Showing Up Gets Easier the More Times You Show Up
Four things are gained by putting yourself out there.
“80% of success is showing up.” — Woody Allen
Nobody likes to be judged.
I can’t imagine anyone waking up and stretching and excitedly jumping out of bed with the thought that in a few hours someone they do not know at all will be going over their work, and THEM, with a fine-tooth comb to evaluate whether they are worthy of that big ol’ juice job sitting on their design table.
But we call that “showing up”… doing the hard shit in order to get a chance to do the cool shit.
I remember the first time I went to see a client with my portfolio tucked under my arm, shoes freshly polished, business cards at the ready, rehearsing what I was going to say over and over again in my head.*
I was really looking forward to it and very excited.
No, I wasn’t. I was terrified. I had a knot in my stomach the size of a 2-pound burrito from my favorite burrito castle. I was sweating, my mouth was dry and my brain kept turning off like a transistor radio with faulty batteries.
I wanted to be anywhere else than in a room with someone who was — by the very nature of his job — going to be judging the hell out of me. I just knew he was going to hate my work. All of a sudden I was sure I was jumping the gun. I was going out too early.
I need more work.
I have to be better.
I need more time.
But I knew I was out of time when the receptionist said, “Gary is coming up for you now.”
“Oh great”, I thought to myself, Gary is going to take one look at me and shout “You fraud! Why the hell would I want to see your miserable photographic slop, you pitiful wanker”. In my mind, Gary was from the UK.
I don’t know why. Stop asking.
Gary came to the waiting area and smiled. We shook hands. We went back to his office and I opened my portfolio.
The next part is a blur… a question — and an answer that immediately felt stupid.
In a few minutes, the interview was over. He said he liked the work and would be in touch.
I reached the car 12 stories below and finally exhaled. I had done it. I had taken my portfolio to one of the major ad agencies in my city, opened it up, bared my soul, and work with a complete stranger.
He didn’t laugh.
He didn’t throw me out on my ass.
He didn’t kill me — or even attempt to.
I was still alive when I left.
In fact, it took three more meetings with Gary to get a gig from that agency, but it was a good gig. I did probably a dozen shoots for them over the next couple of years.
By that time I was very comfortable with the process of showing my work.
- Call for an appointment.
- Get voicemail.
- Leave a message.
- Rinse and repeat until I got through.
- Make the appointment.
- Calendar the appointment.
- The day before the appointment, make sure the book is ready to go.
(The book is always ready to go, this was a follow-through effort.
- Get ready before the appointment.
(Always have a fresh all-black wardrobe at the studio for appointments.)
- Drive on over and park.
- Bring the portfolio into the waiting area.
- Fiddle with stuff or read a magazine.
(I know I didn’t play on my phone cause, well, we didn’t have any damn phones.)
- Get up and go back to the AD, CD, or Editor’s office.
- Show the book.
- Answer questions and make appropriate comments.
- Leave and get a taco on the way back to the studio.
The importance of showing up — getting out and showing the work, or sending that email, or mailing that direct mail piece is that each time you do it four important things happen.
The first is that you did it. You contacted someone who may — just may — be interested in hiring you. Or know someone who would. And you have made contact with another peer, a professional in the same profession you are in. Someone who also struggles with the same things you struggle with. This is how you build a new set of friends and business acquaintances who are all on the same wavelength. That can’t hurt.
The second is that because you showed up once, it becomes a little easier to show up a second time. And a 22nd time as well. And beyond.
The third thing that happens is that you got a little bit of feedback. What did the AD-like? What questions did he/she ask that you need to work on getting answers for? Which images did the AD seem to move over quickly seemingly being disinterested?
And if they don’t give you those clues… ASK.
“What advice would you have for me knowing that I really want to work with your agency. I love the aesthetic, the mission, and the work you guys produce and I want to be a part of it.”
Then listen. Attentively. They are telling you what to do next.
And the fourth — you experience is a boost to your self-esteem. YOU DID IT. You are now in the big time, you are working the show. Doubts begin to lift (even if only to be replaced by other doubts, but then what did you expect… it is self-employment in the art space. Comes with the territory).
As hard as it is to grab that portfolio and head out to some strange office the first time, it is far easier the fiftieth time.
As hard as it is to hit that “send” button on an email to an AD or editor the first time, the easier it is to do the fiftieth time.
By showing up, you learn how to show up again and again.
And that takes care of 80% of the work.
Pretty slick, eh?
*Discussing this from the analog world back in the day, but the idea remains, No matter how you “get out there” — email, direct mail, portfolio reviews, personal meetings — where ever you go to put your work, and YOU, in a position to be judged.