What do you want to be when you grow up?
I never had an answer for this. I was passionate about so many things that I couldn’t verbalize the culmination of all my interests into one easy title. As I breezed through school, I surmised that I would decide my career path based on a simple process of elimination; if I didn’t like it, or if I wasn’t good at it, I wouldn’t pursue it. Unfortunately, I excelled at most subjects, and even what didn’t come easily, I viewed as a challenge to prove that I could accomplish anything. (Yes, a competitive and stubborn spirit has followed me since childhood.) I wasn’t even going to let a few bad teachers dissuade me from “owning” any and all subjects, ok well, with the small exception of math.
Oh Math. I can palate calculations, problem solving, even quadratic equations and trigonometry, however, back in grade 11, I completely checked out mentally when imaginary numbers were introduced. How is one supposed to quantify what is unseen, hypothetical and illogical?! If it’s tangible, I’ll calculate it; budgets, percentage of savings, unit conversions, etc. It was only after the college Cal I class with the teacher who wore the lone latex glove to write on the chalkboard (supposedly to prevent a rash from contact with the chalk), that I gave in and grudgingly crossed “accountant”, “engineer”, along with anything requiring Cal II and beyond off of my mental career list.
Looking back, it was at this point that my most life-altering decision was made. Scholastically-speaking, I had taken the scientific route, since most teachers and councillors highly recommended taking science courses to “keep your options open”. I blindly obliged, challenge accepted, with grandiose visions of morphing into a geeky hotshot in a crisp blazer, pressed pencil skirt, “clicky” heels and glasses, presenting an award-winning lab report to a captivated panel of scientists. I cringe at that image today. It was only at graduation upon receiving the English Achievement Award, amidst all of my enlightened knowledge accrued over the past five years, my proverbial Edison bulb flickered on. My English teachers had often praised my writing skills, my acute perception and analysis of literature, and creative ways of expressing myself, yet I had attributed all those compliments to simply being gifted in that subject. I never thought to monetize my God-given gits. The same went for music; receiving an overall A+ and “honours with distinction” for the multiple piano and theory exams I took over the years. Music however stuck to the “once a hobby, always a hobby” mentality.
Art somehow, was different. In a brave new world at the dawn of the 21st century, on the cusp of a digital technology renaissance, I found my niche. Something about the persona of the carefree artist intrigued my logic-inclined brain and compelled me to study those whose work I had always admired. I wasn’t simply satisfied with the theoretical side, of art, no! It was the feelings and ideas flowing through one’s hands, cascading forth through the medium and surging into the culmination of a satisfying chef d’oeuvre that sparked my passion, instead of simply regurgitating memorized scientific formulae, rules and processes as I had previously endured. Hours could melt away, like Salvator Dalí’s clock, spent in the studio, pouring my heart into my etchings, screen prints, fabric dyes and paintings. I had found my calling and I was “all in”.
After graduating university, I was ready to take on the world and thrive… only, I didn’t know how. School life and “real life” are separated by a vast chasm piled high with dreams. Dreams crushed by harsh realism. Studio arts was my identity, yet without a studio space and access to equipment, I was just a person with a few great prints on the wall to show for myself. Graphic Design seemed the most logical artistic-yet-currently in-demand job. And I loved it. The past tense “loved”; a word saturated with a passion for the craft, yet jaded by life’s outcome, more specifically the result of the economic downturn and the intense level of competition for few permanent positions in the field. You may think you’re amazing and accomplished, but to most employers, you’re just the eager, bright-eyed youth destined to fill their most junior positions and to collect the coffee orders. Salaries are reflected by experience, and with experience comes with hard work; most often doing seemingly endless menial tasks towards no foreseeable goal. Even with experience, I’m finding that the job market is rather stale and unstimulated and next to impossible to permeate.
Without dabbling any more into the autobiographical, I’ll admit that I still have grandiose daydreams, desiring to excel and create a legacy. However, with age and wisdom, I am begrudgingly beginning to realize that although I may never be a household name, win an award of excellence, have my accessory line debuted on a prestigious catwalk, be featured as a cover story, or have a piece in the MoMA (of even the local gallery for that matter), that I shouldn’t give up trying. It’s so easy to allow failures, shortcomings or rejection dictate the future and scare away future endeavours. I have to keep reminding myself that although this season may be rough and seemingly unending, that what I must endure what today will bring in the form of skills and patience acquired to succeed in tomorrow’s venture.
When all else fails, do something that you love.
Well, I’ve had my fair share of failure lately. It seems that 2013 as a whole has been a failure with the negative far outweighing the positive. I don’t want to come across as pessimistic, so I tend to put out “happy vibes” through sharing the little nuggets of joy in the mundane to lift my spirits. But as a whole, this year has been less than desirable.
I know one’s identity shouldn’t be solely found in one’s work, but it’s hard to carry on polite conversation when one of the first ritual questions asked after the initial “How are you?” is “So what do you do?” Dread. “Oh, I’m a graphic designer” is usually met with “Cool! Where do you work?” The “I freelance for now” is the best cover-up I could muster, albeit partially true, instead of blurting out “I’m currently looking for a job full-time, attending countless interviews, but always come up short. The ‘runner-up’ never gets the job, and there’s always someone better than me that does. Each subsequent call-back gives me just enough hope that my pathetic unemployed state might improve, until the ‘but we have other applicants that are a closer match to the specific requirements of this position’ jargon dashes those dreams against the proverbial rocks”.
How’s that for an answer?! Yeah, “I freelance for now” is a whole lot easier and avoids the wide-eyed look of concern and horror of unsuspecting victims just looking for a polite and superficial 2 minute chat.
Back to my opening statement. When all else fails, do something that you love. I love graphic design, honestly I do. I may not be the best at it, I realize, or even the second best, but one thing that I have is a creative mind and a willingness to learn and improve. Throw me a challenge and I’m up for it. Unfortunately, in this competitive field, true skill is measured by a quick glance at an online portfolio, a list of LinkedIn badges and accomplishments and a timed mock-up test.
As a side note, I’m not sure if companies purposely throw curveballs at the applicant taking such tests during job interviews, but I’ve come across quite a few obstacles such as:
- Default shortcut keys that have been disabled, causing the candidate to go to the toolbar for any and all Photoshop modifications and tools, wasting precious time.
- A Windows 8 operating system with double screens (I honestly haven’t used Windows since Windows XP 2003). As with the above issue, most shortcut keys are different, and rolling the mouse too far over to the right opens up the 2nd screen. Certain Windows keyboard keys which are shortcuts keys on the Mac cause the current program to hide and the desktop to be revealed. Learn as you go, fun!
- A dysfunctional mouse that jumps all over the screen at random times, breaking concentration and messing up layouts. Also, this computer had “hot corners” where if the mouse goes to a corner, all open windows and programs pop up at the centre of the screen. Therefore, a randomly moving cursor jumping to the corner frequently causes much frustrations!
- A broken chair which would not raise past the height of a kid’s chair, so that my hands ended up on the keyboard at shoulder height. At least it forces good posture!
- An interviewer that, in the span of the 15 minute meeting, literally answered a phone call, replied to multiple text messages and had a conversation with another employee in the hall who knocked on the door. All while I was answering his questions. Really makes you feel valued!
With the scope set-back and frustrations, I’ve strongly considered switching careers, although to be quite honest, I don’t really have a plan B and I hate quitting. I’ve dedicated my education and career pursuits to one field, and if no opportunity materializes, how long should one clutch at one’s dream before the realization hits that it inevitably won’t work out? I’ve been wrestling with this notion and it’s honestly heartbreaking and completely humbling. No one appreciates admitting failure, and the perfectionist in me hates conflict and unsolvable problems. My hard-working and dedicated side holds fast to the “never give up” mantra, but the realist in me reminds me that the bills won’t pay themselves. A true mental and emotional tug-of-war!
Thus far, I have no answers and no resolution to this open-ended rhetoric, simply a thesis statement and facts. All the components to a proverbial essay, minus the conclusion. As 2013 draws quickly to a close, my hope is that my “something that I love” produces a fruitful opportunity, or that my DNA and goals can be quickly altered to find a new passion.