The best advice is that which you do not expect

I was invited by my friend and all around good guy Dan Shown to talk at his Digital Media and Society class at my alma mater, SLU. I was there to share with his students what a career with a Communication 1 degree could look like. I had the great misfortune of presenting after Jon Michael Ryan who runs around shooting amazing videos.

That’s right, the cubicle dude follows up a guy with slow motion videos. It was amazing that the students even stayed in the room when it was my turn to talk.

But talk I did! I don’t pretend to be a guru, ninja, expert, or any other ego-boosting superlatives, but I have learned a few things and was happy to share. The most important thing I wanted to hit on was that the ‘tips and tricks’ to succeed as an adult have very little to do with tools, software, programming languages, or social media platforms. It has to do with being a well-rounded person who is, at the very least, content with life.

What follows is a pretty version of my talk. Who knows, something I said might be correct and even useful. 🙂

The first thing I mentioned wasn’t about what tools to learn. I reminded students  to not work more than 40 house thinking that’s the path to happiness and success. Working 60 hours thinking your boss will recognize you for that extra effort and that it’s the only way to stand out or get ahead? Won’t happen. It’s not worth the damage it will have on your relationships. Friends, family, partners, are all more important.

You can get an amazing amount of work done in 40 hours – if you’re actually working! Just because the office culture is a particular mindset, doesn’t mean you have to follow along. Keep that strong work ethic and get your stuff done.

Reflect before making decisions – even in situation where your boss is telling you to do something. A lot of people, when given a task want to complete it immediately and without question. When the boss says, “We need a blog” don’t turn around and say “OK HERE’S A BLOG”. Use your education, your experience, your research. Think about they why of the question. What are they trying to accomplish. How will a <blog> help along those lines? Who’s your audience. Ask questions, find out as much as you can, then execute.

Have empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of the people using your thing, your service, your product, your art.

Don’t dismiss critique. Embrace it. Silence does not mean acceptance. Feedback, even harsh, direct, ugly feedback, is better than apathy.

Be able to defend your decisions. If it’s sticking to APA style, picking colors using solid color theory, or explaining typography, make sure your design decisions 2 are based in all the stuff you’ve filled your head with. Not because “I like the color green”.

I closed my dribble talk with a truncated quote from Paul Graham.

Don’t ignore your dreams;
Don’t work too much;
Say what you think;
Cultivate friendships;
Be happy.


  1. No “S”. Communication degree majors are picky about this.

  2. code is design too!

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