By Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows.
I’ve worked in a creative field for over a dozen years, but I’ve only had a creative job for just over half of that. I expended a lot of energy being frustrated with my work. If I could have known how things would turn out, I like to think I would have relaxed and enjoyed the process. If you’re just starting out in a creative field, maybe I can help save you a little bit of heartache.
Build your reputation. When you first start out, they will probably not let you do creative work. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. There is plenty of time for responsibility and overtime and work obsession later. Don’t get me wrong, you should still work hard. This is where you build the foundation of your reputation which is the most important thing you have. If you can become known for being a hard worker and being responsible, people will trust you. If people trust you, they will hire you in the future.
Do the grunt work. This is so important because you’ll learn how to do everything, and when you’re the boss, you’ll have an understanding of what you’re asking of your employees. If you ask someone to do a very difficult or unpleasant job without understanding what it takes to accomplish it, you can make unreasonable requests. If you know full well it’s a bad job but you have to ask the person to do it anyway, at least you know what you’re asking.
Do more than your job. Find the people who are doing what you want to do and offer to help. I guarantee that they’re busy and need the extra support. Don’t expect to do their jobs or anything creative for them (you may get to, but don’t expect it) but everybody needs help. You will also gain valuable experience. One of the people I helped in this way became a crucial reference at my next job interview. My reference had worked directly with the hiring manager and her endorsement of my work was the key to standing out over a hundred other applicants.
Make friends. In your company and in your industry. Go out to happy hours, talk about creative theories, and just have fun. This will not only get you through these rough first years, but it will allow you to forge career-long friendships. All of you will go on to different companies, different career paths, and eventually, you will have friends pretty much any place you want to work. Your network is crucial.
Don’t stick your neck out. Do not recommend anyone for a job that you wouldn’t stake your reputation on because that’s exactly what you’re doing. Even if you love this person, if she has terrible attendance, can’t stay organized, or has a serious problem with authority, you won’t do either of you any favors helping her get a job.
Find a mentor. Ask people you admire to teach you things and really listen. You’ll be shocked at how much some of your colleagues would love to pass on their wisdom to an interested, ambitious person. On-the-job training can be hard to get. These people are your allies. They’ve had years of trial and error. They’ve been through the unexpected disasters and know what to do. Learn from them. They will save you a lot of pain.
Yes you can. Don’t listen to the people who think you can’t do things. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you stay focused. I once told a new supervisor that I could write, she said, “Oh, I’ll tell you if you can write.” It was a verbal slap in the face. She didn’t know me, and she didn’t have any reason not to believe me. I will never forget that feeling. I don’t know what happened to her, but I’m now a published author who also writes for television and videogames. I wasn’t about to let her tell me whether or not I could write. Don’t forget that people often don’t know what they are talking about and say ignorant things. Don’t try to correct them. You won’t win. Just smile and go on about your business. Unless this person is trying to hold you back, you don’t need to convince him or her. You just need to maintain faith in yourself. If someone is actually bent on holding you back, find a new job. Don’t get stuck someplace where they are actively working against you unless you see an important opportunity on the horizon.
You’ve got this. Stay confident and please try not to get psyched out. I know that sometimes it can feel like they’ll figure out that you don’t belong or that you can’t really do the job. You can do the job, and you will. It’s normal to feel out of your depth sometimes especially at the beginning. Throughout your career, you’ll be faced with doing things you haven’t done before. New challenges are good. They’re good for your brain. They’re good for your soul.
Be fearless. Don’t let the fact that a job is big stop you from taking it on. Fake it ’till you know it. The internet is your friend. Your trusted colleagues who mentored you are your friends. Books are your friends. If you don’t know how to do something, look it up! Then, make decisions and follow them through until you have reason to change course. Doubt, fear, and uncertainty will not only make you look weak; it will make it harder for those around you. I truly believe that being decisive is one of the most important keys to becoming successful.
And finally, do your own thing. This is the most important part. You still have all of this extra creative energy, right? Spend your down time on your own projects. It could help you get a job down the road, or maybe you’ll make your own job. You may have to wait, my dears, but be patient, use your time wisely, and don’t give up. I believe in you, and so should you.
Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows wrote and produced the Gamebook Adventures app Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends (iOS/Android). Her work has also appeared in Random House and Smart Pop Books anthologies, the UK Telegraph Newspaper, numerous websites, and on more than a dozen television networks. She is the Creative Director for GORGEOUS ROBOT. Her twitter is @MiellynB.