Be Glad to Be Here

How much you can benefit from your design studies depends greatly on your mindset. In this special time of your life, you probably have a lot on your plate. Finding the time to both work and play, get an education, and still enjoy love and friendship can be difficult. I get it. But please try to leave your high-school mentality behind. It’s easy to think that early morning classes and strict teachers are unfair, but in the end, your studies will be worth just as much as the effort you invest in them. It’s a privilege to be able to study, something you’ll perhaps only realize later – when you try to acquire new skills while working (or even while being a working parent).

The right attitude can also help you to perform better. A study by Stanford University showed that the contribution of a positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution of IQ. I’ve seen this in my personal experience as well; I went to an elementary school that was quite ahead of its time and gave its students effort-based grades through multiple-level tests because they accepted that children have different interests and strengths. Our educators wanted to help us to improve in the areas that were most of interest to us personally, and that helped me to keep a good attitude towards school. Although my high school teachers and university professors didn’t directly address the issue of personal interest in the subjects they taught, I felt that they also rewarded the right attitude – and gave me worse grades when they felt that I could do better.

Later on, the right mindset will also be essential for your professional success – at The Cecily Group we call this “working with batteries fully charged”. We also take responsibility for having our batteries charged; that’s why we have our Personal Fully Charged projects and support meetings. We realized that we all have our unique needs and means of charging our “batteries”, whether it’s through meditation, a workout, or decluttering. We support each other in meeting our personal goals, whatever the outcome may be – a calming ritual, a fitter body, or an organized apartment.

Find Your People

You can and should still have fun while working hard and the easiest way to do that is to have friends who also want to make the best out of the situation. It may be that you’ll never have a better time meeting like-minded peers in your life, so use it. Instead of focusing on differences and the possibility of future competition, try to see that you all have the same objectives and interests. If you stick together and encourage each other, it can affect your future in ways you can’t yet imagine, from sharing inspiration to starting a company together.

A lot of famous companies were founded by fellow college students – including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Dell. While we didn’t start a company, I won a shared assignment with three of my university friends during our studies, and we got to design the costumes for a large theatre production in 2010. Every team effort comes with some conflicts and ours did too, but I still feel that it was a blessing that I didn’t have to take the job alone. My friends helped me to figure out tasks that are partially very new to me and we all shared the responsibility that otherwise surely would have been too much.

The Cecily Group has the Awesome Team which is also a pool of like-minded people: although we have very different backgrounds, we share similar principles. Though the main visionary of the team is without a doubt our CEO and founder Nicholas Schwarz, having shared values help us all to choose directions and to create common goals.

Fail and Become Better

The biggest failure you can have as a design student is if you stop creating. Keep in mind: that you have to perfect your craft, and that can only be achieved through practice. Even the great masters were once not-so-great, so you better start to create those not-so-great artworks now, and not later. If you’re just waiting for the muses to kiss, you’ll never get there – someone confident in her/his craft can perform under any circumstances. You can and will become that person! Train your muscles. Think of the great masters who created countless drafts, color studies, and painting variations for the very same subject. They could have just given up in the first round, saying “This will never look quite the way I imagined”. Something kept them going, and you need to find that force within you. Curiosity? Ambition? Perfectionism? Spirituality? Competitiveness? It doesn’t matter, as long as it works for you. Whatever happens, whatever you think or feel, just keep going, and looking back you’ll realize that even “bad art” was “good art” from an inner perspective because it served as a step forward in your progress.

At the beginning of his career, no one wanted to hire Walt Disney for any job at all, and his first animation studio also went bankrupt – but he kept going. The rest is history.

Looking back over my professional path, honestly, it feels like an endless quest to be able to create something I’m proud of – with a target that keeps moving higher. The design process itself is more often than not a long chain of trials and errors – designing The Cecily Group logo was a journey like that too, as you can see here. It is one of the basic values of our Awesome Team that sometimes we fail, but when we fail, we fail with so much style that we can learn from it and move on.

Find Your Way

The first step in finding your way is to decide on a goal that you want. As the English historian, James Anthony Froude said: “You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” Most likely, you are still in the process of trying to figure out who you are and what you are meant to be. But how about a different perspective: What makes you feel good? What kind of life would you be proud of and happy with? What is holding you back? What would help you to get there?

Sometimes it’s easier to leave your options open and go with the flow, but if it results in a lack of commitment and focus, it will cause damage. Did you know that at the end of their lives, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do instead of the things they did? Probably deep inside you know what you want, but your fear of failure stops you from fully committing to it. Every person has a dream, but we tend to feel we are not good enough to make it happen. You can become the person you want to be.

The second step is to recognize what stands in your way, and how to change either yourself or your situation to overcome those obstacles. To reach success, a lot of people go through massive transformations – from getting speech therapy to changing their name or religion. They also sometimes make great sacrifices like working long hours for years or postponing parenthood. Maybe you don’t need to go through all of that, but the point is, whatever stands in your way, there must be a way around it. While transformation is often painful and time-consuming, you can look at it as an investment – you have to let go to be able to gain. Also, the sooner you invest in yourself, the bigger your win will be because you gain more possibilities out of that investment as time goes on.

Useful Techniques

In the domain of sports, athletes use imagery, a.k.a. visualization, in training, competition, and rehabilitation. Research demonstrates that individual differences in the ability to imagine success have an impact on the effectiveness of imagery, and that high imaginative ability leads to the ultimate goal: improved performance on a variety of motor tasks.

According to psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar (a quote later attributed to Robin Williams) “The things we fear the most have already happened to us.” The fear comes from the past, but we can think forward. I have to admit that despite my general optimism, I do tend to doubt myself from time to time. What has, in the past, helped me to get through such doubts was to do what I thought to be right, regardless of my fears and doubts. With time, this technique also helped me to make quicker and better decisions.

Another form of finding your way is to use an external survey to assess your strengths. At the Cecily Group, we use the Kolbe score to assist in finding our unique abilities so we can work with a passion for what we do.

Try and Test

While enthusiasm is good, having a glamorized vision of your future profession will inevitably lead to disappointment. Every profession is tied to a certain lifestyle and the sooner you figure out if that lifestyle is really for you, the better. Often your school won’t be able to provide that insider look, so you’ll have to inform yourself. How?

Getting the real info on your desired profession

  • Explore the different directions your professional life can take after you finish your studies by speaking to graduates from your program.
  • Talk to people who work in those professions and listen to what they have to say.
  • Apply for summer internships at companies in the field or offer a helping hand as an assistant to professionals who do the job you want to do.

Start applying for internships as early as you can, because some of these jobs will just not be for you. Sure, working as a stylist is nice, but it also means you will have to carry around heavy bags of clothes and accessories, deal with retailers, work under time pressure, and do a lot of ironing. Working in the theatre is wonderful, but it also usually means that you will likely work some hours during the day and also some in the evening, which can interfere with family life. If you love your job, this won’t be a problem, but you can not know if you will love it until you try. Maybe it’s nice for the short term, but not something you want to do all your life. It’s also about priorities. Maybe some personal or financial goals are more important for you than your career, and that is all right too. By trying things out, you can be sure that you are building a life you’ll be happy with.

Around graduation, I got in contact with a famous costume designer whose openness and honesty about her job, and the industry in general, have probably saved me years of my life and lots of disappointments – by helping me to realize that some of my expectations just weren’t right.

A better understanding of yourself will also lead to better life choices. When I was younger it felt hard to define myself and so it was also hard to define my goals. I felt there was endless potential but as a result, there was also a lack of focus. I tried various self-discovery techniques from psychotherapy to astrology but nothing helped as much (and as quickly) as putting myself in different situations and seeing how I felt about them. I tried to do different part-time jobs while still being a student and still, it took to be a few years after graduation (and besides work) to figure out what I should focus on professionally.

At the Cecily Group, we have required the keep an activity inventory and evaluate our tasks by how much they align with our unique abilities. This helps us in two ways: based on the scores, we as individuals learn about our unique abilities-and, as an Awesome Team, we can optimize our processes further by enabling everyone to work in their area of unique abilities.

Get Your Foot in the Door

This gets us to the next point: If you find something that feels like a dream job, you will need a strategy. You will need to have both long-term and short-term goals, and have a clear vision of what is needed to make your goals happen. Let’s say your dream is to work for a big-name special effects company. You can apply for an internship, or at least talk to some people there, to figure out what it takes to get to work there. Maybe you will have to do some entry-level jobs elsewhere to get to that level gradually, and that’s all right. Be sure to stay humble and make a good impression while being persistent – the right attitude will get you there.

Leadership IQ conducted a survey that indicated that 46 percent of new hires failed within 18 months and that 89 percent of the time, it was for attitude, not lack of technical skill. Another survey, which quizzed nearly 200 UK employers found that after skills (80%) and experience (78%), organizations across the UK care most about personality, with the top turn-offs including arrogance (65%), dishonesty (62%) and unreliability (60%). A survey of 250 Australian employers found that 35 percent of employers labeled “personal traits and qualities”, such as a positive attitude, communication and teamwork skills, motivation, and reliability, as the most important qualities job-seekers can show.

I think it also works the other way around. A study by Bielefeld University found that in 85% of German companies, some form of toxic management behavior could be proven. According to my experience, problems with the management tend to affect to whole company from top to bottom. This was also a reason why I was so motivated to work for The Cecily Group – because I could see there is a strong vision of how the company should be operated plus there is science backing that vision, which was something I could admire.

You Already Have Something to Sell

Maybe an unpaid internship is not an option for you, but even if it is, trying to make money will teach you some lessons that unpaid gigs never will. It’s better to learn about what your time is worth, or how to negotiate and deal with clients until it’s no longer a daily budget question. Sure, you can pick a low-skill job and still learn about money, but doing something design-related will also help you to figure out what you like (or don’t like) to do – and it will surely look better in your CV. Maybe you feel you are not quite there yet, but you don’t have to start perfect or be an all-rounder.

Tips for job searches

  • If you look at sites like Fiverr, some people are selling very niche design skills and styles and there’s a demand.
  • There are also a lot of entry-level jobs on sites like Upwork. Some tasks are just too dull for more experienced designers, but it’s good practice for you.
  • Practice the “glad to be here”-attitude and strive for quality and efficiency in those easy tasks – and soon you will be trusted with the more advanced ones as well.

I was still a teenager when my father passed a design job on to me because he knew it was something I could do perfectly well – I had to draw horses with a pencil. Eventually, the design got printed on mugs. Had it been a flyer design or an architectural visualization, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, because those things were at the time outside of my interest – but the fact that I could already design something (and earn money with it) made me happy and proud.

By the time I started to write articles for The Cecily Group, I didn’t have much experience as a writer. Luckily, our CEO realizes that even if we have no writing experience, we still have lots to share – and there is a way to do it if we all work together and support each other.

Find a Mentor

As young adults, we are all full of insecurities, so we tend to compensate for that with a “know-it-all” attitude. There are some things you do know better! That’s why teachers can find their job working with the younger generation so inspiring. You have your special, fresh and valid observations of reality and maybe a ton of great ideas! However, no one makes it alone, so open your mind to the possibility of learning from a mentor. It’s a rare gift to have a mentor, but if you can make it happen, it will get you to places you could never get to all by your lonesome. Ideally, it’s someone you can look up to, but also someone who cares about you. It’s often hard to believe that someone you admire can have an interest in your professional progress. But if you approach them with respect and an open mind, you’ll be surprised to see how much they are willing to help! They were once where you are now, too. They want to pass their knowledge on. Maybe they even enjoy your company and will get inspired by it!

Even if you don’t have a mentor, it’s worth reaching out and asking older, more experienced designers for their opinion on your current work, website, or CV. I know it’s a pain. But the thing is – it will give you a huge advantage over your peers who won’t have the courage to do the same. Information is power and if you learn to see critique as simple information, it’s more power to you.

If you do find a mentor and feel grateful about it, you can also practice “good karma” by helping other people to get into their dream school, just like you did. What goes around, comes around!

When I first tried to get into university, I couldn’t make it because there was massive competition and I was still very inexperienced. Following my mother’s advice, I reached out to one of the professors and asked her what I should do next time differently. She gave me tips-and she gave me hope-saying that I was very close to being accepted. Eventually, this helped me to make it. Later on, I had the luck to find clients who helped me to push my limits, and bosses who cared about my professional development – probably because I did want to learn and improve myself.

Final Words: Communication with your Co-Workers is Key

At The Cecily Group, we strive for excellence and we work in an upfront and forthright environment – we can say when something doesn’t work as it should. That also means a lot of valuable feedback and guidance coming from different Awesome Team members – something that helps me to think outside the box and grow as a designer.

Best of luck to you! Stay safe and sane, and keep trying!