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How It Started: What Graduating During an Economic Crisis Taught Me

20 years ago I graduated with my bachelors degree in Graphic Design––exactly 8 months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was a tense and uncertain time, not unlike today.

Layoffs permeated most creative industries, business models were shifting rapidly in response to economic disruptions, and people were generally feeling scared and defeated.

Whenever someone found out I was graduating they would warn me about the difficulties of the job market, attempting to “save me” from eventually being disappointed. Some of them laughed out loud when I told them my goal of getting hired within 90 days after graduation.

“Maybe you should just wait until next year to look for a graphic design job...”

“You’re graduating at a really tough time––it might take you a year to find work.”

“I don’t know how you’re going to compete with all those unemployed designers!”

Was I intimidated? Yes. Was I going to put my dreams on hold because of what other people feared? Hell no. I was going to BE a Graphic Designer, dammit. My transformation from design student to design professional was imminent. I wanted this so badly the Pantone colors practically oozed from my pores. I knew there was no other option for me in this lifetime.

After graduation I hit the ground running, spending every minute developing, designing, and assembling dozens of self-promotional packages that I hoped would help me break through the sea of experienced design candidates that were also searching for employment.

These little retro-themed promo canisters housed my interactive portfolio CD (ah, the days before portfolio websites!) a wax-application pad (for effect) with my logo hand-stenciled on it, and a brochure-style resume highlighting some recent freelance design projects.

I then took what little was left in my paltry savings account and mailed these packages to every single Creative Director in the city, requesting an informational interview. A few of them actually called me back, but allllll the ones who didn’t? Well that’s when I learned how to cold-call.

I never felt so awkward in my life.

Some remembered me, some didn’t. I stammered my way through those calls, asking complete strangers to carve out an hour of their busy schedules for me, a hopeful 23 year old with an ill-fitting suit jacket and zero real-world experience.

It was incredibly uncomfortable.

But I did it.

And I did it every single day.

I felt myself slowly shifting from design student to design professional with every conversation. Some of them lead to actual interviews, which eventually lead to two full-time job offers––one of which was the absolute perfect fit and kept me creatively challenged and engaged for the first 4 years of my career.

Beginning my creative career during an economic crisis was truly a blessing in disguise, because it taught me how to stay focused, ambitious, and to keep going––no matter what. I also learned to never let others discourage me, or scare me into thinking my goals are unachievable, and that truly believing in yourself pays off and persistence is rewarded.

This a mindset that I shift into whenever things have gotten difficult over the past two decades of my career. Because it's where I started. And for that, I am very grateful.

Keep going, keep doing, keep following your creative truth. It leads to amazing places.

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