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  • Rachel Ireland

The Guitar Pick Story: When You’ve Forgotten Who You Are

Recently, I was asked to speak at a networking event for women in business, and specifically, to ‘tell my story’.

Although this is not something that comes naturally to me, and was way out of my comfort zone, I actually found the process of writing what I was going to say helpful in seeing how the seemingly unrelated steps led me to where I am now. So I’d like to share it here too.

I chose to write about my journey setting up a social enterprise, a bit about what we do at The Creative Map, and some of the things I’ve learnt through turning my passion into a business, and how I try to help other people to do the same.

I’m also going to give you a few writing prompts, to encourage you to think about your own journey, which you're very welcome to share with me in the comments.

So, what's your story?

My education and the first part of my career centred around music. That had always been my thing. Not just writing and playing – I play flute & guitar. But I loved the technical side too. I studied music technology & sound recording as well as film-making and editing. I’ve always been really interested in the creative process.

What was your original passion?
What was your thing when you were a teenager/young person?
What did you think you’d do with your life?
Write it down.

After University I worked for West Yorkshire Police as a video editor – a job I really loved, until I saw advertised what I felt was my dream job, working for The Prince’s Trust.

This was my move into the third sector, and I worked at The Prince’s Trust in various roles over the years, working my way up to Head of Fundraising before taking voluntary redundancy in 2012.

At the time my eldest son was only three months old so taking voluntary redundancy to start my own consultancy was very out of character for me, possibly the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done!

Fortunately, because I’d built up a lot of my own contacts through my role at The Prince’s Trust, and I’d led on a lot of high-value fundraising successes, I did get a lot of offers of work in those first few years. A lot of this started as casual freelance work, doing pieces of research, bid-writing and evaluation reports. Some of it turned into a longer-term arrangement, and I ended up working with some big national charities including Nacro & Embrace for a number of years.

I genuinely enjoyed all of this work, largely because it was easy for me, this kind of work came naturally to me, and I'd done it for long enough that I was confident in my ability to do it.

But most importantly it allowed me to work from home and to work flexibly whilst my children were little.

But as many of you will know, between work and family commitments, it doesn’t leave much time for anything for yourself, to express yourself, take time out, and I’m someone who just keeps going until I burnout. I push myself to breaking point, I set my own standards way too high, until I have no choice but to take a break – I’m working on this!

So there were a few challenging moments during these years, when I had to take a break for my own mental health, when I had personal struggles to deal with, and all of this reminded me that although I enjoyed much of what I was doing, I didn’t always feel fulfilled by it.

Shortly before my 40th birthday, my partner gave me this little tin of guitar picks, with a note on it that said:‘

"You’ve forgotten who you are. These are to remind you."

If someone gave you something and said, ‘this is to remind you who you are’ what would that item be?
Write it down.

So I picked up my guitar & started writing again. I started playing at the open mic. Then, because it would seem I can’t do anything simply as a hobby, I have to take it too seriously, I developed some songwriting workshops that I took out to care homes & volunteer groups to see if I could find a way of using music to help people express themselves and tell their story.

So I’ll ask you a question I always ask in those workshops.

Have a think about the music you listened to as a child or teenager. What were the genres that really shaped you?
What kind of music do you associate with your identity?
Then see if you can remember the last time you deliberately listened to that music?

I remember being stood in front of a room full of older people, singing a song they had written back to me and having a moment when I knew this is what I should be doing with my life.

The initial success of these workshops led to me setting up The Creative Map as a social enterprise in 2019, as a way of combining my two passions.

The business and my vision for it has evolved over time, but the way I describe it now is that there are two strands we focus on:

  1. Creative workshops, courses & tools for wellbeing & change​

  2. Training & mentoring for people interested in turning their creativity & passion into a successful not-for-profit or social impact business

I’ll give you an example:

Earlier this year my team and I delivered a 12-week course for women in their 50s & 60s who were unemployed or not currently working due to mental or physical health problems. Most also had caring responsibilities too.

At the beginning of the course they all said things like 'I feel like I've lost my sense of identity and purpose' and ‘I just don’t know what I’m doing with my life anymore.’

Then, a few weeks in, after we'd been doing lots of guided journaling, making vision boards & songwriting, the feedback turned more towards:

'I feel so much more like myself, and I know I want to do something with my life.'

By the end of the course they’d started asking me how I set up The Creative Map. They wanted to know how to combine their passion and purpose. They were ready to use their experience, their journey and their skills to go out and make a positive difference in the world.

It’s been really important to me from the start that we don’t just focus on wellbeing but that we go one step further and support people to progress onto their next step, whether that’s back into work, learning or in setting up their own business.

From that course, two are now in the process of starting their own businesses, four have gone back to work but in completely new careers, and the rest are all volunteering for causes that matters to them.

When I look back, all of this began when I had this thought, this dream, which I’d written down in a journal several years ago, using a writing prompt from Marie Forleo’s book, ‘Everything is Figureoutable’:

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could help people reconnect to their creativity and then use it to make a positive difference in the world.

That statement is what guides me now, it’s what I base all my decisions on. It's how I know how to most effectively use my time.

See if you can finish that sentence for yourself:
Wouldn’t it be amazing if…

I currently spend most of my time delivering workshops and mentoring people who are in the process of turning their creative passion into a business that makes a positive social impact on the world.

I now find my work really meaningful and I know that I am using my own skills and experience in a helpful and positive way, whilst being able to support my family.

That was my journey to setting up The Creative Map.

It’s part of my story.

What’s yours?

You can find more details about workshops, courses & mentoring here on the website.

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