Aim to be the Janitor, before you become the CEO

The slow burn is better than the burn out.

I was speaking to a fresh graduate the other day, and he expressed the trepidation and anxiety he felt to the coming months of job hunting. Whilst this may not be the exact reason for his apprehension, it took me back to my own period of fear during my own graduation.

My last year of uni was one filled with fear of the unknown. I would try and quieten these thoughts with tumblr platitudes like ‘Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity.’ or ‘You only fear, because you really care.’

These would satiate me for a few moments before the thoughts of ensuing rejection and failure would flood back again. The only thing that could help me was really trusting that a lot of the future was beyond my control, and to live within the hour.

I also had plenty of mentors to guide me and question my motives. One conversation centred around why I was feeling the fear. I remember the mentor trying to see whether it was fear of not getting a job, or whether it was fear of not being the next big thing.

I think a lot of fear came from the ambiguity of the future. But not getting a design related job was only a small portion. The largest source of anxiety was seeing what a lot of other young designers were seemingly achieving. I saw the successes that marked a lot of designers I looked up to. (Looking back, I realise I lacked reasoned perspective and tended to inflate everything I saw.)

Reading an article the other day in Vice Magazine, an astute point was raised.
‘With a culture that revolves around the instantaneous, young people want things now. They want to be the CEO but are not prepared to be the janitor.’

I realise that, if just-graduated-me; decided to focus on being the janitor, the leap out of university would not be as extreme or stark. Instead the expectation to work hard at a small place would be just one size up. And that’s not so scary.

Capacity needs to grow with opportunity and one day success will come, but it takes time. But the best rise is a slow rise. It means by the time you’re up there, you’ll know how to handle it.

So prepare to be the janitor for a couple of years. Even clean a few studio toilets, it’ll make you a better human being.