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Lessons Learned on My Creative Journey at TrailBlaze Creative

by | Feb 29, 2024

It’s hard to believe that two years ago, I started my journey with TrailBlaze Creative. As a college senior, I was so nervous about what my next step would look like, but I was excited to join the working world and show them what I was capable of doing. Meeting and interviewing with our CEO, Tim Hindes, gave me so much hope for the future. Not only did I realize that TrailBlaze was doing some incredible work, but they were also great people trying to make a difference in the world. I knew that accepting Tim’s offer to join their team would change the course of my career, but I never imagined how much of an impact it would have on both my professional and personal life.

Looking back on where I started, there are 5 things that I’ve learned from this position that I will take with me for the rest of my career.

1. Don’t be afraid to jump into new skills you didn’t know you had.

Alyson and HunterWhen I was hired at TrailBlaze, I assumed that I would have the opportunity to help with our clients’ marketing projects, while focusing on internal capacity building and project management. Because TrailBlaze is a small agency, I was able to quickly jump into various marketing tasks, even those I had minimal experience in. For instance, collaborating with the team to lead a flier design or creating a website, despite only having taken one design class in college, was an exhilarating challenge.

However, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take on varying types of work. While my designs went through multiple iterations, I learned so much about design fundamentals and now feel so much more comfortable in programs like Adobe InDesign and Illustrator. Programs that in the beginning, I was terrified to even open on my computer.

Allowing myself to explore other areas of marketing that I wasn’t as familiar with has given me the confidence to try new things, even if I don’t know how they’ll go. I will be taking this confidence with me to future jobs and will remember it throughout my life as I’ve seen what that confidence can bring.

Not only have I stretched those skills, but I’ve also been able to accomplish some really amazing things. I never would’ve thought I would be designing signage for a global conference or creating the program and printed materials for a gala supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. If I hadn’t taken the leap of faith to learn, I wouldn’t be able to say I worked on such impactful projects.

I’ve also added skills to my repertoire that will help me advance my career. Although I may not be formally trained as a graphic designer, I now have fundamental skills that enrich my understanding of audience experience, enabling me to effectively design in a way that engages my audience. This allows me to create materials that resonate with target audiences to bring in more funding for nonprofits and better experiences for guests at events. These new skills enhance my abilities in the other aspects of my career.

2. Making mistakes is part of life and they don’t have to define who you are.

MFG Works Alyson and TimAs an enneagram type 1 and a recovering perfectionist, making mistakes is not something that I like to admit. However, to learn and grow into bigger and better things, mistakes are a necessary evil. Everyone is going to make mistakes and have to change course to correct those mistakes. But what I’ve learned is that mistakes don’t have to define you. They should help you grow into a better person and learn how to do better at your job and in life. But what’s even more important is to find a team that supports you even in those mistakes. TrailBlaze took a chance on a university graduate with only internship experience. I had a lot to learn. TrailBlaze helped me through each learning experience and guided me every step of the way. They showed me that we can’t stay hyper-fixated on what has gone wrong, but instead move forward and learn from it.

I am forever grateful for the guidance and advice I’ve received from my mentors here at TrailBlaze who have shown me in more ways than one that I am not defined by mistakes, but by how I respond and recover from them.

3. Find a mentor who will not only guide you but also give you space to grow.

Alyson and TimMy time at TrailBlaze has continued to show me to value growth both personally and professionally. Finding a mentor in Tim just out of college is the greatest graduation gift I could’ve gotten. Not only is he a great leader and fantastic at what he does, he’s also a genuine person who values his employees as people and not just employees. Tim has taught me how doing what you love while making a difference in the world can impact both your own life and the lives of those around you.

In addition, Tim encouraged me to expand my skills and knowledge. He continuously gave me projects that he felt would help me grow in my career and I could not be more grateful for those opportunities. He walked me through client work when I was struggling to understand the purpose. He showed me how to use tools in programs I’d never used before to improve my work. Most importantly, he always told me the “why” behind everything he did, which helped me learn to think more deeply about an assignment so I could produce the best possible outcome for our clients. This grace and guidance is something I’ve come to appreciate. No matter where I go, I will always be looking for a mentor like Tim, someone who will help me understand the ins and outs of our work and who will give me time and grace when I come up with a million questions.

I understand now the importance of a mentor and how they play a key part in how you’re able to grow in a job or vocation. I’ve learned that my mentors need patience, knowledge, and willingness to answer questions, because trust me, there will always be a lot of them. A mentor should push you to always do your best and show you how to navigate work that is outside of your comfort zone so that you can continue to expand your knowledge and grow into something bigger than you could’ve imagined.

4. Keep yourself in an environment that values work / life balance.

Alyson HuthWhile American culture is slowly changing, it is still uncommon to find a job where your boss values work-life balance as much as his employees. While my first job could have landed me anywhere, I am immensely grateful that I found TrailBlaze Creative because they are the epitome of work-life balance. As a fully remote team, we have the opportunity to work anywhere and flex our time so we can work when is best for us.

This ability has not only allowed me to spend more time with my friends and family but has also allowed me to continue to enjoy my love of travel and keep me happy and healthy throughout the year.

As someone who works two jobs to stay busy, I’ve found that taking mental breaks throughout the year can make the biggest difference. My biggest example was this past fall. After busy season, I felt very burnt out and I knew that I was not going to be of much help to my team without a break. The TrailBlaze team respected this and after some discussion, they allowed me to take a week to build up my energy and stamina for work once again. Not only did I spend that time recovering mentally, but I was also able to enjoy a week of travel visiting friends out in California. I got to visit so many new places and see friends I hadn’t seen in years, but also get the time I needed to recover and refresh myself so that I could come back to work with my best foot forward. I’ve never had a more productive week than the one following that vacation.

I know that opportunities like this are few and far between. Not every job will value mental health and rest as much as TrailBlaze has. However, I know now that I will always value that work life balance and no matter what the money looks like, it will never be enough to satisfy my need for a job culture that allows me to live a life in addition to my workplace.

5. Continue to be passionate about who you are and what you do.

PRSA Renaissance Awards TrailBlaze TeamIt’s moments like these where I look back on the last two years and know that so many things could’ve gone differently if I hadn’t embraced who I am as a person. I believe that embracing who you are and what you’re passionate about allows you to create things that make a difference in the world.

For me personally, I know that I’m someone who loves event planning and creating unique experiences. While I can be serious when serious is needed, I’m definitely a kid at heart and I’m someone who loves to joke around and have fun, because if you’re not having fun, what’s the point of living and working. This passion for fun and games has helped me be creative in ways that have blown my mind. Planning and coordinating the Threshold Celebration of EP Voices brought me so much joy because I was able to use my passion for event planning and my love of joy and fun to create an event that Threshold’s individuals enjoyed all night long. I was able to plan a corporate ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured a community event for the children in their apartment complex and got to see their faces light up as they spun the game wheels and stuffed their faces with cotton candy. My TrailBlaze team supported me as I volunteered for PRSA Pittsburgh and executed their 2024 Renaissance Awards, which broke countless chapter records and showcased the work of so many PR Professionals in the Pittsburgh area, including that of TrailBlaze Creative. Without their support and the knowledge I learned through my time at TrailBlaze, I never would have been able to coordinate such a successful and beautiful event.

Combining my passion with my work for TrailBlaze has given me two years of work that I wouldn’t trade for anything. TrailBlaze gave me the opportunity to see what that was like and I will take that knowledge with me as I move on to other opportunities. I will never take my passion and skills for granted and will instead, use them for the greater good as I would recommend to anyone in the working world. Using your passions and interests in your workplace will allow you to feel so much more fulfilled while being able to make a difference in the lives of those around you.

Starting your first job out of college is always a scary and unknown experience. But it’s also a place where you find yourself and you learn who you are as a person, who you are as a professional, and who you want to become in the future. My advice for those who are in the same place is to embrace the unknown and embrace the change that will inevitably come, no matter how prepared you feel. Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned, but if you’re doing what you love with a supportive team, fun will be had and joy will be at the center of what you do.

I am forever grateful that TrailBlaze is where I got my start because it’s taught me that while work is important, it’s just as important to find a work-life balance that supports your personal life goals in addition to your professional growth.

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes: “Believe in yourself so strongly that the world can’t help but believe in you, too.” While I was lucky to be supported by a team that continued to believe in me, it’s just as important to believe in yourself because that confidence can launch you to things you never thought were possible.

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TrailBlaze believes actions and opportunities that create equity are critical to developing a society without division. Vibrant communities develop more efficiently and sustainably when division is acknowledged and reduced. We offer this perspective in every project we do.

TrailBlaze Creative

= > ÷

TrailBlaze believes actions and opportunities that create equity are critical to developing a society without division. Vibrant communities develop more efficiently and sustainably when division is reduced. We offer this perspective in every project we do.

TrailBlaze Creative