Crafting a skill

UQ communications officer Jai Morton ponders the sometimes jagged path from passion to profession.

We all know the feeling – that spark of curiosity that explodes into a thirst for knowledge, to grow and find your niche, the thing you’re good at or that makes sense.

But as formal education is increasingly commodified, the push toward results-driven learning can drown out how crucial that spark is – not just to get a job, but to find the calling that will sustain you mentally and emotionally throughout your career.

Whether you’re beginning your studies or at a career crossroads, you’re likely familiar with the experience. Finding your passion can take time, and it doesn’t always end up being what you thought it would be, or what you studied.

After studying communications and working in industry for five years, I’ve realised it’s writing I love. It’s taken me this long to say that with certainty – I’ve had distractions and doubts, but when I look back, I see that writing has been a consistent pull throughout my life, in some form or another.

I poured myself into magazines like Frankie and Nylon for hours in my early teens, wondering, “how do I do what they do?” Those eloquent short stories, musings and opinion pieces imprinted on my mind at that influential age. And I even wrote to Frankie’s Editor, Jo Walker, to ask her how she forged her path, which, it turns out, wasn’t linear either (she decided to study journalism after dropping law).

As I grew older I’d find myself trawling Brisbane’s second-hand bookstores for anthologies and classics, consuming the stories I wished I’d written, lingering over beautiful paragraphs with their strings of words like pearls. Later still, I discovered blogs and online content – long-form essays, extra short stories and everything in between at my fingertips.

I was captivated by words.

At this point, I didn’t quite know what the pull was, and I didn’t have any technical know-how. Writing drifted in and out of my life, as the classic scenario ensued – girl starts blog, posts fervently for weeks, life intervenes, posts trail off until, eventually, blog lays dormant.

Finding your passion can take time, and it doesn't always end up being what you thought it would be, or what you studied.

Those half-hearted years weren’t in vain, though, because they helped me figure out my spark.

For me, it’s the eagerness to tell a story, to find a perspective or meaning in an experience and tell it. It’s the rush of ideas and possibilities that come to mind. I imagine how I might delicately unfold an intimate moment, or boldly shout a discovery. I gather visuals that could bring a scene to life. I revel in the creativity, finding the flow and reaction I want to evoke from a reader – should they gnash their teeth, be struck with wonder or warmed with nostalgia?

So I knew I needed to turn my passion into something more. This can seem overwhelming when you’re looking to explore a different area than the one you’ve been working in, or when you’ve invested significant time and money developing certain skills before realising you don’t love it.

But if you look for them, the tools, resources and support you need to learn more or upskill are often within reach. It can also be helpful to seek help or guidance from your professional network.

This year, I’ve been interviewing a variety of academics and alumni for UQ Business School Executive Education – detailing the nitty-gritty of their expertise and translating its relevance to industry.

I started to enquire within my workplace about how I could develop my writing skills, which led me to do some professional development with Caroline McKinnon, a lecturer in UQ’s School of Communication and Arts. Caroline helped me to improve my technical writing skills.

Next, I explored how I could move laterally within my organisation to get more experience, which landed me a role where I could further refine and apply my developing skill set in UQ’s Office of Marketing and Communications (OMC). I’m still at OMC, and not only am I getting the chance to tell amazing stories in my current role, but I’m also learning about the incredible research UQ is doing across all manner of industries – from algae-based biofuels to gender equality in leadership. Through reaching out to other connections who work in areas I’m passionate about, I’m also writing content for TEDxBrisbane and Vanlife Diaries.

In just a few months since actively seeking out opportunities to explore my passion for writing, I’ve received a great deal of support. By speaking up and acknowledging what I’m passionate about and asking for opportunities, I’ve found people who have been more than happy to help me develop my skills and reassure me that hey, maybe I can do this thing I love so much on a regular basis.

I’ve learnt that if you’re thinking about a career or study change, the best way to start is to speak up about what you want to do. Consider exploring support options that might already be available to you within your workplace, reach out to your connections and their networks, or look at what organisations have resources or support. Do your research and expand your contacts – go to events and follow social media groups related to your passion, or contact those working in your desired field for guidance, mentorship or opportunities to learn. You never know who might know the person you need to talk to or what morsel of unexpected inspiration might arise during a conversation.

If you’re a UQ student, you might also like to contact the Student Employability Centre for guidance on development opportunities or next steps.

Remember – no one degree has a linear path to a career, so explore what your spark might be, look at your options for development, and pave a path that works for you.

Whether I saw it coming or not, I’ve fallen into a direction that makes sense to me. I’m still figuring out where I want to take it professionally, but crafting my skills has taken some wonderful turns so far and I’m enjoying each step along the way.