As much as I’d love to share some detailed, harrowing, goopy account of me falling flat on my face, complete with shame, despair, grief, and maybe some “rising from the ashes,” instead, I’m gonna offer up some pointers. I'm from the Midwest, and back there, there’s no room for rash decisions.
You gotta think things through. You agonize over things. Perhaps unnecessarily. But you weigh things for a bit, and then you make a decision. And I’d like to think that cautious problem-solving has helped guide me in my life. So instead of sharing war stories, let’s talk about being proactive, and how to build a somewhat fail-proof life.
And just know, the whole time I’m writing this mess, all I can think about is, “Wait a second, bud. Are you implying that you’ve never failed?” That’s not the case. When I step back and analyze what I’ve done, I get this nervous sweat going, thinking, hell, how this whole thing I call a career might just be one big “real-time” failure and I don’t even know it. Fun mental space, right? Remains to be seen.
1. HANDING OFF TIGHT FILES. CHECKLISTS.
Nothing says “I don’t get it” like a loose file. Sending off a half-assed file? Yeah? Well, listen closely…hear that? That’s the sound of someone being bummed on you and never hiring you again. No one wants to do extra work. Make a checklist for yourself, and then when you hand off a file, go through the hand-off plan. Fonts? Spot colors? Stray objects? Outlined fonts? Placed/embedded images? Tight margins/borders/guides? Things lined up? Shit was spell-checked? Points cleaned up? Files flattened? Layers in order?
2. TAX TIME.
Don’t mess around with this stuff. Nothing’s more certain in life than these bad boys: Death and Taxes and just how much Guy Fieri sucks. Rule of thumb: For each $1,000 you make, stash away $300 for Uncle Sam. And for f**k’s sake, pay those quarterlies. Much easier on your constitution. But also know how to play within the rules. Educate yourself on how to get the most out of your dollar.
3. KEEP THOSE EMAIL ATTACHMENTS AS SMALL AS POSSIBLE.
Couple weeks ago, I awoke from my slumber, grabbed my phone, and went to check the incoming messages. A blast came in, and then I noticed a hesitation — the phone was “thinking.” The little wheel was spinning and spinning, and it was caught on something. So I tried grabbing the messages again, and I got the same thing. Something was choking it. I dig into my email host’s main site, checking the message list, and there it is: Some kid’s plea for a job, with his 43MB PDF portfolio attached. Argh. So I strip the thing out and then write the kid. I tell him the rule of thumb I was taught: Keep attachments as small as possible. Don’t waste people’s time or hard-drive space.
4. EMAIL IS AN ART FORM. TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
Where’d our manners go? No one addresses anyone with their names anymore. Just terse little misspelled blasts of impatient data. No craft, no elegance, and less and less meaning and impact. Hell, no one says thanks anymore. Remember to say thank you because, hell, any little blast of humility and good ol’ appreciation goes a long way in this fast, fast world.
5. SNIFF A JOB OUT.
Sometimes, you gotta say no. And that’s a hard one for me. All jobs matter. But man, some aren’t the right fit, and you have to sniff ’em out ahead of time to make sure you won’t be selling yourself or the client short. I’ve been down that road, and I had to work super-hard to keep up my end of the bargain. They never felt my unease. I didn’t let it show, out of my professional obligation to being trusted with the project. But a couple of times, I should have been able to say that I might not be the best fit. Better off for everyone in the long run.
6. HARD WORK ISN’T EASY.
Some of the favorite logos I got to make, man, they took a lot out of me. I had to battle them. Good, solid process is one thing, but sometimes you gotta hammer on the things to take them places you didn’t expect. And that might take you out of bounds a bit. It’s that weird little “uncomfortable” place that has generated some of my favorite little accidents and discoveries. Like when I knew I was losing money. Or facing a long, late night. Don’t fear this. Learn to embrace it, and, hell, trick yourself into making stuff you didn’t know you could make.
7. BACK IT UP, BACK IT UP, AND THEN GO AND BACK IT UP.
Your data is gold. Treat it as such. Protect it. I had a hard drive do the “click” one time and was caught with my pants down. Luckily, I got back 99.9% of the data. A lucky draw. A close one. And that day, I went and plopped down a mountain of loot on a series of raiding external hard drives to get that chain going to back my data up. A new dawn! That was eight years ago. I’m still haunted by that close call. And Dropbox? Holy shit, that one changed everything for me. So whatever cloud you hop on, take the time to get the data up there and bulletproof, and then breathe a little easier. This one is serious.
8. OVEREXCEED YOUR CLIENT’S EXPECTATIONS.
Is overexceed even a word? I don’t know. But here’s the thing: F**k all those 15-minute increment time sheets. Bean counting. How much time you spending worrying about how much time you spent? Weird. Show the client you mean business. If it means showing a couple of extra ideas that are worth exploring, that might be a little “out of scope,” then show ’em and show them you are devoted to the project.
9. NO COMPLAINING.
Lamenting those long hours, eh? (Boo-hoo.) Persnickety clients demanding too many changes? (Who’s signing the paycheck?) Creative block? (Fart.) You ever dug a ditch? No? Didn’t think so. Digging a ditch warrants a certain amount of complaining and bellyaching. I mean, it’s that thing called “manual labor.” Clicking a mouse isn’t the same thing, no matter how hard a time the client is giving you. Think about that.
10. LEARN HOW TO LOOK.
Use those eyes! The world is a big place, and if you know how to look, you’ll discover mountains and mountains of inspiration. For me, I go “junking” and hit estate sales, flea markets, garage sales, and antique malls in search of dead graphic gems. Might just be a color palette? Or maybe the way type fills up a space? Or how a potent illustration style can enhance even the most trying subject matter? Those are good little lessons, and they are out there for the taking. You just have to have the guts to go find them, capture them, and then organize them into an easily accessible reference library. The shit’s out there. You gotta go snag it.
July 22, 2014
Marquee image: Aaron Draplin