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Perseverance, Graphic Design, & Beginning Again

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Posted by: Luke Niemela on Fri, Jul 28, 2017

I was 31 when I decided to go back to school. My first attempt at college was quite disastrous, almost as much so as my second attempt. With the support from my wife, I finally went back to college to finish my degree in graphic design at St. Cloud State University. I only had four classes and an internship left. Seems easy, right? That’s what I thought; then I remembered they were all 400-level classes and I had been out of touch with graphic design for the last four years.


Just Start

Perseverance, Graphic Design, and Beginning Again

I remember signing up for my first class and I noticed there were only seven other students; seven students who probably knew each other very well. Then there was me, some old guy who had barely used Photoshop, or any other design program in the last few years. I knew that in order for this time to be different, I had to go about it differently than I had before. During my first attempts in college, I was very anti-social, skipped class, blew assignments off, and didn’t try very hard. Not many people are lucky enough to go back to finish college after starting and stopping twice, so I wasn’t going to screw this up again. 

Starting again meant I would need to step out of my comfort zone. As the start of the semester inched closer, I emailed the professor for the one class I signed up for and asked which books we would need for the class. I also visited the professor in his office before the class started and re-introduced myself. I had him in lower level design classes and told him my story about coming back to school after taking four years off. Another thing I did that I normally wouldn’t was introducing myself to the other seven students in the class. I figured we were all going to be close since there were only the eight of us in the class. I figured I had better get to know them! 


Transition to Design  

While finishing up my degree, I was working for a great company giving support to kids with autism. I had to adjust my hours to accommodate my school schedule and let my supervisor know that eventually, I would be leaving the field to pursue my career in graphic design, even though that day seemed so far off. I had long ago developed the mentality I wouldn’t be able to find a job I wanted in graphic design but thanks to my professors at St. Cloud State University, my confidence in my design abilities quickly grew.

I began my job search while I was finishing up my internship. There was still a voice in the back of my head telling me I wouldn’t get an interview, let alone find a job ... and that voice was accurate. I didn’t. For several months after I graduated, I worked on developing and designing my own portfolio website, went on numerous interviews, and kept up to date with potential employers on social media without any job offers.

In the summer following graduation, I was offered a promotion at my current job, transitioning manager. I was hesitant at first since taking the job meant I would have to put my graphic design career on hold, but the timing was perfect. My wife and I had just welcomed our second child and my student loan payments would be kicking in any day. Taking the job was a win-win situation, although I knew I would want to eventually return to art.


"If you really want something, you have to silence all forms of self-doubt and have confidence in yourself." 


The Tribe Calls

A few months into my new position as a manager I received a message from the Creative Director at Leighton Interactive. I’d reached out to him a year earlier for a meeting and kept in touch with him through social media. He let me know they were hiring a graphic designer and that I should talk to the Art Director if I was interested. IF I was interested? Interested is an understatement. 

Leighton Interactive was the place I’d wanted to work since I was a student. One of my professors even mentioned that I would be a good fit there so I checked them out. The team culture and work environment really stood out. I found out the open position was part-time. Pursuing a part-time position with a family to support seemed impossible, but this was the opportunity I had been waiting almost a year for. I had to at least try.

Without professional experience (outside of my internship) on my résumé, I thought my chances for this position were slim. I remember thinking that because I slacked off when I was younger, I would never have the opportunity to be a graphic designer.


Leighton Interactive Becomes a Reality  

I was excited and nervous when the art director, Clare, wanted to set up an interview. I did my homework beforehand and the interview went well, but I reverted to my typical mindset, and I still figured there was someone better for the job. Even if I got the job, I would need to stay full-time at my current job, which meant working 12+ hour days and driving another hour and a half. It’s one thing to manage that schedule when you’re 22 and single, but I had a family and different priorities.

I got the call back for a second interview and was offered the job the same day!

I would be part-time for three months while I stayed full-time at my current position. My self-doubt started to creep in (again). What if I can’t keep up with the fast pace of an agency? What if my design skills don’t improve or aren’t good enough? What if after my three months they let me go? I would be stepping down as manager at my other job so I wouldn’t have that position to fall back on. Do I take the job? I

At that moment, I knew I had a job I like where I’m able to help individuals I have cared for the last seven years. Luckily, I have my wife to help me make big decisions. Without her, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone back to school in the first place. After talking to her we realized if I really wanted to be a designer, I had to take the job. It wouldn’t be easy for those three months, but the risk was worth the reward.


Silencing All Self-Doubt 

I took the job and started at Leighton Interactive on January 12th. I was prepared to be very busy and exhausted over the next three months of long days at work and on the road. But, timing is everything. I was offered a full-time position two weeks after starting. I am very grateful to be a part of this awesome tribe and look forward to what will happen in the years to come. I feel at home here.

The past five or six years have been hectic but I found out that if you really want something, you have to silence all forms of self-doubt and have confidence in yourself. Until you get out of your comfort zone to go for something you want, you won’t realize your full potential. My wife played the biggest (and hardest) role in all this. She took on extra parental duties since I was either at school or work for the majority of the day - every single day. If it wasn’t for her love and support, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, among many other things.

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Luke Niemela

About The Author

Luke Niemela

Luke is committed to the Zen art of converting website users to raving fans through use of visionary, graphical content. He helps balance all content campaigns with the right images and the preferred way users tend to consume online resources. He’s very good at drawing but you could never tell by his handwriting. He believes talent is overrated, but hard work always pays off.


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