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.
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.