1. Josh Gondelman, Comedian
“My awesome job started off as a terrible job. I performed at terrible open mics. I submitted writing to rejection letters or outright apathy. As frustrating as the failure was, I loved the creative work, and being told ‘no’ prepared me for the perpetual lesson that I could always work harder and do better. I’ve made lots of great and kind and talented friends who I love to work with, and I have better and better outlets for my creative projects. That’s how my job went from terrifying, to crushing, to awesome.”
2. Stephanie Georgopulos, Entertainment Content Producer at Studio@Gawker
“It’s going to sound simple, because it is: I started paying attention to opportunities, and then I pursued them. I used to figure that if I worked hard enough, options would fall into my lap. And if they didn’t, it was because I didn’t deserve them or I wasn’t good enough. Lots of people think that. Most people, I think. But the truth is that you have to be the aggressor, and show people you’re interested, and show them that you’re not just content with where you are. No one wants to hire someone who’s content, even if she’s perfect for the job otherwise. The first boss I had, when I was working in beauty, told me I was content once — she spat it at me, like it was a curse. And I didn’t get it then, but I do now. Content people aren’t going to push things forward. Why would they? They’re content already.
I wasn’t looking for a new job when this one was offered to me, but I was looking for something. Connections, information, alternate paths I could be taking. Things I could try. It’s not about saying, ‘SCREW MY JOB, HIRE ME!’ It’s more about saying, ‘I want to know more about this industry, and the people in it, and how to use that information to succeed.’ Being interested isn’t enough, you have to be involved. But before all that, you have to get over the thing in your head that tells you that you’re too much of a bottom feeder to be involved. Everyone has that thing in their heads; the trick is silencing it, then emailing the one influential person you sorta know and asking them to get drinks.”
3. Nick Miller, CEO, Parking Panda
“I didn’t really get my job, I created my own. Prior to starting Parking Panda, I had a comfortable and well-paid job, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about, it was just a job. I wanted to build something that mattered, both for me and for other people, so I took a risk and started Parking Panda. The biggest thing that got me where I am today was the willingness to take a risk. Put aside a comfortable job and life to try something new and hard. Over 2.5 years later I can say it was well worth it.”
4. Michael Solana, Director of Community at Founders Fund
“About five years ago I was living on the other side of the country, editing non-fiction for a publishing house in New York City. From a childhood in science fiction to a young adulthood fairly obsessed with futurism, transhumanism, and libertarianism, I became enamored by a small non-profit with the mission of helping to facilitate the building of politically autonomous cities in the middle of the ocean. A Star Trek-loving anarchist’s wet dream, I began to volunteer for them in my free time.
I wrote for the institute, helped build their east coast community, and began to throw meet-up groups for them in the city. The idea was rad, and seeking out like-minded people was important to me. Nothing else seemed to matter. I was certainly not thinking about my next job. But at the very first meet up, I met the man who made the investment that brought that institute to life. We talked the whole night, and became friends. He spoke often about the other projects he was involved with, his venture capital firm among them, and I found their mission fascinating, but I was looking to break into telling stories for a living. The companies a firm like Founders Fund invested in were absolutely important to me, but, back then, the thought of working in venture capital myself was not at all appealing. I never wanted anything from the firm’s founding partner beyond his friendship, and unless he maintained some very well-kept secret relationship with the writing staff of Battlestar Galactica, it didn’t seem like he could offer me anything more than that. But about two years later he asked me to move to California and help him with a few projects. Fresh off a huge editorial success, I realized that the very best that publishing could offer me was not enough. A project of mine had just hit the bestseller list. I should have been overjoyed, but I was bored. I still had my goals in fiction, but I was also burning out on New York, and I was craving adventure. So I took a jump and head west. It was the greatest decision of my life.”
5. Molly Shuster, food stylist and recipe developer
“I source, cook and style food for photo and commercial shoots. I also develop recipes for various print publications. My favorite thing about my job is that it (hopefully) inspires and encourages people to get in the kitchen and cook. I had started my career in publishing, but after attending culinary school I quickly veered from the traditional career path and became a freelancer. I was hesitant initially, telling my boss that I had to look for a full-time job. She simply asked, “Why?” I had no good answer. It changed my life. Always be open to new ideas. Be introspective. Listen to the advice of others, but make the decisions that will make you happy.”
6. Becky Lang, Creative at Zeus Jones
“When I was in college, I worked several journalism internships to build up a portfolio. I started to think I should focus on advertising, with journalism a side project or hobby, considering the dismal amount of journalism jobs in Minneapolis. Plus advertising was my secret dream job. I started covering the advertising beat, which helped me chat with many people at different firms. My LinkedIn filled up fast. Journalism is a great way to meet lots of people.
I saw that a company called Zeus Jones had an internship, and someone I knew advised ‘get your foot in the door and stay.’ That seemed like good advice – Zeus seemed funky and multi-disciplinary, just what I was looking for. When I showed up for my interview, they pointed out that I’d featured them in a Top 10 Boutique Firms list in a magazine. I had totally forgotten about that. I don’t think that hurt – but it was probably the fact that I had managed to build up a professional writing portfolio in college that got me the internship, which got me the job.
My advice? In college, don’t spend all your time building up your transcript. Employers don’t even look at it. Instead, build a portfolio, do real stuff in your community, and meet lots of people. Don’t just ‘network’ – it’s not the same.”
7. John Shankman, Publisher of The Awl and Internet person
“I think one of the most important indicators if a job is right for you is if you have a genuine interest in figuring out how whatever-field-you-are-in works at a deep level. I’m not too interested in figuring out how a neutron and proton work in creating solar energy, but my friend was and now he’s a successful scientist. I was more interested in the Internet and curious about about how these awesome articles I was reading in the early 2000s that weren’t in printed magazines and books were getting to me on my computer screen while I sat at my first job dialing for dollars.
Once I found those articles I had enjoyed so much, I broadly I knew I wanted to work on the Internet. Maybe it’s sports for you. Or medicine. Or food. Whatever it is, I think figuring out what I enjoyed and was most interesting to me was my number one most critical step. Once you figure out what you’re interested in, the rest comes ‘easy’, because you have a compass for where to go – knowing is half the battle, no?
So once you figure where you want play for the rest of your life, you start your journey. You start reading everything about that field, figuring out what are the best companies in that field, who are your role models in that field and you basically live your industry before you’re getting paid to, because it’s genuinely interesting to you and that’s where the advantage comes in for working in a field that you’re genuinely interested in – you know more about it than your competition because you’re reading about it anyway! You know the companies that you’d want to work for versus the companies you could get a job at and the whole what’s possible versus what’s the ideal situation negotiation begins. You probably can’t get a job at Google for your first job if you don’t know how to code and have never worked in digital media before, but you could get a job by appealing to a smaller start-up and presenting your passion.
That’s the cool thing about picking a field and trying to break in: Most people are really nice and appreciate you reaching out to them. If you know what field you want to be in, you can network and reach out to people until the cows come home and most of the time you’ll get an enthusiastic response – and when you don’t remember that, every no (or no response) always gets you closer to a yes or the response that will be the catalyst you need to break into the field you want to be in.”
8. Ryan Holiday, author and PR strategist
“I used my college newspaper to write an article about an author I was a huge fan of. Then I begged him for a job. Through him I met another author and did the same thing–over and over until Id worked for tons of cool people and eventually go my first book deal myself. It’s all about Mentorships and jumping on opportunities.”
9. Corbin Cones, Founder, HY.GEN.IC
“To be honest, it was a mixture of three irreplaceable factors that served as influences.
First, I moved to San Francisco from Washington, DC, right after undergrad and was fortunate to have the opportunity to work for a newly minted start up (Formely; Homeboodle, Currently; Lovely). Having the opportunity to work for two co-founders and witness their reverie evolve into a reality is something I will always appreciate. It taught me the importance of diligence, adaptability, and ambition. Without catching the entrepreneurial bug, I doubt I’d have the courage to start something on my own and better yet, stick to it.
Second, I spent roughly six months focusing on the introspective ideals that drive me before I embarked upon this endeavor. Nonetheless, by channeling that energy towards something I actually believed in, it was only a matter of time before I was able to do something I loved day after day and the ecosystem I belonged to became my own creation.
Lastly and most importantly, my friends, family, and colleagues are the ones who deserve credit for continuously reinforcing and supporting the growth of my professional career and my brand. It’s as if I have my own personal board of advisers who will always have my best interests in mind. It’s extremely important to never forget where you come from and also remember who was with you from the start.”
10. Jason Krigsfeld, Chief Experience Officer & Head of Client Relations, Lua
“My partners, Michael DeFranco, Eli Bronner, and I started our company right before graduating Wesleyan University in ’10, hopping in a U-Haul, and moving into a basement together in New York to start the company. I’m blessed to be working my dream job as I get to work with my best friends everyday, on a product I believe in, at a time when doing so is a hot and profitable thing to do. If only one of these things were true, I’d still be VERY blessed.
My advice to anyone hoping to make a big impact in the working world in their 20s is to bring a ton of passion with you! Graduating with a liberal arts degree doesn’t necessarily prepare you with a lot of practical business skills or industry knowledge, but a hunger to learn more, work hard, and most importantly, breathe what you’re doing everyday will become evident and appreciated by the established players in your space. If you don’t, they can smell it on you!”