The Best Piece of Advice I Ever Received: "The Answer Should Always Be YES"
I've found myself having the same conversation with several people in the last few days, and I thought it might bear repeating here.
Many people are in the same situation, it seems; over-educated, monstrously indebted, and still unable to nail down steady work. I don't know what it is about this generation of ours, but a lot of us have gone to college (mainly because that's what was expected of us) and emerged with some sort of broad degree and the idea that this degree would somehow set us apart from the rest of the job market (because that's what we were told it would do.) Instead, we're finding that our one degree is somehow either not enough degrees, or sort of pointless, because no matter our level of education, no one seems to want to hire us. So, we wait tables, answer phones, valet cars, etc., while our Communications, Business, and Marketing Degrees collect theoretical dust.
I'm very, very lucky to no longer be in that situation, and I'll tell you why. It has to do with the best piece of advice I ever received.
In 2008, a semester before I graduated college, I was taking a Public Relations class. Our end-of-term assignment, a project that we'd been working on for months, was to create a PR plan for an "emerging band." We all thought this band was made-up, but on presentation day at the end of term, the band appeared in the flesh with their full entourage; management team, publicist, and record label A&R guy. Needless to say, we were flustered, and I nervously bumbled my way through this theoretical plan that I had hatched up to promote them, including a mock website, social media campaign, bio -- the works. Well, I must have bumbled pretty well, because they hired me as their intern on the spot. Maybe it was the pencil skirt.
So a year later, I'm at my desk, and in walks (let's call him) Mike. Mike is an older gentleman, very intense. He'd hardly thrown a full sentence in my direction (which was fine by me, since he scared the shit out of me), and he also happened to be a Country music celebrity. I was shocked when he walked into my office for more than borrowing a paper clip, and even more shocked when he posted himself up, knuckles down, on my desk and said in his slow drawl, "Holley. Let me ask you somethin'."
My reaction was similar to the one I imagine I'd have if Johnny Depp offered me a back rub. Stunned silence, followed by, "Uhhhh, ok."
"You think you could design the album packaging for my bands' next record?"
Now, my job with them so far had entailed minor design work, but mainly social media management. I was completely and utterly unqualified to design full album packaging for a well-known, established band. My degree is in Music and Music Business. The only true design experience I had, I'd learned during a previous internship where their designer had agreed to show me the basics of PhotoShop. At this point, I could design small web banners and maybe airbrush someone's dark spots out, if you twisted my arm. I had no experience in print whatsoever.
I began to try to explain this to him, with about 500 words crammed into one very poorly constructed run-on sentence. Print design is totally different from web-based design, I don't know the rules of printing, or which printer to use, or which program to use, or what file type it should be, or how to work with a template, or how to use Illustrator, or what copyright notice I had to include, or what should be in the liner notes, or...
Mike held up one hand about 20 seconds in to my protest.
I held on.
"Let me give you a piece of advice."
"When I ask if you know how to do something, I don't care what it is. The answer should always be 'yes.' Then, you figure it out later."
I sat there for a second, and finally said the only thing I could think to say: "Yes, sir."
Mike walked out, I panicked for a few minutes, and then started Googling the basics of album artwork design. Within a year, album artwork was my number one most requested design project, and my freelance design business was making enough money for me to say good-bye to the 9 to 5 world and strike out on my own. And I don't even have a degree in design.
Guys! We live in this amazingly crazy/weird world where, for the first time ever, we can learn whatever we need to learn on the freakin' INTERNET! (Well, I mean, not surgery or rocket science or anything like that, but you know.) If you want to learn something, go learn it. If you want to be something, go be it. If someone asks you if you know how to do something, your answer should always be yes. Because you can LITERALLY do whatever you want. You just have to have the brass balls to go do it.
Now, I'm sure my alma mater isn't going to be too pleased about my voicing this particular opinion, but in a lot of cases, college is not the only answer. If you want to know something, ask about it! Do some strategic Googling. Reach out to your peers. Fuel your passions. Take advantage of what's out there for you. If you have knowledge and wisdom to share with the world, I encourage you to share it. Online tutorials, classes, coffee with someone who's curious about what you do. Let's not hold our cards so close to our chests. Share what you love, and let others discover what they love through your example.
Let's say "yes" more often.