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]

Dear students: Getting emotional vs getting things done

Alessandra LemosDear students,

Sometimes, I get emotional. I can get emotional about people that I care about or the situations that I’ve been in, but mostly, I’ve also learned how to remove myself emotionally from the things and people that I don’t care about.

You might wonder how I could separate it so easily. Or how I could anticipate what I can be emotional about. I’ll admit it’s a pretty cool trick to master because it’s my secret sauce to getting things done. How do I do this? I compartmentalize my thoughts – I separate myself emotionally from things that have no bearing on me, and things that I can’t do anything about (I’m not talking about big stuff like global warming, or famine – there are ways to help organizations that are involved). I hear that it’s mostly what men are good at (that may not be entirely true), but surprisingly, I’ve been doing this for years.

Learning this comes in handy when you need to get things done. For example, when I was working as an editor for a regional design magazine, I made sure I had a regular schedule – go to work on time and get out of the office on time too. Why? Because I had to make sure I get home and have dinner by 8pm so that I can work on my website until 3am. Now you might be asking, magazine work is tough and demanding (and you’re right) – while I might be able to pull off the schedule well, how did I manage my time and emotions juggling a demanding day job, while having the energy to continue with my personal work after my day job?

It’s easy – I have a game plan. I knew what I needed to do, and I was adamant about not sacrificing quality on either one. I made sure to do my best when I was at my day job so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not putting in effort when I was home. Conversely, I didn’t want to think about whether I was making progress on my website when I was working on my day job. So I managed both as separate entities and made sure the distinction was clear in my head. It saved me a lot of mental anguish – and I’d rather save that time for making things of value instead of re-creating damaging thoughts that wouldn’t have lead me anywhere.

Think about the times when you’re angry, or frustrated at something that has happened to you. You could chalk that up to being emotional. It’s not a bad thing at all, so don’t make people make you feel that it is. What you do with all that emotion that’s bubbling up, now that’s where it counts the most.

Because emotions can be so powerful. While it can motivate you and make you burn, it can also have the potential to go completely 180 degrees and make you feel dejected, hopeless and paralyze you with fear. How you respond to these emotional outbursts can vary from people to people, and it’s often time unpredictable at best.

Let me give you an example: how would you feel if you saw a colleague or a peer doing better than you? It can go either way, or perhaps even both ways: you feel a sense of pride, you’re happy for them, and you reassure yourself that you can do the same. Or instead, you might feel jealous, timid, and unworthy. Which way your emotions swing will determine how you’ll respond – it will determine whether you’ll try harder by pushing yourself out there, or whether you’ll be sitting on the couch, loading up on potato chips, watching daytime TV and not having the willpower to move for weeks on end while feeling sorry for yourself.

So I propose you try this simple experiment: whenever you feel angry/sad/frustrated/jealous with someone or you’re in a situation that makes you sweat, try to find the real reasons behind those emotions. Dig deep and acknowledge what you’re feeling. And what that means is to not allow external influences exert their power over your outcomes. By knowing and believing what you’ve set out to achieve – no matter if you stumble or fall along the way – you’ll be able to better control your emotions, and eventually, influence your future outcomes.

Having a game plan would allow you to say no to negative experiences, while allowing only positive thoughts to fuel your journey. The trick is to be emotional on things you care about and where you can make a difference or change, instead of being emotional about things you have no control over.

Just remember to choose wisely!

[Illustration by Alessandra Lemos]

[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]

Dear students: Don’t do seconds.

Bumblebee is my favorite Autobot!

Here’s a little conversation I had with a student a few weeks back:

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*A student was showing me his sketchbook for the assignment*

Me: Why do your robots look like the ones in Transformers?

Student: No it doesn’t.

Me: Yes it does. Are you telling me that your robots look better than Transformers – right now?

Student: Yes.

Me: Right. You think your robots are better looking than Transformers, when it’s not done nearly as well, but it has the same elements as their robots?

Student: Yes.

(At this point I almost wanted to gnaw at my fist which was hovering near my mouth)

Me: Why don’t you try drawing them in a different way? Why must your robot be the same as everyone else’s? Look at things differently. Why not offer your own opinion of what it should look like instead of following them to a T? Where’s your take in all this? What are you trying to say?

Student: Hmmm.

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I have more of these sort of hilarious exchanges (kids these days…) but, my point is this:

The challenge isn’t to be the second best at something. Why copy other people’s style and drawings – like manga? (I know some of you are going to shake your head at this, but it’s the easiest example I can muster!) Why should you try your darndest to produce a drawing that’s as close as realistically possible to what you see?

You’ll never be as good as a camera, that’s for sure.

You’re not going to be better than the best replicator out there, that’s for sure.

So why should you continue on a path that will set you to be the second best?

Why not be the best that YOU can offer? A different view. An interesting angle. A story. Something that’s uniquely yours – that no one can take away.

Get into the habit of creating so that others can only be second best when they’re up against you.

Now that’s something to shout about.

[ Bumblebee wallpaper via Wallsave ]

[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]

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