Editor’s note: Brad Brinegar, chair and chief executive officer of the Durham-based McKinney agency, delivered the commencement address to graduates from the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham on Friday. He titled his remarks: “Stop dreaming, start doing: A guide to getting what you want from life.” His address follows.
DURHAM – Congratulations to you, the 30th graduating class of the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham.
I bet it feels good to have that behind you!
Of course, your real work is just beginning.
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 286,000 graphic designers in America.
131,000 chefs and head cooks.
74,000 multimedia artists and animators.
67,000 interior designers.
And 59,000 film and video editors and camera operators.
That’s three quarters of a million good jobs in the fields you’ve been preparing for here at The Art Institute.
Now the average person would probably be satisfied with a “good job.”
But your professors and administrators say you are hardly average. They say you are creative and inquisitive leaders for tomorrow.
So what’s it going to take for you to stand out among those 764,000 people working in your fields?
What’s it going to take for you to be a creative and inquisitive leader?
I’ve spent nearly four decades in advertising.
Two decades working my tail off, learning and growing. And another two as a CEO, helping others learn and grow.
The world has changed in unimaginable ways since I got my first paycheck.
But some things have only become truer and more obvious to me as time has passed.
So let me spare you the forty years it took me to learn these lessons.
Let me pass on what I believe are keys to a great life at work, and beyond.
Number One. Stop dreaming. Start doing.
This thing about finding your passion is WAY overrated.
In fact, it’s downright counterproductive.
You’re probably wrong if you think you already know your what true passion really is.
And if you haven’t already found it, chasing after it can paralyze you.
Millennials get a bad rap for taking a survey course approach to life, dabbling a bit here and a bit there, slow to commit.
Don’t be that person.
Don’t dip your toes in the water.
Dive deep and swim hard.
Do that and one of two things will happen.
You might actually find that you like what you’re doing way more than you thought you would.
Or by jumping in hard, you’ll know sooner if you should actually be doing something else.
Either way, the only way to find what you really love is to get busy.
Number Two. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do next.
This world rewards self-starters.
People who see something that could be better. And then make it better.
Without being told, or being told how.
If you want to get ahead, assume that every ambiguous, confusing situation you face is a test.
Assume that someone is very intentionally trying to take measure of your initiative and grit.
Don’t just “do your job.”
Create the new standard against which everyone who follows in your footsteps is measured.
Number Three. Yoda nailed it.
You win in the game of life when you leave nothing on the field.
There may be factors beyond your control – only one team wins the Super Bowl each year, after all.
But if you don’t commit to getting across the line, you’re only strengthening the forces against you.
And here’s the corollary: Don’t take on an important task if you can’t totally commit to getting it done and done right.
I have always been surrounded by very smart, very creative people, many way smarter and more creative than I am.
What success I’ve had is less about talent than about hard work and refusing to give up when the going gets tough.
So in the words of the sage one, “Do or not do. There is no try.”
Number Four. Update your resume every three months.
This was the first thing I said to the people at McKinney when I joined the agency in 2002. It totally freaked them out. They thought I was telling them their jobs were in danger.
But I had an important message for them to consider.
The only thing you really own is your time.
And as the proverb goes, work expands to fill the time available.
Do you give every task equal importance, when you could be focused on things that really matter?
Do you let yourself get distracted by whatever’s happening around you, when you could be focused on the things that really need your attention?
Many people work a lot but accomplish little.
If you can go three months without completing at least one thing that makes your resume stronger, you need to think about how you’re using your time.
Let your resume be the scorecard.
Number Five. You will have a boss. You don’t have to like your boss. But you do have to respect your boss.
I’ve worked for people I love and I’ve worked for people I’d never consider seeing outside the office.
It may not be rewarding to have a boss who doesn’t share your interests or has a style you don’t appreciate.
But it is literally soul sucking to work for someone you don’t respect.
If your boss doesn’t have the goods to help you become better at what you do, it’s time to find a new boss. If your boss isn’t interested in your success, it’s time to find a new boss.
Number Six. It’s all invented.
You don’t like your life? Who said this has to be your life?
Fifteen years ago, the campus where you earned your degree was little more than a pile of rubble.
Today, it’s the heart of one of the most exciting cities in America.
Because some people didn’t like the current reality…saw a better possibility…and created a new reality.
It’s all invented. You might as well invent the life you want.
Do you want to be a famous chef? Decide to be a famous chef. And then do not stop until you are a famous chef.
Decide. Do not stop.
And that takes me all the way back to the beginning.
Stop dreaming. Start doing. And never give up.
Here is to every one of you getting exactly what you want from life.
And even better, getting wonderful things you don’t even know you want from life.
Just remember: it’s all in your hands.
About the speaker: Brad Brinegar has presided over a remarkably successful era at McKinney, which counts among its clients such marquee brands as Sherwin-Williams, ESPN, CarMax and Samsung. Past clients include Audi of America and Travelocity (yes, McKinney birthed the Roaming Gnome). In 2012, Brinegar led McKinney’s sale to Seoul-based Cheil Worldwide, giving the agency global reach. Eight years earlier, Brinegar led McKinney’s move from downtown Raleigh to downtown Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, helping to firmly establish the Bull City as a creative capital.