It’s important to surround yourself with great people. In business, as in life, the better the people around you, the better you become. That’s why I am always on the lookout for special people. I want to find rockstars with great experience that I can learn from. And I’m always searching for young guns who will turn heads when they kick in the swinging doors of the saloon. Like Emilio Estevez.
I have talented people in my tribe who scout for people they think I should know. I regularly receive emails, texts and LinkedIn messages from friends and family about people they want to introduce me too. I love this. But this only happens because they know I am an avid collector of rockstars.
One of my people scouts is my great friend Stephanie Herbst-Lucke. Stephanie is a fellow University of Wisconsin track alum (although she is not actually a fellow, she is a lady). She is also a very talented marketer, who now teaches at Georgia State University in Atlanta, while working on her PhD from Case Western. Stephanie recently connected me to one of her senior students at GSU that she was quite impressed with, and thought I should know. The student’s name is Erika Bevers.
On Wednesday night I drove from Louisville (remember the I and S are silent) to my home in Milwaukee. Which is a 6.5 hour drive. During a fuel stop in Indiana I sent Erika a message saying that I was driving for the next few hours, and had time to talk. Erika called me within 10 minutes.
We talked about her career aspirations, strengths and passions. She asked me a lot of smart and insightful questions about my career path, and what I thought were the keys to success. (As if I would know…)
It was a fun conversation between an energetic student, excited to get her foot in the door of an advertising agency, and someone who remembers struggling to find a door to stick a foot in. That is until one of my college professors, Roger Rathke, introduced me to Paul Counsell, the CEO of Cramer Krasselt. And now, 2 decades later, I am the CEO of an ad agency, The Weaponry. And now professors send me students, with feet, to stick in my doors.
I offered Erika advice and answered questions. She seemed to be paying attention. But you never really know, you know?
The Morning After
The following morning I got an email from Erika. Which is always a good move. But what I read was not just a good move. It was a textbook way to say I was paying attention throughout our conversation. It said that I picked up what you were putting down. That I am a quick study. And I would be a great addition to your team. All without literally saying any of those things.
I’ve attached her email below, reprinted with permission from Erika, who holds the copyright thereto.
The Follow Up Email
I want to thank you for the conversation we had yesterday– it was helpful, uplifting, and I learned a lot from your stories and advice. I’ve done my best to make an easy-to-follow outline of what we discussed. Feel free to let me know if I should go back and revise some points!
There are three things a person should remember if he/she wants to be successful:
1) Have a GROWTH mindset- Never stop trying to learn new things.
2) Surround yourself with good people. Learn from them.
3) Here’s the big one. Develop and MAINTAIN connections with people. It’s a small world and having that network is really important.
Here are some pointers on networking:
1) The secret to being able to talk to anybody in the room is to have a host-mentality- that way, it doesn’t matter how shy or awkward the person may seem; you, as the host, will make sure the conversation flows.
2) Build LinkedIn Network to 300 by the time I graduate this December 2019.
3) Study market trends.
4) Get a Twitter! Not only is it full of useless drama, but it can be a great resource.
5) Informational Interviews are great- they’re casual, relaxed, and bit more “real.” Atlanta Creative Mornings is a great resource for this.
Some general bits that are very noteworthy and good to remember:
1) Get good sleep. Eat good food. Exercise.
2) A B C D – ALWAYS BE COLLECTING DOTS TO ALWAYS BE CONNECTING DOTS!
I have attached a picture of my chicken-scratch notes just for the sake of entertainment. Again, I appreciate your time and insight. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Hope you have a great weekend!
Not only was Erika listening, she was taking notes, asking clarifying questions, and going back go make sure that what she heard, and understood, was correct! This is a great way to make a great impression. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Advertising taught me that.
If you want opportunities that other people don’t get, do things that other people don’t do. Bring value to everyone around you. Make them want to pass your name along to others. Then be as good as advertised. Make a great first impression. Make your strengths, passions and contributions obvious. It will open doors for you. And opened doors mean more chances to learn, earn and grow. Then follow up. Thank the people that have helped you move forward. By doing so you’ll develop a reputation that will open doors you didn’t even know existed.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I loved my college experience. But when I graduated, I was thrilled to be done with school. Like Alice Cooper. Yet I was far from done with my education. Since I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I have been busy acquiring self-directed micro-degrees. How? First, by making up this silly, but plausible term. Then, by reading. Not just reading for reading. I am constantly looking for new books, magazines and online articles to help me become a smarter, more effective human, a better business person and a more creative thinker.
One of my favorite micro-degrees came from reading Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Reading books like these is akin to taking a college course, only without the chance to meet an attractive co-ed. In fact, I have learned, retained and applied more from books like this than from many of my college courses. (Sorry dude who taught that Emotions class junior year. That was worthless.)
Not Urgent, Not Urgent, No Emergency…
In his best-selling book, Covey introduces a concept that I absolutely love. It’s the idea of spending more time doing things that are important but not urgent. This is really where the magic in your life comes from. When I learned about this concept I realized that I already did a lot of work in this quadrant.
Check out the impressive quads on the chart below.
The important but not urgent work is the key to all of the good things that have happened in my career. But as I have created and grown The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, this type of activity has been crucial.
Important but not urgent, in action.
I identify talented people who I want to join our team, and begin planting seeds. I plant seeds all the time that I don’t expect to bear fruit, nuts or vegetables for years. In fact, there are talented people in cities across America that I have been talking to about joining The Weaponry, not in the next weeks or months, but in the next years.
Why? Because great things often take a long time to develop. So I want to start the process as early as possible. My goal is not only to appear on the radar of talented people, but for the course of these talented people’s careers to begin steering towards me.
I want to create a gravitational pull towards me and my organization. How? Through early conversations these valued recruits can begin imagining us making magic together. By creating an attractive vision of the future, the people start steering their courses towards this attractive future reality.
The Power Of Advertising
This early recruiting activity works just like marketing and advertising. Because advertising, through brand awareness and brand affinity, begins to create a gravitational pull towards products and services.
I have spent my entire career planting seeds about the merits of various brands. Eventually, by sharing those merits, customers, clients and members find their way to the brands that can help solve their problems or enrich their lives. And everyone wins. This is what I am doing now, both personally and professionally. And you can too.
To attract the people you want to surround yourself with, start early. Start well before you need them. Whether you are looking for friends, co-workers or customers, begin recruiting today. Offer others a picture of what a friendship, career or success could look like when you join forces. Do the important work early, before it becomes urgent. Then watch as paths alter in your direction. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see. It’s what highly effective people do. You know, people like you.
I grew up in Vermont. If you’ve ever met me you know I am very proud of this fact. Vermont was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was beautiful, safe and quiet. There were various career options available to Vermonters. We had a lot of maple syrup farmers, stone fence stackers, and a couple of world-class ice cream makers. But I didn’t know a single advertising professional.
I left Vermont for college and went to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated and wanted to find a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I didn’t know anyone who could help me prepare for my job search.
A Friend of a Friend of a Friend.
However, I did have friends. My college friend Gina Wagner (now Gina Zanik of Salt Lake City) told me that a friend of her Mom’s might know someone who could help. A few calls were made, and through a friend-chain I was put in touch with a man named Paul Zukowski.
Paul, a grown man with a real advertising career, then did something remarkable. He took time out of his day to meet with me, a total stranger, on a Saturday, to offer advice on how to best present my work, to maximize the chances of landing a job as an advertising creative.
Paul not only owed me nothing, he was likely to get nothing in return for helping this penniless, jobless, cotton headed ninny muggins. Yet Paul offered me some of his valuable time and gave me some really great, if not unconventional advice. Advice that ultimately helped me land my first job in advertising. And this blog post, written 23 years later, is all he got for his effort. (Although, upon his death he may receive eternal consciousness. Which is nice.)
Thinking of Paul
I haven’t seen Paul since the day we met at Union South in Madison, back in 1996, But I have thought of Paul often. In fact, I think of him every time a college student contacts me asking for an informational interview. I think of him every time someone wants advice on launching their own business. I think of him every time someone who is looking for a new job wants to grab coffee. I think of him when an aspiring blogger wants to buy me a chocolate milk and learn how to get started. (You can learn most of what I know here.)
Paul Zukowski, a man I have seen once in my life, played an important role in my advertising career. When I was desperately trying to get my foot in the door, he showed me how to put my best foot forward. As a result I got a job as a copywriter. I then got promoted all the way to Chief Creative Officer, before launching my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016.
Paying It Forward
Today, I pay it forward and continue the goodwill that Paul started by helping others. This week I drove from Milwaukee to The Weaponry’s new office in Columbus, Ohio. During my drive I spent more than 3 hours talking to people who reached out to me because:
They were about to graduate from college.
They recently moved and were looking for a job and a network in a new city.
They had lost a job and needed to figure out their next chapter.
I don’t expect a thing from any of the people I try to help. Although I hope my willingness to help encourages them to help others down the road. Just like Paul helped me.
Sooner or later we all need a Paul Zukowski. We need someone who can help us chart a new course through a foreign land. While it’s great to find someone who will do that for you, it’s even better to be the Paul Zukowski. To be the one who offers help and guidance while expecting nothing in return. Because it sets off a chain reaction that can make a significant impact on a significant number of people for generations to come. Heck, it can even help a kid from rural Vermont (#redundant) start a career in advertising, launch a business, and launch a blog to share the story with the world.
Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.
Turning the Camera Around
Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special. And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.
My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.
However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.
4. I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.
For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.
I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.
I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.
In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.
Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.
Admit it, you would really like to own your own business. Most of us would. But getting started is a gnarly tangle of question marks.
Do I have what it takes?
What do I do first?
Do I have the appetite for risk?
Should I find a partner?
If my business doesn’t take off quickly do I give up food, shelter or clothing first?
Curious-but-careful types turn to books for answers to these questions. While you can read about entrepreneurship all you want, you can’t actually become an entrepreneur without taking action. Which means the best thing to do to warm up your entrepreneurial spirit is practice taking entrepreneurial action (without spending or losing money in the process).
I offer people enamored with the idea of entrepreneurship a simple one week challenge. If you bail on the challenge in the first day, it is a sign that you should not be a sailor on the entrepreneur ship. But if you complete the challenge, not only have you exercised the right behavior, you’ve primed the pump for the next step too.
So here is my challenge to you:
Adam Albrecht’s Unpatented One Week Entrepreneurial Warm Up Exercise.
Pick a good starting day that offers flexibility in your schedule. Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays work well.
Every time you think of someone, reach out to them. Send an email, text or a call them. Shoot them a message on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Write the impulse down if you can’t send a message at that moment. But send the message that day. If there is a reason that person popped into your mind let them know. *only contact each person once, even if you think of them multiple times during the week. You don’t want to creep them out.
3. Write down the number of days in a row that you completed the mission.
The 3 Reasons You Should Try This Exercise:
1.Entrepreneurship is about turning thoughts into actions. Everyone has thoughts, ideas and impulses. But most of the time these impulses dissipate before they become actions. This exercise helps you transform your moments of inspiration into actions.
2. Entrepreneurship also requires you to actively maintain your network. That means investing time, thought, action and care into other people. It also involves expanding your network. Which could mean reaching out to people you don’t know, or don’t know well.
3. Entrepreneurship requires persistence. You have to keep at it day after day. Even if you really enjoyed a day or two of this exercise, don’t try to launch a business until you can string together a full week of successful impulse activation.
5 Things You Will Learn From This Exercise:
1. What it is like to activate your thoughts.
2. Whether or not you can activate your thoughts with consistency.
3. Your connections with others will grow stronger.
4. The recency of your communications with make others more likely to think of you again in the near future.
5. Human interactions often set off a chain of interesting positive events.
In entrepreneurship action is everything. In order to invent Facebook you actually have to invent Facebook. And it starts by doing the things you’ve thought about doing but haven’t done. Entrepreneurship requires you to spend a good chunk of your time outside your comfort zone.So practice getting over that discomfort by reaching out to friends and family you haven’t contacted for quite some time. By the end of this Unpatented One Week Entrepreneurial Warm Up Exercise, you won’t have spent any money on your business idea. But you will have created a more fertile environment for it to grow.
I like investing. I started investing in stocks not long after I landed my first job out of college. Back then I didn’t really know what I was doing. I made mistakes. But I wasn’t afraid. I kept reading, and listening and studying investment strategy. Today I have a solid, repeatable approach. That’s because I stole my strategy from Warren Buffet. Who stole his strategy from Benjamin Graham.
I bought Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, because I heard it was the bible on stock investing. I boiled the 600 page book down to this headline:
‘Buy when a stock is undervalued. Sell when it is overvalued.’
This strategy has served me well. I’m always looking to get in on a good company’s bad news. When banks were collapsing because of the mortgage crisis, I bought Huntington, Fifth Third and PNC stock. When there was oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico I bought BP. When Equifax was hacked, I was into Equifax stock. When there were diseases decimating the US chicken population I shouted, ‘Pass me a drumstick and some shares of Pilgrims Pride and Sanderson Farms!’
Investing in People
I invest in people the same way. When people are hot, have the world by the bizzles and everyone wants to be close to them, I don’t need to be there too. I like to invest in people who have lost their jobs, hit icebergs, or are leaking oil. Those are the ones that really need to be infused with confidence and friendship. It is easy to divest when people hit all-time lows. But that’s when I like to double down.
People always rebound.
Your personal stock always rises again to reflect your true value. Which means that when you pick someone up who feels like they are sitting on the discard pile, the return on your invested time and attention truly appreciates. While you may have known things would get better for that person, they didn’t. Because when you feel like you are swirling around the toilet, it is hard to see past the very near term.
Look for ways to invest in those that need it most. The good people, organizations, and teams that have fallen out of favor. Because the belief, support and confidence you invest in them comes back to you in amazing ways. Oh, and if you have any undervalued stocks to pass my way, please post them in the comments section.
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One of the great traditions of networking is grabbing coffee. When you meet someone for the first time you suggest grabbing coffee. When you see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, you talk about grabbing coffee. Coffee gets grabbed more than an aspiring actress at a Harvey Weinstein pool party. #timesup
I don’t drink coffee. Ok, that’s not fully true. I have now had 4 cups of coffee in my life. That’s about one per decade. But the coffee meeting is one of the most valuable elements of professional development. It is a useful tool for developing and maintaining relationships. It can be used for research, informal mentoring and for stay at home moms to have sanity-preserving conversations with full-sized rational humans.
Despite the fact that coffee tastes like burnt bark juice, I love using coffee meetings to catch up with old friends or get to know new people better. I just do it differently.
Barista, The Usual.
My go to beverage at the coffee shop is chocolate milk. I love that stuff. It reminds me of Fridays in elementary school. Which was the only day chocolate milk was served at school when I was a kid. Today, drinking chocolate milk still feels like a party.
One of the people I regularly grab chocolate milk with is my friend Andy Salamone. Andy is an amazing guy. He started a business called CarSpot right out of college. He developed a way of aggregating used car inventory from dealerships into a centralized, customer-friendly online shopping experience. Andy and his team developed innovative technology to transform and grow the business until AutoTrader made Andy an offer he didn’t refuse. He sold the business several years ago, and now enjoys the fruits of his exit.
It is fascinating to talk to Andy as he scans the landscape looking for the next great entrepreneurial opportunity. He sees businesses the way an engineer sees a machine. He can talk you through the mechanics of creating an efficient device to deliver a great idea. He has been a great influence on me and the way I think about my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
Andy texted me last week and said he wanted to swing by and see The Weaponry’s new office. I was thrilled to have him see our space. He arrived with some really fun surprises. He had a gallon of Oberwies chocolate milk. Which is the chocolate milk equivalent to a Goody McGood bottle of Scotch. That alone would have been a great office warming gesture. Then Andy reached into the bag that contained the milk and pulled out four glasses with the five Great Lakes printed on them. On each glass there’s a heart printed right where Milwaukee sits on the shores of Lake Michigan.
A Moment To Absorb.
Now picture this. As I poured my glass full of that chocolatey nectar of the Guernsey’s, I was sitting on a couch at the adverting agency that I always dreamed of creating. I toasted my good fortune with a friend and fellow entrepreneur. Then I set my new Great Lakes glass down on my custom-made The Weaponry surfboard coffee table.
My life was coming together just the way I had always imagined it would. Even my fellow Wisconsin Badger, Abraham Maslow would have grabbed one of my new glasses, raised it towards me and said, ‘Kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.’ #selfactualization.
Make the time to grab a drink of your own choice with the people of your own choice. May you find your own version of The Weaponry, and chocolate milk and custom surfboard coffee tables. I hope that you look forward to going to work every day. I hope you get to design your life, your work and your tribe. May your days be full of great moments that are uniquely you. Here’s to feeling as if you are winning at life.
*To find out what happens in my life and business when I am not chugging chocolate milk consider subscribing to this blog.
Since I was in college I have heard career-minded folk talk about the importance of networking. Which begs the question, What the fruit is networking? Because before college I didn’t network, and I seem to have gotten along just fine.
But starting my freshman year in college, professors, advisors and guest speakers talked about networking as if it twas the key to success beyond college (twas is a word you can only use in December). Then I started my career in advertising and I heard the same thing. Business books and career coaches strongly encourage you to network. I have even attended a few functions called networking events. Oy.
So what the funk does it means to network?
Oh looky here! I found a definition.
Network (verb): interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.
Ahh. When you put it that way, I understand what you mean. And it kinda makes me want to barf. ‘Interacting with people‘, ‘exchanging information’ and ‘developing contacts’ is something that can be done by a machine. Or a criminal.
What I do.
While other people network, I am still doing what I did before college. Before I was told that networking was the key to advancing my career. Before I was told networking was crucial to successful entrepreneurship.
No. I don’t network.
What does that mean? Well, I just happen to have the definition for you right here:
Befriend (verb): act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.
This is what I do. I learned how to do this when I was in pre-school and it has served me well my entire life. Notice the keys to befriending? You act as a friend. You offer help and support. This is the good stuff. This is what other people really want. This is how you improve life on the big blue marble.
When you dive into the synonyms of befriending you develop an even richer picture:
make friends with
make a friend of
keep an eye on
be of service to
lend a helping hand to
The Take Away
The world would be a better place if we stopped trying to network, and we just tried to make friends. So I encourage you to develop real relationships. Because when you make people the most important thing in your life, everything else magically falls into place. Our relationships, and the positive impact we have on one another, are the only things that really matter. It is true at home. It is true in pre-school. It is true in college. And it is true in business. So if you really want to be a great success, be a great friend. If there is any way I can help, please let me know.
I am not a control freak. I believe there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although most cats I have met strongly prefer not to be skinned at all. I like to hire good people and let them do their jobs. I am very comfortable delegating responsibility. With one notable exception.
When it comes to business travel I become a micromanager. You will never find me handing over my travel planning to an assistant or simply booking what everyone else is booking. Because when I travel for work I always have a hidden agenda… (cue the sinister music).
As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, my first priority on every business trip is to take care of business. I call this my Bachman-Turner Overdrive Philosophy. I want to arrive with plenty of time to prepare for the meeting or the shoot, or whatever I’m travel to do. And I build in enough time for a travel backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
But once the work plan is set I always turn my attention to my hidden agenda. It’s not finding great restaurants or a fancy hotel or seeing a great show.
My People Plan
When I travel for work I always think about the people I can see. Business trips offer us all a chance to keep in touch or reconnect with friends and family. I take advantage of this every chance I get. You should too.
The moment I know I need to travel I start working on my people plan. I study the location I am traveling. I look at a map to see who I know within a reasonable radius of my business.
Then I build my itinerary.
The 3 Parts To My People-Seeing Travel Plans.
Flight: I look at flight options that will get me in early enough and allow me to leave late enough to see my people. Often I will take the last flight home on any given day to help open my schedule and improve my odds of connecting.
Lodging: My lodging is always an important part of my plan. I book hotels that make it easy to see my people. This is either because the lodging is centrally located, or because it is in the middle of a pod of my peeps. However, sometimes the lodging is not a hotel at all. I stay with friends or family members whenever they offer to host me. This allows for the best people experience of all.
Car Unless I am staying in Manhattan or a similar car-unfriendly location I rent a car from Hertz. That’s because Hertz has the best cars, the best service and the best loyalty program. A rental car gives me the most flexibility to see my people. And it gives me the greatest people-seeing range. If I am ambitious, which I usually am, a rental car enables me see several people, over a large area, for a fixed price. This is a major advantage that rental cars have over a ride sharing service.
A Recent Example
Last Thursday The Weaponry conducted an all-day branding workshop with a client in Minneapolis. I scheduled a flight that landed in Minneapolis at 5pm on Wednesday afternoon. I picked up my rental car, then Jeanne, our amazing account director and I picked up two of our clients and went to a really enjoyable dinner. (Side note: One of those clients was a friend before she was a client. And the last time I had seen her was on a people-seeing side trip in Atlanta earlier this year.)
Then I dropped off Jeanne and the clients at their hotels before heading to my sister Heather’s house for the night. There I got to see Heather, her husband John, my nephew Addison, and nieces Rebekkah and Rachael.
Thursday was the branding workshop. It was great. Productive, insightful and fun.
Thursday evening I had dinner with Heather’s family at one of our favorite restaurants.
Then I met my friend Tom Burger for after-dinner lemonades. Tom and I were college roommates and track teammates at the University of Wisconsin. It was really great catching up on family, friends and careers.
Friday morning was special. I got up early and drove 70 miles west of Minneapolis to Hutchinson, Minnesota. I went to surprise my 98-year-old Grandma Albrecht. And boy was she surprised. Which made me think that surprises and 98-year-olds may not be a healthy mix.
It had been too long since I saw Grandma. It was a real gift to be able to spend a couple of hours alone with her. This was all the more special because I lost my other grandmother, Grammy Sprau, two months ago at 100 years old.
Then I drove back to Minneapolis and met my friend Mark Setterholm at his production company, Drive Thru. Mark and I had worked together on a fun Ski-Doo project many years ago and have kept in touch ever since. I got to see his latest office space, I reconnected with members of his team, and met new DriveThruvians. Mark and I had lunch, we updated each other on our latest work developments and talked about life in general. It was great.
Then I headed to the airport and home.
In the past two months alone I have had three business trips just like this. All of them were greatly enhanced with friends and family time. By integrating my work and personal life I am able to get the most out of both.
LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram offer us a great way to stay in touch with our friends, family, and business associates. But it is not the same as seeing your people in real life. Take advantage of the opportunities to grow, maintain, rekindle or develop relationships while you are away from home. You’ll be glad you did. Life is short. And nothing matters more than our relationships.
I love art schools. The creative vibe at these colleges makes me want to make something. I dig the students buzzing around campus, toting art projects with their backpacks crammed full of supplies. The experimental clothing that often adorns these boundary-explorers creates a feeling of Kindergarten 2.0. Or Kindergarten 20, since most of the students are in their 20s and still playing with glitter and glue.
Ahh, to be creating art again without clients or the budgetary limitations that kill your hopes and dreams… I re-experience the excitement of art school every spring when I visit campuses for portfolio reviews and senior exhibits. Having spent 20 years in advertising, collaborating with art directors and designers, I know some of these students are going to experience amazing adventures, create rewarding work and make great money.
But in the next breath (and the next paragraph) I find these schools depressing. While all of these students are following their passion, many of them will never enjoy an art-fed income that will enable them to buy fancy peanut butter and gourmet ramen.
The 3 Types That Fail
The art school students that won’t make it professionally fall into 3 categories:
The Weirdo. This is the weird art kid that is so weird that even the art kids (who are tolerant and even inspired by the odd, unique and experimental) think is too weird. These students don’t have a natural place in business. So, unless they create their own jobs, they are out of luck. Sorry. (Consolation prize: If you would have followed any other educational adventure you were likely to have had the same result. So study what you love).
The Nartist. This student is simply not an artist. They don’t have applicable art skills. Often they are horrible at art but love it so much they are willing to pay for schooling that will help them learn theory, but not be able to apply it in a meaningful way. Natural selection prevents them from getting, or at least maintaining, a meaningful creative job. It’s sad that their dreams die. But that means it is simply time for a new, more realistic dream. Note: this person exists in every field. There are Nastronauts, Nengineers, Noptometrists, Neducators and Nactors.
The Quitter. This person has the skills, a passable personality and hides their weirdness well. They just don’t hold out long enough, search hard enough, network, follow-up, stand out from the crowd or demand their chance. This represents the vast majority of students who won’t find a job.
I don’t get bummed by The Weirdo or Nartist. Those people were born to not work in art. I am bummed by The Quitter. The one who could have done more to make her dream a reality. The one who just needed more grit. The Quitter has real skills, even if they are still developing. I hate to see these colorful and interesting berries wither on the vine. But The Quiter is not unique to art school. Every school develops talented and capable students who fail to find jobs in their chosen profession because they give up too soon.
If you want to find a great job, doing what you love, initiative is everything. You have to stick to it. You have to spot your opportunities and capitalize on them. You have to learn what works in your book. Keeping adding to it. Go well beyond your college art projects and create work that will help you land a job. Ask for informational interviews. Offer to prove your abilities for free. Stand up and stand out.
Art students are often so concerned with not selling out, that they fail to sell themselves at all. Selling yourself is key to opening doors and creating opportunities to making a living off your creative skills. Ultimately, to make money in a creative profession you need to make things that sell. Whether it’s your work itself that sells, or your work helps sell other products or services, no one avoids selling. Understand it. Get good at it.
When I meet students, I usually offer them my business card and invite them to contact me if I can be of assistance. About 1% of the students follow-up. Many of those who contact me have landed internships or jobs. Last week I handed out about 25 business cards to students. I’ll be surprised if I hear from more than two of them. This is why people fail (or maybe it’s a sign that I’m actually a Wierdo Nartist).
The Bottom Line
You have to take action and be creative in the way you pursue a creative job. Do it. It’s worth it. I can’t think of a better way to earn money than being paid for your creativity. So let’s make sure that more art students who deserve jobs get jobs in art. These are not jobs to be shipped overseas or automated by robots. If you have some good job-finding advice, please add it to the comment section below. But the responsibility is still on the student. Get out there and network, hustle and sell yourself. It’s your future. Paint it. Sculpt it. Or Photoshop yourself into it.