Ask

Last week at the gym, I felt really good. Being unemployed has its perks, and one of those perks is more time to focus on wellness. So, this lanky guy has been getting his lift on. 

I was bench pressing a 25-pounder on each side, which has been my go-to for a while. I finished my first rep more easily than I had in a while, so I added another 5 on each side to see how that felt. Again, the rep was surprisingly easy. I wanted to add more weight, but was nervous. It's dangerous to lift more than you know you can without a spotter. You can drop the weights and seriously injure yourself, or tear a ligament. I've injured myself before bench pressing and my shoulder still isn't the same. Even so, I thought I could do it, and wanted to try. It would be a new record for me, a total of 115 pounds. 

I looked around and there was a man lifting weights a few benches down from me. He was stocky but strong, wearing short shorts, a sleeveless shirt, and a sweatband around his head. He had earbuds in his ears. In other words, he looked like he fell out of an 80's workout video. I waited for him to finish his rep, and tried to get his attention. He couldn't hear me through his music, so I said "excuse me" louder, and he turned around, surprised, pulling the earbud out of his right ear. 

"Do you mind spotting me real quick?" I asked him.

"Sure, no problem." 

He stood behind the bench and encouraged me as I settled in and lifted the weight once, twice, thr....well, not quite three times. He helped me on the third. But with his help, I benched more than I ever had.

If there's one thing I've learned on this journey I'm on, it's that asking, in any form, is crucial to continuing to grow. Asking for help. Asking for guidance. Asking for forgiveness. Asking if you can be involved. The incredible thing is, people rarely say no. 

In the last few months I've asked many many people to meet me for coffee to talk about the world of advertising. Almost all met with me and exceeded my ask, offering continual help with portfolio critique, more contacts, ideas, and deadline accountability. I've asked to be involved in organizations, and have been met with open arms.  Through these organizations people have given me opportunities that I'm not qualified for, yet. I recently asked a local business if they would allow me to help them with their advertising and they want to meet to discuss how we can help each other.

Even the no's, most of the time, are not hard no's. They are "no, but", meaning, I can't help you with this, but I may be able to help you with that. I randomly emailed a woman through LinkedIn last week about a healthcare content writer position and she told me that I was woefully under-qualified but she would put me in touch with their temp recruiter that would be able to find me more entry-level opportunities to help build my portfolio. So much better than a hard "no"!

Ask. Ask for things people might say "no" to. You'd be surprised how often you get a "yes", or a "no, but". People want to help. And their help can only make you stronger. 

 

 

 

50 Pounds of Pots and Long Walks

I've been finding myself walking a lot more lately. To the grocery store, down the hill into Fremont to write at coffee shops, up to Greenlake to sit by the water and enjoy the sunshine, and sometimes, to nowhere in particular. 

It is no coincidence that this penchant for walking began when I left my job. I've found it a soothing way to think, relax, and I'll admit, procrastinate. If I'm feeling unproductive or stuck on something, I'll just lace up the shoes and head out the door. 

Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. Walking is a motivating practice, when you think about it. It's the slowest form of transportation short of crawling, but it's easy, and if you keep at it, keep plugging along, eventually you'll get where you're going. 

I'm reading this book right now called Art & Fear and one of the anecdotes the author tells hit me particularly hard. I'll let you read it. 

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the 'quantity' group: fifty pounds of pots rated an 'A', forty pounds a 'B', and so on. Those being graded on 'quality', however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an 'A'. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the 'quantity' group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the 'quality' group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

In my pursuit of building a book, right off the bat I got fixated on making that perfect pot in the form of flawless ads. It couldn't have been a better time to read this passage. The point is not to aim for perfection. We are human, and the best way to learn anything is to roll up our sleeves, get dirty, and make mistakes. A fresh, green, newbie such as myself will benefit far more from producing the good, the bad, and the ugly than from attempting to hit it out of the park every time. It's in the process that the experience is gained, that the lessons are learned. 

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. It's all about keeping things moving forward, taking the steps instead of standing still. Producing without fear and enjoying the journey. Because even if it's slow, before long you'll look around and realize you're right where you meant to be, with 50 pounds of pots in tow. 

Long Tables and Networking Like a Detective

The other day I was at Fremont Brewery and I was sitting with a friend at one of their long, biergarten-style tables, packed like sardines with strangers on the long wooden bench. It was sunny and 70 and the sky was clear and on days like that Fremont Brewery fills up. You can hear the buzz of voices from a block away. It's an awesome place, and there are many reasons that people like to go there, but I would argue that one of the biggest reasons is the long tables. 

We weren't there long before the man sitting next to us, who had been talking to his friend, turned to us when his friend got up to go to the bathroom.  Hi, he said. My name is _____. 

In no time, we were joking, laughing, getting to know each other. It turned out the man is a video producer at a local video production agency. What do you know, I'm trying to break into the creative field. We talked a while longer, pulled a larger group sitting next to us into the conversation, and before my new friend left, he dug into his pocked and pulled out a business card and handed it to me. I don't know if I can help you, but let's connect.

It's these words that have ignited me lately. 

Since the beginning of the year I've made it a point to talk to everyone, tell everyone I meet what I'm doing, tell them about the transition into copywriting that I'm making, and ask questions. I've mass emailed agencies asking for walkthroughs or informational interviews. I've boozed and schmoozed at advertising and design happy hours. I've gone to unaffiliated talks, generic networking events, and even sat down with the director of communications for Fred Hutch. 

I've learned that networking is like being a detective. You talk to everyone you can, ask questions, get leads, make connections. Some of these bear fruit immediately, some bear fruit later, some are dead ends. Some leads pop up from unexpected places.

Some examples:

At the YPOS happy hour, I met a guy that was the CEO of a startup. Over a beer in a crowded bar, we worked through a copy problem he had with his new flyers. I think I impressed him with my on-the-fly improvement of his copy. That one's free, I told him, and we exchanged information.

I met another guy that owned his own business. He was looking for copywriting for his website. He told me he couldn't pay but that it would be great experience. I asked him how he expected to get good copy if he wasn't willing to pay for it. Someone will do it for free, he told me. Dead end. But that's a topic for another day.

In my class at SVC my classmate recommended me for a job at REI. I had friend from another class that also works there, and they both vouched for me, but I don't have a portfolio yet, which ended up hurting me. Even so, that lead was strong and may yet bear fruit. My class was full of people working in design and creative direction. My teacher was incredibly positive and offered guidance on building the portfolio.

At an advertising awards event, I met a fun duo that work at an agency in Seattle and they invited me to see their workspace. I met them for happy hour one Friday evening and sat at a long table with many of the people that work there. Over hush puppies and french fries and an old-fashioned I picked their brains about what it takes to get into the industry. It was super fun and they were extremely helpful.

My email canvas of agencies got me an hour sit-down with a creative director at Copacino + Fujikado. My conversation with him was fantastic and enlightening, and though he wasn't able to directly help me, he sent me a list of five other people he wants me to meet with. 

At an AIGA event called Woman Up, I got to meet the AIGA Seattle leaders and they invited me to join Changemakers as a copywriter. They told me they really need writers. I'm extremely excited to be working on a real-world problem. 

If I'm a detective, my case is to find a job writing copy. And I'm working my ass off to make the connections that will help me close this case. And honestly, it's really fun. I'm having a great time. For the most part, people want to help you, people want to lend a hand. They want to see you succeed. The more people I meet, the more this goal feels achievable. The kindness and generosity I've experienced has been inspiring.

I'm going to stay hot on the trail, keep going to events, keep asking questions. And you bet your ass I'm going to keep sitting at long tables. Who knows, maybe the next person I share a long bench with will crack this case wide open

 

Life Update

News that you didn't know you wanted to know: I'm going all-in for my career transition from laboratory science to copywriting. I quit my job to fully throw myself into the endeavor.

That means a few things for you. Mostly that the blog here will start to include more posts about insights and observations I make about breaking into the creative field. But also, I will soon start populating a copywriting section of the website to serve as my portfolio. 

-MS