Dear Jr Creative, Earn Your Place. You’ll Be Better For It.

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Dear Jr Creative,

I’m a firm believer in earning your keep, starting from the bottom, doing the less than desirable well, before moving up.

Prove yourself on what seemingly matters little, and people will notice. I promise.

At the very least, I promise I’ll notice. Because it’s the unorthodox grind of a route I took.

I was a rich kid from the suburbs. I was embarrassed by it. I hated it. It was a 90’s thing.

In High School, and in Gen-X “rebellion” against my white collar family, I worked for the Las Vegas Water District doing underground construction.

I dug ditches and changed water lines during the Vegas Summer for 8 dollars an hour. Not desirable work. And the guys I worked with could smell the rich kid on me. They busted my balls mercilessly for it.

I dug the shit out of those ditches. I loved it. I used my hands. I used heavy machinery and pneumatic tools—I drove a dump truck (which is awesome by the way).

All I wanted was the respect of these old guys changing water lines in the desert. Dudes that worked so fucking hard. For so fucking little. To feed their families; their addictions; their gambling debts.

Eventually, I’d earned a bit of respect.

I worked hard…”for a skinny rich kid.”

One day I mentioned to the crew lead: “Fuck it. I like this. Why not full time?”.

He pulled the truck over to the shoulder of a mountain road, heading North towards Mt. Charleston, looked deep into my face, “Every single one of us would give the world NOT to be here. Stop your blue collar charade. Go to school like you’re supposed to. Get out of this shit.”

So I did.

That was my last of three summers working for the water district.

I went to school for business. Marketing & Advertising to be exact. Which, aside from teaching me some business basics, really just help develop my aptness for bullshit.

Luckily for me, somewhere along the line, I learned a real skill and about this thing called the “Internet.” It was a place I could upload the photos I was taking (and developing in a darkroom, btw). I learned some Photoshop and HTML skills because of it. Eventually, I started freelancing: horrible graphic design and web work. Whatever I could get—fucking rave fliers, man. I just wanted to learn. The beer money was the gravy on top.

My first “real” job out of college was resizing graphics for an eCommerce company. I showed up for the interview on my skateboard, handed the HR lady my resume and said, “I’ll take anything. I know Photoshop. Here’s my book.” I didn’t even know what a “designer” was. But that’s why I was there. And by no means was I a designer; Photoshop monkey…maybe.

Ninety people had been laid off a month prior to me being brought on. I was the first hire after those layoffs and in the eyes of everybody…I was “that guy…”

I was at the bottom of the totem pole. Where I belonged.

The only thing I had going for me was a fear of “sucking.” And for the record, I sucked. (Certainly compared to the kids I see today).

“…good enough to resize graphics” was what I overheard the Creative Director say, just around the corner.

So I resized graphics. I resized the shit out of graphics, learning to code HTML along the way. I unlearned what I learned in business school. And learned…business. I developed site and page concepts for fun. Always showing my boss. Wanting critique. Always trying to get better. People noticed. He noticed. I gained more and more responsibility and more importantly, trust. Never begging for more money. Just wanting to do more work, better work.

To not suck.

Eventually, I took over as Creative Lead. I redesigned both KBToys.com and eToys.com. Enterprise level eCommerce stuff. Real businesses, making real money. I thought the designs were pretty damn good for the early 00’s. Some of the first .com’s to switch to 1024x768. We won some eCom industry awards. It moved product. I thought I was hot shit.

I was far from it.

Fast forward a decade and I’m blown away by the level of talent that’s out there. Kids today come out of school with so much fucking skill it’s crazy. But with all of that skill, in so many, there is equal-to-more parts hubris. An entitled attitude that seems to expect everything for nothing.

Somewhere, along the lines, we (everyone) got sensitive. We started giving trophies for last place. People forgot how to take criticism. We started (and continue) to want to spare people from the realities of what it really takes. Close counts. Thanks for trying. Better luck next time—even worse—Fail Harder.

I hate this phrase more than anything.

“Fail Harder” is a manifesto for the delusional, the lazy—the lotto dreamer.

Celebrating failure is a cop out. Be pissed that you fucked up—when you lose. And know why.

Fail “Smarter” maybe. But failing hard is for losers.

Industry-wise, we covet the idea. Not its realization, it’s viability.

“I want to be an AD. But I don’t write and I don’t design. I’m an idea guy”

“No, no, no, i’m a UX guy. I don’t do wires and I don’t do finished design. I just explore interaction concepts.”

“I want to be a CD. But I don’t like talking with clients.”

“My new Web 3.0 business concept doesn’t have a revenue model—it’s like Instagram but with animated gifs of kittens.”

Ideation in a clientless vacuum; devoid the realities of real life (inside an agency or any company for that matter). Feasibility. Budgets. Client bureaucracies. The fact is that big ideas take time to sell. They die. They have to be reborn. And that it’s your role to breath the life back in. But only if you really give a shit.

The “idea” is the tip of a gigantic, shit stained iceberg of work. And if you aren’t ready for what it takes, or worse, you think “that it’s someone else’s job” to push your idea from ether to reality—reconsider your profession.

My advice is simple: don’t be the entitled kid. The kid who over indexes in ambition but lacks any real passion—any real drive other than a new title at a new agency.

Be the kid who wants to learn even when he doesn’t have to—the designer who wants to learn to write, to code, to understand business because it makes the design better.

Don’t be an industry douche. They call themselves ninjas or gurus…even evangelists. They’re the ones who will tell you, to your face, that they are smarter than the other guy. They’re the ones who have stopped reading by now.

Don’t be the kid who hops around. Don’t be the kid, who, when given the chance, will opt for the bare minimum. Who scoffs at perspective. The kid who will jeopardize the team to spare his fragile ego. The kid, who, when faced with a situation that gets difficult, says “I’m too good for this kind of work. I deserve better.”

Nobody deserves shit. Until you do. And even then, never admit it.

I’m now the old guy. I get it…

I’m not saying you need to go out and work construction. But it’s good to know where you don’t want to be. And understand why.

I know I don’t want to resize graphics anymore. Why? Well…because it sucks.

But I’ll still dig the shit out of a ditch.

- Dave

I should note, that my teen “rebellion” against my Father was laughably ironic. My dad was blue collar. A cowboy who changed tires on big rigs before finishing college and becoming who he is today.

Behind my teen angst, unbeknownst to me all that time, I was trying to be just like him.

What a silly little rich kid.

David Snyder is Executive Creative Director at Firstborn. Living in Brooklyn. He likes progressive thought, design and technology. He eats and libates well. This editorial original posted on Medium.

Comments

Love this post. As a 10-month-old copywriter, it lit a fire under my ass again. Thanks.

The overly confident tone only a 'creative' would have..

No way Anonymous... 10 years in and this kind of post is just what I needed to slap me across my face and realize that you still have to dig the shit out of a ditch.

This should be required reading.

awesome Dave.

truth.

1st one of these in a long time that I made it all the way to the end.

holy ego.... stay classy dave.

whats the real difference between the spirit boosting 'fail harder' drivel and dig ditches inspirational sermon?

Alas, the negative Nancys rise up from their caves to bitch n' moan. I thought it was great. Thanks for sharing!

I saw a design of this saying once, only the type was WAY too flowery and decorative. First glance, it said "Fart Harder".

Awesome to see talent from Denver kill it in NYC. Great work Dave!

As someone who is currently almost 30, and just starting my career, and life after a very long uphill battle with some of life's finer drama, I understand this article all too well. I am happy to start at the bottom, I just want to know that I can dig the hell out of that ditch, and eventually come out of the ditch. I'm moving to Colorado from NY, because there is no possibility of moving up here due to so many issues that need not be addressed. I am looking forward to digging the shit out of that ditch.

Love this. What a great post. Thanks Dave

What a load of horse shit. The valuable lessons in this article are no brainers, and anyone entering the field who isn't already aware that success comes with a lot of hard work will discover it soon enough. The entire thing smacks of a kids, get off my lawn rant from someone whose hard work seems to have been reinforced by lucky breaks (are there still eCommerce companies hiring for positions that can be filled by a Photoshop action?)

Shitting on the idea of "fail harder" seems like a blatant misunderstanding of the value of the concept - to fail harder is to embrace design as a process and go in full force, without the fear that you will fail, and has little to do with the premise of the rest of the article. Acknowledging that failure happens isn't a trophy for last place, it's honest.

I love everything about this article! Will be reposting on my blog - babyfoodforcreatives. I think my readers will benefit from a good kick in the rear. I'm not a junior, but it def nudged me a bit. Thanks!

Thank you,

I was very unsure about my career choice after I had been out of school for a few months especially with getting really shit work to fill the time. I am at a position right now that isn't the greatest but this post motivated me again to keep pursuing what I have been wanting to do. It was a good reality check.

Sam

David, great post. I hear you. Pay your dues.

Yes, self-proclaimed ninjas and gurus make from the entitlement camp are enough to make you cringe. But my take on being an evangelist is a little different. It's not predicated around the notion you're some sort of gifted mastermind possessing special knowledge beyond others. Whereas ninjas and gurus are akin to poseurs going through the motions with perhaps just a passing interest in things, evangelists champion ideas through to the gigantic, shit stained iceberg end.

Someone who eats, drinks, sleeps, and breathes all facets of the process —someone with a clear vision —someone who'll gladly do grunt work with equal vigor as the more "glamorous" client work —someone who gets totally consumed in the process, rolling up their sleeves up and wearing any hats necessary to get the job done —that's an evangelist in my book.

Nice article. A little heavy on the hubris—but if you pay your dues and hand out good advice for others looking to do the same, you earn the right to be a little heavy on the hubris. I've been doing this for eight years and it still helps to see stuff like this from time to time.

I just graduated from The Art Institute of Colorado with Design Management Diploma. I agree with everything, but years of experience I see in every job posting are a bit discouraging. I love to do web and graphic design, but it is so hard to get in this field!

That's real talk. There is definitely a sense of entitlement among younger folks and the 'participation trophy make you feel good' mentality is the driver. I also see it in older folks, managers and supposed leaders that want to rest on their laurels and feel entitled to cash in on the years of work they've put in. You can't lead something that you don't understand - so it's incumbent on them to keep learning and building knowledge (especially in the digital shift that's happening in marketing and advertising). The feeling of entitlement only hurts the people that feel entitle because the hustlers of the world pass them by.

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