“Just do it.”
You know, that infamous Nike slogan that we’ve seen on billboards, commercials, those ambiguous inspirational posters that hang in the doctor’s office…
Those posters inspire me, while simultaneously irritating the crap out of me. I think because, for most of my life, I felt like I never could really “just do it.”
Let’s back up for a second.
Hi, I’m Megan. I’m a designer. A graphic designer, I guess, technically. But I’ll never say that. I’m a designer. I design everything from identity systems, to film trailers, to infographics, to mobile apps. And if I don’t know how to do it? I’ll learn. It’s as simple as that.
My parents forced me into gymnastics when I was a young kid, something I grew to truly love and stuck with all the way into my teenage years. While I wouldn’t dare attempt a standing back flip these days, I can still hear Barry Mattern’s booming voice echoing through head…
“Tuck. Ready, GO.”
“I can’t. I’m scared.”
“What did you just say?”
“I can’t… er… I… I’m sorry.”
“Fifty push-ups and a lap around the gym…”
You didn’t say those words. “I can’t.”
I mean, unless you wanted to wake up with some really sore arms the next morning.
I’ve tried my best to carry that metaphor into both my personal and professional lives, since I started on this journey, over half a decade ago. When I was younger, it often caused me to beat myself up over small failures. I truly envy those who learn intuitively, and early on, that failures = growth. In my case though, without the wrong turns, I never would’ve found the right ones.
Almost two years ago, I made a really hasty decision to move back to the east coast, where I grew up. I took a senior design job with a pharmaceutical company that would give me the “stability” I had so been lacking during my tenure on the west coast. I hated every minute of it, and it showed. I hated going to a place where nothing got done and there was no functional product to show for the endless hours of work that the incredible folks there put in, giving up time with their families, time off of their lives… lives they should have been out living.
In the end, I don’t regret a second of it. I am eternally grateful for the amazing friends I’m lucky enough to have, who kept me sane during that time. I’m also eternally grateful that it inspired me to make the decision in my own mind that I’d had enough. With dreams of working for myself and embarking on a self-employed lifestyle perpetually on the back-burner, coupled with inching a little closer to 30 every day, it was time to either resolve to fuel the dreams of others’ for the rest of my life, or do something about it.
I won’t be the first to tell you, it’s hard to motivate yourself to “do something about it” when you’re comfortable. You might not love your job, but your bills are paid, you’ve got some extra money in your bank account, quality food in your belly, and a nicely-decorated roof over your head. “Half-loving” my job has never been enough for me, though. I’m a designer. I base my self-worth on what I’m creating, each and every day.
And then… tour came along. Well, actually, my affectionately termed “fairy prog parents” came along. I’m truly, forever grateful. The company I was working for started to head rapidly downhill. Layoffs happened. It was then, amidst a lot of comfortable uncertainty about how to attack the next phase of my life, knowing what I wanted, but not having the push to get up and “just do it” – I got the opportunity to hop on a tour bus and sell merchandise for five weeks with former Genesis guitarist, Steve Hackett.
I spent a lot of time in the weeks leading up to tour departure asking myself if I was crazy. I spent the months leading up to it wondering if I would back out, out of fear, at the last minute. I had done some work with bands back in college but never a national tour, on a bus, with a bunch of middle-aged British dudes that I’d never met. And again, I won’t be the first to tell you, but nothing will shake up your comfortable, nerfy life, quite like packing it all into a suitcase, and taking it on the road with a unique family of progressive-rock-playing weirdos. I started the tour feeling like I had no idea what I was in for, no idea how it would materialize, and ended it feeling like I’d come out the other side with a whole new alternative, weirdo family.
You sleep in a 2′ by 6′ bunk bed. Eat when you can eat, shower when you can shower, and are on your feet, moving constantly, day in and day out. You’re around the same 14 people every day, all day, even on your days off. You have few moments of peace and quiet and very little time to yourself, but it doesn’t matter, because the only thing that matters each and every day, is that that show gets up and on, and the fans go home happy.
What a beautiful experience. It was the kick – the fire – that I needed to rattle me out of my comfortable bed on complacency street and start to really consider what I needed to do to make my dreams, and simultaneously more-realistic goals work. I’d gotten the opportunity a year previous to lead the design coalition for a team of incredible Los Angeles restaurant entrepreneurs – Howlin’ Ray’s. A Nashville Hot Chicken joint that started as a food truck, and has found itself in the present, seeing final touches on it’s first brick & mortar restaurant in Downtown LA.
I saw myself, across the table, watching how much integrity, care, and time I put into crafting incredible pieces for these folks. I knew that coming back from tour with no full-time job, a portfolio to be reckoned with, and the work ethic that it takes to be successful – it was truly now or never. I bought a one way ticket to LA, just to “see what happens” and here I sit, another tour coming up, and a full-plate of design-related-gigs of my choosing taking me right up until then.
To anyone with a skill, a passion, and a fire, sitting there in the doctor’s office, looking at that cheesy “just do it” poster hanging on the wall…
Just do it.*
It’s so worth it. And guess what? You’ll be okay.
The critical point in all of this, is that there is an asterisk, a clause, an addendum – next to that headline – Just do it.* They don’t tell you about it, unless you read the fine print, or consult the wisdom of more-experienced “just-doers.” They can tell you, it ain’t easy. But it is worth it.
And here you have it, folks.
The fine print of Just-Doing-It:
1. Have a plan. Write a business plan. Write a marketing plan. Have an identity system in place. Never done it? Learn. It’s not hard. Consult a professional. Spend a couple dollars and buy some books – just put in the work. There are so, so many resources out there and available to you for free! It’ll cost you about 30 hours of your life, but at the end of that 30 hours, when you’re pitching for jobs, and you have a clear list of objectives set forth to keep yourself and your business strategies in line, you’ll thank yourself. Plus, having a written-out, formalized plan shows potential partners, clients, and employers that you’re f*cking serious. Seriously! You’ll find you’ll be able to start saying no to the jobs that you don’t want and attracting the jobs that you do want.
2. Have a savings. You’re probably going to want to eat. And you’re probably going to want to do social things now and again. You don’t need to live extravagantly, but you do need function as a part of society. It took me about a month to start earning a solid freelance income. When I had attempted half-assed stabs at freelancing in the past, I never had the nest egg, so I was always more concerned about survival. Adopt a survive-to-thrive mentality. Have your basic survival needs covered you can be focused on thriving. Not the other way around. And be reasonable with your survival needs. Factor in the glasses of wine, and the movie tickets, and occasional taxi around town. And from there, focus your energy on getting gigs, forming client relationships, and building, building, building.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure. Rejection happens. It happens a lot. Belieeeeeeeve me. I’ve lost jobs, boyfriends, gigs, clients, friends, keys, money, dignity, etc. You’re gonna drop the baton sometimes. The trick is to pick it back up and keep running. And it’s not even a trick, in my mind. It’s just getting the fuck back up and finishing. There’s a finish line ahead, so what’s more important? Focusing on the fact that you dropped the baton, or making it to that end goal? Failures are only failures if you don’t use them as learning experiences.
4. Network as much as possible. Go places. Work in cafés. Talk to people. Be open to people and what’s going on with them. Especially in a super-creative city, you never know when a simple exchange can materialize into something greater. I’ve gained some of my favorite clients just by reaching out and telling them I liked what they were doing. I’ve also gained some of my favorite clients by sitting for a couple hours and digging through Craigslist gig ads. My pride and joy, Howlin’ Ray’s, is the product of a French Bistro menu design I took on via Craigslist over two years ago, with no idea that it would fruit into an incredible, lasting, professional relationship with some of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. That, and my first, full-scale restaurant identity work.
5. Value your relationships. Let your clients, partners, and employers know that you care. Send follow-ups, and email just to say you’re thinking of them. Treat every project with the same amount of heart and soul as the one before, and scrutinize every detail until it’s perfect. Don’t take those client-partner relationships lightly. They don’t have to stick around. There are probably ten more people out there, who do exactly what you do, just waiting to knock on their door. Go above and beyond to select good clients, and make sure those clients end their days happy.
6. Surround yourself with inspiration. A boy I used to date once gave me this piece of advice, and it’s stayed with me for years since: surround yourself with people you think are rockstars. I don’t mean they have to be able to pick up a guitar and play Stairway to Heaven backwards, but surround yourself with people who inspire you. Surround yourself with people who work as hard as you wish you did. Surround yourself with people whom you love, care about, and support; who at the same time, support you. A great support system is one of the most invaluable assets to have.
7. Wake up every day, ready to go. Take care of yourself. Exercise. Eat well. And wake up every morning with an “I’ve got this!” attitude. I’m an obsessive list-maker, and over the last couple months, I’ve gotten in the habit of setting out the list for the next day on the previous night. Every morning, I wake up in my groggy-fog-haze of sleepy, typically thinking aloud, “just ten more minuteeeeees!” And there it is. The list! And the best part is, I don’t even have to think about it. It’s already done! Boom. There. Bam. Get going.
8. Never say “I can’t.” The second you tell yourself you can’t do something, you can’t. It’s honest-to-god, that simple. Positive thinking, begets positive action. And to the same tune, negative thinking, begets negative option. Once you’ve told yourself you can’t do it, you’ve made up your mind. You’ve already boxed yourself in. Dreams? Psh. They’re for sleeping. Nope. Don’t even think about it.
Throw the “I can’t do this” mentality out the window, and lock it tight.
And then, JUST DO IT.
See? Living on the “edge” doesn’t really have to be so edgy. Or so daunting. I’m no expert in this stuff, truth be told. I’m just a young artist, raised by two accountants, who firmly believes that you can actually fly by the seat of your pants in a relatively organized fashion, and find a lot of success in doing it.
Take chances. Take risks. Go to sleep tonight, and every night, knowing you did everything you wanted to today. And never, ever, ever say you can’t. When it’s all said and done, sore arms are the least of your worries, and you have so much more to gain than you do to lose.
Put a plan together, and do it.