Advice for Recent Grads

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So, I was watching this TV show the other day and they had some guest on yapping advice at recent grads. Since it is that time of year again, with lots of graduations happening, I thought it might be a good idea to share my advice. Not that you’ve asked for it, mind you, but I figure that, if some clueless talking head can do it on my TV set, why shouldn’t I do it as well? OK, so here goes. If you are a recent grad (even if you aren’t!) here is my advice to you.

My biggest piece of advice for recent grads is to work, work, work. I read something this week about the most recent American Idol winner going to work quickly on her album, which is slated for release in June, about a month after she won the competition. “You have to strike while the iron is hot,” she said in an interview. Yes, indeed. Strike. Hot. Iron. That’s all true. If you know what you want, go for it, but go for it with gusto. Nothing comes along that doesn’t require a bit of hard work and elbow grease, however, so be prepared to work for what you want and, in turn, love the work that you do. If you do what you love, it never feels like work, but you need to apply yourself too. Don’t be afraid to jump in and don’t let a little bit of hard work slow you down.

Nobody is guaranteed success. Sure, some people get lucky breaks. Good for them. Make your own lucky breaks. If you keep doing what it is you do, eventually, people will notice and you too will be a success. But you have to do it, and you have to keep at it. Use the success of others as inspiration, never envy. Remember too that, when you see somebody become an “overnight” sensation (especially in any art-related field) there might have been years of preparations going into that success. Often people work hard and long before making it big. Be prepared to work a “day job.” Some folks have “day jobs” for 20 years or more. That doesn’t mean you won’t make it, it just means you will have to learn to juggle for what you want. Learn to become your own brand and brand yourself.

I was coaching somebody the other day about some images when he said to me, “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. I came out of school with a degree in photography and I’ve been working a year and half and I’m still not really there yet.” My advice to him was, “Hey, guess what kid? I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’m still not really there yet. What makes you think you are going to get a job right away or that your work is going to be successful right out of the starting gate?” There’s a lot of hard work involved in the art fields. I’ve also given the advice, “Learn to toil!” and it’s especially true here. Learn to toil and toil away. The world doesn’t owe you anything, you have to make a name for yourself. You have to get out and do, nobody is going to do it for you. And, sometimes? Yeah, it’s not going to come right away. Deal with it. Going to school was intended to prepare you for your eventual success, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to any kind of success just because you made it out the door. Success comes to those who make it for themselves. Deal with that, and you too might experience some success of your very own.

If you can, get a job in your field. If you can’t get a job in your field, it’s still better to have a job then not have one. Save your money and don’t be foolish so that, when the time comes, you can make a break into your chosen field with a bit of a safety net. Learn to prioritize and focus on what’s important. Sure, I have a great camera, but I drive an old clunker. Maybe I don’t always fly first class, but I somehow manage to get there. Pick your battles and learn to live with the choices you make.

I see so many artists who want to “make it big!” on the gallery circuit yet they make some very simple (and avoidable!) mistakes. Talk to gallery owners. Visit with them. Visit galleries. Talk to other artists. Find out where the potholes are and adjust your course. Guess what? Art school didn’t teach you everything. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Find out the mistakes others have made and try to avoid them. If you want something, don’t be afraid to ask but know what it is you want before asking. Get your ducks lined up in a row, so to speak. School is wonderful, but it’s up to you to arrange those ducks so get to that arranging already.

Speaking of teaching and school, this is also a good time to point this out. Never stop learning. Just because you might be out of school now, doesn’t mean you can just quit learning. Learn a new medium. Learn a new craft. Pickup a new language or learn to knit if you are out of ideas. Just keep learning. I work sometimes with a medium they don’t even teach in art schools (encaustics) and I would never have learned how to if I had just waited for art school to teach me that. In fact, I went to engineering school and would never have learned anything about art or photography if I had not challenged myself to learn more. I’m not knocking school, no, but school, any kind of school, is a springboard. They teach you how to learn, and set you off down that path, but it’s now up to you to continue with it. Fill your head with new ideas and never, even stop learning. To stop learning is to die.

I’m always inspired when I see 80 year old people getting their college degrees. Go for it! Never stop learning, but don’t forget you don’t learn everything in school. Talk to other artists, work with other people, read, suck up ideas like a sponge from a variety of sources. Take it all in, for the world is but ours for the taking.

Finally, I think my last piece of advice we be to stay true to yourself. Be tough enough to travel but kind enough to visit. Learn the stories of others along your path and bring home more than just t-shirts and coffee mugs. Get out and see the world, but find yourself in the process. It’s great to look out, look around, get out and explore but don’t forget it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Find your center, use your heart, know your soul as best you can, for that’s what the journey of life is really all about. Travel and be inspired, yes, but look within too. We are defined by our adventures, but our spirits lie within.

I’m sure there’s lots of good advice swirling around this time of year, but I thought I would add mine to the pile as well.

Until next time…

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