It is so easy to feel shitty about where you are in your career.
You probably don’t realize you are inspiring someone.
Creatives play a lot of head games with ourselves. Some of my favorite games are:
- This artist’s work is just killing it. They probably get laid all the time.
- If only the content on my Instagram feed got more likes.
- Bobby, who couldn’t tell you the difference between kerning and a counter in Design 204: Typography II, just got a fucking promotion to a creative director?
- What the fuck am I doing with my life…
- Word Viagra of the Week: Imposter syndrome
I do my best to hush these thoughts. Yet, they do appear from time-to-time. That was until this morning. I had something hit me that made all that shit seem so fucking petty.
On a random Friday a few months ago, with the sun hot, the air crisp, and global warming causing March to feel like summer, a friend and I swung into one of our alma maters to surprise a former professor we share. There I met a soon-to-be grad. Her name is Sarah Rozmiarek. She and I chatted more than the other students because I mentioned volunteering on the Sanders campaign a bit in 2015. Sarah began to express her desire to get into politics using her design and communication skills.
I told Sarah the usual bits I tell most people, “Go after what you want. The worst that can happen is you’ll fail at it. Taking the first step to try to achieve something is still taking a step in a direction. Most people won’t even try taking a step towards something. When you look back, failure or success, you’ll seen you’ve taken thousands of steps and are miles from that first step.”
I write and say this so often now, that it has become a core value of myself. It is like breathing air. I don’t think about it and take it for granted. Sarah inquired deeper, though. Normal questions. Asking about the industry some more, but also the “fear” of annoying the people you desire as a mentor or collaborating.
I told Sarah in my experience, 80% of people are willing to help and are kind. Most people feel special when you ask them for advice or that you want to be mentored by them, etc. etc.
The day wrapped up. I gathered contact information from all the students I encountered. 24–48 hours later, I shot them all brief (I must keep up with self-loathing and counting Instagram likes) emails thanking them for their time and not to hesitate using me as a resource as they venture into the industry. Sarah and a couple others wrote back with appreciation shortly after.
Oh, how the time passes so quickly. It is now the middle of May, and most days have felt colder, shittier and more like winter than that day in March. Then, I got a ray of digital sunshine in my inbox:
I wanted to thank you again for talking with me in March, you gave me great advice which brought me some direction. I recently finished a project focused in the “political graphic design” realm, and got a position with the Young Democrats of Maryland doing the kind of thing I was hoping to do, making graphics for their Snapchat and other social media. I especially am grateful for your advice to get involved and take initiative while I’m still in school and not wait to start doing what I wanted to do.
Thank you again! I hope you’re doing well!
I wish I could express “these feels”. I can say I feel something that all the internal dialogue doesn’t provide: success. And I believe many more of us can feel this way if we stop competing with ourselves and the career status of others. We compete so much we don’t realize we are inspiring to someone else. The inspiration another creative may be bestowing onto you, you are bestowing onto others.
I issue this challenge: The next time you feel shitty about where you are in your career and industry, stop. Step back. Look how you inspire or could inspire others from a simple conversation. Are you missing your children’s awe of you and taking it for granted? Can you swing by your alma mater or local college and start talking with students? Everyone has questions if you take the time to listen. The ones really listening to your answers will be incredibly grateful and inspired by your career war stories.
Liam Clisham is the owner of the content creation firm, Five31, in Bel Air, Maryland and co-founder of the collective, Pancake Camp.