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The Hero Series: Things are What You Make of Them

The Heroes Series is a new feature of the Rising Tide Society, focused on lifting up emerging voices in the creative and entrepreneurial community. This series is brought to our community by the Creative Council – a team within the Rising Tide Society dedicated to serving as a creative think tank to foster a community over competition mindset and to build intentional relationships to create an environment that is focused on empowerment, encouragement and education. We’re starting this series to lift up new, emerging, and storied voices that have something to contribute to the Creative Economy, starting with an interview between Creative Council member, Dannie Fountain and designer & author Adam J. Kurtz.
If you’ve wandered around our creative community for awhile, you’ve felt the rollercoaster of “feast and famine.” Y’all, I’m going to be real with you, that ride is a painful one. It’s strangely frightening to be able to buy ALL the Starbucks you want one week and then not pay your bills the next. We’re all pretty tired of being told to save better, be stronger, think smarter…but here’s the thing. Things really are what you make of them. So with that, I want to introduce you to my favorite “making the best of things” expert, Adam J. Kurtz.
Adam J. Kurtz
DF: Who are you and what do you do?
AJK: My name is Adam J. Kurtz, I’m a 28 year old from Toronto currently living in Brooklyn, NY. I’m a designer, artist and author of two creative journal books, 1 Page at a Time and Pick Me Up, which have been translated into a dozen languages each. Mostly I’m known for making funny, relatable work that explores the creative process itself, tries to find the good in life’s darkness, and just for being like a nice, weird guy??? I’m as surprised as anyone that my personal hobby has grown into a full-on career. I also have a small line of gifts and stationery, have done product collections with brands like Urban Outfitters and Fishs Eddy, and have done freelance design and illustration for clients like Adobe, Pepsi, and the New York Times.
DF: On a scale of 1-10, how weird do you think you are? Why?  
AJK: I’m probably a 6, assuming that a 10 is “legitimately weird” and 1 is “stock photo of adult caucasian male businessman with flowchart, cutout on white.” I use weird to describe myself and my moods often, and not too long ago someone called me out on it. I guess it’s not that weird if it’s how I feel every day.
DF: Everyone can fail from time to time, what do you think was your most “enlightening” career fail?  
AJK: I don’t know that I’ve had a major fail necessarily because of the way my career has grown really slowly and organically out of a hobby. But there are definitely a lot of rejections. I’m not someone who is often afraid to apply or submit or introduce myself, but that brings with it more opportunities to be told no. Over the last year, I’ve really finally embraced the fact that I am just not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I took a few days to feel worthless after one particular rejection, and then it was time to get real. I’m not going to win over people who hate me. What I can focus on is being appreciative for the people who do support me, being loyal and supportive right back, and trying to make myself proud.
DF: Okay real talk, does having over 100k followers on Instagram mean that you’ve “made it?” How do you define making it?  
AJK: Okay, listen. If I had abs I’d probably have way more followers. Followers are not a metric of actual worth or value. I can post something I’m super proud of and get 1,000 likes. Then I can post a meme of a pizza that says “I love pizza” and get 6,000. Shit is fucking arbitrary. How many random attractive people have like a million followers? Do you know who any of them are? Could you identify them in a crowd? The reality is that followers and recognition aren’t the same. Post engagement doesn’t always translate into shop orders. A verified checkmark doesn’t make me a bestseller. Daily posts doesn’t mean I have a robust body of actual work. There’s just a huge disconnect. Anyway, I’d still love to have a million followers please, I have an ego to feed.
DF: What interpersonal challenges do you have in business?
AJK: For the most part I try to be open and supportive. I have wonderful and talented friends and I am always happy to support them. I get excited about brands that I like working with. I am loyal to products and services that support me and am always happy to sing their praises. I am a big believer in rewarding and crediting collaborators. I always want to spread whatever budget there is for something around.

But I think some people take me for granted, either assuming too much, or assuming almost nothing and then finding themselves surprised when I’m not “an Instagrammer” or “a doodle guy.” Surprise! I’m nice but I’m not a pushover. [Editor’s Note: I, too, was among the crowd pleasantly surprised by how dang nice he is. It was a good reminder that our favorite people online are real humans too.]

DF: What is your dream for the entrepreneurial/creative industry?
AJK: I wish that I could bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles and we’d all eat it and be happy.
DF: Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
AJK: “Ironic” is one of Alanis Morissette’s worst songs (although everything she’s ever done is amazing flawless perfect incredible the best).
DF: Talk to us about Things Are! What was the impetus for this book?  
AJK: Things Are What You Make of Them is my new collection of short essays on creative entrepreneurship, but more specifically, on the internal struggles we face as “creative types” in whatever form that means for us. It’s full color, pocket size, entirely handwritten (well, 117 pages of it) and the pages are lightly perforated so it’s easy to cleanly tear out any page that you absolutely need to see by your desk, or share with someone else. It boils down to the fact that most of our biggest challenges are internal. We feel potential that we don’t know how to harness. We’re afraid of failing, but also starting, and also sharing our work, claiming it as valuable, partnering with others, or trying something other than the first thing. This book offers my own insights into what it means to be a person who makes anything, particularly if you’re trying to make a living from that passion. But I’m not “an expert” giving you answers. We are in this shit together. I am not better than anybody (I’m probably worse???) but I can take what I’ve been learning and processing over the last few years and pass it along. There’s this idea that artists are tortured, so to me step 1 is HEY MAYBE LET’S STOP TORTURING OURSELVES THEN?
DF: Why is it so important that we as creatives and entrepreneurs feel supported?  
AJK: This is a job for RuPaul, who always says “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” We are a special kind of person who can look at the pieces and see their whole. We find new ways to tackle challenges that other people haven’t even identified as problems yet. We find ways to take lived experience and turn them into work that evokes emotion in others. There are some kinds of jobs you can do without having to exert a lot of emotional, creative thinking. Have you ever stuffed envelopes? It’s great. But when you need to really be using your brain, you need to be feeling okay. Creativity can be magical, but if you’re not in a place where you’re supported, enabled, and comfortable, then how are you going to do this often abstract work?
DF: What is your dream for this book?
AJK: My dream is for this book to reach everyone who would benefit from it, even if they don’t know it yet:
 * Anyone who’s ever felt unsure of who they are, what they’re doing or why they’re even doing it. 
 * Anyone who ever questioned if loving their craft is enough.
 * Anyone who’s ever been hard on themselves because they know they have more to give.
 * Anyone who’s ever obsessed over every single detail.
 * Anyone who’s ever tried to make a living from what they do.
 * Anyone who’s ever wanted to follow their dream all the way through.
 *  Anyone who is currently living their dream and realizing just how hard it is.
 * Anyone who makes anything or ever has.This is the kind of book that’s shared from one person to another. Not a secret exactly, but more like wisdom shared as an optimistic gift from one creative, living, human person to another and then another. I hope that it will find its way to the people who could most benefit from it and encourage people who are working on humanity’s next great ideas to keep going even when they’re not sure why they’re doing what they’re doing. I know that sounds trite but I really believe it. I believe in people and I hope that by putting something purely good into the world I can maybe reach even one person at exactly the right time.
DF: What’s your morning ritual?
AJK: After washing up I usually sit down to pack the previous day’s shop orders, because the post office is halfway between my apartment and where I get coffee! So mail first and then I can get coffee before coming home. The short walk there and back provides the distinction between “home” and “work” hours, and helps me set my intention. Also, I don’t pay for coffee in exchange for designing their menus and other little stuff. After several years of not-spending $4 a day, it’s definitely one of my best-paid gigs.
DF: Real talk – what’s your most embarrassing middle school moment?
AJK: Oh my god STOP with this question!!!!!!! I was just honestly the worst at every single sport and went to a school where our gym class was just “go outside and play baseball now” so I was regularly just… not good at that.
DF: What’s your food philosophy.
AJK: I enjoy food.
AJK: Is it called “stalking” if I’m like, super desperate for followers???? Anyway okay bear with me, there’s a lot of stuff and it’s all only okay.
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