When I was a kid, I used to draw pictures of my shoes – nice profile shots of my Nike Air Max IIs – perfect to the stitch. After a while I got pretty comfortable with it, so I started making design modifications on the fly. Really innovative stuff the Nike engineers hadn't thought of yet, like cool metal saw teeth along the sides, or air pockets half-filled with water. Mind you, I was ten years old at the time, so I wasn't particularly concerned with the logistics involved in bringing my creations to market.
I mention logistics because I had every intention of seeing these babies through to development. I mean, they were frickin’ awesome. I couldn't stand to think I might never pop open that orange cardboard box and drop my feet into a pair. It was beyond comprehension. So I did what any ten-year-old would do: I typed up a letter and mailed the designs off to One Bowerman Drive, Beaverton, Oregon – Nike's corporate headquarters.
Long story short, I've known my whole life that I wanted to be a designer. I always loved to draw and somewhere along the way I figured out that graphic designers are, in a sense, the "professional drawers" of the world. At the very least, I knew I could make a decent living doing it.
I realize now, however, that not everybody has been so blessed – to know at age ten what they should probably be doing at age 30. I don't envy the position, nor can I empathize with it, but I can tell you what I know to be true about work and life in general, because to me they've always been one and the same.
Work At Something You Love
I never questioned whether or not I would draw pictures for a living. That much was always certain. The question was how I would make money doing it. Too many people in this world are way too eager to arrive at the conclusion that they don't know what they want to do with their lives. I cannot count the number of times I've heard someone say:
“I don't have a special talent, and I don't really know what I'd like to do, so I guess I'll just do the [insert job you hate here] thing for the rest of my life.”
These are the exact same people who are ridiculously passionate about sports, music, film, the outdoors, et al. The mistake is believing you can't make a good living actually doing these things – the truth is you can make your best living doing them. Last time I checked, there were a lot of passionate people spending a lot of money on sporting events, concerts, movies, and outdoor gear. Their money isn't all going down some proverbial toilet; it's paying for a bunch of other people to make a living doing what they love.
Work Exactly Where You Want To Work
Before I quit my job and started my own business, I spent a year and a half actively looking for a new job. I mailed out a lot of résumés, had a few interviews, but (thankfully) nothing ever panned out. Oddly enough, once I realized I'd never need to look for a "job" again, I knew that I'd been going about it completely wrong the whole time.
If I had to do it again, I'd forget the job listings entirely. I'd make a list of the designers and creative professionals that I admired most, I'd do some solid research on all of them, and I would go work for the best one.
Easier to say than do, right? Before I quit my job, I thought so, too. Today, I'd say to hell with mailing in a résumé and I would put together a whole damn presentation on why they couldn't go another day without me. I would make the interview I needed to happen happen, and I'd stop at nothing to get the job. If I had to wait outside the boss's office door all day long just to catch two minutes of his or her time, I wouldn't think twice about it. I'd explain the never-ending number of ways in which I would pay for my position (and then some) by working for them, and I'd have the confidence to guarantee my performance even if it meant a trial period without pay.
And you know what? I'd get the job. Because that's the way the world works. You don't have to be disrespectful, annoying, or obnoxious – you just have to know exactly what you want and be willing to go after it.
Work For The Decision Maker
I did the corporate thing for long time, and there's nothing more frustrating than having to ask your boss to ask his boss, to ask his boss, if you can have a raise. Except, of course, having to ask your boss to ask his boss, to ask his boss, if you can pursue a brilliant, no-brainer of an idea that will make the company lots of money and advance your own career by leaps and bounds.
Whatever you do, if at all possible, always work for the decision maker. It doesn't matter what the person's title is, or what rung of the corporate ladder they're on (if any), as long as you're confident that they are actually the person who calls the shots. Why? Because this way you'll always be just one successful presentation away from getting done exactly what you need to get done.
If you're worth more money to the company and believe you deserve a raise, you only have to convince one person. If you want more responsibility (so that you're worth more money to the company), you only have to convince one person. If you have a great idea, a new strategy, or a brilliant plan you'd like to pursue (that will involve more responsibility, and make you worth more money to the company), you only need to convince one person. Get the idea? Of course, it goes without saying that the "decision maker" you're working for could end up being a numbskull. In that case, you'll know immediately that you've hit a dead end, and you can hightail it on to greener pastures. Either way, you're setting yourself up for great success.
Work For Performance-Based Compensation
The most difficult thing about starting my own business was, by far, quitting my job. The thought of no paycheck was horrifying to me because I never thought to myself, "I'll be making twice as much money next month." Instead I thought, "I might make nothing next month, and I can only go so many months making nothing. I'll need time to find a new job, too. Wow, I'd be crazy to take the risk!"
Salaries cripple people. Bad weeks, good weeks – they all pay the same. After a while, people figure the job out and stop learning new things entirely. The smart ones move on. Others let five years pass, then ten, and pretty soon they realize they have no idea what's going on anymore.
Do you really want to be able to calculate what your income will be in five years? Get a job that pays you based on performance if only to rid your brain of that "steady paycheck" stigma. You don't need a steady paycheck to make ends meet – you need money.
Why would you ever want a cap put on how much money you can make? With a performance-based income, your brain will naturally start firing on all cylinders. You'll develop more efficient processes and see your paycheck rise in conjunction with your productivity. The universe will smile down upon your gumption and start providing you with brilliant ideas, and you'll have no other choice but to be wildly successful.
All because your own performance directly dictates the quality of your life.
Work On The Side
Everybody has good ideas from time to time. Some more than others, but everybody's got 'em. It may be a funny T-shirt idea, a niche website, or an interesting small-business concept. It may have occurred to you while out with friends at the bar, while driving home from work, or while falling asleep last night. The point is, good ideas are everywhere. It's action that's rare.
There's a definite psychological barrier between thought and action that keeps a countless number of people from being happy, healthy, and rich. I'd be lying if I said I didn't know it all too well myself. I've simply learned to stop assuming that other people know better.
Stop assuming they're stronger. Stop assuming they have more connections, more experience, or more luck on their side, and just start moving. As Vince Lombardi said, "The difference between a successful man and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."
The next time a good idea strikes you, take action – especially if it's something you can easily pursue while maintaining your day job. Sit down for a half-hour and run through some numbers. How much will it cost you to give it a try? What exactly do you need to get started? Figure it out, make a list, and get going. Even in the worst case, you'll learn something.
Work For Yourself
The easiest way to find a job that offers all of the aforementioned qualities is, of course, to create it for yourself. You can do what you love, work with the people you want to work with, and make every decision based on what's best for you. Those "get rich" ideas you couldn't find the time for with your old job can quickly become the top priorities of your new business. And when it's all said and done, you might just end up living the life you've always dreamed of.
I understand, however, that starting a business isn't right for everybody. Some people fear the time and energy commitment, and rightfully so. Others fear the financial insecurity, though I would argue that operating your own business offers the pinnacle of job security. Either way, the suggestions in this article can be applied to your unique situation and bring you closer to where you want to be in life, whether you decide to strike out on your own or you feel more secure and more comfortable working for someone else.
As for that shoe thing, Nike was really very nice about it all. They sent me a letter a few weeks later. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of, "Thank you for your concern, but we actually have an educated team of designers dedicated to doing this very thing. Duh, kid."
Whatever it was, I remember feeling confident enough in the company's ability that I could allow myself to move on to bigger and better things. Like the sixth grade.
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