Graduation season always makes me nostalgic for my own graduation and reminds me of my internships and first few years in the business. Although I busted my ass and created some great work, I can’t help but wonder how things may have gone differently had I known better. My hope is by sharing some of my mistakes I can help you not to repeat them.


I wish I’d been more humble. 

I came out of school magma cum laude with two internships at great agencies and was convinced I would own my own shop within a few years. Ha. I spent entirely too much effort at the beginning of my career thinking I knew better than more experienced people, focused foremost on what would help me instead of the creative team, the agency and our clients. Nobody likes working with a primadonna, regardless of how good they are. Humility is tremendously important in those I surround myself with today, beginning with me.

I wish I’d understood how important it was to have a team player mentality.

Today I know that there’s nothing more important than the success of the team, that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses and as lame as it may sound, together we are stronger. Working together inspires us to greater solutions that we’d probably never come up with on our own, and in today’s world of integrated campaigns it’s never been more important. And it’s a ton more fun to be a part of a pack than to be a lone wolf.

I wish I knew how important attitude would be. 

Many years ago I chose to pass on an assignment I deemed I was too busy to handle and it was handed down to a younger, less experienced Art Director. That AD had a great attitude, focused on the opportunity and created a campaign that won a ton of awards and went on to work at a famous agency on famous brands. Lesson learned. I wish I would have known how important it is and always will be to look at every single project as a huge opportunity, then having fun with it and creating the best work possible. It’s one of the most important ways we add value to our positions daily, and if you’re not doing that consistently you will eventually be replaced by someone who will.

I wish I knew how much fun working in advertising would be. 

I’ve found that the best ideas I’ve ever been a part of were forged in laughter. People who work in advertising and the people we get to work with – photographers, illustrators, filmmakers, actors, crews and yes even clients are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. We work hard, we play hard and we have fun doing it. We get paid to create things that educate, sell and if we’re lucky, entertain. What’s not fun about that? Plus, the vast amount of knowledge we gain across a wide variety of topics makes us pretty good at trivia nights and more interesting at parties. Honestly, advertising provides some of the most fun you can legally have while getting paid.

I wish I’d realized how important networking is. 

Being good at networking is equally as important as being good at your craft. Time after time, those that are known have a much easier time opening doors than those who aren’t. And it’s easier than you think. Of course talent and hard work are incredibly important, but so is separating yourself from the other hopeful creatives out there. Developing and maintaining connections is vital. Quick quiz: who’s more likely to get an interview – the person who’s never introduced themself to the CD, or the person who’s gone out of their way to talk with the CD at an Adworker’s speaker event? Or bowling? Or softball? Wait, you’ve never heard of Adworkers ( Aaanndd…you’re welcome. Here’s another way to look at it: forget about making networking connections. Instead, just make friends.

I wish I’d known how little I knew at the time, and how important it would be to continue to learn. 

There are a few universal professional truths I’ve learned, and one of them is how important it is to continue to learn, regardless of where you’re at in your career. Ask questions when you don’t know the answers. Share knowledge and learn from each other. Advertising continues to grow and evolve at an ever-quickening pace and in order to stay smart (hell, to stay relevant) you need to continue to learn. Those that don’t, well you’ve heard the saying about adapt and survive, right? In my experience, those that don’t continue to learn simply don’t make it.

I wish I’d known how much my other life interests would impact my growth as a creative. 

Most creatives I know have other hobbies – photography, fine art, hiking, movies, music, travel, etc. etc. etc. Good creatives are inspired by great advertising, but great creatives find inspiration in their lives outside of advertising and incorporate that inspiration into the work they create. Be a sponge to all the awesomeness and creativity we’re surrounded by in this world.

I wish I’d understood the importance of the big idea. 

Beautiful designs and thoughtful writing don’t mean a thing if they’re not based on a unique point of view that engages the audience and communicates a brand message. If I knew that in college it might have made it easier for me to break into the biz. Lucky for me internships, more specifically the older creatives around me, beat that into me daily. That truth is one of the most important things we teach at the Milwaukee Portfolio School and is something I continue to live by professionally to this day.

I hope something here rings true to you. If there’s anything we can do to help you in your professional development, please let us know.