College is stressful. You're told that whatever you choose to study is going to determine the rest of your life—and who knows what they want to do for the rest of their life at 18? (Not me, that's for sure.) I entered my freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis 100-percent certain I wanted to double major in anthropology and sculpture. Until I switched to fashion design and Chinese, that is. By senior year, I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
So how did I graduate college without a single editorial internship under my belt, and end up as an assistant editor at Sweet? Long story short: I started a magazine.
Step One: Figure Out What's Missing and Do It Yourself
While I love my alma mater to death, it's not exactly a fashion mecca. (It's not even a fashion mecca of the Midwest.) So in the hopes of starting a dialogue about personal style on campus, I started a magazine called Armour with my friends Felicia Podberesky and Jacob Lenard, named after a quote by the late, legendary fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham. (Fun fact: We mailed him our first issue figuring we had nothing to lose, and he sent back a beautiful handwritten letter! Something we'll frame as soon as we finally decide who gets to keep it.)
"Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. To do away with fashion would be like doing away with civilization." —Bill Cunningham
Step Two: Realize You Know Nothing—and Learn From That
After many late-night brainstorming sessions in my dorm room, we proudly pronounced ourselves editors in chiefs—only to realize we didn't know the first thing about launching a magazine. We quickly became experts in writing proposals for student-union funding, sniffing out the best local printing companies, and recruiting roommates and friends as models and illustrators. We attempted to master InDesign between classes and homework, and within a few months we had our very first issue. It may not be hitting newsstands nationwide, but hey, it was a start.
Step Three: Find a Way to Translate Your Experience Into Real-World Skills
As word got around and we started building a team of editors, designers, and photographers, I became less hands-on and started learning how to manage others. It's hard to enforce deadlines for an extracurricular when every member of your layout team has a senior thesis due at midnight, but I learned how to compromise, communicate, take initiative, and keep a level head when I feel like I'm in way over mine—all lessons I still draw on today.
Step Four: Pinpoint What You Love Most and Pursue That IRL
As with any student-run organization, there are challenges: stress levels run high and drama is always one terse text away. But in the end, nothing matches the exhilarating rush of holding something you helped create in your own two hands. I discover that making things I could share with other people, in some form, is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Flipping through our first issue may make me cringe (fondly!) at its earnestness, but I was involved in every step, and I can't think of many internships that would have offered such a comprehensive experience.
Moral of the Story
I didn't need an internship at a top-tier magazine in a big city to get the experience I was after. Those opportunities are certainly indispensable—but if that's not an option for you, try creating your own alternative. Through Armour, I was able to realize what my strengths were (writing and editing), and what they weren't (graphic design, photography). The second part can be more valuable than you might think.
After four years in college, I finally knew what I wanted to do—and I had a stack of lovingly made magazines to prove that I could do it.
Questions about starting your own creative project? Add me on Snapchat and Instagram @chantagold and ask away!