One of the things I love most about my job is interacting with people. Really though, it’s more than that. I love hearing how people earn a living. I can’t help but find myself constantly fascinated at how people make money and how they've ended up there. Often times it is a really roundabout journey. I find it so encouraging and inspiring because you never know where the road will lead you.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what’s gotten me to this point – the opportunities, the criticisms, the encouragements, the hard work…and have decided to share it. Most people have heard the Albert Einstein quote, “Everyone is a genius, but if you expect a fish to climb a tree, you will never see it.” This quote didn’t make sense to me for a long time. Then all the sudden I understood it, and I realize how fully it resonates with me now.
I didn’t know until the second half of college that I spent most of my life feeling like a fish trying to climb a tree. I had reached the point where I questioned “What am I great at? Where do I excel? What makes me special?” I couldn’t identify any of these things and felt average in all of my achievements (or lack thereof). To be fair, throughout elementary school and middle school, this wasn’t something I thought about often, but my awareness became heightened throughout high school, perhaps because I attended a rigorous and demanding high school.
Over the course of those four years, I made some of the greatest memories I could have hoped for in my teenage life, but it became apparent to me that I didn’t have a “thing”. I wasn’t the social one, the prettiest one, the most interesting, or the weirdest. Not in a sad way. Just not in a remarkable way. I don’t say this to sound self-deprecating. I say it to set a picture of what early life felt like. I was the “normal” one, the one who would make "a great secretary.”
I’m going to make a long story short and sum up four years of an ebbing and flowing feeling in one memory. Once a year my school held an awards night. My best friends were all brilliant; one in an academic way, one in an intriguing, spontaneous way, and one in a worldly, impressive way. On this night, my academic friend racked up on awards and to her credit, she really deserved it. That made me proud but also self-conscious. I was normally called for some sort of honorable mention in journalism or yearbook. That was what I had come to expect and I was pretty okay with it.
Senior year honors night rolls around. I went (mostly because it was mandatory) expecting to receive a “pat on the back” award. Name after name, award after award was called. Our class was small, and for someone keeping track (as I inevitably started to), it became obvious I had to have been the only person who had received nothing. It was the worst kind of reinforcement.
BUT stay with me! This has a happy ending. Let me skip ahead a bit. At that point, I already knew I intended to be a graphic designer. I also already believed I could be way more than the “normal one” or someone’s secretary (now I’m my own boss and my own secretary, so I guess there’s little bit of irony there).
So what next? After feeling pretty upset about the evening’s events and recognizing how much I had felt “less than,” a monumental decision was made. At the time, I really didn't realize how monumental. I decided to ignore it. I tend to be a one-track mind kind of person, so I decided to do what I want and be good at it.
From the first meeting with my college advisor, who suggested double majoring in business and fine arts, I said yes and never turned back. Even during the first two years when I hated – and I mean hated - business school. But for some reason, I believed it would help me to get where I wanted to end up. I needed to keep going. This was one of my first conscious moments in my life when I learned to trust myself. Handfuls of people would tell me to stop business school because I hated it, but now that I am done, as soon as I was done, I knew I would never regret that decision and those few years of life.
Enter junior year. My classes shifted from general business to my concentration, which was marketing, and all of the sudden I was fascinated. I was learning things that I knew I could implement in my career. My design classes in my art major began to perfectly complement my marketing classes. It is what provided me with a well-rounded knowledge and basis for what I do now. My path was blurry for a long time, but there were stepping stones along the way leading me in the right direction. While it took courage and motivation to make those decisions, I had to trust where I felt I had talent and where I knew I felt comfortable. That meant overcoming really uncomfortable, challenging moments (years) to get there.
I don’t mean to sound too rah-rah or go-get-em here. But it took me a long time to get to this point of confidence and to believe in myself. It also required a practiced effort in ignoring advice or feelings of doubt that I knew would get in the way. The regrettable thing is that I believe I always knew what my strengths were and knew that I should exercise them. The only thing I had to do was identify how to use them. Yet, I spent several valuable years telling myself that it wasn’t “my thing” because other people were better at this or that. Some of it was laziness and some was a lack of confidence.
The point here is, listen to your gut. Believe in what your intuition is telling you. Your intuition knows. Your talents are your own and you should embrace them. I wish I had listened sooner and if I hadn’t when I did, I wouldn’t be here now. Maybe it isn’t how you make your living, but maybe leaving yourself open to it is the way you find your happiness. Maybe it is the way you make your living. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are a fish trying to climb a tree. Just find the place where you can swim.