Cartoonist Lynn Johnston shares 5 keys on how to have a career – for better or worse!

Well, if you are like millions of Canadians, you start your day by reading the newspaper and most likely checking out the comic section. This week’s podcast is with Lynn Johnston, the creator of the comic strip "For Better or for Worse". How would you like to spend your days doodling? "For Better or for Worse" started with 150 newspapers. Her strip is now translated into 8 languages, appears in over 2,000 papers in Canada, the United States and 23 other countries. Lynn has over 35 best selling books and her strip has been adapted into six animated television specials and a popular animated series. Lynn was the first woman to win her profession’s highest honor, The Reuben award. Lynn is by all accounts Canada’s most successful cartoonist. I really enjoyed spending part of an afternoon with Lynn at her studio sharing her thoughts on life, career and success.

Lynn grew up in Vancouver in a very artistic family. "My parents were wonderful, supportive artists". Her Dad was a painter, her Mom could draw and her brother was a musician. That is a lot of creative talent under one roof. In school, Lynn had some good subjects and some areas that she struggled in. "I was a pain in the neck. I couldn’t concentrate on work, especially math". One time she could not do the math exam so she doodled. "I was going to cry, but I said no, I am going to look like I am working and doodle over the entire exam". In grade 6, she got an F for math and an A+ for art. Her math teacher worked with her after school encouraging her talent in art, and helping her to do much better in math. "Teachers like that make life worth living as a kid. You never feel smart enough and you take for granted your special skills". This early encouragement got her onto the right track of becoming a cartoonist.

Her first job in Vancouver was as an animator and came from a person she used to babysit for. "People are watching you, your first job is your first reference". She then moved to Hamilton where she joined McMaster University as a medical artist. Her role as a medical artist was the perfect blend of using her artistic talent with her interest in people. She worked for Dr. David Sackett who encouraged her work at McMaster. Pregnant with her first child, she also was encouraged by her obstetrician to bring in her art to "cheer" up his office. She had such a great response that this led to her writing her first book, David We’re Pregnant, which sold slowly. Her personal situation changed with a divorce and she decided to do more contract work to give her flexibility with a young baby. Lynn went on to write 3 more books published by a small publisher. A new publisher was so impressed with her work, that he introduced her to Universal Syndicate, which published Cathy, Doonesbury as well as Herman. They loved her work and offered her a 20 year contract. "This just floored me". With her new contract and her husband’s new job, they moved to a small town in northern Manitoba. The small town she lived in sheltered her from her fame and offered her a microcosm of life from which to draw stories for her column. Her unique blend of observations as a parent, wife and friend combined with her humor immediately resonated with readers and her column took off.

Here are 5 ideas I took from my conversation with her.

Lynn’s 5 "better" career principles:

  1. You’ve got talent – "Everyone has something they are great at". All of us have been created with something unique to make this world a better place. Where is your talent?
  2. Support from others – From her parents to Dr. David Sackett to the team at Universal Syndicate. According to a study from John Hopkins Medical School, you are 7.7 times more likely to succeed with support, rather than by yourself. Who do you need to help you?
  3. Work is not a four letter word – Lynn worked really diligently at her career. Hard and smart work, was crucial in her success. How hard are you working, really?
  4. Open your own doors – "Volunteer. Get in there and do stuff, go to the market, don’t wait for the market. Successful people have opened doors. This is where you will find your luck". You need to take action and look for an opportunity. It will not arrive in your email box. Where can you start?
  5. Success takes time – I believe Lynn’s successful career started with her first job as a babysitter and the choices along the way enabled her to have long term success. Think long term, not short term.

"Everybody who is successful wants to pass on their knowledge and see the next generation come along and do well. They want the next generation to take that knowledge."

So here’s the question in your career – for better or worse? This is up to you. Like Lynn, you can take ownership of your future and go and be found, or not. You choose. There is always room in the job market for those who are truly talented! Looking for the better? Find your own luck, book an initial consultation. Your career is no joke!

Along the road with you!

Alan