All my life, I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve never aspired to have a high-paying job working for someone else. My dream has always been to control my own destiny, what ever the cost.
Traditional jobs were always a nuisance; sort of a necessary evil to pay the bills and a distraction from my plan. My preference was to offer my services to someone who was where I wanted to be… for free.
Working for free immediately got me on the inside of a world that I had previously only dreamed about. It gave me an entrepreneurial education that money couldn’t buy. I earned respect from people in power and started to create my own network.
When I was a senior in high school, my friend Chad stumbled upon an opportunity of a lifetime. He and his soccer coach made some T-shirts for a fundraiser. The designs were such a hit, they printed another run and started selling them out of the trunks of their cars.
Before long, their sports T-shirt business had expanded to almost a hundred designs, half a dozen retail stores in malls, and several hundred wholesale accounts. These were the kind of people I wanted to hang around with.
With the success of his business, Chad didn’t have as much time to hang out anymore. If I was going to pick his brain, I was going to have to get on the inside.
An Offer they Couldn’t Refuse
As a startup, they didn’t have any extra money to put me on the payroll, so I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: I spent my own savings on a computer and graphics software and offered to design T-shirts for free.
They sort of looked at me like I was crazy, but respected my entrepreneurial spirit. They had nothing to lose and I was eager to get started.
JOXX had grown big enough to employ dozens of our classmates who were working behind the counters at the mall retail outlets. They were perfectly happy working in a relaxed environment, making a few dollars over minimum wage, and having some pretty cool bosses.
I, on the other hand, had a different idea. While my peers were busy at the mall, I was working side by side with the decision makers, learning how the business was run, and gaining influence.
Dust and Designs
I moved into a small corner of their dusty warehouse and got to work. I cranked out designs at a furious pace and soon started to expand my circle of influence.
I was able to mix creatively with the owners and some of my designs were making it to the store floors. The more I worked, the more responsibility I took on, and the more I learned.
A Seat on the Van
My first big breakthrough was a seat on the van for a trip to a national sporting goods exposition in Chicago. The company was ready to expand their wholesale business and I was asked to help them represent the products.
As an 18 year old with no real-world experience; a chance to interact with entrepreneurs, marketers, and buyers on a national level was an opportunity beyond my imagination.
At The Time, I Thought Sleep Was Overrated…
The preparation for the expo was intense. We needed to present ourselves as professionally as possible, and it was my job to create a new line of products and a color catalog to display them in.
Before JOXX, I had no prior design training. I was forced to learn Photoshop, Freehand, Quark Express, and other programs by trial and error. I spent a lot of time bugging the designers at our T-shirt supplier and reading how-to manuals.
In addition to computer skills, I gave myself a crash-course in photography and started throwing T-shirts on everyone I knew and snapping pictures of them. I had the slides scanned the old-fashioned way and went to work crunching everything in my computer.
The period before the expo was the most intense string of all-nighters I’ve ever forced myself to endure (I’ll never subject my body to that kind of abuse again); but the catalog came out on time, on budget, and on the money. (see pieces of it here)
Chicago was a blast. We set up tons of accounts, had lots of fun, and learned a lot about marketing.
I stayed with JOXX for several years and continued to grow my circle of influence. Eventually, they offered me a small salary and made me “director of marketing”. I never made much money with them, but the perks of working were much more than monetary.
Not only did I learn how to start a business; but as an 18 year old kid, my friends and I had access to some prime real estate (which included a downtown loft apartment on top of one of our retail spaces), expense accounts, and some great vacations!
As a result of my time with JOXX, I started my own T-shirt company which helped to pay my way through college.
Most of the jobs I’ve taken since college have been in the spirit of working for an education and not a salary. I worked for a consulting company to learn management philosophy, an airline to travel the world, as a bartender to learn local culture.
I never cared about climbing the corporate ladder because in every job, the end result was going to be the same: Ultimately, I was going to control my own destiny.
The Movie Business
In How To Break Into The Film Industry I tell a story about my first job in the movie business. I had just left my job with the airline so that I could learn about film. Since I hadn’t gone to film school, I learned the only way I knew how:
I found a movie being made in Austin on the Texas Film Commission website and offered to work for free.
I started out painting walls, taking out the trash, and making copies. As a late-bloomer in the film business, I was the oldest and lowest ranked member of the production team; but I was a hard worker and didn’t let my pride get in the way.
Movin’ on Up!
People started to notice and I quickly moved up the ranks on this half-million dollar film. Within a few weeks, I was hired as an assistant to the locations manager. Within another few weeks, I was promoted to head of the entire transportation department. By the time we went into production, I had my hand in every department and got a first-hand view of how a movie is made.
The benefits of my first movie job have been tremendous. Since then I’ve moved to Los Angeles and work closely with one of the producers making behind-the-scenes videos for a major television network.
The Chosen Life
Carving my own path in life hasn’t been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve had to pass on many of the luxuries that most of my peers are experiencing in this stage of their lives.
I’ve had many opportunities to take desk-jobs with fantastic pay and benefits. Instead, I’ve chosen to work in ways that have helped to satisfy my curiosity about this world.
On the outside, it may not look as if I have much to show for my adventures; but the way I see it, every life experience earns me a golden brick that I plac in the sky.
With every brick, the cloud gets heavier, and closer to the ground. With a few more bricks, it will gently touch down in the sacred place where I’ll live out my days with the ones I love in a palace of gold.