This is the keynote that I gave at the Hustle Summit to a group of recent grads and young professionals. It’s advice I still turn to daily.
People you meet in your field become your colleagues, your employers, your employees. Don’t be afraid to network.
The first time I realized this truth I was at a design conference in Chicago. I heard a speaker, Brian Collins and got that feeling in my gut– you know that feeling– nervous excitement mixed with jealousy. He was talking about work that I wanted to be making. I went up to Brian afterward and introduced myself and gave him my card. He looked at me and immediately said “you should go to the Masters program at SVA and I will help you get in”. A year later I was in the program. He saw in me what I didn’t see in myself at the time — more seasoned people at the top of their game often have the power to do this.
I can honestly say that today when I look at the team I get to work with I’m surrounded by friends who are smart and passionate and push me to be better at what I do. And I met them all by networking.
If you know what you want go after it.
How many of you know what you want to be when you grow up? We are the lucky ones! The hard part is done.
Once I figured out I wanted to be a designer I was able to map out my plan of action. I went to the top masters program in my field. I put myself in front of the right people. I’m not a phenomenally talented artist, but I work hard. I attend events, I’m a voracious reader, I’m always taking classes. Continuously learning and growing and meeting new people helps me to stay at the top of my game.
Get a Mentor.
Mentors are more important than you think. I have had a ton of people help me along the way. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. You don’t know what you don’t know! And you don’t have to figure it out on your own. I’ve had several mentors throughout my career, and the BIG one is Steven Heller. He was the chair of my grad program, a prolific writer, speaker, and thinker. He’s the smartest most accomplished person I’ve ever met and also one of the most humble. He opened doors for me that led me to teaching classes at SVA, working at the New York Times, and publishing a book on typography.
Be your authentic self.
There is no one else like you and that’s fabulous. So don’t try to be something you’re not. For more on this I recommend checking out James Victore. Go write down his name somewhere and check out his CreativeLive class. Here’s a quote of his:
“Owning up to your weirdness is about the courage to be who you were born to be. Your weirdness is the source of your character and creative powers. Weird is who we are, the best parts, not perfect, not trying—just yourself.”
Show up for life.
Lots of opportunities will come along, always say yes. Because I have said yes to things that have scared me I’ve been able to do a ton of things I’d never done before. I may have been full of fear at the time but I just showed up with presence and asked questions. If something makes you fearful and uncomfortable that’s probably the thing your supposed to be doing. It signifies an opportunity for growth. So just show up for it.