School is a bubble, a safe haven from the real world. Cultivate curiosity. Stay up all night X-actoing. Try to understand that right now you don’t really have to worry about dental bills, insurance, rush deadlines, press checks, expense reports, and pitches. Retirement benefits are important (unless you want to work until the age of 80), and compound interest is worth learning about. One day you’ll be responsible for all that, and you won’t ever be able to find the time for anything.
Write down your goals, draw a map of things you’d like to do. Once the seasonal structure of school is gone, life can start to feel like a never-ending free fall or a stagnant pool of sameness if you don’t draft your own direction. You will learn more at your first real job than you did in school.
A job is a job, so don’t take it too personally. Work can sometimes bog you down and make you forget that you’re alive. You can make your life anything you want it to be, but you’ll have to be the one to take the actions to get you there. This may seem obvious and sound easy; it is not.
If you’ve never had a crappy job, get one, at least for a little while. Later in your career, when you’re a manager, you need to remember what it felt like to make minimum wage and do menial work.
Learn how to almost always say yes, even when your initial reaction may be no. Use social media strategically. Create on a regular basis, not just for your job, but for yourself. Then put your work out there for everyone to see. Be flexible. Details matter. Use grids most of the time and kern thoughtfully. Read. Look. See. Remove the price sticker from your portfolio case before going to your first job interview.
Seek and foster relationships with mentors you respect. Jump into chaos, fix the problems later. Sit beneath a very old tree and look up. Know design history. Designing non-functional typography á la David Carson won’t work for most paying clients. Hoefler & Frere-Jones is not a fancy French winery. Know your type foundries and understand that at some point you will have to pay money for a font.
Have strong opinions. Share them, but don’t push them. There are no absolutes.
Travel, near and far. Embrace empathy; it is the key to all successful relationships. Purposely leave your comfort zone; familiarity and habit can make you stagnant. Accumulate stories. Understand that as a problem solver, you’re obligated to explore and be open to all experiences. This is how you will make new connections and arrive at surprising solutions. This is also how you’ll come to feel super alive.
We’re all in this crazy world together, and don’t ever become so selfish that you forget it. The government isn’t always right, and corporations are not people, no matter what legislation says. Some misguided people will try to pay you a lot of money to design something that is unethical. Go to a quiet place and really think about if it’s worth it. Use your problem solving and visual communication skills for good; give back to the world that helped you get to where you are today. As a designer especially, you have an obligation to a greater good; don’t leave a legacy that ruins the future of others.
There is so much more you don’t know. Realize it, and let that knowledge humble you and inspire you to keep seeking. Don’t waste your time always searching for advice from other people. If you take time to listen to the quiet of your heart, you will come to understand that you already know the answer.
A lot of other people have advice to give. Here are some of my favorites:
David Foster Wallace – Kenyan commencement speech
Stefan Sagmeister – Things I have learned in my life so far
Frank Chimero – The Particle
Ira Glass – on being an artist
First Things First Manifesto 2000 – on ethics and the responsibility of being a designer
About the Author
Jessica Yurasek is a Creative Strategist at Innovation Protocol, a strategic brand consulting firm. She also works with socially conscious non-profits such as The Tiziano Project and Counterspill.org to promote truth through storytelling using design along with new media platforms. Find her on Twitter @missjessrose.