Like many other university students, Aidan Lising was confused, doubtful and just trying to figure out what worked best for him.
While he worked hard pursuing journalism at Ryerson University back in 2019, Lising always kept his passion for graphic design on the side.
During the November blues of Lising’s senior year at high school, he remembers sitting down with his parents and having a difficult conversation — telling them that, while he didn’t know what he wanted to do, he wanted it to be creative.
“I knew I wanted to do something they did not want me to do,” said Lising.
Like many, Lising’s parents wanted him to pursue a stable career. They wanted him to be a lawyer, doctor or nurse — all things he was not passionate about.
“It was a big deal to tell them,” Lising said. “I told them I would keep my STEM courses, I will do my math, but I also told them I want to do something creative.”
In 2021, Lising designed the graphics for a Toronto Maple Leafs giveaway promotion.
From what started as a hobby in high school, to getting his design displayed on a big screen in front of over 18,000 people, Lising said, “Working with the Toronto Maple Leafs was definitely a dream come true.”
Lising says he’s always been a creative kid. “Even back in school, if there was an opportunity to create a video or do some designing, I just used to get so excited.”
In a sense, he knew what programs he was applying to for university, he just didn’t know what he would end up doing.
As he promised to his parents, he applied for the nursing programs at both University of Toronto and Ryerson. And then there was his third choice: journalism at Ryerson.
“I was like, Ryerson journalism, ah screw it, whatever,” he said. Little did he know what life had planned for him.
“I got into all three … but I was not looking forward to studying biology for the next four years, I just took journalism not knowing where it would take me.”
Lising spent a lot of time in his first year adjusting to a wealth of new experiences. He says he spent a lot of time in his professor’s office probing about the journalism program and wondering if it was right for him.
He said the experience was scary at one point, but connecting all the dots to his current job, he feels it all worked out.
Finding his passion for graphic design in university
During his time at Ryerson, Lising frequently pursued design projects alongside his journalism studies.
When two of his friends reached out to him needing a graphic for a sports article, Lising realized his art held value.
Working for the Ryersonian, the Eyeopener and other student publications further helped him realize the importance of graphics in journalism.
“Everything needs a design on the side,” Lising said.
During his last years at Ryerson, Lising often helped the student newspapers in a production capacity.
“That moment of time, while working on layouts, designs and graphics for The Eye, I realized that it is what I wanted to do. I knew what to hold onto.”
That’s when he decided he was going to focus on visuals.
“It was a pretty huge deal because something I made was now on physical paper and all around campus,” Lising said. “Even if people did not know it was mine, people were seeing it.”
The big bet: landing a gig with the Toronto Maple Leafs
On a random November day when Lising was busy doing his daily chores, he got a call from Brent Smyth, a friend and fellow j-school alumni, who works with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Smyth asked if Lising would be interested in helping out with some calendar designs for the Leafs.
“I was shaken for a while but I knew it was a great opportunity,” said Lising. “At the end of the day, it’s the team I freaking watched while growing up.”
Lising did not need to think twice before agreeing to the big opportunity.
Lising sent the team ideas with some examples and to his surprise, they were “blown away” with his work.
He says the Leafs loved what Lising did and even changed their idea to match what he suggested.
“They sent me files and told me to do what I do — my magic,” Lising said.
He worked all Friday and Saturday designing the calendar.
After finishing his project and sending his designs over, he went for a walk. While he was out, his phone did not stop ringing with praise from the Leafs’ creative team.
They loved his work.
“The texts said, ‘This is so amazing, it blew my mind,’” Lising said, remembering that joyful moment. “I was so giddy and happy, it was dark as hell outside but so bright inside of me.”
To someone who did not even know what he wanted to do in his first year of university, to working with the Toronto Maple Leafs, one could say life has it all planned for us.
“The idea that something that I made on my small computer, was now in front of 18,000 or more people on huge screens. It definitely was a dream come true,” said Lising.
Something Lising created in the little room that serves as both his office and bedroom in his family home in Scarborough, Ont., was now shining on the big screens at Scotiabank Arena.
“It is such a rewarding feeling,” he said.
Lising said people in creative fields, like journalists and designers, are expected to be a jack of all trades.
He explained how much hustle is needed to succeed in the field and how every creator is expected to be good at everything.
“It’s like you are betting on yourself,” he said. ”You are basically standing by your work because you believe you do kick-ass work.”
Looking back, he said the confused first-year version of himself would have been proud today.
“If my current-self would talk to the fourth-year me, I would have been like, ‘Dude, you did this for the Leafs. That’s so crazy,’” he said.
Following your passion and standing up for what you believe in is what Lising can say about his journey in the end.
“We really should enjoy the small victories, step back and soak in the air sometimes.”