You can’t always get what you want

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There was a time when I was working a less than inspiring retail job, had finished my undergrad degree and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. At a critical moment I asked a friend advice and was given what, in retrospect became the best advice I could have asked for.
As a person who loves making things, I tried to create opportunities around me to fold that passion into whatever I happened to be doing. In the retail job I became a window dresser, an advertising creator, a photographer, an apparel designer and eventually a bike builder.
Around this time I learned about Weiden + Kennedy’s 12 program. They bring on 12 talented designers and gave them a year to work on projects under the guidance of senior staff. I knew very little about advertising, but had followed W+K’s iconic work over the past couple of decades for companies like Nike and Miller High Life. I imagined what it must be like to be “a creative” and spend your days coming up with brilliant one liners or just the right evocative visuals. The application process was pretty intense, after a couple rounds of cuts I was one of the final 30 designers who were invited to a weekend at W+K to interview and learn more about what the program had to offer. When the invitation came, I started thinking that I might actually make it through to the 12 program. Because I was involved in the bicycle industry I knew one of the Creative Directors at the firm and approached him about how I could prepare for my upcoming interview. He told me what at the time seemed trite, but played out in the best way possible: “Just be yourself.”

Myself was a guy who didn’t know a thing about the world of advertising. I was interviewing with other designers who just came from portfolio school (I’d never heard of portfolio school). They asked me if I was an art director or a copywriter and I replied with my blank stare and the sound of crickets. But when we got a chance to design I jumped in with both feet: “Chose one of these three people and tell the youth of today why they matter.” “Invent a game with these office supplies.” “Using this prompt give us a news show from the year 2020.” I started running with it and got so into brainstorming and pitching ideas that I started believing I had “it.” I could see how my skills aligned with this job and I started feeling that this must be my place, this is what I was meant to do.

After the weekend I left certain that I would get an offer to join the 12 team. I was surprised and saddened when the offer didn’t come. One way of reading this was that even though I was being myself, this place didn’t want me, so therefore myself was not good enough. I may have run this thought through my head for a minute, but realized it wasn’t what I wanted to take away from the rejection. Instead I decided to view it as a confirmation that I was on the right track pursuing design as a career, and that this experience wasn’t right for me. The more time that has gone by, the more I believe this was true.

With this newfound direction I decided to move across the country, enrolled in grad school and earned a Masters Degree. I kept in touch with a few of the people I spent the W+K weekend with, one of them ended up working in Austin as a designer for IBM. While in school I followed the progression of the design studio and the more I learned, the more interested I became in what was happening at IBM. After graduation I found my way to join him and now I am designing enterprise software while practicing user-centered design. I get to work with and learn from inspiring, talented people every day and I love my job.

I feel fortunate that being myself is what got me here.

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