Nothing says “December” in the design industry like a bombardment of invitations to graduate exhibitions. We’ve all been that starry-eyed student, eager to get stuck in, buzzing on free champagne, desperately trying to get our folio into the hands of that creative director. The best of times, the blurst of times. Before you settle in for that well-earnt summer break and shutdown Creative Suite for the next two months, here’s some advice I wish I’d received upon leaving college. And it begins, rather aptly, with another graduation speech.
English teacher David McCullough Jr. said it best in his wonderful address to Wellesley High School’s class of 2012 – you are not special. You are not exceptional. Woah. HARSH. They’ve just graduated. Cut them some slack.
Firstly, read the rest of the speech. Please. Secondly, know that you are not special and know that that’s okay. Know that you’re not yet as good a designer as you can be and that’s okay too. Because you need to know that there are things you will learn in your first few days on the job that you couldn’t possibly learn in three months or three years in a classroom. Know that, as someone with no experience, you’re an expense and a company is investing in you and your growth as a professional. So, know that, without fail, you will fuck up (at least) part of a project and that’s okay. And know, straight up, you probably won’t get that coveted “dream job” and, for so many reasons, it’s so important that you’re okay with that.
“What?! But that job is why I wanted to become a designer! Isn’t that what all those sleepless nights and caffeine-ridden days are for?”
Ah. Gather round, ye merry readers, while I tell you a tale of yore.
When I graduated, I sent my folio to a handful of Melbourne’s “dream job” studios. You don’t need a list, you know which ones I mean. But I also contacted a few places I’d never heard of. You know, just in case I didn’t get the job I wanted. “The job I wanted”. How’s that for illusions of grandeur? Cut to a few interviews later and the wait to hear back from two places: my dream internship and a “just in case” job. The internship was given to someone else and I was offered a full-time position at the other.
I wasn’t as excited as I should have been. Because it wasn’t the “dream job”. There’s an idea perpetuated among a lot of graduates that that’s where you have to be. That’s the mark of success. That’s the only place you will make it as a designer – anywhere else is just second best. And it’s an idea that is ludicrously wrong. It’s an idea that’s holding you back. Because a job is so much more than liking the work a studio makes – it’s being part of a workplace and part of a wider industry. Because, right now, what you probably think is important in a job and what is actually important in a job are two very different things.
I took the “just in case” job. In the eight months I worked there, it quickly became my dream job. No inverted commas. It was everything I could have hoped to find in a graduate position. I worked on exciting projects and made industry connections. I looked forward to going to work every day and learnt new things every day. I found a mentor in my creative director, which has easily been the most valuable thing to happen in my short career. Above all, I started. It’s the most important thing you can do. You will learn so much more from being in a workplace than sitting at home, waiting for that phone call. There are hundreds of studios and design jobs beyond the first page of Google. Just start.
I was a graduate not that long ago and now I’m just a nobody with a bit of experience. I’m not special. I’m not exceptional. No one has my work in their visual diary, circled with little love hearts. But I love what I do. I can support myself financially. I get to create meaningful work with meaningful clients. I’m happy. And that’s more important than front-page Google fame. You need to know that your dream job – no inverted commas – exists. You just don’t know where yet. But the quicker you get rid of what you think you want from a job, the quicker you’ll discover what you actually want.
Be humble. Work hard. Let go of that crazy “dream job” ideal and just start.
Image by Magdalena Ksiezak