Sorry, Mom: 3 Facts About Finding A Career I Had To Learn The Hard Way

by Ben Noble

My parents have given me a lot of advice over the years. Much of it, I've ignored. After all, I know best. Right?

I figure since my parents didn't have Snapchat while they were growing up, how could they possibly understand what I'm going through? What do they know about growing up in 2016?

While it's true they aren't qualified to give me advice on which Instagram filter looks best (always Valencia), what streaming service to use (Netflix for TV, Spotify for music) or whether or not to accept my boss' friend request (jury's still out), there are some things that never change.  

One of those is how to best prepare for a successful career.

With three years under my belt as an advertising copywriter, I'd say their advice has served me well. It's just too bad that I waited so long to listen.

I'd certainly have saved myself a few embarrassing blunders and several hundred cell phone minutes. (Do those still matter?)

Here are three pieces of their best wisdom. Hopefully, I can save you from making the same mistakes I did:

1. Education doesn't just happen in a classroom.

My parents have always been strong proponents of education. They saved money their whole lives to send me to a good college.

But more than just helping me get a piece of paper from an institution of higher learning, my parents have spent my whole life trying to tell me that education doesn't just happen in the classroom. In 1996, they bought me my first Game Boy, but it came with the stipulation that every half hour of screen time had to be earned by half an hour of reading.

They happily signed me up for after school classes in drawing and acting. They also sent me to summer camp, not to climb ropes and go swimming, but to learn filmmaking and improvisation.

It would have been easier to let me sit at home and play Pokémon for hours and watch TV, but they encouraged me to pursue my educational interests. They consistently showed me that it was worth the time and money.

Thanks to their insistence and generosity, I am a much more well-rounded person than I would have chosen to be at 8 years old. I have a diverse set of passions and interests, which are qualities all college admissions officers and employers are looking for.

2. "If you want to be the noun, first do the verb."

OK, so my parents never actually said that sentence. Austin Kleon, author of "Steal Like An Artist," did. I stole it and put it in my parents' mouths because they often said things like that. They were just less poetic.

In middle school, I got my first handheld camera. My neighborhood friend and I would dig through the Halloween box for costumes and film atrocious “fantasy epics” in a nearby park. I decided to make it my goal to get into USC's film school and become a director.

But over time, my enthusiasm waned. I only made movies if there was a school deadline approaching.

Finally, my dad asked me how I expected to get into USC -- much less enjoy film school -- if I clearly didn't like making films. I gave the artist's favorite response: “You just don't understand.”

But over time, I started to understand their advice: If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to actually make films. We all want to call ourselves something:a writer, a poet, an artist, a musician. Yet, we want the name without doing any of the work and without earning the title.

Be sure that you actually enjoy the toughest parts of a job before jumping for the role. Enjoy it so much that you'll do it for free in your spare time. That's the guaranteed way to get paid to do what you love.

3. It's about who you know and what you know.

I never planned on becoming a copywriter. In fact, the summer before my senior year, I had secured an internship with the US Embassy in Paris. That is, until a month before my trip. They lost my paperwork.

I had already requested the semester off, so I was scrambling to find a replacement internship. A friend told me that his company -- an advertising agency -- was hiring a writing intern.

Networking doesn't have to be about slicking back your hair and handing out 100 business cards. It's as easy as keeping in touch with friends from school. You never know how they might be able to help you out.

You won't get hired if your work isn't good, of course. But no one will ever see that work if you don't have friends who can get your resume to the top of the pile.

It's taken me 24 years to understand the lessons my parents have been trying to teach me all along. But maybe that's just part of growing up.

Maybe you can't avoid it. Maybe you have to spend 20 years not understanding it, so that when it finally clicks, it's all the more meaningful and profound.