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Five Lessons From Five Years

By mehera o'brien on August 16, 2010

Last Friday evening, as the DJ began to play and the liquor poured freely on the roof terrace, I composed a farewell letter to my dear colleagues at AKQA New York. For those of you that don't know me personally, or haven't heard the news yet, I left the company after nearly five years of amazing people, projects, stories, stress, zaniness and general mayhem. It's bittersweet. I'm terribly excited for the future, but I'm terribly sad and already having withdrawal from all the cool folks.

In my letter, I offered five lessons. One for each year of service. I thought I'd share a (public-facing) version:

Lesson One: Take a leap of faith every once in awhile
I moved to Holland on a whim and talked my way into a job in creative, and in digital. I didn't speak Dutch and I wasn't sure when I left the States if I'd ever get a visa. But it worked out great. Then I moved to New York 5 years ago because Lars Bastholm (former AKQA Co-Chief Creative Officer) charmed me into it. I didn't ask critical questions about budgets, client pipeline and all the other stuff that would have scared me out of saying yes. I just did it. Maybe not the smartest idea, but it also worked out great. So, every once in awhile, just take a leap of faith.

Lesson Two: Own thy craft
Make smart things. Make pretty things. Make things that aren't one of these, but both. Remember to think with your head, not your mouse. When I get stuck, I find going back to analogue basics (pen+paper) serves up brilliant digital ideas.

Lesson Three: Trust your gut
I always wanted a film project. Not a green-screen film project, but a film project. Then I got one and freaked out. My Account Director (and dear friend) wouldn't let me pass the project to someone else. My Producer, who had a lot of film experience, didn't agree with me on key issues. Like the Cinematographer. And the Editor. I felt conflicted, but chose in the end to listen to my gut and trust my creative instinct. The work turned out beautifully (it turned out to be absolutely the right cinematographer and editor, both of whom are now friends of mine), and was personally very rewarding. Remember to always listen to the ideas of others, but also remember to have an opinion of your own. Be able to articulate it. Your managers and peers will respect you for it, even if you don't win the debate.

Lesson Four: Sometimes being right doesn't matter (and sometimes being wrong is actually more interesting)
Just take my word for it on this one.

Lesson Five: A corkscrew makes a great leather hole punch
Huh? I had a leather sandal on the other week and the strap was too loose. To tighten it, I needed to punch a new hole. The guy that sits next to me heard me lamenting and followed me to the kitchen to help. As I picked up a knife to do surgery on my shoe, he offered me a novel, alternative tool – a corkscrew. We easily fixed the shoe. This is an obtuse way of saying – collaboration is the key to this game. Partner with people who think of things you don't. Who make you stronger. Who make you better.

And enjoy it.

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