Little Did I Know…

Back in my school years, I had little to no idea that I would someday want to become a creative consultant. I only knew I wanted a meaningful career utilizing the skills I was most passionate about. I think most people have that same goal in mind. It’s why most of us go to college; hopefully by the end of a grueling academic grind, we can find ourselves in an agreeable career, if not the career we’ve always dreamed of. But what if you didn’t graduate from or even go to college? What if you have your degree, but still haven’t found that sweet spot of fulfillment + career? Is it possible to design your own career and how do you start?

Opportunity Rocks

One thing I took for granted about high school music class was the inherent opportunities. I had teachers who were always encouraging (or hounding) me to join this orchestra, or that jazz band, or other groups that might afford me more chances to expand my musical experience. Additionally, my art teachers would enter me in to various art shows and competitions. This too gave me more exposure to different kinds of venues and stoked my competitive drive to succeed. Looking back, I hardly realized at the time, how valuable these opportunities were. It takes a special kind of maturity to appreciate the doors teachers open for us when we have them at our disposal.

This goes for the college experience as well. Instructors and professors will guide and lead you to opportunities while you accumulate credit hours. Typically, degree programs are well-connected to the business communities of their particular fields. They partner with firms that are at the cutting edge of new innovations, providing access to the best knowledge, technology, and the biggest movers and shakers. This can lead to job placement in your chosen field and/or internships. These type of opportunities are rare and exciting, so take advantage of them while you can. But there comes a time when we must leave the protective confines of school and live out in the world.

What Now?

Schools and other learning institutions are great resources that, while you’re enrolled, can increase your exposure in a given field. Less clear is what to do when you leave school, when those built-in opportunities are gone. There are no teachers to step in, sign you up, or usher you through doorways of opportunity. This is especially true if you plan to establish any kind of independent career outside a particular degree field.

Aside from having a solid vision, a workable plan, and material resources, here are some tips to get you started when school ends:

  • Develop a solid network. You get by with a little help from your friends, and colleagues, and business associates, and partners, and–well, you get the point. Your network is a representation of connected ideas, values, and resources. Tap in to this reservoir of collected knowledge and experience to get leads for potential opportunities. Always be on the lookout for new contacts; you never know where a seemingly innocuous encounter may lead.
  • Never stop learning. Arguably, the best lesson I learned in college, was to be a lifelong learner. Even though you might be done with school, there is always more to learn. Tap your network to see how others have succeeded. Challenge yourself to try new things instead of relying on old patterns.
  • Develop and expand existing skills. Keep practicing what you’re good at. Become an expert at it. This will empower you to deliver a quality experience or product to your potential clients. Find correlated skills that complement each other to make you more marketable and versatile. Identify areas that need development and bring them up to speed with your existing skillset.
  • Make opportunities happen. Don’t wait for the right opportunity to come find you. Go out and find it. I recommend starting in your own “backyard” and working out from there. Get out from behind the computer and in to the public square. Knock on doors. Engage your community. You might be surprised at the wealth of opportunities waiting to be had.
  • Be flexible and course-correct when needed. Successful ventures rarely start out without a hitch. Don’t expect perfection, especially early on. One of the perks of freelancing, or starting a new business, or innovating a new career, is you get to chart your own course. This can be scary, especially at first, when you take a risk in to unknown territory. You might try out a new idea or explore a new avenue that leads nowhere. The important thing is to keep trying. If you try and fail, try something else.

One last thing: It is to your advantage to have a reliable feedback system in place. Identify a person or persons in your network who can give you honest feedback about your work. Preferably, this would be someone you respect and who understands the related field you are in. Be open to constructive criticism. Some ideas are better than others. Use this feedback to help you pull out your best and discover what’s not working.

These are just a few suggestions that have worked for me in my post-school life. I hope you find them useful. What has worked for you to get your career off the ground, now that you’re out of school? Please let me know in the comment section below.