While I was speaking at DePaul on Monday, a student raised her hand and asked a very interesting question. She wondered whether I was hindered by not having a professional degree in the life and home parts of my career. She also asked me whether I was thinking of getting a degree in either area as a way to establish myself as a professional.
I was glad she asked the question since this topic gets me feisty. It’s also something that many of my clients and I discuss as well. Many people are scared to go out and do something creative they deeply want to do because they fear that they are not “expert” enough on their topic.
But this is so often not an actual problem at all.
Sure, there are degrees for many fields like medicine, law, and engineering where schooling can be extremely important, if not essential. I’m personally not interested in getting a broken leg fixed by a doctor who hasn’t graduated med school, or doesn’t have a good history of helping patients. And likewise, in creative fields there are many degrees you can get which may give you a certain form of expertise.
However, in the creative world there are thousands of people who did not rely upon a degree or certification to make a huge impact. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t wait around in college to get a degree in computer hardware and software before launching their empires. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t put in four years to qualify himself as an expert in social media platforms. Joyce Meyer only went to high school, yet runs a $64 million dollar non-profit. And people like Sarah Richardson and Nate Berkus, well established designers, never went to design school.
Part of why I love the blogging world is that it’s impossible to get a degree in “blogging!” All the panelists at Alt Summit had their real-world experience with blogging to back up their advice and information. Sure, some had degrees that might have helped them out here and there like graphic design, writing, or business. But most did not gain a massive following based on a degree.
Their success is based on their experience and what they managed to accomplish with their wits, creativity, and connection to their audience.
This new online frontier gives clients a chance to get to know someone before working with them. We don’t just have to look up someone in a phone book under “wardrobe stylist” and dial blindly. We can follow their blog and see their perspective on the fashion industry before working with them. We can get a sense of their style from their outfit posts and decide to hire them help us perk up our own wardrobe.
Our online presence acts as a portfolio of our work, a living resume, and an indication of our personality.
We now have the ability to consume content shared by someone before we work with them. We can follow along anonymously until we get to a point where we feel comfortable and trust that they are going to be able to help us ahead of time.
For the creative business owner, this means that the time we spend sharing our lives or businesses online is really all about establishing trust.
The more we can clearly communicate who we are and what we can do for others, the more people will be lining up to work with us.
The best part? Clients are able to self-select the best candidate for their needs. Which means they already admire our skills and want to work with us! They don’t have to go blindly on a friend recommendation, bulletin board posting, or banner advertisement without knowing what to expect.
The technology we have today also makes many creative tools more available and affordable. You no longer need to go to art school to do graphic design. You can simply go to a few local college classes, Blogshop, or do Pugly Pixel’s online tutorials. Or, like myself, you can have a friend sit you in front of a computer for 60 minutes and show you the basics. Then, you can figure out the rest yourself over the next eight years by using the program everyday.
Schooling, whether it’s a formal degree or just some tutorials online will not make you a good designer. Same with business school. Which is probably why I’m so disillusioned by formal schooling in general.
After graduating with a business school class of hundreds, I know that if I was looking to hire a business person to help me, I would not trust anyone based solely on a business degree.
Likewise, none of my business clients have cared more about my business degree than my 14 years of actual entrepreneurial experience.
I learned everything I needed to know about running a business from running a business since I was 15. I went to business school hoping to “take things to the next level” only to find that my time talking to buyers, designing my products, and selling to customers after class helped me learn and grow the business effectively.
Heck, the life and home services I now offer are actually results of reader and client requests. People saw how I have designed my life with intention and asked me to help them do the same. Others saw my apartment and design sense and knew that I had the style they were looking for in their own commercial and residential spaces.
Some might wonder whether my business degree still did really help me to take Jess LC to the next level after graduation. I honestly believe that though I learned a lot about life in college, I think that I would be further in my career had I used those four years to solely grow my business.
Sure mentors, coaches, and experts in relevant areas of my business would have been awesome. And I definitely suggest that new business owners gather a team around them to help them bridge the gaps in their business understanding.
But I could have received that targeted advice at a fraction of the cost of the whole college program, which was largely irrelevant and unfocused on my core needs.
Which is why I’m personally really saddened by the loads of student debt that so many kids are graduating with these days. In order to pay down the insane amounts of debt, they often feel like they have to find jobs that pay top salaries despite the fact that they would rather do something else entirely. Their loan repayments can often now limit their choices.
Your talents and unique perspective draws people to your creative work, not a degree. Or, if they are interested in you due to your schooling but your work does not meet their expectations, they will disappointed.
However, it’s not that schooling is always a bad thing. Teachers and mentors can be powerful allies in tapping into our potential. But if your gifted and you spend a lot of time devoted to your craft, you will naturally grow and strengthen your skills.
To expand on the different forms of expertise, my exuberant client, Kate, sent me an article which explains the four different forms of creative expertise. If you are interested in a creative business, I highly encourage you to take a look at the different variations and identify your expertise.
Now, I’d like to go back to the student’s initial question at the beginning of this post regarding whether my lack of certification has hindered my career. I honestly could only say “no.” The fact that I don’t have degrees in life and home services is not an issue. Because the clients that reach out and work with me are already aware of my experience and background.
If other potential clients are looking for those formal degrees, I never hear from them because they have presumably gone somewhere else and found someone who has the certifications they seek.
Which is really the most beautiful part of it all: people who want to get certified in their creative careers can serve those who value those certifications, as well as those that don’t. And those who do not have a formalized degree in their craft can serve those who are excited to work with them regardless of their schooling.
Because in the end, sustainable careers are maintained by talent and service.