People Are Forgetting How To Work. Chris Black Is Here To Remind You.
Pick up the phone, develop a point of view, let go of needing credit. Real advice from a multi-hyphenate for navigating the professional world.
By Chris Black
Photos by Maddy Rotman
In collaboration with Urban Outfitters and Dickies, we created a series of stories that feature creative leaders who offer their insight on the “new” work world.
In 2015, I wrote a book called “I Know You Think You Know It All: Advice and Observations For You to Stand Apart in Public and Online.” It was my version of the classic “Life's Little Instruction Book.” Somehow, shockingly, most of it holds up, even though how we interact, communicate, and work has devolved significantly in eight long years. It was meant to be lighthearted, which is a tone we need even more today. Everyone is so serious, so bummed, so worried. It’s going to be fine, relax. When Gutes and Megan asked me to contribute to this issue, as someone who has, in theory, created his own lane in the workforce, I thought it would be best to expand on the book concept and add some work-related advice.
Not everyone is cut out for being their own boss. Some of you are too lazy, irresponsible, or unable to stomach the financial ups and downs. The lack of security and, of course, health insurance is enough to deter most. But in today’s society, no one wants a real job. Everyone wants to be “creative” or, worse, a “content creator.” I am not here to discourage you but instead give you some sage words of advice for joining the workforce. I dropped out of high school and have never held a “real job,” which has been fun and rewarding but also profoundly challenging. I have learned most lessons the hard way, but maybe you don’t have to.
The importance placed on “work-life balance” is a recent phenomenon that many people seem to abuse. Not answering an email, text, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Discord message isn’t an option when you work for yourself. The price you pay to come and go as you please is availability. Respond immediately all the time. Make yourself an invaluable resource and sounding board.
College is probably a waste unless you want to be a doctor, lawyer, politician, or educator. The only real reason to go is if you can get into an Ivy League school (fellow alums will set you up with gigs, good merch, etc.) or you want to party on someone else’s dime for four years. Just go work. It’s a better experience, and you won’t feel pressured to attend football games or fraternity parties. Going to graduate school is a cry for help. Don’t even think about it unless you are rich and rudderless.
Networking and the use of the term is intensely corny. Avoid at all costs. When I was in my early twenties in the music business, I thought I had to stay out late and party with people I was in business with, and boy was I wrong. I had a good time doing cocaine with aging executives, but deals and relationships were built during daylight hours. A chic lunch or coffee is more productive than another vodka soda at midnight, especially in today’s wellness-focused society.
Developing a point of view is crucial to success. Everyone is looking at the same reference material, the same Are.na pages, Instagram mood boards, etc. Liking cool stuff isn’t enough. Understanding why you like the things you like is an exercise that takes time. Information is too easy to find. Putting it through your personal lens is the actual work. Taste and POV are things money cannot buy, and it’s what people respond to.
If you can access an office, have a coffee, get dressed, go in, and be around people. Zoom has ruined us as another blockade in actual human interaction. Things get done much faster when everyone involved is physically together. Your three-month stint as a “digital nomad” in Mexico City didn’t do you any favors.
Spend time with people outside of your chosen industry. I used to make fun of finance guys and avoid them at all costs. It was a mistake. Just because I am not glued to my Bloomberg Terminal doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot to learn from each other. It’s all valuable. Soak it up. Just don’t start wearing Under Armour to Equinox or paying for bottle service.
We have let the phone call die. It has been replaced with texting and the dreaded FaceTime. The power of the phone call is unmatched. Your questions must be answered, nuance can be gleaned, and it is much more efficient than furiously typing while walking down the street or driving.
Credit is something I see people become preoccupied with, and it’s a total waste of time. If you are doing good work, the people that need to know will know. Don’t ruin relationships over ego.