought. Remember that everybody faces her or his own crossroads at different times of life. But I hope you also remember that, whatever direction you decide to take, you’ll realise that small decisions can sometimes bring you to the most surprising destinations.



Now go and use your creative juices and increase your personal creative impact!

© Niels Chabot, Nutz & Creative