The Biggest Mistake I Made When Entering The Job Market

It’s 8 PM on a Monday and I’m nestled between rows of bookcases at the Carl B. Library on the campus of Concordia College. I’m 21 years old, and I need to find a job. My professor’s “employers these days want to know everything about you” speech is looming large in my head as I sit on the front edge of a wooden chair, tapping my mechanical pencil against the desk.

Our career fair is tomorrow, and I’m making a bleak attempt to tidy up my resume in time to print copies before I head back to my house to meet my roommates. More gut-wrenching than the search for the perfect bio, however, is the internal battle I’m facing for whether or not I should erase a monumental portion of my past. Something that, over the past few years especially, has really helped mold me into the person I’ve become. I know “Jack Yakowicz” will get searched by prospective employers and I’m terrified by what their reaction might be to what they find. I continue tapping my pencil; old songs echo in my ears. I log in and start deleting.

When I was fifteen years old, I wrote some joke raps about my neighborhood friends. I used to “perform” them in between games of Kick the Can or Ghost in the Graveyard to help lighten the mood, and they progressively got better each week. I can’t even honestly say what started the inspiration… I probably watched too much MTV and VH1 as a kid. At some point, one of my neighbors said “dude – these are actually pretty good.” From there, I guess I kind of ran with it.

The “joke” raps stopped being humorous around age 16. I quit basketball, had started working at Target, and was looking for a new hobby. Writing music seemed like a cool enough place to start. I remember trying to make it home right away after school to beat my brother to our shared laptop; I’d plug in my head phones, find an instrumental that I liked, and choose a topic. I wasn’t very good back then – most of my lyrics contained at least one line about a Minnesota Twins player, and a couple more about Twizzlers and Sprite. Baseball, licorice, and soda: the (un)holy trinity. But little by little, I learned more about setting up structure, tying in rhythm, introducing melody, and writing rhymes that had a constant theme. By the end of 2009 (half-way through my junior year of high school), I had written a total of about 150 songs. I hadn’t recorded a single one.

My first “mixtape” was recorded at my friend Ryan’s house. He had a microphone set up, and was experimenting with engineering vocals. It took a few months before I felt satisfied with the sound, but I released the project to the “public” sometime in 2011. It was called J.Y.A.K. (Just Your Average Kid). I had never been more anxious than I was the next day, as I walked through the hallways of Eastview High School wondering who may have played my songs. Over night, it’s as though my identify shifted; I was officially “the kid that rapped.” I graduated high school in June of that year, and released some more recorded music the summer before college. A new anxiety arose as I fretted what my future classmates at Concordia College would think of this incoming freshman that rapped. I vowed to not tell anyone. But… it was a small campus, and word traveled quickly.

My college years saw me really begin to grow as an individual, and also as an “artist.” I had one of my songs, called Faith, make it on the Concordia Beat CD as a freshman, I performed as the student opener for Cornstock my junior year, and I was booking shows in the Twin Cities as an upperclassman. I also had to ‘freestyle’ for basically anyone that asked when I lived in the dorms. Any shyness I had about music had seemingly evaporated, as the campus I was a part of had fully accepted my music and made me feel extremely comfortable with it. Until….

I found myself in that library, debating whether or not I should delete all of my old music in the event a future employer wouldn’t like it.

I chose to remove every song that I made between 2011 and 2014. I still have friends today (four years later) ask me why they can’t find the old tunes; I try to explain it, but my attempts to do so sound less logical each time. I was fearful that a few instances of profanity would outweigh the passion & creativity that were displayed; I thought maybe they don’t like rap… maybe they like (dramatic pause) country; I was convinced the pros couldn’t match the cons. So in one fell swoop, a whole archive of my memories, my adolescence, my growth was removed. Imagine burning all of your old yearbooks, but also being the chair of the yearbook committee for all four years. Bad analogy, but, you get my drift.

I wish I had been more confident that the right employer would see the benefits of my music, before making the determination that I should delete it.

Today, I work for a small business (~45 employees) in Fargo, North Dakota. It’s not exactly the “rap hub” of America, but people are slowly figuring out that I used to make music and are in awe. The good kind of awe.

Dude, I had no idea. That’s amazing. Why’d you quit? You should still write. You actually had a lot of talent. The stuff I’ve heard sounds great, man. and so on…

I’m an average rapper, but rap as a whole has been one of the best things to ever come into my life. And it helped me IMMEASURABLY with my career. I know, it’s weird.

Writing music was the first thing I ever did that involved unprompted creativity. Performing shows helped me develop a stage presence, and made me less fearful of speaking in front of the public. Creating art allowed me to become more introspective, and much better at articulating my emotions. Engineering vocals helped me increase my technical proficiency, and ability to learn new software. Promoting shows helped me learn how to market and sell the most difficult thing to market and sell: me. Meeting other recording artists was my first experience of networking. All of it made me a better marketer.

I’m writing this article because I think there are probably a handful of individuals out there stewing over the same internal conflict that I had as a senior in college: whether or not they should expose their true selves, and their true passions to future employers, out of fear of rejection or judgement. As an individual who now interviews a large majority of prospective candidates at our company, I can honestly say that I would much, much rather hire someone who has a passion than someone who can’t figure out what their passion is. So write your music. Do your dances. Record your vlogs. Play your video games. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, know that there are employers (and communities) that will accept you for everything that makes you unique.

I’m fortunate to now work for an employer where I don’t have to hide parts of my past – in fact, my CEO tried sending me some rap lines a few nights ago. I’ve been able to grow closely acquainted with the arts community up in Fargo-Moorhead, and although my days of performing shows and pursuing music have since passed, I still write constantly, and record when time allows. I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my 2015 and beyond music live on my SoundCloud… you can find it if you look hard enough. Though I’m ashamed to have succumbed to my own self-doubt and fears when I was looking for a job out of college, I’m hopeful that the landscape of the job market is shifting in such a way that the true makers and creatives will be celebrated, no matter how unorthodox their passion is.

mic drop.

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