I hope you stay

A graduate student, distraught over feeling like she does not fit in the New York design community, told me she was thinking of returning to her home country. But her real dream was to stay and work here in the United States upon graduation.

She said she “feels excluded” as her work does “not look like everyone else’s.”

I told her that oddness, that weirdness and originality, would be the thing, in the end, that will make her succeed.

I showed her all of the grim, lookalike portfolios we’ve received from students from around the world, including an explosion of humorless, geometric, flat color, san-serif, lifeless academic dreck from a celebrated graduate program. But they’ll all get jobs in a second at firms that want easy predictability.

Also, as for being on the inside—it’s an illusion.

Many designers seek a sense of belonging by excluding others. They embrace the old idea that there must be those who DON’T belong in order for there to be those who DO belong. And yet, one single experience of being left out, left behind, or excluded in any way can quickly undermine a young designer’s sense of well being. It leaves pain and confusion.

I’ve seen plenty of designers pull this shit—on purpose—with young designers at the outset of their careers. The wrong school, the wrong background, the wrong … whatever and they’re dismissed.

Worse, I’ve seen established creative people eliminate those younger designers more obviously talented than they themselves could ever be.

“She’s too much. He’s too intense. He’s more of an illustrator. She seems…difficult.”

All the things, frankly, I look for.

I told my graduate student to find one other person she likes and admires. And expand that to two. Then three. Then four. Invite them to dinner. Now you have a community.

I know that a sense of belonging to even a tiny community of self-selected peers will instantly improve any young designer’s work, their motivation, health, and even happiness. When they can sense their connection to others, they’ll understand that everyone has a struggle, everyone suffers, everyone has tough challenges and difficult times we all must work through.

Then they won’t feel lonely. There will be serenity in that knowledge. Even belonging.

Loneliness in the age of abundant connection is merely fear overpowering love.

I told her to ignore whoever she thinks the “insiders circle” might be. Get this notion of “famous” designer out of your head; they’re equally, if not more, anxiety-ridden than their peers.

Instead…

Create a place where you’re appreciated for your own fucked up ideas, where being wrong and ridiculous is appreciated and applauded. Build a circle where others accept you for who you are. A place where they support your most insanely giant dreams because theirs are even bigger and they may even help you to reach them.

Then you won’t feel alone.

Find people who will challenge you but never feed your self-doubt. Find people who, rather than give you what they think are the right answers, instead hold up a mirror and push you to discover the answer for yourself.

They’ll be cheering, waiting for you at the finish line.

And in that way, I hope she’ll bring her fears inside that circle too. And then, unlike the other circles of seeming perfection she once longed to join, they will become uninteresting and irrelevant to her. And, at that point, something odd will happen.

I’ve seen it happen again and again, I told her.

They will call to join your circle.

And then she, I hope, will say to them: “Welcome.”

Because by that point it will feel like your home. And they’ll now have to behave themselves.

I hope she stays.


Brian Collins is the Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS.

Artwork by Zuzanna Rogatty, COLLINS.

Animation by Eric Park, COLLINS.

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