I am in the unique position of being 30yrs into my design career while also being the parent of a kid who is just embarking on his own creative pursuit. This convergence makes me a bit preachy, so this is your warning: platitudes ahead.
My son is so energetic, so full of fire and new ideas. He intends to be a filmmaker and is busy making plans, connections and portfolio pieces. It is truly electric fun to listen to him dream out loud, making plans for his future of fabulousness. Because when we are that age, that is all we can see–the fabulous–and we cannot wait to be discovered being fabulous. I recognize that in myself, too. When my pals and I were headed for graduation from art & design school, it was all world-conquering, fame and sophistication. There were big-budget projects to pitch, creative departments to head up, minions to lead. We were destined for the fabulous; it was gonna be easy fruit for the picking. Maybe we would touch a T-square again, but likely not.
Just remembering this makes me laugh out loud–how prideful and unrealistic we were. No offense to my dear son, but I see the same thinking at work in him.
Little did we realize or admit all those years ago–it is a tough climb from entry level to success in a creative career and not all of the work is legendary. In fact, little of it is. Most of it is building up experience, brick by brick by brick. Little nuggets of the work make you feel like you are teeming with inspiration and energy, the rest is footwork, logistics, details, drama and even drudgery. Sure, there are those who rocket to the top at a young age, achieve fabulous and never look back–but that isn’t everyone. I wasn’t one of those rockets, and I am nowhere near fabulous, but I am pretty happy with what I do and how I got here.
All these years later I have a few truths that I can accept and, if he would listen, that I’d like to share with my son:
1.) My most valuable skills lie in the mundane regions of this business–I have enjoyed success and job security primarily because of my production skills, not my loftier design ideas. My willingness to work on the boring stuff has served me well. Like Red Green says, “…they might as well find you handy.”
2.) Dreams can–and sometimes should–change. Thank goodness my career success is not measured against those original dreams we all had right out of school. Life changes, and so do we. I know I’ve changed, and I like my new dreams better.
3.) My fabulous has only occurred occasionally. Maybe once in a blue moon do I have a really terrific idea that also works. This is true as both a designer and an artist: Not all my ideas are good.
It is unfair to the next generation if we let them believe that their only currency is in their ability to be fabulous. Few of us can be that fabulous and certainly not every day. So let’s stop this American Idol mentality that celebrates those who achieve fame for being fabulous. It makes it all look so easy. Working hard to build a career one step at a time is also a path to success.
Hey, son-of-mine, (though you don’t read my blog) here’s a little advice from your mother: While you are waiting to be discovered, keep working hard on the fundamentals of your creative work. Learn everything about the business–all the parts, even those that aren’t yours. Always be willing to do the simple stuff, the boring stuff, the maddening stuff. Trust me. In this way you will be discovered. And valued. And employed. Because you are fabulous.