Most of the successful people I know in the arts and public relations still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. That process of re-invention needs to be continuous if you want to enjoy waking up every morning.
But if you’re having trouble deciding on your first career, there’s a pretty dependable formula you can use: simply chart your two strongest skills and your most overarching passion. Where the lines intersect is very likely to be the career you’re better at than most. I studied the violin (though as a kid I was more interested in playing third base), learned writing as a copy boy at The New York Times (when newspapers were still printed and the job still existed) and picked up ad production at my first job out of college. So, there it was: a triangulation of skills and interests that happened to match a job description for an ad agency specializing in promoting the arts and charitable causes. I own it now.
A second good idea is to start your career at a small organization so you can learn everything. Employers used to look for narrowly defined specialists and rarely allowed people to venture beyond their little cubicle of expertise. When for instance you produced a film in the old days, you needed writers, animators, cameramen, typographers, directors, producers, bookkeepers, recording engineers, special effects people, composers and more. Now, thanks to all the new glorious computer apps, you can, with experience and some talent, step out of the box and be all of these. So being a jack-of-all-trades, master of all, isn’t a bad career strategy.
But the most important idea of all is to find really clever bosses or, in my case, clients such as Ron Culp, who have imagination, brains and sensitivity. Ron always inspired everyone to do terrific work. He himself triangulated a love of things cultural with his business intelligence and finely-honed corporate public relations skills to support organizations such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ravinia Festival and Lincoln Park Zoo.
I fondly remember two vintage ads for the latter we created for Ron when he was at Sara Lee and then Sears. Here they are:
One final suggestion: if you want to do good work, work for good people. Arthur Lubow heads one of the premier private advertising agencies in New York City, specializing in the arts — ADLubow, LLC. He and his team blog at http://adlubow.blogspot.com.