Day 401

If you recall, back when I was in Portland I often talked about my friend Alex, who had relocated there only a few months prior to the project's kick off. Well, I actually had the chance to ask him a few questions along the way and I wanted to share our conversation with all of you. I think Alex’s story is amazing and his dedication to being in a place he loves was one of the things that inspired me to embark on this journey in the first place. So, without further ado, here we go:

Where to begin... why don't you talk a little about your background?

Well, I'm from Medina, Ohio. It's a relatively small suburban town south of Cleveland and west of Akron. I studied one year at the Savannah College of Art and Design, before transferring to the University of Akron for a variety of reasons—mostly because I missed the other academic subjects I found inspiration in, such as math and science. At UA I received my BFA in Graphic Design.

So, with your roots being in Ohio, what prompted your move to Portland?

Shortly after graduating UA, I was offered an internship at a small ad agency in Cleveland. With little else planned, I jumped at the opportunity. The internship was challenging, but successful, and I landed my first full-time job with that agency after four months. I remained there for another year and a half, but wasn't happy with my place in the world. Sure, I was proud to be making a living on the things I created, but I was uninterested in the types of projects I was working on.

On a personal level, I was also in an exhausting long-distance relationship that was taking its toll on my happiness. All my life I've dreamed of exploring the world and moving to beautiful, exotic places, yet at the time I found myself less than an hour away from my hometown. Nothing was satiating my appetite for life and I had to make a change. 

Now, I wouldn't say Portland, Oregon is exotic, but it's certainly beautiful and way farther from home. Moreover, I knew I could find the types of projects I wanted to work on out here. I'm happiest when living an active lifestyle; as I love rock climbing, hiking, backpacking and playing soccer. And I really wanted to work on projects that were focused on these or similar ideas. Knowing that Nike, Adidas, Columbia, Keen, Nau and many others were headquartered in Portland, I figured this would be the best place to find such work. 

So, I polished my portfolio, saved every penny I could and finally, in July of 2013, left the security of full-time employment, packed the car and took an extended, meandering trip across the northern US toward Portland.

How did you go about finding a new position once you moved here? Did you have it prior to moving or did you find it after the fact?

I had been actively searching and applying for a position before I left Ohio with very little to show for it. It wasn't until I was on the road, including "I'm on my way to Portland" in my cover letter, that I finally landed my first interview. While that position never panned out, I was relentless in my networking and job search. My first position was working as a Production Assistant for Grove, a very rad group of people, who design and manufacture bamboo iPhone and iPad cases. My role was hand sanding and oiling the cases, and putting the final touches on them. It had little to do with my skill set, but they were people I wanted to meet and get to know. 

I was only with Grove for 4 weeks though. I networked with a local talent agency and they helped me land my second job in Portland, as a Production Designer for the Global Brand Design team at Nike Golf. This too was a position that quickly came and went. My contract was for three months, but luckily another opportunity found me. An old friend from SCAD was working at W+K and recommended me for a position as a Graphic Designer with the Portland Timbers—where I currently work—and I love it. 

That's quite the journey. So, what's the one thing you love most about your new position?  

I get to work on a subject I love. I've played soccer all my life and I would consider myself an MLS fan 1.0. I grew up going to Columbus Crew matches in the early years of MLS and have always felt a chip on my shoulder as a soccer player in the US. Soccer hasn't always been as well regarded in the states as in the international world, and in a lot of ways we're still fighting to be seen as relevant. Now, in my current role, I get to be a proponent for that cause. I can actively use my design chops to help promote our team and soccer as a whole.

How do you find that your new setting differs from an agency setting? 

Agency life, especially at a small agency like the one I worked at in Cleveland, can be trying. You're often spread across a lot of different clients and while that can be nice to stay fresh and creative, I didn't feel I could get close to our clients. Now, working in-house, I'm very intimately involved with my "client". I could see how, after a few years, the cyclical nature of working with a sports team could become dull. But so far the scope of work has been very broad and that's exciting—my days are always different. 

Aside from those you already mentioned, where there any other hiccups that came about on your move and/or what advice would you give to someone looking to make a similar change? 

Absolutely, on both parts of that question. I had those few interviews that were unsuccessful. I had a few freelance projects that seemed promising, but never panned out. And finding an apartment while being self-employed wasn't easy either, especially with the housing market in Portland. But the reward for all of those challenges has absolutely been worth it. My mantra while traveling was to "get after it". It's important for me to go after whatever it is I see as the next and most exciting challenge. If you don't go for it, you'll never get it—whatever "it" may be.

Now that you've been in Portland for a little over a year, how would you sell it to someone who has never been there? What have you found to be the best parts of living here?  

I love Portland. As with any place it has its pros and cons, but it's a great place to live if you want a city life, while having immediate access to the outdoors. I love walking to work. I love that it takes me 20 minutes to find the nearest hiking trail. Also, Portland is a great place to try unique food and drink some amazing craft beer. I'm really happy here and I would absolutely encourage everyone to at least visit. 

There you have it! Wise words from someone who set out to get things done his way. If you’re ever in Portland, do me a favor and buy Alex a beer. He’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met and he really helped open up the city of Portland to me. I owe him a lot and it’s pretty cool that I get to call him a friend.

-Steve-