Education isn’t fully preparing students for the future. Homework is largely a waste of time and you don’t need to work hard to be a success—and that’s before I even get onto the three important things students need to learn.
I mean you can work hard to be successful if you really want to—and you will achieve success from working hard—but I didn’t want to work hard, I wanted to have fun, so I played hard instead. I’m not playing with words here – the distinction is important, someone playing hard is far more productive than someone working hard— that’s a scientifically proven fact. So the trick is to get paid for doing something that you love doing, something that you would do for free if that were the only option.
Here’s my story about how I managed to make a living from doing something that I love doing. I only wish my school had taught me this stuff before I left, I could have gone so much further, much faster if they had. Don’t get hung up on the details here, I talk about art but I could just as easily be talking about performing music or designing apps. The principles are the same. Just apply the principles …
1. Make something happen.
In my case, it was a picture. But in your case it could be a website, a film, a rap song, whatever.
I made a picture. I was very young and there was nothing special about the picture. But I liked drawing pictures so I kept producing them. Then slowly people started to like my pictures and so I made more pictures that I spent a great deal of time on. I would have made these pictures anyway, even if other people didn’t like them, because drawing was what I loved to do. I discovered that if people can see you’re passionate about something, they tend to encourage you and this makes you want to keep doing it and so inevitably, you get a lot better at it. This is why homework is generally a waste of time. If you’re passionate about something you’re already doing it at home! If you’ve no interest in a subject, why extend the misery with homework? Homework should be optional at school.
So people kept encouraging me to draw. Eventually, a school friend asked me to draw a picture of his girlfriend. This was significant. People wanted my pictures now. In order to make sure he got his picture, my friend offered to pay me for it and in an instant the future had revealed itself to me: I could get paid to draw.
Now I played much harder. I actually wanted people to like my pictures – a lot, and they did! The harder I played the more they wanted to use my skill.
You see how this works? It’s a virtuous circle: the better you become, the more they want you.
2. Establish your network.
Make contact with people who can help you. These might be people who do what you do and can offer you advice or show you new techniques or they might be people with influence – these could be mentors or connectors or administrators. When you associate with like-minded people, you tend to absorb their ideas and you become more creative as a result. When you collaborate with them you become inspired to try new things and explore new territory so always look for opportunities to do that. By the way, this works in reverse too – if you mix with negative people you’ll become more negative as a result, so pick your group carefully.
After a time, people at school started to talk about my skill. As a kid, I didn’t realise how important this was; it was good for my ego of course but more importantly, it established me as some kind of expert – I was the ‘go to’ guy for any kind of artwork. Teachers would seek me out and ask me to take on artistic projects. This is crucially important if you’re going to make a career out of something you love doing; become the expert.
And something else happened; my art teacher introduced me to other members of staff who were interested in art. I cannot tell you how important this part of the process is – you’re increasing your network with people who can help you in a much bigger way. One of the teachers at school (who I didn’t take a subject with) was particularly keen on one of my pictures that I was working on. My art teacher had shown it to him whilst it was in progress and this teacher subsequently bought it. Don’t wait for others to take the initiative, be proactive where you can.
Pretty soon I was famous as an artist inside my school and that gave me a certain amount of license regarding my behaviour and artworks.
Then one day I had a life-changing experience.
I’d been exploring the works of dissident writers and artists as part of my voluntary homework and I decided to do a ‘protest’ picture (remember what I said about getting inspired by the things that surround you?). What I came up with was a portrait of myself in school uniform being hung from the neck by my tie. This was being officiated by a teacher dressed in an elaborate gown and witnessed by an orderly faceless audience. In the audience I had hidden an oblique reference to one particular unpopular teacher. It was a ‘dangerous’ picture executed with my tongue firmly in my cheek and my art teacher (unbeknown to me) decided to frame it and hang it in the school on a stair landing that experienced a lot of footfall. As I came down the stairs to the landing during a break I could see an excited crowd of students viewing something on the wall in a gleeful way. When I realized that they were looking at my picture and I had caused their excitement I knew then what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: entertain people.
It was assumed by everyone that I would leave school and go to art college, which I did. But this was a double-edged sword because art school opened my eyes to other possibilities within the creative industries and I became fascinated with film making and acting. My picture making suddenly got a lot more ambitious.
Now, it’s generally best to stick with one thing only if you want to achieve ’success’ as defined by society. If you become the best that you can be at this one thing, your dedication and talent will impress people. However, you should always be aware of what you need as a human being rather than what you think society expects of you. In my case, I was curious about the world and I wanted to explore EVERYTHING even if that meant doing some of the activities I undertook rather badly.
As soon as you dilute your talents, the level of financial success you can expect becomes diluted too. But you can define success on your own terms, so follow your own path if that makes you happy. By the way, despite what may happen to you at school, you should always remember that your parents, guardians and teachers—generally—want more than anything for you to be happy in what you’re doing.
So in my creative career I explored writing, film making, music, performance and comedy. I always had enough money to live on and I always had fun. And I’m still having fun. And still collaborating and increasing my network – curiosity and experimentation never stops (sign up to receive my podcasts to see what I mean).
3. Learn presentation skills.
My latest creative output called Bettakultcha, is a collaboration with various people and it’s an event consisting of enthusiastic people giving five minute talks illustrated with 20 slides that last 15 seconds each. I’m the compère of the event and after five years of doing it I’ve learned to be confident and relaxed on stage. With a lot of people being terrified of public speaking, having a skill like that is a passport into a lot of jobs. Everyone has to pitch ideas to other people at some point – sometimes you’re not even aware that you’re doing it—if you’ve just discovered a new video game and you want to tell your friends about it so they’ll play it too, you’re pitching the idea to them. The same applies to a company wanting to launch a new product in the market place, someone has to pitch the idea to an audience that is usually spoilt for choice. And here’s a startling prediction: by the year 2020 – that’s like five years away – 50% of the working population of the UK will be self-employed. Think about that. 50%. That means half of you in any classroom right now will have to find your own work. Which means you’ll have to pitch for work. Now, if most of you have the same skill-set, how will a client decide on whom to give the work to? Maybe the pitch that inspired confidence, enthusiasm, efficiency, imagination, and good communication? And, right now, I don’t see these presentation skills being taught anywhere in schools, which means that if you learn them now, you’re already ahead of the game.
So to recap, these are the three things that you really need to know if you want to make a living from your skills:
1. Make something happen – when most people are passive consumers, this immediately makes you stand out from the others.
2. Build your network – find like-minded people, collaborate and share with them if you can, they’ll help you grow. Utilise your network – any chance you get for furthering your career, no matter how small, take it!
3. Learn presentation skills. Unfortunately, I learned this last crucial lesson too late to maximize on the opportunities that were presented to me earlier in life. Who is your biggest advocate throughout your life? You, of course, so it makes sense for you to be confident, articulate and concise when you want to impress someone who could be a future employer or patron of your talent. Being confident about yourself will be your biggest asset. The world is hypnotized and beguiled by confidence. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that fact – confidence is conquest. But don’t confuse cockiness with confidence, that’s an entirely different thing.
Oh, and keep plugging away. The longer you stick at something, the luckier you will get and the breaks will fall for you. Talking of which, tell your instructors about me. Tell them you want me to speak in person at your establishment so you can learn more about making life rewarding and fun (see what I did there? Always be proactive).
Thanks for reading. Stay curious.