I decided to kick off my personal blog with a journal entry I started writing on the plane a few weeks ago on my trip back to Louisville from my 10-Year High School Reunion in El Paso, Texas. The trip gave me time to reflect on my successes and failures since then, and what I’d do differently if given the opportunity to revisit myself with the knowledge I have now. Here’s what I’d impart:
1. GET AN INTERNSHIP AND LEARN TO CODE.
These are my two biggest regrets from college that would have been a life game-changer. Little did I know that the economy would crash in 2008, the year I graduated from art school. My peers that magically landed jobs after portfolio review were the students that put in the effort to intern prior to graduation. It took me almost two more years to finally get my foot in the door. Developing coding skills would have offered me more opportunities in the industry in addition to print design. The more diverse skill sets you have as a designer, the more competitive you’ll be in once you hit the job market.
2. WHEN YOU CARE FOR YOUR BODY, YOU WILL LEARN TO LOVE IT.
I was never meant to be tall and thin – that just wasn’t in the genetics cards for me. But I can be strong and toned. Pushing yourself to eat healthy, exercise regularly, run, and lift will give you and abundance of self-confidence and energy. Models in fashion magazines aren’t the ‘norm’ and you shouldn’t ever compare yourself to someone that is genetically different than you. I didn’t learn this until 2013 when I picked up a couple Jillian Michaels DVD workouts and started lifting, running, and focusing on health as a priority. Maintaining a healthy physique will be a continual challenge (especially since Louisville has the #1 restaurant scene in the country and I do love my craft beer), but having that motivation and routine in place is a great start.
3. MANAGE YOUR FINANCES WISELY.
It’s better to live somewhere cheaper where you have extra income and can enjoy the quality of life than to be house poor and live in a hip area but can’t go out. Credit card debt is evil – which is why I’ve only ever had one card. And just because you have money to spend, doesn’t mean you should spend it. Save. You never know when you’ll need it for an emergency (I still remind myself this on a daily basis).
4. DON’T SET AGE EXPECTATIONS.
I read my diary from when I was 16, revealing my fantastical plans of being married by age 26 and having two kids by 28. I belly laughed aloud. You can’t set age goals on life events! Finding the right person and building relationships take time and dedication. Sometimes you discover that you cannot evolve with that significant other (or vice versa) and you have to press the reset button, starting from scratch again with someone new. And that’s okay. It’s not okay to think that you can jump into a new relationship with the same level of comfort and maturity that the last one reached right away.
5. LET PEOPLE GO.
You’ve heard the saying, “Some people come into our lives for a reason..?” There’s truth in that, whether it be to teach us, help us, work with us, or set an example of how not to act. Let those toxic people go, delete them from Facebook. Don’t dwell on their wrongdoings. They will prey upon your positivity until you release them from your life both physically and mentally.
6. LOOK FOR ‘GOD WINKS.’
They may not lead you to where you intended, but are there for a greater purpose. True story: I moved to Kentucky partially for work, but also because I serendipitously discovered that an old flame from my hometown that I’d had a crush on since 7th grade had recently relocated there for a new job. I thought for sure it was a ‘sign’ and moved halfway across the country for him to take me on two really great dates…and then never call me again. It was an extremely inconsiderate and cowardly move on his part. As hard a pill as that was for me to swallow, I realize two years later that wasn’t the purpose of the move – sure, it was a catalyst – but had I not looked for a ‘sign’ for change, I would never have had the opportunities, friendships, relationships, and absolute love for a city I’d never think twice of calling home before.
7. MAKE TIME FOR GENUINE PEOPLE.
No matter how much freelance work you have or how hectic your schedule, carve out time to spend with those that stimulate your being and lift you up. These are the types of friendships that make you smile when you think of that person even when they’re not around.
8. CALL YOUR ‘RENTS.
I’ve been extremely good about this one, but I’m reiterating it. Call the ‘rents every day, if not every other day. They’re the best therapists/cheerleaders/life coaches you could ever ask for.
9. DON’T ASSUME YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS READY TO COMMIT WHEN YOU ARE.
Although he may be your ‘right person at the right time,’ you may be his ‘right person at the wrong time.’ Make sure you’re on the same page with each other about your expectations before there’s a misunderstanding and feelings get hurt.
10. JOIN PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AS A STUDENT.
Joining AIGA as a student should have been mandatory. I could have rubbed elbows with professionals in the industry at local events and found mentors to critique my portfolio. Networking may have been a resource to finding employment after graduation, in addition to taking advantage of other member benefits.
11. ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING.
Your education doesn’t stop when someone hands you a degree. Keep up on technology, attend workshops, travel for conferences and read anything you can get your hands on. Heck, my coworker just turned 60 and just took up guitar lessons! Find people who want to learn with you and take classes together. Design conferences are revitalizing, inspirational and a great opportunity to network and make friends with peers in the industry. Be a sponge that soaks up knowledge.
12. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE OR TEXT AND DRIVE. EVER.
Charlie was a very good friend that passed away a few weeks after his 21st birthday due to a drunk driving accident. His death deeply affected our circle of friends and could easily have been prevented. I’ve also witnessed a teenage girl cause a 4-car pileup because she was texting instead of slowing down to make a turn. I’ve called off second dates with guys that were texting while driving me around because it made me feel incredibly unsafe. Your safety and the safety of passengers is more important than looking down to find an address or change a song.
13. BE PRESENT.
“Being present is being fully engaged, involved, and attentive to what is happening with your body, mind, and heart.” Learn to be mindful of what is happening in the now. Once you start worrying about what’s due tomorrow or lingering on how that last project could have been better, anxiety creeps in. This goes for relationships too. Live in the moment when you spend time with people, let it unfold as it will.
14. DON’T EVER SETTLE.
Know what you want, what you can tolerate, and what you will not put up with. Don’t ever ‘settle’ in a relationship or a job if it’s not what you’re truly happy with. It’s upsetting when (females especially) ask me “What’s with you being so picky with the guys you date? Why not just find someone and settle with him?” It’s simple: Life is way too short to settle for anything less than what we truly want. Once you find that person with characteristics that you like (and some that you’re willing to tolerate), it’s about building a dynamic relationship around trust. It’s not ‘settling’ when you’re conscious, confident and genuinely satisfied with the choice you’ve made. This is a great article on why you should never settle.
15. EMBRACE COLOR.
Don’t default to black just because it’s ‘artsy.’ Color is your friend. Be bold.
16. DON’T COMPARE YOUR BEGINNING TO SOME ELSE’S MIDDLE.
You won’t always end up in the career you envisioned for yourself right away. I would read articles about other designers in Print magazine or on the Design Matters podcast and be completely discouraged in comparison to their successes. If you’re just starting out in the industry, you can’t compare yourself to someone that’s been at it for 30 years. They had to start somewhere too.
17. WORK HARD & BE NICE.
90% of my freelance clients are from referrals from other clients. Be nice and always do your best work, even if you don’t particularly like the project or the client. It will pay off.
18. GROW BY FAILING.
I was very fortunate to have a boss that was forgiving of first-time mistakes. We once had to reorder 2,500 albums because of a spelling error I had overlooked. Suffice to say, I’ve been better at using spell check and learned to triple-check my work before it goes to press. It’s better to fail early at a lower cost and learn your lesson than later at a higher cost.
19. DON’T TRY TO BE SOMEONE ELSE.
High school was rough, always trying to find where I fit in between the orch dorks and music ‘scene’ group and not wanting to associate with the popular crowd. A constant identity crisis. I’d wear a black wig and band shirts and Avril Lavigne neckties to make a statement that said, “I’m the artsy/creative musician that listens to punk rock and no, this isn’t just a phase I’m going through.” It was exhausting. Discovering who you truly are and what makes you unique is one of the most liberating realizations. Don’t let others define your values and interests.
20. EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE JUST FINE.
There’s going to be days that you’re not going to want to get out of bed. There’s going to be a lot of dudes that will break your heart. There’s going to be plenty of jobs that you’ll apply for and get turned down from. But above all, if I could tell you just one thing, is that 10 years from now everything’s gonna be just fine. Every decision you make will shape the person that you will become.