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Advice to Myself for a Creative Career

A few weeks ago I responded to an email of a high-schooler asking for advice about choosing a college and a career in a creative field and I thought about myself and the things I wish I had done and also looked back at some of the things I have done right. A few people asked me to share on Twitter so here is a version of that email. I think an appropriate title of this would be “Advice I would give to myself when I was 17.”

1. Rule #1 Ask for things. No one is going to hand you the perfect life on a platter. You have to ask for things. The worst they can say is no. From that internship to that class that is already full, make yourself be the exception and ask for things. Once you figure that out life is SO MUCH BETTER.

2. As it turns out MOST creative jobs in this world you do not need a specific degree for. (Obviously Doctors and Lawyers etc this doesn’t apply to you.) That said, I believe college is indispensable in learning how to think. Unless you have a specific job in mind– find a program you are really interested in like: art history, English, political science, American Studies. Something that will give you depth as a person. This will be more beneficial to you creatively than something like a hospitality degree.

3. Do a study abroad.

4. All along the way take side classes that will help you in your career: graphic design, floral design, printmaking, photography, letterpress, calligraphy, etc.

5. Minor (or double major) in something with a marketable skill (like graphic design.) So that when the economy sucks you have something that will pay you well for your time instead of folding sweaters at the Gap for minimum wage.

6. Finally, the most important thing is to do 2-3 internships during the summers (one every summer.) The best ones are usually unpaid, only intern for your dream jobs–choose big cities. That is the key for getting people to like you, see your talent, and getting your foot in the door after you graduate.

  1. Lauren O'Neill

    November 15, 2010

    Having recently graduated from college, I couldn't agree more with this great advice! Throwing yourself into every opportunity that makes your heart sing will make you a better, more marketable person 🙂

  2. chelsea

    November 15, 2010

    Even though I knew I wanted to be a floral designer, I majored in Art History and interned in horticulture/floral. Some people thought it was weird but it was the best combo and got me a dream job right out of college. All the best things in my career and schooling came because I asked for them! Great advice.

  3. Merissa

    November 15, 2010

    Thanks for sharing!!

  4. MyPerfumeLife

    November 15, 2010

    Great advice. Wish I had had some advice like that about twenty years ago. However, it's never too late (I hope).

  5. olivia rae

    November 15, 2010

    this is wonderful advice! you've inspired me to start looking for an internship. thank you! xo

  6. Jamie

    November 15, 2010

    TOTALLY AGREE on your very concise #3: Do a study abroad. no matter what your field, every student should do this. I studied textile design in Copenhagen for a summer and traveled all over the place and it was AMAZING! an unforgettable and irreplaceable experience. everyone should be encouraged to do the same.

  7. Victoria

    November 15, 2010


    Great advice! As a diva who is in distress about her career – I couldn't agree more. What's more, if I can offer my two cents, don't be afraid to take chances. And remember what Steve Jobs said, "Have the courage to follow your gut and intuition. They already know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary."


  8. jessica g

    November 15, 2010

    Love this – I have always thought including some business courses would be invaluable as well. You need to be able to know how to market yourself!

  9. Carrie, The Modern Housewife

    November 15, 2010

    10 years out of college now. i did all of these things, and they served me well! my career is on the back-burner now, though, while i stay home with my little ones!

  10. erin wilson

    November 15, 2010

    Yes to all points. I really regret not studying abroad…great advice!

  11. Damaris @Kitchen Corners

    November 15, 2010

    This great advice even for someone who is 28 with a MA degree and still trying to solidify my path.

  12. "hi, i'm ginnybranch stelling and i love love."

    November 15, 2010

    woah, amazing advice. i did all of the above and folded sweaters for the gap!

    awesome, awesome advice. can i add learn how to be OCD and super detail-oriented? i'm learning that right now and it's no fun to learn as an old(er) person.

    learn how to be a really good assistant and how to be able to be one step ahead of your boss. then one day you can be your own boss and anticipate what will happen next.

    have a sense of humor and NEVER take anything personally.

    that's my two cents, if any of it makes sense. no puns intended.

  13. lori jo rebeles

    November 15, 2010

    wow! advice i wish i would've known at 17 too! wish i would've done things a lot differently careerwise…

  14. michelle

    November 15, 2010

    So right on.

    Along with the "ask" for what you want, the best job I ever had was unsolicited. I picked the company and went for it. They were hiring but were terrible about job posts.

  15. Marjorie

    November 15, 2010

    You couldn't have posted this at a better time. I went to school and transferred to architecture from art school so that I could get a "proper" job. Alas, I find myself unhappy living in the corporate world sitting in a cubicle doing hardly any of the creative, mostly production drawings. I'm thinking about what I want to study for my Masters and hoping that by doing an MA or MFA it will open some doors for me because I do feel I'm cornered into only architectural jobs. So, reading your post, I got a bit of an uplift from my slump. Thank you! So speaking of asking, are you hiring any interns?

  16. Lindsey

    November 15, 2010


  17. EdgyK

    November 15, 2010

    That is great advice. All through high school I had planned on majoring in some kind of Business Management because I liked those classes in high school. But when I sat down and flipped through the list of majors a few weeks before I started college I saw that they had Apparel Studies…sewing, construction and textiles. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I was so inspired every day by the women who taught me who had lived amazing lives and had vast amounts of real world experience. I have all kinds of jobs which have navigated well just by learning how to learn and challenge myself.

  18. B. Inspired.

    November 16, 2010

    This is great advice! I especially agree with the "ask for things" At the age of 25…I'm finding this to be very true.

  19. seesaw designs

    November 16, 2010

    this is such great advice jordan. i especially have to agree with rule number 1: ask for things! i've learned that over the past few years and it has made all the difference (plus it totally works).

    thanks for sharing.


  20. Nila

    November 16, 2010

    Jordan, #1 is so important. It's applicable anywhere. And you said it, the worst thing you can get is a 'NO'. There have been occasions where I have regretted when I could have just asked for something and got it.
    BTW, I have followed your blog for over a year now and you rock!!! Good luck with your move to Paris. Hope things go well and looking forward to read more about your life in paris.

  21. Courtney at Scattering Lupines

    November 16, 2010

    GREAT advice! I majored in English and don't regret it one iota. Now, a minor in graphic design I could've used!

    Also, summer study abroad? definitely. Internships? YES. That's something I wish I had done more of. I only did one.

    Great post for young folks!

  22. Katie {Katie Company}

    November 16, 2010

    Fabulous advice. I wish I would have studied abroad while in college!

  23. Katie Richardson

    November 16, 2010

    Fabulous advice Jordan. I think this blog post should be require for ALL creative high school/college students. Especially on item number one. I like to think of it as not always following the rules. Sometimes we need to rewrite the rules. The rule writers don't always get it right.

  24. Donna

    November 16, 2010

    Great advice! Totally agree with #3, study abroad. I never did and sooo wish that I had that I took advantage of that opportunity now. And as a school counselor myself, thank you for sharing this with a high schooler!

  25. Nicole*

    November 17, 2010

    excellent advice! and might I add that I completely agree about the internships. Get them, one every summer or even one during the semester! I cannot say enough about internships. and I agree with you Jordan – go for the internship at your dream job and once you're there, learn, smile, and excel.

  26. Verhext

    November 17, 2010

    "Ask for it" is maybe the best thing I've learned in the 15 years I've been in my career. That, and learn to negotiate well!

    Unfortunately, though, a lot of students can't afford to study abroad or have 2-3 unpaid internships. It's too bad (but true) that it puts them on an uneven playing field with those who can.

  27. jordan

    November 17, 2010

    @Verhext I come from a family of 8 kids and my dad was a school teacher so we didn't have a lot of money. I had a lot of emotional support but zero financial support. If I wanted it there were plenty of student loans I could've taken that I didn't. I regret not doing a study abroad and I credit the one unpaid internship I had for getting me my first job in San Francisco after graduation.

    I understand if you don't have emotional support but I don't believe money is an excuse.

  28. tax heavens

    November 18, 2010

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  29. dave + kirst

    November 19, 2010

    I sincerely 100% agree with you. I did the major I loved – humanities, and did an art history study abroad all over Europe, and did an unpaid photography internship. I so wish that I had gotten a minor in something that I could have used more, like graphic design. I'm kicking myself now. I'm working my way out of the banking world, not my cup of tea, into something I can love, design, and feel fulfilled. Hopefully it will happen soon. L.O.V.E. ur dang blog!

  30. kmosher33

    November 21, 2010

    A career in the creative field is always rewarding as well as broadening. I will be graduating from the college for creative studies – Detroit in four weeks as a graphic designer and i must say that it has been the hardest five year of my life thus far, but worth every minute. In those five years I have learned to be a web designer, photographer, writer, designer, illustrator, project manager, information architect, and print-maker [though I am sure I am missing a few 🙂 ] I feel like learning your field from others is more beneficial then young students may think. The one thing i regret is never studying abroad, it is so very inexpensive for a student so i agree that they should go while they are in school. And yes, lots and lots of internships!!!! I have learned way more on the job then I have in most of my studio courses, so always keep an eye out for them. Creative places always need the extra help around [free or not].

    Thank you for sharing your advice! 🙂

    :: Kristen ::

  31. jordan

    November 24, 2010

    @anonymous I paid for my college myself and took out a limited amount of student loans. I took unpaid internships and worked at a retail store in the afternoons and as a waitress at night.

    It's totally possible. I didn't have to support my parents. (Which if you did I suspect you would be eligible for fafsa.)

  32. Anonymous

    November 29, 2010

    I want to go into the creative industry, and since it's not a field that needs an exact degree it's difficult to figure what to do in college. Your advice is really helpful! Thanks 🙂

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