As a woman in her late twenties, I think I’m a little young for a mid life crisis. That being said, I have had a revelation in the past couple of weeks that has changed the way that I feel about my life and I thought I would share it here– incase someone stumbles on it while viewing my website. The person I was when I graduated college is still inside me somewhere, but I have evolved in my perception of what a career is and I’ve learned that money IS important, but quality of life and valuing one’s worth is far more important.
Upon graduating college last spring/summer as Valedictorian with a scholarship and glowing recommendations, I immediately delved into a summer-long internship. My goal in this internship was to get a job at the company I was interning at. I worked hard and enjoyed my time there, but in the end, it was sobering to have something not go my way. I was not hired for a position. There was only one position available and I am so happy that it went to someone that exceeded my qualifications and has dedicated her heart and soul to her new career. I am so blessed and thankful for her support and friendship and know that the right decision was made on the part of the company.
So began my process of job hunting. I took time off with the intent of finding a good paying full-time 9-5 job with a 401 K, paid time off, health benefits, the whole shabang in the graphic design field. I signed up for two different recruiting agencies, with strange tests that were used as standards for what a Graphic Designer should know. I went on countless interviews dressed in conservative business professional attire, perfecting my portfolio and my interview skills. Making sure to give a hand shake and to always send a personalized “thank you” e-mail. I tailored each application and cover letter to the specific company I was applying for; convincing myself each time that “This was the one. I can see myself at this place”. I went on one interview for a Production Artist Assistant job and was told I was over qualified. I took it as a compliment but would have preferred to just settle on a position below my experience level so that I could have the opportunity to move up in the company later.
Finally, in the later part of the month, it seemed I’d found the place: It was a beautiful little agency in a historic part of the city. It was just a train ride and then a 12 minute walk from the train. I applied for a position as an intern, but instead of being called in for a job interview, I was asked if I would like to come freelance for the agency. Coincidentally during this time, I had done some damage to my right foot and spent the better part of three weeks hobbling off the train and through Chinatown to get to the agency. I’d hide in the alley and pull off the most comfortable shoes I had considering my injury (Ugg boots– in the summer), put on some dressy black flats, and head into the lofty studio with exposed brick walls and a view that could take your breath away.
I could go on for an entire blog post about my first (and only) experience working at an agency, but perhaps I will save that for another time. Suffice to say, between interviews and freelancing, the romance of agency life withered away and I was left with a longing for connection and a sense of belonging. The designer taking vacation at the agency returned and I returned to my neighborhood in Philly. I remember that last train ride home and seeing my stop coming up next. My eyes filled with tears and I felt more at home than I’d felt since I started this whole job hunting endeavor.
I rooted myself back in Manayunk and accepted a position as General Manager at the retail clothing store I’d worked at for years, thinking I could work there full time for a year or so and figure out what I really want to do. As the months have elapsed, I’ve had some growing pains. There is a back bone growing into place that I never had before. As the Customer Relations Specialist at my company, it is my job to be somewhat of an arbitrator between customers, my co workers, and my boss. I’ve learned a lot about negotiating but also about standing firm in a decision and being able to hold my own. Do I aspire to be more than a retail manager? Yes. That’s where life and self worth comes into play.
I go home at night and open up my laptop. Without that much effort, clients began to emerge from the wood work. Friends and family knew of my accomplishments and through a growing network, I began to establish a loyal client base for freelance design. Granted, it took a year, but now I sit here wondering if I should use this new back bone to stand tall and sell myself as a freelancer. Maybe I can do it completely. The idea used to frighten me. I snuggled into the cozy idea of working under an art director and being told what to do. A year later, I realize that there is a sense of satisfaction and confidence that only comes from being a boss (and a manager)…
…So I joined a band. When asked if I would like to audition as keyboardist in my favorite band, I didn’t even contemplate before answering. I went out the next day and bought a keyboard and now every day I look forward to going home and teaching myself something new to play. I sat on the sidelines for so long in life, waiting my “my turn to play”. Now it’s my turn. In every aspect I can think of. This new found confidence has given me the push I so desperately needed to develop my own design business and get out of the audience and onto the stage.
Aspiring designers and graduates, do not let a competitive field deter you for achieving personal happiness and fulfillment. “Stand and feel your worth”. If the first twenty interviews fail you, step back and try a different approach. I’ve learned that life can be unfair and that success is not measured by what you do but how you do it.