The value of entrepreneurship
How an innovative mindset helped one student build his career
By Jesse McLean, Contributor
I didn’t go to school to launch my career, instead, I pursued what I found interesting. When academics urge the value of learning for learning’s sake, I can relate to that and value their point. I’m a more well-rounded person thanks to post-secondary, and I am so glad I went. So in April of 2017, when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and art history, I had heard all of the sarcastic jokes about “the many great jobs out there for me” and had patiently listened to my family’s cautious worry about my future prospects while handling loads of debt. They were right to worry and the jokes always got a small laugh, but I figured I would be able to spin my degree in some way to land some job if it came to that. Thankfully, I haven’t had the need to do that yet: coming out of school I began working full time for Field Media Lab, a digital product studio that I co-founded while in school.
The foundation of my career hinges on two critical decisions I made during university. The first was to extend my education beyond the classroom. This could mean — and it often meant — learning skills that had nothing at all to do with my degree but were required to complete some aspect of a personal project I had started. The second decision I made was to seek out like-minded people. In my case, that meant finding makers and doers, and I encourage most people to seek out similar types. There is no single moment when I made these decisions, rather they’re an attitude that I gradually adopted through a series of small actions. At some point, I became comfortable with the reality that I would not be able to map out a neat path to my career goals. This realization has allowed me to grab ahold of great opportunities that could have gone by the wayside and has led me to fall in love with things I would have not otherwise experienced.
Because of the relentless onslaught of jokes about my sociology and art history degree, I realized early on in my education that I would need to diversify my skills if I wanted to be marketable. From a young age I’ve had a relentless drive to build things. Back then, building meant Lego and comics, while these days it means starting my own ventures with talented people and building new and different products for a variety of clients. This drive to build things has forced me to learn a wide array of skills that now make up the things that I do on a daily basis. Every single one of those skills was self taught, and this is an important point, because while university did not equip me with the hard skills I used to base my career, it taught me soft skills and improved my ability to learn. At the top of this article, when I wrote about university being valuable for the sake of learning, I meant it quite literally.
Whenever I find myself learning something new it’s because that skill is critical to a project I’ve started. This is very important in two ways. One, starting projects with demands outside of my wheelhouse drives the adoption of new skills. Two, applying learnings in a tangible way early on makes learning easier and helps me focus on what to learn. Forcing myself to learn by taking on different projects with varied requirements created a strong foundation of experiential learning for my career.
For the better part of four years, I learned, worked and talked in a figurative silo, because skills are only a piece of the puzzle. While I love sociology and art history, they’re not areas conducive to creating communities of makers and doers, and during my elective-fuelled tour through different faculties I sensed the same thing across much of campus. I often found myself working on personal projects in class once boredom hit, but with no community to celebrate my efforts to kickstart my career, it was a lonely and discouraging experience.
Of course, that isn’t where the story ends, because across the front lawn from my home in the arts building was what would become my new home on the top floor of the business building at Mount Royal. I had seen posters for the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship around campus. However, while it was motivating to read about the successes of its members on those posters, it was mostly intimidating. I saw myself as a humble arts student with no experience doing anything business related. After encouragement from my mentors, I eventually made the walk across that lawn and met with its program leaders. It took time and effort to get involved, but I took the plunge and threw myself into the community. It was there that I discovered a diverse group of people celebrating each other for their efforts to kickstart their careers by applying their learnings to launch their own projects and companies — or help others do so.
Nobody has a true self-made career, and those I know that have the best careers often utilize a community of diverse yet like-minded people who challenge them to reach higher. This has been my experience being involved in Mount Royal’s entrepreneurship community. Saying it has changed the direction of my life is not an overstatement. It has equipped me with friends and mentors with significant experience in areas where I have plenty to learn. Additionally, some of my company’s biggest contracts have been through opportunities opened up to me through the community.
Today, I’ll make a cup of coffee, sit down at my computer, and begin working remotely with a team of some of my closest friends. I won’t use my sociology and art history degrees directly, but I’ll be applying my education to the things I learn and the relationships I make, because those two started my career and continue to build it everyday.