I've been out of school for almost two years now. Some days, it really does seem like yesterday that I was laying on the floor in the hallway outside my classroom, trying not to have a panic attack about a critique happening that day. (It went fine.) Most of the time, it feels like I've been out of school for yeaaaars. And when I say yeaaaars I mean like 10 years. Almost like it never happened. Time is weird. It just is.
There are a few things I wish I had known in my last semester of college, and I'm going to tell my former self that in a minute, but first I want to give a bit of a backstory. College took me 6 years to finish. 1 year at a private Christian school, 1.5 years at a community college to finish an Associate of Arts degree (my credits were messed up so it should have only been 1 year), 1 semester at NIU, 1 semester at a Leadership Institute in Colorado, and then 2.5 more years at NIU once I moved home. WHEW. It's a lot I know. I was due to have a 7th year of school, but some of us only had six classes left and the sequence of them was supposed to be spread over 4 semesters. No. Just no. So somehow they worked it out to put all those classes in just 2 semesters for us, and we were able to graduate a year early. Party! But with that, came a lot of stress, sleepless nights, anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. I love the design program at NIU. I seriously think it was the best education I could have received for what I wanted to do. It was also really hard, and took a lot of time. On top of having a very full course load, I was working at Starbucks–which meant a lot of free coffee and a lot of days working at 4:30am. Pair that with night classes and you have a very messed up sleep schedule. I think I've blocked out most of that last semester from my memory. I know this is just a super jumbled paragraph, but college for me was super jumbled. I lived at home, worked really hard, got good grades, and somehow managed to stay involved at church. That was the year I learned how to be organized. I began to have little patience for people who weren't doing their homework. (Come on guys. College is expensive. Why are you there if you aren't going to work hard? Especially if you aren't working a job during school. Like, what are you even doing with your time?) That's just a rant I've needed to get out for a few years now. ANYWAY. Things I wish I knew.
- You will get a job. Even though you go back to Starbucks for a couple months after your internship ends, you will get a job.
- Not only will you get a job, but you will have 3 jobs in the 2 years after you graduate, and few additional job offers you turn down.
- Freelancing is actually fun! Even if you have a terrible client. You can charge them more. They might actually pay you that additional amount. (And if they email you asking to do another project, you can say no, for sanity purposes.)
- You will escape working in advertising, after you have an internship in advertising. (Not that advertising is bad, I just didn't see myself there long-term.)
- You will eventually learn about working with pantone colors, print guidelines, and mailing requirements–none of which were taught to you in school. (Did I just majorly miss something in school? Thank goodness for google and patient printers.)
- You are basically getting paid to do homework. Such a fun switch from paying to work. (This is how I viewed school towards the end...terrible I know.)
- You might actually be good at what you do, and your bosses might actually like you. (This is the self-doubt I was talking about earlier. More often in school, we hear the things we need to change, improve on, or fix. None of those things are bad, I was just worried I would never ever ever get a job in design.)
- You will love collaborating with others, learning to work on a team with copywriters, developers, and art directors. (Such a change from doing everything yourself in school!)
- Nothing can really prepare you for life after graduating from design classes. Every experience is different, and a lot of it has to do with your work ethic, organizational skills, and attitude.
- You will still enjoy learning. You will still love design. You always want to learn more, do better work, and enjoy the process.
I'm not writing this to brag or give myself a pat on the back. I'm writing this to remind myself, and maybe even you, that sometimes things don't happen how we think they will. There isn't this magical combination of steps that will add up to a perfect outcome. I really believe if you work hard at things, there will probably be a good outcome at some point. I'm not saying play basketball for 20 hours a day and you'll make it big time playing basketball. I'm saying, take a look at what you like to do–what you're good at. Make goals, work hard towards them, and be willing to give it all a little bit of time.