In November of 2013, I was in Philadelphia for a meeting with a healthcare consultant giving a presentation on the patient centered medical home model. The meeting went very well and the consultant and I started to talk technology, Philadelphia, and how physicians have an affinity for Star Trek doctor quotes. You can’t ask for anything better than a round of “I’m a doctor, not a…” quips.
I attended design school in Philadelphia. What sold me on attending this particular school was a giant poster of Walls of Jericho’s “All Hail The Dead” album cover. Upon discovering that a current student had designed that album art, I made up my mind instantly. That might not be the best way of making a decision, but I felt that this school was the right choice for me. Two years later, that choice was reaffirmed when I had Dave Stencler for a class on Adobe InDesign.
This man was instrumental in my life. He is the epitome of professionalism. He spoke with eloquence and from experience. His critiques where stern but helpful. His business acumen and knowledge helped us to look at our work and ask the tough questions; “Did I solve the problem?” “Have I explored other options?” and “Have I pushed my own boundaries on this?” Dave Stencler taught me things about myself, which lead to much introspection and confidence building about my knowledge, ideas and attitudes. I don’t say this lightly, but without him I don’t know where I would be at professionally.
What I am stressing is the importance of mentors. A mentor is someone who has the experience, knowledge and practicality coupled with the patience and aptitude to share the former qualities with someone to make positives changes to habituate a successful mindset.
For creative professionals, such as designers, developers, photographers, etc., I feel that not enough of us have had any mentors. The word gets confused and misused a lot from people who draw inspiration from others.
“Kit Hinrichs is like a mentor to me! I love his approach and philosophy.”
Unless you intern at Studio Hinrichs and Kit Hinrichs has taken a personal interest in your development and you can call him for advice, then he’s not your mentor. You admire the man, his work and his outlook (and rightly so) but he is not your mentor. Admiration is not mentoring. A good mentor will help you develop a process of success, poise, and decisiveness. This kind of holistic mentoring goes far beyond having a successful creative teach you things that are not covered in school, it’s all about enabling the person to become who they want to be.
School is a double-edged sword anymore. Colleges, universities, technical schools are all in the same boat, generally speaking. Higher education is very important, but the mantra that hard work at school equals the reward of a degree and job prospects is a very bankrupt idea. The quality of education, as a creative, has no baseline standard. The cost of higher education continues to rise, making it harder for anyone to come to terms with going into a massive amount of debt for a slim prospect of possibly learning enough skills to be competitive. The quality of the curriculum and instructors are often in question as well…but at the end of the day, the degree is that one line item employers always want to see on your application and resume. Educational sites and other MOOC’s are gaining traction, but that method really works well for solo learners.
Finding someone whom you consider a mentor doesn’t have a single, definable approach. For myself, my relationship with Mr. Stencler grew out of my many questions I asked before class, in class, and after class. I didn’t email him much; I preferred to pester the hell out of him in person. He was always happy to answer my questions and explain the ideas and process. It grew from just wanting to know how to do something into why I should do something and how can I improve myself. I was lucky having him for class and the relationship grew from that situation.
Maybe you don’t have someone like at your school, maybe you didn’t go to school and you’re diligently learning on your own. Whatever the case may be, go where others who do what you do are and start talking. Develop contacts, make friends, go to lectures, and ask questions; all of this puts you in contact with others. As you begin to develop this network, seek out those who do the work you love or is someone who is well known in for their quality and attitude. This sounds a lot like hunting for an internship, but unlike most internships a mentor helps you develop as a person, not just as a team member or the proverbial, cog in the wheel.
I asked Dave a lot of questions, a lot that didn’t have anything to do with design. The inquiries I had ranged from business structure, professional standards, ethics, fashion (This man was always well dressed and it commanded respect) and paying it forward. As I asked questions, he posed questions to me. They made me think. Creativity is more the just knowing color theory, typography and shape, it’s about creating and solving problems. It’s about improving communication. It’s about connection.
So back to the day in November in Philadelphia, I had planned to meet up with Dave for lunch and give him an update with what was going in my life. We sat and had a couple of good drinks, ate and discussed our careers, our lives and what was new. When I came to see him at his home, he had a big stack of magazines, print samples and marketing pieces from paper companies for me, just like he always did in class.
“These are yours. There are some great pieces in there, and a lot of new things that I haven’t even seen yet.” He said with a smile.
This is the kind of mentor you want to have; the one that keeps you aspiring to do your best. Go find someone who will push you to do your best. Find someone who will help you become more than just a creative, but will show how to be a professional.
I drove back home that evening with a big grin, feeling awesome about the day. I’m only halfway through his stack of samples and I’ve already got a call to his print rep for an order. I’m going to send him a print sample and see what he thinks.