What’s Under the Water: Learning the Many Paths to Success

Growing up, I’ve always been focused on the future. For a while, I resented this wishing I could have more of an “in the moment” mindset. However, in a leadership training session at school, we took a strengths finder test and my top strength was future-focused. The report said that because I focus on the future, I am goal-oriented. It also said I can help others envision a future. After this report, I finally viewed this as a strength and not something I wanted to change about myself. Since I want to be in the creative industry, helping companies envision the future for their brand could be a good thing.

With that said, naturally, I still worry about my future. Sometimes, all we see is other people’s success, and not all the steps, failures, and hard work it takes for those successes to come to fruition. I saw an illustration on LinkedIn that depicts this perfectly and it got me thinking that it is important to know that there is not just a straight line to success.

I’m in my last years of school and I am trying to figure out where I want to be when I grow up, and where I see myself after college. So, it made me wonder what brought everyone else here to Exsel, and what is under the water for each of the team members? I also wanted to know why the team thrives in the environment of a small agency. Throughout a week, I sat down with everyone to seek out the answers to my questions.

For Rich, President of Exsel, it was visiting his mother’s office while he was working as a CPA, and seeing projects in progress that made him want to join in. His mother founded Exsel, and they were known for unique packaging solutions. “I was able to see the creative solutions and cool packaging,” Rich said, adding, “I think I have always had a good sense of design.”

I can relate to this because my dad’s side of the family runs an incentive marketing company together. Growing up, I would often visit the office and got to see the work being done. Seeing the programs they created helped me recognize that I want a job in a creative field.

As for the small agency environment, Rich said, “I hope there is a sense of a team mentality where everyone is pulling for each other versus trying to beat each other to be the next one promoted.”

Vice President of Exsel, Kathy, came from a background in public relations in the fashion industry where she wrote press releases and set up shows. I found it interesting to see that her background in creative writing shaped her career at Exsel. She now assists her clients with their writing needs among all her other skills. Kathy likes the variety of the agency environment, “I like not having to do just one thing and being able to do something creative but, in an hour, I might be writing something or on the phone with a client,” she said.

Amanda, Creative Director, loves that at Exsel she can wear many different hats. Amanda’s back story taught me to not let the fear of not knowing enough stop you from following your passion. “Growing up I always thought that art classes were for people who already knew how to draw and be artistic,” she said. By taking art classes, she learned that designers, artists, and photographers all begin at different stages.

In college, Amanda began as a marketing major but quickly decided it wasn’t for her. She then decided on a communications major and an art minor. For me, I did almost the opposite of Amanda. I added a graphic design minor to my strategic communications major but then realized that I liked the strategy and business side of branding more than the design side. I then switched to a marketing minor. I believe it is important for college students to grasp that it is okay to change your mind. I was fearful of making the switch at first but I now know that many professionals changed majors or minors.

Account Executive, Dave, helped me comprehend that even jobs that don’t correlate to your true passions can give you the skills you need to succeed in your dream job. After working at an agency as a traffic manager, Dave went to work at a translation company that did not allow for much creativity. “I sort of felt like it was holding me down a little bit. At the same time, if I look back I realized that I picked up a lot of project management skills.” Dave had to focus on staying organized, especially with emails.

Thinking about that, I had never acknowledged that my restaurant job in high school could apply to my future career. Now I know that the service job gave me people skills and problem management skills that I can apply to any job I have moving forward.

Linda, controller at Exsel, highlighted the importance of getting along with the people you work with. “It’s really cool when everybody gets along,” she said. Linda never dreads coming to work because of the supportive and friendly environment.

My interview with Mary, Senior Graphic & Web Designer, re-affirmed for me that self-taught skills are important and can set you apart in the industry. Mary received her degree in print design, but her primary focus at Exsel is web design and development. “I took a couple of classes here and there for web, but everything I know now is just by doing it and figuring out how to do it,” she said. While I decided a graphic design minor wasn’t necessarily for me, I still play around in the Adobe Suite so that I am familiar with the programs.

Senior Graphic Designer Daniela went to school for communications, with a concentration in visual design, and then started at a printing company working under one of the original Mad Men. Yes, like the TV show. She then went back to school to finish her degree. Her background taught me that there is no right or wrong way to finish a degree and start a career. You have to do what works for you and never stop learning on the way.

Through all these interviews, the Exsel team reminded me that everyone has a different journey to success and that people are the most important factor in a work environment. I am excited about the future ahead for me as I move forward into the second half of my college career.

*Brooke is headed to Copenhagen for a semester abroad this fall. We’re hoping she gets to see The Little Mermaid and send us postcards!

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