59 Days Later

Last week, part one of my #TGAA wrap up was a rather lengthy blog about one of my main takeaways from our journey. Well, as I mentioned, there were plenty of other lessons too. So, here are 8 more crucial things I learned along the way. While I won’t go into as much detail about these, they do carry the same weight in my eyes.

2. The career you have may not be the one you’re destined for.

This lesson comes from Wesley Hoffman at the TreehouseNetworkshop. If you were to look at his LinkedIn page, you’d see that he’s had quite a diverse career. Yet, I think I can safely say that he’s happier now than he’s ever been. Learning about how he came up with, nurtured and executed Treehouse is a lesson all its own—and one he'll happily share. That’s why I shall forever push for him to speak anywhere and everywhere I go. It wasn’t the career he thought he’d have, but it’s the one he certainly fit right into.

3. Don’t horde your talent. Share it.

Get involved with your creative community. Do pro-bono work. Share your insights, knowledge and opinions. The more we collaborate with each other, the better the results. I saw creative communities that seemed more like family than rival businesses; but I also came across creative communities who had shut themselves off from one another. Want to take a guess as to which ones did more impressive work? St. Louis is the prime example of a close-knit creative community. I met people from nearly every agency in town and they were all extremely kind, inviting and willing to talk shop with me. Why? They all shared the same attitude—the better we all do, the better the city does and the better the city does, the better we all do.

4. Don’t be afraid to say no.

This may be the scariest of all the lessons I learned, because no one likes saying “no”, especially to their boss. However, to keep your sanity intact, you have to go out on a limb every now and then. I learned this lesson, when I discovered a co-worker had missed their best friend’s wedding because of a looming deadline. Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, but it’s important to understand that some things need to take precedence over our work—especially things that only happen once in our lifetime. Don’t go hurling “no’s” left and right, but use them when you have to. People will understand. On a side note, I’d also recommend reading David Oakley’s Book, “Why Is Your Name Upside Down”. He talks about a few ‘no’s’ he had to deliver in his career and they're pretty amusing to boot. 

5. If you love something, go after it.

I learned this lesson through the likes of Alex Kocher and Maria Roepke—two individuals who fell in love with a city and went after it. For Alex it was Portland and for Maria it was Austin. They were so passionate about being there that they threw caution to the wind and made a move; and now they’re both happier for it. It can be a bit frightening, but also very worthwhile. Several years ago, I did something similar when I made my move to NYC. I sold my car and left for the Big Apple without so much as a job in mind. But my persistence and hard work paid off in the end. And I wouldn't be surprised if I moved back there one day.  

6. Never stop exploring your city.    

I’ll admit that in a few of my stops, I stayed in the wrong part of town. Not because of crime or anything (well… sometimes), but because there just wasn’t anything going on. Heck, I’ve lived in northeast Ohio for a combined total of about 23 years and I’m still finding new neighborhoods here. What the whole thing made me realize was that a few blocks can make a big difference. You might write off an entire area, without ever finding that art district tucked away down the street. Plus, you might just discover something you fall in love with—a place that can change your entire opinion of where you live. St. Louis, Memphis, Portland and San Francisco were prime examples of this in my case.

7. Create your ideal work environment.

Before I embarked on #TGAA, I pretty much assumed everyone worked at a desk. Boy, was I wrong! Some people work on couches, some stand all day, some work from home, others prefer to relax in a beanbag chair. There are those who need silence when they work and those who blast Arcade Fire into their headphones. I never knew you had so many options or that they’d be so widely accepted. That’s why I bounce around on an exercise ball nowadays. It keeps me moving, which I love, and helps me get the creative juices flowing. I found my ideal work environment and I hope you do too. Try some things out and see what works best for you.

8. Don’t limit your creativity after 5pm.

Don’t limit yourself to the 9-5. If you have passions other than what you do for a living, explore them! Play sports, paint, dance, sing, perform, parent—do whatever it is you love to do. Some days it might be a little difficult to get up the energy, but I promise you it’s worth it. As I mentioned last week, I met people who had put their life on a constant loop—wake up, work, eat, sleep, repeat. You could see they’d lost their passion, because they'd given everything they had to their careers. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try your damnedest at what you do, just make sure you leave a little left over for yourself. It’ll make you happier and even help you in the office too.

9. Know that learning isn’t limited to students. 

There will always be people who refuse to learn and you shouldn’t be one of them. They’re the ones who still see social media as a “fad” and still insist overheads are the best way to give a presentation—the late adopters. The problem is, as things change, these individuals get pushed further and further out until one day, their skill set is completely outdated. While I didn’t see many of these situations along the way, I did come across a few. If you have an opportunity to learn something new—take it. It may come in handy one day and if you’re passionate enough about it, it might lead to some rather interesting opportunities.

10. Give others a chance.

Something that surprised me was the individuals who'd write me off for one reason of another. Some immediately assumed I was an intern and treated me as such. Others were hostile from the get-go, worried that I’d be taking work from them. Thankfully, both sets of people were in the minority. I met so many passionate individuals, who constantly inspired me and I shall be forever grateful to them, But every now and then, someone would come along and belittle me before even getting to know me. While I expressed my frustrations about the whole “intern” thing during the project (again, I’ve been in the industry for 7 years), a few of those situations still linger with me. It was like biting into an apple and finding you sunk your teeth into that one rotten spot. It immediately put a bad taste in my mouth about the agency. Especially the few who took it upon themselves to try and sabotage the project. So, I encourage everyone out there to just give people a chance. Listen to their stories, figure out who they are and then pass judgment—never begin with step #3. 

-Steve-

 

7 Days Later

Being home feels weird. 

I'm not 100% sure what I expected, but ever since I returned to Ohio it all just feels like "business as usual". I was ready to field an endless number of questions from friends and family, but very few people have even asked me about the trip. In many ways, it kind of feels as if the whole thing was some sort of dream I had, since so much remains unchanged. I did manage to organize 12 months' worth of receipts and tax forms though. So, I'm well aware that it really did happen. 

Then again, since I'm in that weird lull between ending our journey and beginning the next chapter of my life, perhaps I'm just getting anxious about things. I'm definitely ready to get myself a car, a new apartment and hit the ground running. Yet, here I am waiting and waiting and waiting. I have made a lot of progress over the past week, but it just doesn't feel like enough. 

The thing that makes it so stressful for me is that I'm heading back to Charlotte for a week to visit with my brother. While I'm excited to spend some time with my family, I already know it will be a lot of wondering and worrying on my part. Every time I find myself sitting for more than an hour, I just kind of feel as if I'm wasting time. 

I know this isn't the most eventful of updates, but I do want to keep everyone abreast of how things are going as I readjust back into the "non-traveling-every-month" lifestyle. So, stay tuned as I continue my job hunt and all that good (and surely exciting) stuff. 

-Steve-

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-