The Real World is a 90's MTV hit sitcom and conversely, a concept that continues to hit many people while they’re down. Part of the reason you’re reading this is because of my efforts as a young creative to combat such blows. I’ve been hired, fired, laid off, and bounced around from job-to-job; all by the measly age of 24. The problem had nothing to do with the field/niche I was pursuing. Instead, it was a lack of appreciation for my abilities…until now.
I always knew that I would work in the realm of art, but wasn’t fully equipped for the challenges that came along with being a creative spirit. What my experiences in corporate creative roles have taught me, is the importance of management appreciating you for who you are. Management’s role should be to push you, guide you, and lead you down the path to where you see yourself in the future, while leaving it up to you to walk the walk.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with three individuals over steaming cups of coffee, each enlightening me with their stories: Drew Collins, Writer and Creative Director, Greg Cunneyworth, Co-founder and Creative Director of Makeway, and Kevin Mack, Creative Director/Technologist and UX Lead.
Drew, currently freelancing, made it clear to me that derailment is a necessary part of the job. While working at a large agency in Columbus, Drew maintained a great relationship with his Creative Director; who was tasked with Drew’s overall career development path. However, when his Creative Director moved on to greater horizons, the winds picked up, and Drew’s path was quickly lost; resulting in him leaving the agency shortly thereafter. Drew’s note: “It’s dangerous to leave your own career development in another’s hands”.
This brings me to my next point: Failure. The real world is especially terrifying because of its conniving habits of dropping banana peels everywhere for us naive creatives to slip on. Drew, pausing thoughtfully upon my prodding, provided me with the following key words that symbolize the critical elements of a Creative Director’s day-to-day: Failure (allow for others to fail), Expectations (make sure the expectations are clearly outlined), Practicality (always understand real world practicalities), and Bravery (know when to stand up for yourself, damnit). Most importantly, and oftentimes the most difficult for me to grasp; don’t take yourself too seriously. You’re not saving any lives in the ad world.
“It’s dangerous to leave your own career development in another’s hands.”
The creative culture in Columbus is quite competitive; a lot of us are really good at making pretty things. Greg was no exception. A number of years ago, he and his business partner started their first company together. Leaving little to the imagination, they proudly called their company, We Make Nice Websites.
Their name was undeniable; they made great websites. Unfortunately for them, many potential clients didn’t take them seriously because of their name. Personal note: If you can’t laugh at yourself on occasion, you’re doing something wrong. However, a certain level of decorum must be maintained when interacting with new and existing clientele. In 2014, Greg and his business partner took note and rebranded the company Makeway. Now with offices in New York and Columbus, Greg quotes Yogi Bara in saying, “If there’s a fork in the road, take it”.
Whatever the move, do it confidently. Be able to back yourself up (are you seeing a trend here?). Self-made is how Greg describes his career thus far, but also notes that a company is only as good as the people who create within it. Greg’s most important takeaway is to, “Surround yourself with the right people”. Because of his keen ability to keep the right people in his life (including a new kick-ass developer Makeway just hired), he sees himself at Makeway years from now, happily creating for the future. The world is driven by future oriented thinkers and doers: folks that shape the future when others say it’s impossible. When people say “No way, no how”, I’m out!
1995. Computers begin popping up as a household staple. It was then that Kevin started diving into computer development. Having a mom as an Art Director and a dad as a business-minded man gave him plenty of exposure to the right kinds of people. People and user-centric design continues to be Kevin’s main focus. After merging traditional arts with the boom of the digital era, he soon figured out how to track retail performance and thus deliver more strategic messaging for retail brands. A pioneer, if you will.
“Surround yourself with the right people.”
While working at Resource (he applied as a graphic designer, but was hired as lead developer…big surprise there), Kevin’s expertise landed him behind the podium at numerous conferences. After losing its novelty, he found himself attending for the party only. Speaking of celebrations, remember that campaign that Resource ran for Purina back in 2012? This is when cat lovers could tag #catperson with what it meant to them to be a cat person. If you don’t, it’s all good, you’re just way behind on the times—the top tweets were retweeted in Time Square, (#nbd). It was one of the most celebrated campaigns in Resource’s history and Kevin was instrumental in working on that campaign.
These days, Kevin is still diving deep in the development world, but his focus has shifted slightly (still future oriented, nonetheless). He finds great pleasure in mentoring the young and curious (pan to Kyle furiously scribbling notes in an 80% full sketch pad) and providing insight for the entrepreneurs that so passionately try to make something out of nothing—entirely for free. Entrepreneurs are his crack. And like Hef’s girls back in the heyday, Columbus is in no short supply. Ever inspired with no signs of weariness, Kevin notes: “Step out of your industry and chat with people”. He recalled a conversation he recently had with a construction worker that gave him new life. Always building relationships…
Independence is something that many people my age value to an extreme. Once earned, there is a certain amount of pride that comes along with figuring it out on your own. The younger generation is capable of so much, but stands to gain very little if we are not able to embrace the advice/mentorship of others. Push yourself to have these kinds of conversations; even if you’re comfortable with where you currently are in life. If nothing else, take advantage of the opportunity to try out a new coffee shop, bar, club, bakery, different park bench, etc…you might even be happier because of it. My journey isn’t over yet and I hope yours isn’t either.
“Step out of your industry and chat with people.”
Writer & Creative Director
Co-founder & Creative Director of Makeway