What I Paid Thousands of Dollars For

I am getting close to the final semester of college and I’ve learned quite a few big things that have helped change the quality of both my work and character. But, when I think about it, there are thousands of online videos to teach me the hard skills I need to succeed in the industry, so what did I pay all this money for? Certification? Proof that I can actually do whatever I say I can do on my resumé? Apparently that’s available online nowadays too. But when I look it over, I realize that my time at Algonquin has been truly valuable. I gained experience working for real clients, I had people to critique my work to my face (so I learned how to deal with criticism and failure head on), and I collected numerous soft skills that I don’t think I could have achieved quite as strongly through any other method.

These lessons that I’ve learned during my time in the in the Advertising and Marketing Communications Management program don’t just apply to my field, so I thought it would be fun to collect my thoughts and share 10 of my biggest takeaways here with you, free of cost:

There’s a lot of crap out there. Don’t add to it.

No matter what field you are in, I guarantee you will find this is true. People have gone before you, creating awful things that you wish didn’t have to be associated with your industry; however, at the same time people have also created things that inspire, engage, delight, and surprise. Strive to be among the latter. Your thoughts should always be focussing on, “How can I be different? How can I stand out from the clutter?” Don’t just create to put something out there and get a cheque. Ask yourself, “Is this adding something of value to the world?”

Don’t make excuses. 

I’m not saying don’t stand up for yourself, but if you fail, own it. Take the criticisms of others, reflect on them, and grow. You don’t need to agree with them, but don’t try to argue with them. It’s their perception and therefore it’s valid to them. It probably won’t be changed by any excuse you make. Sometimes it’s really hard to be quiet when we receive criticism, as it’s part of our nature to jump to defence. And yes, sometimes what you think is explaining actually qualifies as an excuse. Take criticism with grace – not always to heart – but definitely with grace. It’s much more professional and mature, and likely, the other person will feel understood, listened to, and as though you value them and their opinions.

You can’t do it all, so don’t stress yourself out trying. Spend your energy wisely.

This took me so many years to learn, but it finally stuck in college. You don’t need to stress over other people’s work and other things that you can’t control. Leave their portion to them. If they don’t do it, call them out. If they do it badly, review it and give constructive criticism: that’s what groups are for. Don’t take the “Ahh-I’ll-just-do-it-myself” route. It seems easier at first, but you won’t be able to keep it up. Trust others to pull their weight. If they don’t, they’ll have to answer for it to the rest of the group.

There’s no time to waste being shy. Go big, make your mistakes, own them, and never do them again.

This piece of information was actually handed down to me by a wonderful man from McMillan agency here in Ottawa. He mentioned that it’s important to be brave in the industry, stand out, be confident, and get attention. If you don’t stand out you’re not going to get jobs. Have good work that surprises, engages, and delights. Be a good person. It can be as simple as that. Or, if you want to take a more difficult route, you can send a sign up to the art direction window via helium balloons to get attention. (Yes this works, and yes this is how I was invited into the McMillan agency.)

An imperfect start is better than procrastinating perfection.

I still struggle with this one. As a perfectionist, I find it difficult to start until the idea is 100% clear in my mind and I know my direction and process. The funny part is, usually once I start, it all ends up shifting anyways. You don’t know how things are going to turn out, so just begin them and make necessary changes along the way. Sometimes they work out perfectly, sometimes it’s a fail and you restart, but just begin and stop stressing yourself out by waiting until you feel “ready” to begin. If you start something and you know it’s not quite there, ask for feedback from the people around you. You’d be amazed how small comments and critiques can help perfect your work and take a concept from “almost there” to “absolutely magnificent.” You can read more about that process here.

Not a good presenter? Act like you are.

This is the biggest public speaking tip out there. Honestly, this changed the game for me. You’re probably going to have to present in your life time. For most people, this is uncomfortable and scary. But just pretend that you have it all together and you know exactly what you’re talking about. Act out being out a good presenter. Watch videos of good presenters online and get into their character (but not in a weird way – please don’t try to impersonate them or their voice). Act confident, but always stay authentic. Fake your presentation skills until you make it and act your way to being a better presenter.

Surround yourself with great people. The better the people, the better your work.

My first-year professor one told me that you never want to be the smartest / best / most creative person in the room. I absolutely agree, unless of course, you’re there to receive an award for one of the above categories. In order to thrive, you need challenges, inspiration, and competition. By surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, you train yourself to think at their level. By surrounding yourself with people better than you, you challenge yourself to produce work that measures up to theirs. By surrounding yourself with people with people more creative than you, you learn to be more original and think outside the box. By doing this, you always require yourself to grow and become better instead of being content in mediocrity.

Brand yourself. Or rather, take control of HOW you brand yourself.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you are creating a brand for yourself, no matter who you are or what field you’re in. You determine how people perceive you and what they associate with you. You do this through your online presence (social media) as well as your personal conversations and daily interactions and actions. Take control of this and make sure you are projecting out into the world who you truly want to be (and by extension, what you want your brand to be). Be the person you would want to hire, the friend you would want for yourself, and the person that you think the world needs.

Network: make friends who are where you want to be and find out how they got there.

No matter what business you are in, you need a plan of entry. Connections are helpful. Build positive relationships in the industry. Not sure where to start? Most people love free coffee or drinks. Invite them out (make sure you pay for them, they are doing you a favour), and ask them what you want to know about the industry. Ask them how they got where they are, if they have any tips for you, and what kind of work really stands out to them or inspires them in the industry.

Find what you love and spend most of your time doing that, but also find what you don’t love and make sure you can do that too.

You are probably not going to love every single part of your job. You may get crappy clients or coworkers, have days when you just feel uninspired, or moments when you’re forced to do things that you may consider beneath you. I’m a strong believer that you need to practice doing the things you hate so you hate them less. If you absolutely despise writing, practice it until it becomes more natural for you to communicate using this method. If you aren’t good at coming up with concepts for certain objectives, see if you can come up with 10 different ones. You may surprise yourself. Challenge yourself in this way, confront your insecurities, and it’s impossible to stop growing.


I hope that you enjoyed this collection of insights. Please share in the comments what the biggest thing you learned from post-secondary education was.

Thanks for reading,



The featured photo for this blog post is a portion of the self-portrait I designed for one of my classes in second year.

One thought on “What I Paid Thousands of Dollars For

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