It’s not about the money; it’s about the fact that I can make something that’s more valuable than the money people pay for it. If people pay $20, they should get at least $21 worth of value out of what they buy. I’ve always kept that in mind because people are going to trade their money for what I’m giving them and I want to give them more than what they’re paying for.
The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”
I arrived in New York on a Monday night and had an interview lined up the next morning. Within the first five minutes of that interview, Matthew Waldman, the CEO of a small, now defunct design studio, looked at me and said, “You’re going to stay in NYC—forever; you have that personality!” Then he pointed at an empty desk and said, “You just got yourself an internship!” I started working right away and a few weeks later, they offered me a full-time job and a visa. It was time to tell my parents that I wasn’t coming home after all.
My first ten years after college were experiments in rejection and despair. I knew that I wanted to do something special but, frankly, I didn’t have the guts to do anything special. When I graduated, I didn’t feel confident enough, optimistic enough, or hopeful enough to believe that I could get what I really wanted. I wasn’t living what I would consider to be my highest self—in fact, I was probably living my most fearful self.
Don’t be afraid to be what you want to be. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I was going to be doing all these things, I would have said, “You’re kidding me. That’s not me. Other people write books; other people speak; other people design things.”
This is a funny story. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to the mall on my birthday and give me $50 to spend on whatever I wanted. I would just walk around the mall for six hours until he would say, “Just buy something,” and then all of a sudden I would have $100 instead of $50. I’ve switched roles and now I’m the “just buy something” person and Russ is the one walking around the mall.
I also don’t believe in the terrible, toxic myth of the “aha” moment. Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It’s just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming. And yet that’s where all the real magic is in the making of one’s character and destiny.
If you could give advice to a young designer starting out, what would you say? Do whatever you can to set the bar really high. Find people who are better than you and follow them. Develop your taste. Develop a goal for where you want to be and if your skills aren’t there yet, that’s totally okay. I think that knowing what good is and being able to strive for it is key because then you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to connect the dots. Find what you love about your field and focus on that and the details will take care of themselves.
Then people started asking me to build more things, like customer databases. I would nod in agreement as if to say, “Of course I can do that,” and then I’d get off the phone, crap my pants, and go do research on Google, ask questions on forums, and figure it out in order to deliver a product to a client and make them happy with the results. Done!
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