There are a lot of twentysomethings out there who are passionate about turning their creative projects and hobbies into their full-time careers. However, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for pulling this off. Some creative twentysomethings will end up launching successful design start-ups, some will craft trendy, must-have products and some will even get famous. But what about the rest of us twentysomethings who love to create, but can’t seem to make a ton of money doing it? Does becoming a responsible adult require putting aside our creative endeavors?
“Not at all,” answered Caleb, a 23-year-old musician.
Caleb remembers always being musical as a child. He started playing publicly around 8th grade through church groups. He sharpened his musical skills through his teen years, and became very comfortable playing in front of crowds. As a high school senior he thought seriously about making music his full-time career, but he was advised to not make music his bread and butter.
“It was my parents who talked some sense in to me,” Caleb said. “They encouraged me to go to college, and let my job enable my music rather than depend on music to support my life and future family.”
Though he agreed with his parents about the value of a college education, he waffled through his first semester of college because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do other than music. Caleb decided to take a break after that first semester to do some soul searching. He attended a yearlong program at a Christian ministry worship school. That year was both challenging and energizing for Caleb, and gave him the perspective he needed to finish college. He chose to major in computer science, all the while playing gigs to earn money as a student.
“Music was still a huge part of my life during those college years,” Caleb said. “I can’t say that I was super passionate about my major, but I enjoyed it. While in my college program I learned people skills, how to work with a team, organization and professionalism, all of which I consider to be invaluable skills for the real world.”
Caleb credits music for getting him through school, but admits that music started to lose its luster as it became less of a creative outlet and more of a income generator. However, Caleb’s hard work paid off. Upon graduating he was hired by IBM. As he settled into his new career, music became fun again.
“Music is fun, but worrying about money sucks,” Caleb said. “I now have a career that can provide for myself and my creative goals.”
This framework allowed Caleb to accept a position as the Music Director at Crosspointe Church, which is a pretty significant role for a twentysomething to fill. Each Sunday he leads a team of about 8 musicians, and works with multiple other team leads in the church’s production department to lead 2,500 attendees in weekly worship.
“The church demographic as a whole is not very twenties, but the worship arts department is very twenties,” Caleb explained. “There is a mutual respect between the generations that has become key. For example, we’re not going to crank the music as loud as we actually want it, but the older leaders are going to trust us with these key positions and allow us to take some creative risks.”
Caleb’s plans for the future include building security for his creative endeavors by continuing to advance in his career.
He advises his fellow twentysomething creatives to consider the same plan, “Go ahead and chase your dreams but don’t seek something recklessly without the support to get you there.”
Musician • 23 • Atlanta, GA
There’s something quite magical about your twenties that brings a shift in perspective. Perhaps, it’s the decade’s positioning in the grand timeline of life — the end of your dreamy teen years and the beginning of “real world” experiences, where innocence and great expectations go to die. It can be a decade of dismissal for many.
Fresh college graduates not landing their dream jobs right off the bat (or ever), capable adults living in their parents basements, forever students stalling their twenties away to postpone facing reality (read: their growing student loan debt), and, the worst, late twentysomethings who are quickly realizing their “blow time” is almost all spent up and it’s time to really grow up. Even those who have successfully “launched” must come to terms with the fact that not all is how they wish it could be.
So what’s the deal? Jordan, 23, asked just that after he graduated and didn’t land his dream internship at TOMS. Four years earlier, Jordan had been introduced to the company’s one-for-one vision through a classmate who was launching a Style Your Sole party on campus. “I first thought that the shoes were just cool, and that’s why I agreed to attend. But as I heard more and more about what the company was doing around the world, I became even more intrigued,” Jordan explained.
It became more than just a trend for Jordan when he agreed to participate in One Day Without Shoes later that same year. “I found myself actually becoming emotional during the day,” Jordan said. He describes the internal conflict of overcoming his self-consciousness while also acknowledging how little his experience measured up to those in developing countries. “Sure, it’s hard to be the guy in public places around campus without shoes, so I had to first get over myself,” he said. “But then I realized how easy classrooms and campus sidewalks must be to walk without shoes in comparison to the terrains of developing countries.”
After that experience, Jordan made TOMS awareness initiatives a priority during his next four years. As a public relations major and active member of his college’s student activities board, Jordan utilized what he was learning in school to publicize and gain supporters for these events. “By the time I graduated, I probably owned over 20 pairs of TOMS,” he said with a laugh. “I was known as ‘The TOMS Guy.’”
When Jordan didn’t get an internship with TOMS right after graduation, he was forced to deal with the disappointment of unmet expectations. “I even had friends asking me if I was still a fan of TOMS,” he explained. “Of course, I’m still a fan!” But now Jordan had to figure out where he fit in with what TOMS was doing, and he was hoping it meant more than just buying shoes.
He didn’t stay stagnant. First he landed a marketing internship with a healthcare company, and later accepted a full time events coordinator position. Though he was seemingly heading in the right direction, he didn’t feel at peace. He resigned from that position to take on another internship, this time in social media, at The Church at Chapel Hill. He would later become their director of communications.
Still staying tuned in to what TOMS was up to, Jordan discovered the Ticket to Give Contest. “I felt like it was such a long shot, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of a giving trip, so I just had to apply,” Jordan said. In order to get chosen for the trip, applicants had to be voted within the top 50. “It was a solid month of humbling asks on my part,” he explained. “I emailed, tweeted, Instagramed, changed all my social media profile pictures, wrote letters to all my neighbors, and had lots of conversations.” In a lot of ways, Jordan was back in the game of raising awareness and even gaining new supporters for TOMS. When all was said and done, Jordan landed over 1,500 votes, which made him one of the top 50 applicants out of 10,000. A long shot for sure, but not out of reach.
After spending a weekend orientation in Los Angeles at TOMS headquarters (including a fireside chat with TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie), Jordan traveled to Guatemala a month later. “My world all the sudden opened up,” Jordan explained. “At times, I almost forgot I was on a trip for TOMS because they were so intentional about making sure we were exposed to the culture there and learning from the Guatemalans themselves.” Jordan and the rest of his TOMS team visited schools, toured farms, had meals with locals and even hiked into areas that couldn’t be reached by vehicle. All this in addition to hosting TOMS shoe distributions for local children in need. “It was very surreal at first. I kept thinking of each purchase I had made in the past, and how that all translated to kids getting shoes.”
One of the highlights of the trip happened on the first day when a TOMS staff member approached Jordan and another team member with a “special case.” The staff member asked Jordan and his teammate to make sure this little girl was given the full TOMS experience. They were then introduced to a little girl named Wendy who had been burned in a house fire. When Jordan knelt down to fit Wendy for shoes, he realized that her feet’s archers had been so badly burned that she essentially had to walk on her heels. Through some trial and error during the fitting process, Jordan’s team found a pair of shoes that fit Wendy. With her new shoes on, the little girl covered her mouth and started crying. “Wendy and her family thought she would never be able to wear shoes again,“ Jordan explained. “To be a part of that moment so early on into the trip just tore me up. It’s why I came.”
Jordan also got to see TOMS Eyewear in action. “I got to scrub in to witness a cataract surgery, and then attend a post op appointment,” he said. But Jordan describes a much different scenario than Wendy’s. The patient was an older woman, and when her bandages were removed and she confirmed that she could see more clearly, her expression didn’t even change. Jordan confessed that it was one of the hardest things to witness on the trip. He realized that what these people had lived through is so rough, and at times so hopeless, that even when they are faced with hope that they don’t know how to respond. Their joy has been taken from them.
Now that he’s back in the States, Jordan’s enthusiasm for the one-for-one movement has only grown. “I don’t know what the next step is,” he admits. “But, I am asking myself, ‘How can I help bring joy to others?’” He explains that his desire is to make sure the hope and excitement he saw in Wendy’s eyes doesn’t fade away like the older eye clinic patient. “And, I can start here with the people already surrounding me,” Jordan says.
When asked what his one piece of advice would be to a room full of twentysomething peers, Jordan responded, “Don’t count yourself out.”
Photo credits: Bernard Evans & Heidi Psyk
Every twentysomething has a great idea brewing inside him or her. But for whatever reason, whether it’s lack of time, money, or ambition, these ideas don’t always come to fruition. However, 24-year-old Luke has great insight on how to make your thought become a reality.
Luke describes himself as “enormously passionate about actualizing good ideas.” After founding more than four thriving start-ups, it’s fair to say Luke is really good at just that – making ideas become a reality.
Luke was about to enter his twenties when his childhood love for space turned into something much greater. He came across an old NASA paper that spoke about building a base on the moon by using plastic bags filled with moon dust because that was a cheap and easy way. “Is there a way to use this same idea in other environments that are resource constrained?” Luke wondered. He thought immediately about disaster relief locations and areas with limited resources that were lacking efficient supply chains for building small housing structures.
At 19, Luke convinced his parents to let him build a prototype in their backyard. After realizing his idea worked and it would be a cost-efficient process to replicate in other parts of the world, EarthBag was born.
The earthquake in Haiti happened shortly thereafter and Earthbag received sponsorship from the Clinton Global Initiative, Delta Social Innovation Fund, and Habitat for Humanity – raising $200,000 collectively. In 2012, Luke and his team spent a lot of time building prototypes in Haiti. Their last build had cut costs by 40% – an incredible result for small housing in developing countries.
After college graduation, Luke attended Imperial College London as a Marshall Scholar and compled an MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Management. While in London, he was inspired to start another company. “I was traveling so much and constantly having issues with my electronics dying,” Luke explained. Out of his frustration with the lack of options available for recharging batteries on-the-go, emerged his idea for a wearable battery company, which integrates batteries into our daily lives by utilizing places that were once wasted space. Wear Watt will provide power to people on the go and in turn, will raise awareness and investment for rural electrification projects throughout the world, a cause that Luke is very passionate about.
Luke’s team launched on Kickstarter a couple months ago with their first product called Outpost, a tablet sleeve with a built-in battery pack that can charge any of your electronics. They are working on a partnership with the UN Foundation to create a joint campaign around energy poverty issues. “We see electricity as the fundamental good that advances technology and advances society,” Luke said. “There are 1.5 billion people today in the world who don’t have access to electricity, and we want to create a product that’s targeting the very top end of the market to funnel electricity back into the bottom end of the market.”
While working to launch Wear Watt, Luke simultaneously started another energy software company. In the seventeen states in the United States where energy is deregulated, one shops for energy like shopping for a cable provider. This can be difficult if one does not know where to look, so Luke and his team built a Kayak-like platform for electricity shopping. WattBuy has launched in Pennsylvania, and almost immediately afterwards, had an offer to be bought out. Luke and his team are considering the offer because they would be able to expand to other states with deregulated energy markets, but are still weighing their options.
Luke’s advice to twentysomethings who want to launch an idea is, “Don’t let other people tell you no. It has far less to do with initial intelligence or the strength of an idea, but it has pretty much everything to do with taking that first step and committing 100% to something.”
Hollywood appeals to all of us. Whether you’ve dreamt of being in front of or behind the camera, there is an allure to the movies that is undeniable. However, many twentysomethings only dream of one day being involved in the film industry. Few actually act on it, and even fewer are actually successful.
But Caroline, 22, is a shining example of a twentysomething who has made her dreams come true. “Experience is really how much time it takes you to do something,” she contemplated, in reference to her whirlwind of a year almost single-handedly filming the feature film, A Larger Life, set to release at festivals hopefully sometime in 2014.
A year and a half year ago, Caroline was based in Los Angeles, editing hundreds of hours of audition footage for the Real Housewives of Orange County. Her life-changing moment occurred when she got a call from a family friend about a project he’d been telling her about for years. The project was a semi-autobiographical film about a small town lawyer and how his choices have made an impact on the different generations in his town.
Caroline said yes, and flew to the small of town, Cedartown, Georgia, to what she initially thought would be a few months of production. When she arrived, they started filming immediately to make the most of her time, despite the practically non-existent pre-production.
Working through these setbacks, with a crew of only ten people, Caroline gained a wealth of experience in only a short amount of time. She wore many hats: cinematographer, story editor, producer, lighting master, and post-production editor. But primarily, she gained invaluable experience as a Director of Photography, her dream job.
Caroline started this process alone, thinking she could just do all the editing, but soon realized the need for team. “You really can’t do it alone,” she stated. Taking on many roles during the production process gave her experience she could never receive elsewhere, but she also learned the value of relying on others.
When it comes to new projects, Caroline and a producer friend are looking at buying the rights to one of their favorite books and turning it into another feature film. This time, though, Caroline will have more of a role on the front end, with the story and creative development, but of course she would love to have a chance at Director of Photography again, and eventually move on to doing more large scale projects in that role.
At the end of this year, a much longer one than anticipated, Caroline is glad that it took as long as it did. “It just goes to show that a nearly impossible project can actually be done, even if it’s a mess in the beginning and most of the way through– just give it time,” she reflected. And most importantly, she is well on her way to a successful career as a Director of Photography – something most of us can only dream of.