5 things I learned in my first year after graduating

Completely lost after graduating? Don't know how to get your work out there or feel anxious about reaching out to your creative idols? Don’t worry, we've all been there. Here's 5 things I learned since graduating.

I wanted to create this blog because I get a lot of people who message me asking for advice, particularly when it comes to that daunting year after graduating.

For those of you who don’t know me too well, I graduated from Norwich University of the Arts in July 2017 with a degree in commercial photography.

Three days after the ceremony, I was on a plane to Barcelona to live with my partner Stevie and kick start my career in the creative industry.  

Looking back over a year later, I've learned so many valuable lessons about success and failure.

If you are a recent graduate, still studying or have taken a break since graduating, I hope my experiences will help you and give you some confidence. 

Do your research

It wasn’t until halfway through my second year of university I realised I wanted to pursue a career in illustration.

Photography wasn’t giving me the buzz I was looking for and I knew illustration was going to be more enriching.

The problem I faced is that I was in a class full of photographers taught by photography tutors. Not exactly the best place to get advice and guidance on my newfound career change. So, this is when I decided to take matters into my own hands.  

For you to have any success within the creative industry you need to understand who you are and where your work belongs.

Agencies scout people based on the style of work their clients are drawn to. Publications will feature work they know their audience will like. You see where I am going with this?

There is a high concentration of creatives out there striving to be the best and it is easy to become lost within it all.

What I found over the past year is that my work would be picked up when I was putting it in front of the right people and posting it in the right places. A good example of this was my recent collaboration with Jump From Paper.

I had been following the brand for a while because I love their 2D cartoon backpacks and colourful style. When I discovered they were looking for collaborators, I knew I had to put the right work in front of them.

This ended up being a photograph I had taken whilst I was at university. A slightly older piece of work but still entirely relevant. Here it is:


Don’t be passive

This leads on from nicely from my last point. Don’t allow yourself to fade into the background because everyone else is pushing past you to get to the front.

This was a lesson I learned and changed me for the better. I knew life after graduating is hard enough but when you are living in a foreign country with no contacts, you quickly realise nobody will come knocking.  

Sending emails to people I didn’t know and asking for things I wasn’t sure if I deserved would send me into a heightened state of anxiety.

What if they don’t reply? What if they reject my proposal? Will I just embarrass myself? Should I even bother? These were all questions I would ask myself as I sat with my fingers resting on the keyboard.

It wasn’t until I spoke to Stevie about this that he told me I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

It was true. By stopping myself from sending that email, I avoided the possibility of a negative outcome but also the potential to have a positive outcome.

With this new mindset, I started to see results, I got noticed and my work was out there. I had a fantastic opportunity to start an internship at Hey, a studio I always admired but never considered myself worthy of working at.

This led to several other opportunities and I gained a lot of experience in a short amount of time. 

I soon understood that this mentality could be applied to a number of situations, not just emails.

If you are going to a design festival and see one of your favourite designers, go and spark up a conversation. You never know where it could lead.

If there is a blog you love, go ahead and send them examples of your work. You could well be featured.


Keep on creating  

“If you didn’t take a picture, did it really happen?” Now whilst I hate clichés, I see some truth to this when it comes to getting yourself known in the creative industry.

In this past year since graduating, I created more work than I did in the previous three years at university combined. I created over 200 new pieces of work. Whilst I don’t endorse quantity over quality, it has kept me motivated and eager to develop my work because I formed a habit of creating.

I put most of it on Instagram as part of an ongoing visual diary. I like to share new ideas, techniques and start a conversation with the people who follow my work.

People saw the work I was posting on Instagram and got in touch. Then opportunities came my way. I wish it were more glamorous than that but my success came from working every single day.

If you have a body of work and you don't put it out there, people won’t know about its existence. 

Don’t stop learning

Sure, I’ve finished university and I no longer have to learn anything! Woo! Celebrate! 🎉 Wrong.

For me, it was just the beginning.

I felt I was at a slight disadvantage leaving university with a photography degree and a desire to become an illustrator. But, truth be told, nobody cares what you studied or how you got to where you are now.

If you have the skills an employer is looking for then that is all that matters. With that in mind, however, there’s ever-growing demand for people to be the design equivalent of Inspector Gadget.

I don’t agree with employers taking this approach but I can see why they do it. Why hire three people to do three jobs if you can find one person who can do all three?

Treat life after university as an opportunity to build upon existing skills and learn new ones. It will help you out when you apply for your next job.

Video tutorials, on Skillshare, Lynda and YouTube all helped me pick up new skills and improving my chances.

I’ve recently been getting into podcasts too. They have really helped me with working on my business skills and picking up some handy freelancing tips. Two of my favourites are Creative Pep Talk and Meet the Creatives.

Don’t be hard on yourself

This was something which really hit me at the beginning of 2018.

The first six months after leaving university were great. I achieved so much and life was looking great.

Then things took a tumble and so did my confidence.

I finished my internship at Hey and struggled to get back on my feet, I couldn’t get hired and freelance work dried up.

I started questioning myself and whether I had made a mistake pursuing this career.  

Then the depression kicked in.

Being self-aware, I saw how my mood shifted and I was no longer the happy-go-lucky, positive person I always prided myself on being.

I compared myself to other people and wallowed in a state of self-pity. I had completely discredited all of the achievements I made in the first six months and the negativity took centre stage.

This was a time where I had to make sure my mental health came first.

I was allowing the pressures of social media and my own expectations to overwhelm me and I knew deep down it wasn’t healthy.

I started taking small breaks away from creating work and spent time talking to people about the problems I faced.

Lo and behold, many of the people I found myself talking to were feeling the exact same pressures.

There will be a lot of moments like this for people just starting out. In fact, many of the people you aspire to be like have been through their own struggles as they were finding their feet.

Remember life is a marathon, not a sprint and everyone is running their own race. Focus on your own development and personal goals and celebrate your achievements.