In early 2016, Emily (at Blinkist) received an email:
“Hi, my name is Jason Sturgill and I’m an artist from Portland. I just started using your app and I love it. Would you be interested in sponsoring me as an artist? I’ll create illustrations based on the blinks I read and share them across my social channels.”
This is how our Berlin, Germany startup met its first Artist-in-Residence.
What began with an email and cute Instagram illustrations turned into a collaboration that’s still going strong today. Jason visited our offices at the end of April this year (2016) to create art and work with our team on creative projects. An added bonus was that we had time to really get to know one another. Hearing Jason speak about his life, his career trajectory, and his impressions of Berlin had a profound personal impact on me.
Here’s what I learned about expectations, career, creativity, and more from our Artist-in-Residence and friend, Jason Sturgill.
1. It’s good to get out of your own head every now and then
One of the best things about having Jason at Blinkist was that he forced me to get out of my routine and just let things happen. “Let’s draw each other for 10 minutes, film it, and send it off to this design conference” he said and my first reaction was that people wouldn’t have the time because we all have other, more important, work to do. We did it anyway and it was a fun experience that tickled a napping side of our brains.
Breaking up the normal workflow — whether it is to scout a location for filming, host a talk-show interview, or draw your colleagues, all things I did while Jason was here — makes you lift your gaze from the path you’ve laid out for yourself. At best, you’ll be able to see other possible ways of reaching your goal, or even other, better goals to strive for. And if nothing else, you may spot one or two exciting detours that you can take on the way to make the journey to your goal more fun.
2. Nothing beats human connection
If I could, I would have a Blinkist user visit us every day. Getting to know Jason, putting a face on one of one million users, and learning what makes him use Blinkist, beat any nice feedback we get emailed or tweeted at us. Meeting the people for whom you create something and make a positive impact gives meaning to the work you’re doing.
3. You’re not born “You”, “You” is what you become
We may think that our life’s destiny is decided from birth, that some people pop out full-fledged artists and others will forever be incapable of drawing a straight line. But we can impact what course our lives take, it’s all a matter of perspective. When Jason told me about never seeing himself as a creative, because he did not grow up drawing and wasn’t born with it, it resonated with me because I’ve felt exactly the same. Hearing about how he only started drawing in his 30s, and is now able to live off of his artistic work makes me excited about the future.
“In terms of who I am as a person, if I was a piece of clay, my form is just starting to be found. I feel I am getting closer to who I am supposed to be. When I’m ready I can fire up and glaze that piece of clay.”
4. Challenges are necessary and formative
Jason probably wouldn’t have been where he is today if it hadn’t been for an accident that cost him his left-eye vision when he was a teenager, and a bout with cancer when he was in his 20s. These challenges forced him to re-evaluate what was important to him and pushed him to pursue the life he wanted to lead.
It’s easy to let life’s adversities bring you down and prompt the question “Why me?”. But, however shitty things may get, most of the times when you look back at those downturns, you’ll be able to see all the positive things that came with it. Just power through.
5. Don’t ask for permission
“The main thing is that you can just make your own opportunities, especially in today’s age, you don’t have to wait for anybody to give you permission. You can go out and make something from nothing. You can grab something from the street and make artwork from it.”
Don’t ask for permission to become an artist, to be whatever person you want to be, just be it! Jason taught me this through his actions and his words. Scandinavian as I am, this is a message that couldn’t be repeated too many times and I still have a long way to go before I fully live it.
In Sweden, we have something called “Jantelagen” which is slowly dying out but still deeply ingrained in our culture. The essence of Jantelagen is that you shouldn’t think that you’re better or more than anybody else, and if you’ve ever encountered a Swede, this is one of the many reasons why we are so polite and agreeable all the time. The downside of Jantelagen is that it holds us back from exploring our true selves, as we don’t want to be too showy or step on anybody’s toes. Being polite is a virtue, but sometimes we could do with looking out for ourselves a bit more.
6. Be a fan of something and let that guide you
If your goal in life is something pretty abstract, like, “I want to be an artist” where do you start? To guide his search for his “calling in life,” Jason talked a lot about approaching something from the perspective of a fan. You don’t have to know your final destination if you just do things that bring you happiness, that way you’ll naturally grow into your ideal role.
For example, if you know you’re passionate about music, and doing things related to it makes you happy, then continue involving yourself in this field. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the sweet spot where you need to be. Jason’s reasoning is that by focusing on your passions and interests, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing and have an internal drive to achieve it.
7. Ask people for help!
Many of us feel we can’t just contact people without being able to offer them much in return. But you’d be amazed at what doors may open just by getting in touch with someone and letting them know you like their work. In fact, Jason’s built his entire career this way.
“If you just reach out to people you’d be surprised at the kind of support you’ll get.”
When Jason reached out to us, we were extremely flattered that he liked our product so much that he wanted to spend time on creating illustrations based on what he read on Blinkist and spread the word about us to his community. We both felt we were given something invaluable through this partnership.
8. Be curious!
Never stop being curious! Curiosity drives you forward and helps you learn and grow as a person. To close this off, here’s Jason on curiosity:
“I made a drawing that said “curiosity thrilled the cat,” because I think “curiosity killed the cat” is a dumb saying. It’s curiosity that has driven everything that I’ve learned through the projects I’ve had. All of those things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been curious.”