Commencement speech: how to run your life as a creative professional

JC Herz sez "Ringling College of Art & Design, the #1 art school in the country for computer animation and game art and design (grads go to Pixar, ILM, and EA), just posted their 2011 commencement speech, delivered by yours truly. The speech is about how to run your life as a creative professional - hints, tips, and tricks for techie artists staffing the dream factory. Food for thought for anyone whose career requires coming up with new great stuff all the time."
Habits are powerful - people don't realize how powerful habits are, and how much of their success or lack of success in life is attributable to sheer habit. Be aware of your habits, and what is turning in from an occasional to a regular thing, and what are the regular things that you don't even think about any more, because they are so habitual that they have become invisible. Down to the very basics: how much and when do you sleep, what you eat, how you sit, whether you walk or bike or drive. When and where do you get your best ideas? What sorts of activities and conversations leave you feeling happier and smarter? What do you continually do that leaves you feeling demoralized. Be mindful of your habits. Make them intentional.
Ringling College Commencement Address (Thanks, JC!)


  1. It’s an inspiring talk.

    Unfortunately, I first read your headline as “how to ruin your life as a creative professional”. Eeek.

    1. HA – me, too. No matter how many times I look at it, “run your life” becomes “ruin your life”.

    2. Add that to the advice, to horde your momentary misperceptions… that’s one of the purest sources of creative inspiration.

      1. Ack… “hoard”, obviously. Though one could certainly find a way to apply the former to WoW.

        1. For the Alliance.

          Would debilitating alcoholism count as a habit that could affect my career?

  2. Of course, whenever I hear of people extolling others to think about what they are doing, I remember Whitehead’s advice to the contrary:

    “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking about what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the numbers of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

  3. There’s so much great perspective in the address!

    Especially good are the points about managing the relationship with employers/clients, always a struggle for professionals who do work for which clients can’t really understand the process.

  4. This is, by far, the best expression I’ve seen of the general sphere of advice that I know I should be following.

    Certainly, it’s better than this year’s commencement speech at my university. We somehow ended up with the CEO of ExxonMobil as our speaker.

  5. Cory, are you telling me to stop masturbating?

    You’re telling me to stop masturbating, aren’t you.

  6. Creative professionals are often called upon to do various gigs with different requirements at different times. The trick with this is to find what habits can remain consistent through these changes, and how one can quickly shift gears when the job is finished.

  7. This was my commencement, hah. I expected to be bored and ignore the speech (I brought a book), but I found it to be quite excellent.

    Feels really strange to see this mentioned on boingboing.

  8. It’s a great speech, but for whatever reason, it seems like the only experiential talks/writings that seem to get popular are the ones that have something “creative” in them (and often loosely translated as non-analytical).

    I’m a little saddened by our society that does not inspire its younger generation to run their lives as analytical scientists or mathematicians or even engineers. As someone who grew up literally worshiping Spock and his ideology (logic above all else), it saddens me when people do not speak about obsession. The need to work your ass off and put in crazy hours to prove that one theorem. To dedicate yourself to a cause.

    Now, arguably, one can have creativity in every field, mathematics included. My advisor in grad school used to grade physics and math papers on the elegance of the solutions. Often times, I suppose coming up with an elegant (and often times compressed solution) needed creativity.

    However, at the end of the day, the only way you *could* be creative is if you lived and breathed that one thing – that one obsession. Grigori Perelman comes to mind, as the perfect example of such elegance and beauty.

    And let’s be honest, anyone can draw, write, or compose music. Poorly, perhaps, but they can do it nonetheless. But not anyone can do math. And while art may be good for the soul, math and science math are what move civilization forward.

    I wish someone would give a commencement speech about the importance of logic and an analytical mind. The need to separate emotion from human decisions to truly make a difference. The importance of focus, and the ability to dedicate yourself and obsess over a problem until you can find a solution.

    Because, to quote H.L. Mencken, “The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate. Consider, for example, two of them: mere insatiable curiosity and the desire to do good. The latter is put high above the former, and yet it is the former that moves one of the most useful men the human race has yet produced: the scientific investigator. What actually urges him on is not some brummagem idea of Service, but a boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret…. His prototype is not the liberator releasing slaves, the good Samaritan lifting up the fallen, but a dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes.”

  9. I liked this advice quite a lot. It took me 39 years to realize that habits are just about the most important thing. Still working on that. (Check me out, commenting at work.)

    More importantly! BIG UPS to JC for recalling Old Man Murray’s “Start-To-Crate” rating system, as hilarious a skewering of game idioms as anything ever. How I miss Chet & Erik’s delicious bile.

  10. Nice speech, but I don’t quite understand JC’s enthusiasm for CrossFit. It reads like a commercial break in the speech…

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