How I became an Art Director for the largest advertising network before...

How I became an Art Director for the largest advertising network before I turned 21


I never thought it would actually happen.

I had dreamt about it for years, but actually fulfilling one of my most aspirational goals—four years earlier than I had aimed for—didn’t seem possible. There were too many “more qualified” people; Too many freshly graduated applicants that would cause me to be lost in the pack. But as it turns out, there weren’t.

My name is Nick, I am twenty years old, and I am an Art Director for Wunderman, the largest advertising network in the world.

Design became my “thing” when I was fourteen. I was teaching myself to use Adobe Illustrator, but meanwhile, my life was crumbling down around me. My mom and dad were going through a gruesome divorce and, to cope, I resolved to become self–sufficient, both fiscally and emotionally, as quickly as a fourteen–year–old feasibly could.

Traditional education played no part in my plan and I quickly lost interest. I went from A’s and B’s the first semester of my freshman year, to straight F’s the second semester. Being in a few AP classes, my teachers took a strong interest in my sudden rebellion. They reported me to my principal who, hearing about my situation from rumors, called in the school’s counselor to “help” me. But there was no help to be had; my mind was made up and there was nothing that could make me falter. I was going to become a designer.

I spent the next two years finding a way out of high school. In 2009, a law titled SHB1758 was passed in Washington state that basically said, if I was sixteen years old, I could drop out of high school, go to college, earn an associates degree, and then be given a high school diploma once I turn twenty–one. So I did just that.

I walked into my advisors office the next day and slapped my withdrawal papers down on his desk. He tried really hard to get me to stay, telling me that I had “misunderstood the law” and that it “won’t turn out the way you think it will,” but I had already spoken with an advisor at Lake Washington Institute of Technology and I was starting classes that fall. All of which were being paid for by the Gates Foundation through the Gateway to College program (thanks Bill and Melinda). I graduated with a 3.84 cumulative GPA, a degree in Multimedia Design and Production, and an unquenchable desire to keep moving forward; All without spending a dime of my own money or building up even a penny worth of debt.

I held multiple jobs while in school, first was Subway, then Sky High Sports, and finally the design jobs started coming. I landed a design internship with Ronix Wakeboards, which led to me being hired as a self–titled art director at Lucky Scooters (yes, like Razor Scooters but on crack). I worked forty hours per week whilst taking an average of twenty–two credits per quarter at LWIT (if you ever have the chance to do this, don’t. But if you have to then I promise it is possible). My job at Lucky soon became a dead end and I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be. These dreams and aspirations I had couldn’t die in the corner of a small action sports company in Redmond; I needed to succeed.

Getting every staffing agency within a thirty–mile radius to try to find you a job is no easy task. It took months of work and sleep deprivation to build up a portfolio that people would actually pay attention to. I spent a lot of time redesigning mobile applications from big name brands and then posting them on my website as “concepts” so that I could make people think I had worked for that brand, but really I hadn’t. Basically, I had to manipulate my way to the top. It worked.

I got a call from 24seven Talent in August and they asked if I could interview with a client at 11:00AM the next morning. It was Wunderman. I lied to my boss (I was still working at Lucky), told him I had a doctor’s appointment or something, and went to the interview. In the interview we spent more time discussing what the position would entail rather than why I would be a good fit for the position. It was really odd because I basically interviewed them, not vice versa, but it felt like it went well.

After two days I was getting nervous. I still hadn’t heard back from Wunderman or 24seven so I had my friend go to Mac & Jack’s Brewery and pick up a growler full of African Amber for me (keep in mind I am still only 20 years old, I can’t buy alcohol… not legally at least). I lied to my boss again, drove out to Seattle, and dropped off the growler with a note that simply said, “Thanks for the interview. Enjoy!”

Before I made it back to Redmond from Seattle, my rep called me and told me that Wunderman made me an offer. I was in.

Now I sit here writing this, from my desk at Wunderman, partially to boast but primarily because I have something that I want everyone to know.

You can accomplish any goal. There are no boundaries. There are no restraints. All you need is a dream, confidence, and a lot of drive.

One of the most difficult things for me to comprehend is why people give up; Why people settle for less than they deserve. I have never understood it and don’t believe I ever will. If you don’t like the position you are in, change it. Even in the bleakest of situations, find the most obscure and impossible solution, and just do it. You won’t regret it.

I don’t.

(The article originally appeared on Medium as written by Nick Kelly)