Dear students: what to do after school? (hint: the answer is not going back to school.)

Zara PickenDear students,

I need to stress this: the learning does not stop when you graduate. In fact, learning is a life-long affair – one that never really ends, especially not if you breathe in the lessons that are being taught informally everyday and learn to look out for them.

I’ve listened and read your fears on leaving the safe confines of school to the big bad world out there. You’re scared of what’s out there because you don’t quite know what to expect. Will the world eat me alive, chew me up and spit me out? Will I end up being an insurance agent because I can’t find work after a couple of months? Or will I become a shell of my former self after I dedicated a year in an agency, burnt out beyond recognition?

You might run into one of the above situations, or god forbid, all of the above at some point or another. But right now there’s an alternative (and it still stand for those who have fallen by the wayside). You can choose yourself, and put in effort to create your own rules. No one says that there are rules anyway. It’s really just a mirage to keep things in order. People never told me that I could write a blog about illustration for the past 5 years, or that I could get hired in a job that had nothing to do with my degree. I just went along with this crazy plan of mine and adjusted my course along the way. My only compass was my heart and head, and to do things that felt right.

Take it from someone who’s been out here in the real world – after being employed for a few years before I went out on my own, I can honestly say that I am humbled to be able to choose my own projects and reject the ones that I am not compelled to do. And do keep in mind, this is after 5 years of working freelance, building connections and genuinely caring about people and their projects; instead of thinking that they’re just a cash machines (oh, you’ll be surprised to know that there are people who do this). And I don’t just choose them for money either – it’s a matter of how I can steer a project to reach new heights, or create an outcome that will win people over. It’s all about serving others to the best of your ability. Once you get that you’re in the business of serving people, whether you’re illustrating, designing, etc. – you’ll find opportunities wherever you go.

Don’t let the safe confines of academia (especially when it comes to the creative industry) become your complacent zone. If you want to teach, make sure you have something to say and make sure you’re trying to genuinely help people instead of merely wanting a paycheck. And if you’re a graduate wanting to teach right away, let’s be honest, you don’t belong there. Not at least you’ve gone out and got chewed up a little bit, celebrated a few personal wins and got out alive by the end of it, because it’s hard to earn the respect of others when you have little to no scuff marks to show for what you’ve done.

[quote]It’s all about serving others to the best of your ability. Once you get that you’re in the business of serving people, whether you’re illustrating, designing, etc. – you’ll find opportunities wherever you go. [/quote]

I say this because the state of education today has disappointed me, what with its hoop-jumping nonsense and a few other shenanigans that are needlessly cruel and mean to students. What we have today are by-products of a flawed education system – students who get regurgitated back into the system as teachers to preach the same things they were taught before, without adding valuable critical thinking and experience of their own into the mix (and without knowing if they actually work). How would you know better? How would your future generation know better? How can you change something that has already been ingrained into the system? How would you begin? You can’t.

Not until you get out of school.

Because it’s high time to get a real education.

And then you can begin.

[Illustration: The Sea by Zara Picken via Flickr. Buy her prints at Society6.]

[box icon=”heart”]Every week, I teach about the creative process of illustration at a local college. And when I come home, I realize that I’ve forgotten to point this out, or to remind them about something. Dear Students serves as my own personal compilation of thoughts, and is a series dedicated to students around the world who might find my musings useful. To read the entire series, click here.[/box]

  creativity, dear students, illustration, inspiration


5 thoughts on “Dear students: what to do after school? (hint: the answer is not going back to school.)

  1. Hi Amy! Thank you for this article. I’m about to finish grad school next year and I’ve been scared as to what to do next. Thanks for inspiring me to get out there and do it instead of going for the safe route. Hope we can chat sometime. Take care!

  2. “You can choose yourself, and put in effort to create your own rules.” I totally agree. After I graduated, my head was full of techniques and educational expectations. I was disillusioned by what I had to put in my portfolio just to graduate. I learned so much more about really being an illustator and myself as an artist AFTER i was out of school.

  3. Thanks for this. I’m someone who, at 30, wants to really begin my creative career…and it’s doing the thing that my advisor wouldn’t let me do as a student! I don’t think schools prepare students for the real world at all and the main thing students have to understand is that increasingly they have to be their own business, even if they do get a day job because things change so quickly. I wish schools would listen to students and help them achieve their goals, rather than just, as you say, regurgitate back what their professors say. it sounds like your students are lucky to have you.

  4. I whole heartedly agree! I finished my masters a year ago and while it was a great experience and I learned while doing it I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t kept going. Every day I am challenged to learn more about my business which was much more than they could have ever covered in a class room. Those lessons learned on the job are the ones many teachers can’t give unless they’ve been there themselves! Honestly now I am pretty picky about classes I take because I want the teacher to be above and beyond if I’m forking over the money. Otherwise I’ll put in the effort and teach myself! You rock!

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