How To Survive Post Graduation Angst: The Creative College Degree Dilemma
I've been fielding a lot of questions lately, about breaking into the creative industry, after the traditional college route. So I wrote down a few notes, to help you get started:
Before we begin, you need to accept something: You are going to make mistakes, lots of them. You are going to screw something up, and have to face the music. You are going to have to face more adversity and fear, than any college final in your deepest darkest of nightmares. This is "The Industry" and they play for keeps, with or without you.
Ready? Here we go.
You're fresh out of college with a slick new portfolio and a (photography, design, fashion, journalism, or film) degree. Suddenly it dawns on you...what the hell did I just do with my life?
Chances are, at least 2 of these things have happened to you in the past 3 months since graduation:
1. You've been forced to, or feel like you, have to move to a bigger city, to make your career happen.
2. An intimate relationship you've had in college has begun to, or has fallen apart.
3. You've come to the realization you are now in massive debt, pursuing a passion, a dream. The dice are dancing on the table.
4. You can't even find an unpaid internship and the only work you see are sketchy jobs on craigslist.
5. You've cried heavy tears, they themselves not knowing where to fall.
Oh the dilemmas you will face and the misconceptions you will shatter!
1. You'll have to walk a path alone. Until you've established yourself as a financially viable creative, I personally don't believe you can love in the right capacity, until you've made it 2-3 years in the industry. Maybe…just maybe…put love and marriage on the back burner? The nights are too late, the business too exhausting, the anxiety too overwhelming, the uncertainty of a passion you've worked your whole life for too bone crushing. All these things will tear apart the fabric of your own self-confidence. When you lose your confidence, you lose your capacity to love another with all your heart. Again, we are talking about the creative industry. It will spur jealousy, malice, and make you question every fiber of your being. Even with the best mentors and friends in the world, the creative world is a cold and lonely one. So buy a parka and get ready to become great. If you can find someone willing to weather the storm with you, by all means live and let love. But it's not going to be easy.
2. You suck, get used to it. Take every college critique you've ever had and set them ablaze. You could be the most talented student that ever lived, but you've just entered a business. To this day, not a client has asked me what aperture I used. For every one person that loves one particular creative work of yours, there's two that despise it. Sorry it is what it is. Something inside a creative changes, once they become business focused.
3. Internships. Since you've graduated, this isn't for college credit anymore. Only do an internship for someone or some company that can teach you something/and or you respect. If they are still asking you to go pick up their dry-cleaning three months in, and still haven't taught you a single thing, walk. You're working for free to learn a craft, not to be a barista or a courier. Which leads me into my next point...
4. Act fast. Throw yourself into the deepest water you can find and swim for your life. The deeper you go down another career path, the harder it is to come back. But it's never to late. She took a non-creative career and wanted more than anything to be a sculptor, a performance artist, but feels the dream has died. Too much time has passed; life is slowly beginning to become a desperate struggle for relevancy, something permanent. But it's never too late. If you've found yourself in that position, pick up those tools and get back to work.
5. Assist what? The best advice anyone has given me on the topic was while I was assisting on a shoot, for an iconic cereal box of wheat flakes. The photographer told me, if you want to make it, just go out and shoot your own work. You can assist someone for 10 years, but in the end, all that matters is your ability to create while dealing directly with clients. This advice has proven itself invaluable. Assisting is a great way to learn the business, a great way to get some money here and there, but it's a slippery slope. Don't wake up as a 40-year-old assistant and wonder what your life would have been like, if you would have went out on your own and did your own work. It's called "the assistant trap."
Solutions for challenges:
1. Network. The most terrifying & successful people in the world are the best networkers. They always have someone they can call on for help. Mark Zuckerberg made it easier, now you can network sitting down. But get out there, show your face, let people get a feel for your personality. Develop relationships, stay in touch, and follow up.
2. Make your work accessible. If you don't have a website with your work up, at this second, please stop reading. What are you thinking?
3. Get rejected. Learn to embrace rejection. Pretend your career is like dating. For every 100 people who reject you, 10 will say yes. It's a numbers game.
4. *Don’t work for free. We are all anxious to get out there and build up our portfolios, but don't let a person, you don't know or trust, get you to work for free. Especially as an assistant! Let the good old saying guide you, "if you're giving the milk away for free, nobody's going to want to buy the whole cow." Here's the spin on this point. If you do know someone you trust in the industry, ask if you can shadow him or her. I would say this is a good opportunity to work for free, while creating your own work at the same time.
5. Don't you quit on me! Whenever life is at it's worst, when the challenges have blocked out the sun, it's a sign good things are going to come. This is something I’ve learned to live by, seriously. When things aren't going in your favor, keep plugging away. You are so close dammit! Think about every person who told you this industry was impossible. One of my own professors, pretty much, thought I didn’t have what it took. He fell asleep during my portfolio presentation. He verbally tore my final portfolio to shreds. Let their criticisms and doubts stoke a fire inside you that engulfs the world around you in a blaze of ambition. Contrary to popular belief, the most successful people you see out there, have been thru the wringer. They've been kicked down and criticized to tears. But their dreams convinced them not to quit. Make it your goal to be so ambitious; people wonder why it is, you just won't give up already.
Honestly, what's the worst thing that could happen? You fail? If you put your heart and soul into something, your dreams will never fail on you; only you can fail your dreams. If you really want to do this, just put something into motion. You will never know where your life is going to take you; maybe the end game is not the same destination you expected. But that's life I guess. I don't know every in and out of this industry, nor do I claim to. But I’m here to start a dialogue. If you disagree with me, please shoot me an email. There's no set path to success, it's the most rewarding and terrifying part about running a business as a creative.
Best of luck, now go forth and be amazing!