Designers, developers, photographers. We are all creatives. It may be with pixels, pencils, php or photos but we all have to come up with solutions that sometimes take a few trips around the bend to reach the destination. In today’s world of working from home or the coffee shop or even in an office full of people with the headphones on to block out those pesky distractions, it's really easy to get lost in ourselves and forget to connect with people. Real connections. Where friending someone means walking up, shaking their hand, and having a conversation.
For going on 15 years now I have been the quintessential work-at-home designer and in the last three years I have gone through some major life shifts. I needed a change of scenery. I needed to get around not just people but my people. Fellow designers and other creatives. So a little over two years ago I went to my first AIGA Raleigh meeting. Having moonlighted as a musician for the last 15 years I do not have stage fright or any sort of public speaking anxiety, but walking into this room had me more on the shy side of things than I am used to. So I did what most people do. I grabbed a seat tucked in the back and surveyed my surroundings. I searched for people I may have met once or in passing to latch onto. But no one. I was a stranger in a strange land.
So what happened first? Someone walked up to me and asked “Would you mind going on film and answering a question for us?” I politely informed them this was my first meeting and I was not a member, thinking that would let me off the hook; however, much to my dismay they said “Even better!” This, I would come to learn, was how AIGA Raleigh operates. Membership is not a barrier. They are about building a community. Not a members only club. I sat in front of the cameras and answered this question:
“If AIGA Raleigh was to give you a sum of money to do something you have always wanted to do but could not what would that be?”
“Screenprinting.” I answered. "I want to make things. Real things. After years of digital only design in which what I created never left the screen, I wanted to hold paper and smell ink and make something again.” Long story short, I was honored to be one of the recipients of the AIGA Raleigh Pursuit Fund along with two others. I was blown away by the generosity of this organization. They had no idea who I was, I had only been to one meeting for 5 minutes and yet they were willing to invest money in me. In my dreams. So I decided to return the favor.
Instead of approaching AIGA Raleigh in regards as to what they could do for me, I went with the approach of how can I help them? What can I bring to the table? Instead of looking at the then somewhat high cost to become a member as a barrier I used it as a motivator to really throw myself into the organization with everything I had and make the money I did spend worth it. Side note: Membership is so much more affordable and accessible now. But don't let that be a barrier regardless. Just come to a meeting or event!
I started showing up regularly to Community Meetings and took part in the Annual Board Retreat to help shape the 2013/2014 season. I wanted to show them I was being a good steward of the money they decided to invest in me with my now fully functioning screen printing shop. I signed up on project teams, volunteered everywhere I could, showed up to the weekly Friday morning Board Meetings (Insider Secret, ALL are welcome to these meetings!), took charge on the team to bring the Sign Painters Movie to the area and most recently I started the Dine and Draw, a monthly social gathering of like-minded designers looking to get back to the basics of creativity.
So what is the point of all this? Why am I giving you all this history? Because the change it made in my life is immeasurable. I felt like I was part of something bigger than me and I could contribute to the health of the creative community.
Sometimes we caught up in the word networking. Let’s get rid of that word or at least the concept of it. Networking has it roots in self-service. You are going out to a location where there are a group of people that you hope you can get something from. You exchange business cards and give elevator pitches in the hope that someone there will call you for work. But try this on for size, stop networking and set out to make friends and strengthen communities. Invest in your time there. Invest in the people you meet. When you network you go home with a stack of business cards that you will rarely ever look at again. When you make friends you go home and start to build relationships with people. You build history with people. You build credibility with people.
So many designers and other creatives are battling with the online logo contests and the people who will undervalue, undercharge and under-deliver because they are not looking out for the other person. They are looking out for themselves. They are in an isolated world and not investing in themselves or others. When you start to build a community, the benefits far outweigh what you may get out of ordinary networking. They will last longer and not only increase your standing and awareness of the world around you but can make lasting changes in your life.
Becoming part of AIGA Raleigh and the creative community has saved my career. I was spent, burnt out and on auto-pilot. I could barely make it through a workday and now I am staying up late and getting up early to work on projects. Projects I would have shied away from are starting to come my way and I am accepting the challenges with wide-eyed enthusiasm. What am I most excited about? As of July 1 (pending election) I will be an elected board member of AIGA Raleigh and be able to help grow our community with even more resources at my disposal. My title will be Director of Uniting People. It’s become a passion of mine and I will wear it with honor.
Put yourself out there. Ask what you can do for others without regard of what they may be able to do for you. Stop networking and make friends. Don’t have a strong creative community? Then build one. Have a strong creative community? Help make it stronger.