Get off your fuzzbutts!
Today’s article will look into career development, and how you can become motivated to take the initiative and start developing a solid career.
The furry fandom is a very diverse melting pot of cultures and careers. While a large number of furs can be found in the retail sector, there are a decent number of furs sporting a vast array of professional careers from entry-level positions all the way into the upper echelons of the corporate or creative ladder. Everybody has a desire to move beyond retail and work in an industry that fuels their creative or professional drive, but it’s not as easy as snapping ones’ fingers and simply desiring it to happen. There is usually a lot of work involved, and the journey can be wrought with spectacular challenges. Hopefully, this article will help you identify your path, and how to meet the inevitable challenges you’ll face along the way.
Identify your career aspirations
Simply saying: “I want to be an artist!” is not a suitable answer to this question. What kind of artist do you want to be? Graphic designer? Architect? Concept artist for film/games?
This is the part where you need to ask yourself what you want to end up doing for the majority of your career (and possibly, life). But you’ll have to be a little bit more specific than I know most of you are probably thinking. Simply saying: “I want to be an artist!” is not a suitable answer to this question. What kind of artist do you want to be? Graphic designer? Architect? Concept artist for film/games? With every career, there’s a large number of subcategories and specialties and when institutions are looking to hire for these categories, they are not just looking for “an artist”, they are looking for a specific type of artist. You will need to identify which subcategory you want to specialize in and focus most of your attention on that. This applies to almost any career and not just “artists”. If you want to be a lawyer, what type of law do you want to practice? How about becoming a software developer? Are you going to be a programmer, and if so: what type of coding language will you learn?
Being specific does not necessarily limit your options. It focuses your skills on a particular proficiency so that you may become a viable candidate in that particular role. You can still continue to educate yourself and gain experience in other skillsets, but when it comes to securing a career, you will need to focus on pursuing one at a time, so pick one!
I realize this is easier said than done, especially in the United States. I grew up in Australia, and while we also pay for our education, the situation is nowhere near as dire. I had student loan debt when I finished my degrees at University, but they were relatively small and I was able to pay them off in under 5 years. But for many Americans (especially those who start courses in preparation for advanced careers), that debt can quickly grow into tens of thousands of dollars. Then you’re likely to spend the next 20 years (at least) paying that off. This is why it’s important to take the steps in the above section (identify your career aspirations).
If you’re going to pursue an education in the desired field, you want to make sure it’s the right one and you’re not going to change your mind. I know of many folks who have spent years and thousands of dollars on an education, only to change their mind and pursue another path entirely. Meanwhile, they have accrued a massive student loan debt for a degree they either didn’t complete or is useless to their current career path.
This does not mean you should feel trapped either. If you have invested 3 years and thousands of dollars into an education for a certain career, you’re entitled to change your mind if you are no longer happy with the path you have chosen. You should not feel obligated to appease anybody else but yourself when it comes to securing your career. But also note that this decision comes with some pretty serious financial consequences. Changing your mind late in the game is risky, so I will reiterate: take the time to identify your aspirations first before you commit to anything expensive on your way there.
Education does not need to come from a college degree
Let me first say this is not the case for everybody and every career. There are definitely institutions out there that require a degree and the right training (like medical, law, management, etc.). But this isn’t always the case, and you have options to get sufficiently educated without having to go through college.
…you never know until you try. And if you are willing to try, sometimes you make your own luck.
I’m going to use my own experience as an example here…
My first ever job was working at Pizza Hut in their call center in Sydney. I had this job while I was in high school, and knew it was a small and simple job to get some money so I could enjoy myself. When I finished High School, I decided I wanted to go to college and study Media Arts and Digital Production… but I knew that there were not a lot of jobs available in this career, so I decided to start looking for work in the corporate environment to build up a fallback career that would offer me stability, compared to the turbulent nature of creative industries and institutions.
But how could I get a job in the corporate environment being fresh out of high school? Especially when my college education was in digital media? The answer was simple: I’d apply anyway! Less than one year after being out of high school, I applied for a job at one of the largest financial institutions in the world, the UBS Investment Bank. They were looking for a “presentations specialist”, which was basically somebody who was very savvy with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) and could help bring their documentation, presentations and print materials to life.
“This is perfect”, I thought, because as a kid I used to love fiddling around with Microsoft Office on the computer. Sure, it was a productivity suite, but I was always fascinated with exploiting the functionality of anything I got my hands on, so when it came to using Microsoft Office, I already had a pretty good basis of knowledge to build off. I called up the recruiter and asked them what the criteria for the interview process were, and they said most of it hinged on a proficiency test. Excellent! I told them I was interested and scheduled my test and interview. The only catch was: it was for a graveyard shift, 11 pm to 6 am (being an international company). But this worked perfectly for me because I could balance my education during the day, and work in the evenings. It would be tough, but I was willing to do it.
When I arrived, they sat me down in front of a computer with the Microsoft Office suite, gave me a set of tasks and 1 hour to complete them. I was able to complete the tasks they laid out for me in around 30 minutes, which impressed them. The next day I got a phone call and was offered the job. I almost spat my drink when they told me what they were offering: $80/hour, free dinner delivery from a restaurant of my choice every evening, and a designated car service would pick me up from home and drop me off afterward. And all this for making PowerPoint presentations “look sexy” (their term, not mine). Yes, I got lucky… but then again: you never know until you try. And if you are willing to try, sometimes you make your own luck.
What we can extract from this experience is the lesson that personal education comes in many forms. Because of my desire and motivation to spend many hours playing with and exploiting the features of the Microsoft Office suite, it qualified me for a fantastic job in the corporate realm. And while I was working on this fallback career, I could get another education in the field of my choice. There are so many online resources, tutorials, and training materials accessible for free in virtually any career these days, so there’s no excuse for not taking the initiative to train yourself in something. But at the same time, you should also be looking for jobs that would be willing to interview you on more criteria than just a degree. And if you’re not sure, call them and ask!
It’s as simple as one phone call:
“Hello there, I’m interested in the position you advertised for X. I see that you have indicated you prefer a degree, but I believe I have solid proficiency with the responsibilities you require and would still love the opportunity to interview. In the interim, where can I send examples of my work?”
If you’re lucky, they will appreciate the initiative you took and allow you to interview anyway. And if you’re able to show them that in spite of lacking the desired degree you can rise to the challenge, then you may just land the job.
Work on your language skills
“So, I want the job you guys have put up. The thing says your looking for some people to do the things, and I think I’d be good at what you need me to do. I have some references, and there at the bottom of the email. Call me, thanks – SexPuppy69@hotmail.com”
Oh my… oh, god help me! I wish I could tell you what I wrote above was all make-believe. In reality, I have seen emails very similar to this. Aside from the horrendous language and poor grammar, just look at that email address.
Don’t be like SexPuppy69. There’s a handful of resources online for writing a good email, cover letter, resume, etc. The most important thing you have to remember is: all your communication should be designed to impress. If you’re struggling with the right language to write your correspondence in, seek the help of others. And for god’s sake, send your email from a more professional looking address.
Don’t try to sound overly verbose either. Being direct and to the point is also important because recruiters go through many emails every day, so you want to make your point quickly. Here’s a nice and quick example of an initial email that should get the job done…
“To the recruitment team,
I recently discovered your job listing on [source] for the position of [position]. I believe I am an excellent candidate for this position. I have [x] years of professional experience with the responsibilities outlined by the job description, as well as the drive and determination to deliver upon these responsibilities efficiently.
Attached to this email is a copy of my resume which also includes both professional and character references. If you would also like to see a visual portfolio of my work, you may browse it online here: [web link].
All relevant contact information is also attached within the resume, and you may contact me at any time to discuss this position.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.
That’s much better, isn’t it? Well written, and to the point. Does this mean they will get back to you? Maybe not. In fact, it’s very rare nowadays that employer and recruiters will actually respond to a vast majority of these emails, not even to provide feedback. Don’t be discouraged by this. When I’ve been job-hunting, I’ve sometimes applied for 40-50 jobs and probably heard back from TWO. It’s a process that takes patience and determination.
Focus on being the best
You should have no desire to be mediocre, you should find no comfort in being ordinary, and you should never accept any half-measures.
Whether you have identified your dream career, are currently studying it, or are just starting out in a new job, your next focus should be on becoming as proficient as you can be in your chosen skill or job. You should have no desire to be mediocre, you should find no comfort in being ordinary, and you should never accept any half-measures. If you’ve ever read any biography from a successful individual, what is the one thing that rings true in almost every single one? They were driven to be the best. In school they were top of the class, in college they graduated with honors, in their career they innovated beyond the call of duty. Don’t ever be satisfied with meeting the challenge… exceed it!
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be top of your class, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not constantly kicking everybody else’s butt. They key here is determination. In fact: you should always welcome being surrounded by folks who appear to have greater proficiency because it will encourage you to always be on your toes and strive to improve.
When the late Yul Brynner (the legendary film and stage actor) was asked in an interview: “Why are you so great?”, his response was simply: “Because I choose to surround myself with great people.”
I’m going to give you two more names… one you probably won’t know, the other you almost certainly will. The first is a man named Hyman Rickover. He became known as the “father of the Nuclear Navy” and was responsible for directing the construction of the very first nuclear submarines. Arguably, one of the most monumental achievements in American military history. He was an extremely driven individual, but also known for his impatience. Those who worked with him remember a very abrupt, direct, and sometimes intolerable individual… but he never accepted any half measures.
But before we go too deeply into his story, let me mention the other name: Jimmy Carter. Yes, the former US president. When Rickover was recruiting military personnel to join the project that would build the very first nuclear submarine, Jimmy Carter interviewed with Hyman Rickover. In the interview, Rickover observed Carter’s academic record and asked Carter “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” to which Carter responded proudly: “‘Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” Rickover was not as impressed as Carter had assumed he would be. After a short pause, Rickover asked: “Did you do your best?” Feeling perplexed by the question, but desiring to be honest with the man whom he was being interviewed by, Carter responded with: “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.” The next question from Rickover would haunt Carter for the rest of his life. Rickover responded with: “Why not?” Carter just sat there, unable to provide an answer to the question, and then the interview was over. Carter left the room.
That moment was so impactful on Carter’s life that he eventually titled his biography: “Why not my best?”.
So, if you are ever in a position to ask yourself “Am I doing my best”, and you either say “probably not” or “I don’t know”, then it’s likely you could be doing more. Don’t ever find yourself in a situation where you have to turn around, look behind you and ask yourself “Did I do my best?”
Be likable, and learn to be a team player
While on the subject of Rickover, let’s focus on being a likable character. Rickover was known for being abrupt and impatient, but unmistakably brilliant. Many considered him: blunt, confrontational, insulting, flamboyant, and a workaholic. He was demeaning of others and he had “little tolerance for mediocrity, none for stupidity…” According to an article in Time Magazine from 1954: “If a man is dumb,” said a friend, “Rickover thinks he ought to be dead.”
But he could get away with this because his job was to lead a team of talented scientists and engineers and create something everybody in the US Navy thought was impossible within the timeframe he was given. So, it didn’t matter how he acted, as long as he got the job done. And he succeeded.
But if you’re just starting out in a career, or are still on your way to the top, you don’t have this luxury of being a jerk. In order to progress through your career, people have to enjoy working with you. On your way to the top, you’re going to need all the help you can get, and in order for people to help you, they must like you.
You may be brilliant at what you do (maybe even the best), but if you rub everybody the wrong way, eventually you may find your options are limited by people who cannot stand working with you.
I have another example from personal experience to borrow on here…
In one of my most recent positions, I was working on a project with about 5 other team members. One of these team members had a somewhat abrupt personality. Undeniably brilliant, but not a big people person. It caused a lot of friction between team members, but he was kept on board because he was able to deliver upon his obligations just fine. Unfortunately, I was also one of the other team members this person collided with on a handful of occasions. But in the interest of the project, I chose to brush off many of these encounters and move on.
A couple of months later I was invited to become the new leader/manager for this project, so I would oversee the tasks of all the other team members. Despite the history with this person, I decided to not let any clashes influence my opinions of them and would continue to help this person out in any way that I could with their career development and opportunities, and did so tirelessly.
Ultimately, it was the other team members who began coming to me and complaining about this person now that I was the manager. The complaints started to build up and eventually, I was forced to take action. It was unfortunate that it reached a point where, in order for the project to proceed without disruption, this person had to eventually be removed. To this persons’ credit, however, they accepted this decision with class and didn’t burn any bridges in the process, and I still regard this persons’ skills very highly.
It’s extremely important to get along with not only your superiors but your fellow team members. You may be brilliant at what you do (maybe even the best), but if you rub everybody the wrong way, eventually you may find your options are limited by people who cannot stand working with you.
If you’re the quiet type, however, and you find it difficult to communicate with others, this may still be OK for you. In many cases (and I talk from experience) having a coworker who is quiet or awkward is almost never an issue when it comes to appreciating that person’s competency. It’s when the projection of bad attitude begins to negatively affect the people around them when it becomes a problem.
Get your head out of the clouds
One of the questions during interviews I always hated was “Are you worried you would get bored here?”
We all have dreams, aspirations, and goals. But we also have distractions, inefficiencies, and procrastination. If you’re a creatively driven person who wants to develop a career in a creative industry, odds are you’ve faced your fair share of boredom with your jobs, especially when you’re working on a job that is not quite where you want to be, but it’s where you need to be.
One of the questions during interviews I always hated was, “Are you worried you would get bored here?” to which I used to reply: “Bored? Of making money!?” But it’s actually a very valid question. If you are creative, you’re likely not going to be starting your own successful studio right away. You will need to work your way up through a vast list of jobs, some which may have nothing to do with your aspirations. So, the question of: “Will I get bored” is quite valid. Especially when they know your ultimate goal is to move onto bigger and better things.
If you’re working your way up through your career, especially if you’re in a job that is transitional or a fallback for your dream career, be prepared to get bored. It sucks… but you know what: suck it up! I know you want to be creating some amazing stuff that fulfills you every day, and you’ll get there eventually, but remember what I said about hard work? Nobody ever got anywhere by always doing what they like. You have to do some pretty monotonous crap in the meantime.
“But how can I overcome that soul-crushing feeling that comes with being bored in my current position?”
Excellent question. I always overcame this by ensuring I could still work on more desirable creative projects outside of work hours. This didn’t always work out because sometimes my days were so long and draining that by the time I got home I was so unmotivated to do anything. But this is where I would seek out creatively stimulating opportunities. I’d often participate in creative jams with friends where we’d go to each others’ houses and simply do creative stuff around one another. I would also socialize with other creative people and discuss inspiring ideas. There are a plethora of things you can do to keep your creative spark ignited while you work in a rather monotonous day job, so find out what keeps you driven and go for it!
There are no excuses
By now, if you’re still reading this, you may have realized that there are no valid excuses for not finding your way to your desired career. But let’s explore these excuses anyway, and provide the responses using what we discussed above:
- I don’t know what I want to do.
Identify your career aspirations!
- I don’t know if I can do it well.
- I don’t think I can afford education.
Education is not just about a college degree!
- I’m not very skilled at presenting myself professionally.
Work on your language skills!
- What if I’m not cut out for it?
Focus on being the best!
- I don’t know if I can work with others.
Be likable and learn to be a team player.
- But what if I get bored?
Get your head out of the clouds!
I think we’ve just about covered everything. I know that beyond this article there are going to be unique challenges we each face, but, for the time being, this should serve as a good starting point to help get you on track.
So then, what’s your excuse?