Mahlia speaking at an eventMahlia Amatina - Designing employment that works for you

Six years ago, I was diagnosed with autism, and in the same year changed careers to become a visual artist. I now have a portfolio career, which is made up of my art, a communications role, and another job at my local university. The latter two roles are flexible in terms of when I work my hours, and together they give me fantastic variation of both employed and self-employed work.

The art is my primary focus, and my autism diagnosis has been a real catalyst in creating work that raises awareness around neurodiversity

I created an autism-friendly installation for people to learn about sensory sensitivities through my social art project ‘Around the World in 80 Washing Lines’. This exhibition was built on the premise of how the simple task of laundry connects us all, around the world. Other art projects relating to my diagnosis and autism awareness include ‘On a Spectrum’ and ‘Autismo 25’. The former was produced via a questionnaire on particular traits experienced within the adult autistic population, while the latter was based on my reflections of diagnosis. Both collections have been exhibited in traditional fine art venues and community settings, which for me is a great achievement in making my work accessible to wider audiences.

I’ve experienced working in a variety of jobs and consequently different work environments, and this has given me great introspection into what works at a personal level

It’s enabled me to design a life that works for me and my needs. I appreciate that this isn’t always feasible straight off, but I believe it’s truly about striving towards a version that will work for you – even if it only marginally improves each time. It’s all progress that accumulates over time, after all. So, for instance, I know that I have strong concentration and work in a way that is very focused and intense. It means that in around four hours, I’ve completed a whole day’s worth of work (I don’t get easily distracted). But I’m also tired afterwards and I need to recuperate. Consequently, being self-employed and having command of my time works really well. I also have excellent organisational skills, so I can plan my work very well, which makes me super-efficient. Plus, I’m passionate and motivated about my art, so I’m always striving to do more and to make it a success, as much as possible.

You may ask why I am also employed if working for myself is so great?

Being self-employed can be quite lonely at times, and I do like having colleagues for some of the time

I also find that it spreads the risk – with being self-employed, my income can be sporadic, whereas with fixed hours in my employed work, I know that I’ll receive a certain income each month. And this helps. And finally, I feel that learning skills from the workplace is a great way for me to receive training and keep my CV up to date. So by keeping my toes in the employed waters, it gives me choice and options further down the line. Plus, it’s more interesting for me!

I’m always tweaking my work and how I do things, and it’s very much a work in progress

I know I’m a whole lot happier now in my portfolio career vs. having one full time job like I used to. And I’d always suggest giving designing employment that works for you a go, and to remind yourself that everything is temporary. So, if what you’re trying out right now doesn’t work out - it will inevitably change – and you will evolve and grow along the way.