Be Savvy, Be Gritty – Career Advice from the Art Industry

Written by Elizabeth Ouyang, Program Associate – Alumni Liaison.

Elizabeth Ouyang, Program Associate – Alumni Liaison

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Enterprise for Youth Career Exploration Art Panel to hear from six professionals. Through the panelists’ advice and experiences, I noticed they all have strong habits of mind that have guided them in their lives and careers so far:

  1. Be Open-Minded (Christina Hellmich)

As an art curator, Christina is the mastermind behind the captivating artwork and exhibits that you see in the DeYoung Museum. When she was reflecting on the lessons she gained from her work, she advised us to, “Go into any field with your eyes open.” In her field, this open minded mentality has given her many opportunities to build upon her skillset and expand her worldview. She explained that she currently applies this thinking in her efforts to transform museums into dynamic places that reckon with the nation’s history of colonialism and racism. 

  1. Be Attentive (Zoee Astrachan)

I interact with Zoee’s architectural designs in my daily life. Her creativity is sprinkled throughout places in the city such as the USF campus, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, and even on sidewalks. In her presentation, I learned how she treats architecture as more than an art form—she uses architecture as a medium that breathes personality into a space and brings all living things—people, creatures, and plants together. Whether it is in-person or in a photo, you can witness her attentiveness to make her designs inclusive and impactful. 

  1. Be Savvy (Jake Sze Cameron) 

Jake is a content creator and has made beautiful work in the comfort of his own home. In our breakout room, Jake shared with me that it is beneficial to have interests across different fields because he believes “we are like swiss army knives.” For example as a content creator, Jake is a combination of a photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer, mechanic, and entrepreneur. The synergy of these disciplines has given him a keen ability to think on his feet, budget wisely, experiment with new techniques, and troubleshoot innovatively. 

  1. Be Gritty (Stephanie Breitbard)

Stephanie is the founder of Simon Breitbard Fine Arts, a gallery and art consulting firm. In the process of starting her company, she was motivated by the quote: “The single biggest reason why new ideas aren’t made isn’t that the idea wasn’t good; it is because the founder didn’t have the endurance and grit to see it through.” This resonated with me because it reminded me that skill and talent do not define potential. Rather, it is more important to have long-term perseverance and self-confidence.   

  1. Be Calm (Dalan McNabola)

Dalan is an accomplished filmmaker who has collaborated with renowned companies and whose work has been featured in many festivals. As he was recounting his past projects and his career journey, he told us how being a filmmaker taught him about the importance of being calm and patient. Whether it is in his current position at San Francisco-based advertising agency, BBDO or on a film set, he has learned to appreciate all the takes and trials that are required to create a greater production.

  1. Be Hopeful (Jonathan Rachman)

Jonathan (and Judith) have a special place in my heart because he was my first boss and has greatly shaped my work ethic. His charisma is so infectious and immediately lights up a (Zoom) room. Jonathan’s journey from an ambitious “island boy,” to a fashion-design student, to now, an accomplished interior designer, never ceases to amaze me. His story is proof that a hopeful attitude can shatter the illusion of discouragement created by self-doubt and judgment. 

All the panelist’s habits of mind can be used by any person pursuing any endeavor. In times of uncertainty or apprehension, we should embody Christina’s open-mindedness, Zoee’s attentiveness, Stephanie’s grittiness, Jake’s savviness, Dalan’s calmness, Jonathan’s hopefulness. By adopting these habits of mind, we can focus less on the fear of failure and focus more on the possibilities of growth. As a result, we will be able to admire what we have accomplished so far, acknowledge ways we can improve, and seek for what we can do next.