Tough Love Tuesday: The Ever-Evolving Career
Last Saturday I spoke at the WE@Brown Women's Empowerment Conference. I asked my social media what I should talk about. I gave them the options of "The Ever-Evolving Career" or "How To Promote Yourself On Social Media And Still Be A Person." Two-thirds voted for the latter, but something in my heart really wanted to talk about how it's ok to have change and uncertainty in your career. I pitched it to the women who asked me to speak at the conference, and they were all for it. Here is the talk I gave. I hope you find something in it that resonates with you.
Let's start at the beginning, and that starts all the way back at the age of four years old. I wanted to be a fashion designer because my mother was a fashion designer. She went to RISD and her Bachelors and Masters in apparel design and education, respectively. At the ripe old age of eight-years-old when I was taking one of my mother's fashion design classes that she taught at RISD, I decided that I did not want to be a fashion designer anymore. I know 8 is a pretty early age to retire, but I felt in my heart it wasn't for me. Around that time I decided that I wanted to be a detective because one of my issues of Disney Adventures Magazine was all about the detectives that month so I decided that's what wanted to be. The following month of Disney Adventures Magazine came out with an issue about magicians, so I decided I want to be a magician. Then I decided that I wanted to be a detective who is also a magician.
When I was 13, I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, mostly because I did well on a test about the law so naturally, I needed to be a lawyer. When I was 15, I wanted to see an interior designer. I planned on going to RISD for it, but I realized that I would actually have to go for interior architecture and I had to good at math, which I wasn't, so my interior design career ended in 10th grade. Last semester of senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to be a forensic psychologist because I watched Silence of the Lambs and wrote my final paper in my sociology class about serial killers. I applied to the only college I could find that had a forensic psychology department which was in the middle of nowhere Vermont. I got into that college and then quickly my mother realized that I applied to no other colleges and freaked out. I ended up going to Rhode Island College with a major in psychology. The first semester, I took a writing class focused on film which I enjoyed so I switched my major over to film studies where I decided I wanted to be a sports documentary film editor. I liked watching documentaries on HBO, and they always made me cry, so I wanted to be able to make other people cry too.
Like a lot of people just graduating college, ready to take on the world, I immediately started working retail. I worked for Sony Electronics when they had retail stores in malls. Because I got my degree in film, my manager put me in the camera department. Now I actually thought I would've done better in the TV department because I actually knew more about TVs than cameras at the moment (but thankfully I ended up where I did ::foreshadowing::). Two years later, Sony came out with their first DSLR camera, and because I was the camera girl, I had to learn how to work the camera and teach everyone else how to use it. A year later, I left Sony and started working at a local camera store where after 11 months, I got laid off. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I had a camera, and someone said to me "hey, you should take pictures of models" and then I said "that's stupid. Who would ever do that?" but I tried it, and now 10 years later I'm still taking photos.
Let's Tarantino this story and go back again. When I was three years old, my mother said I used to walk around with a cassette tape to my face because I thought it was a camera. She would do a lot of fashion photo shoots and have fashion shows, so I was used to cameras around all the time, plus she was always taking my photo as a kid. When I was in middle school, I used to watch all the shows about fashion models, and I loved watching photo shoots and fashion shows on TV. In college, I got a point-and-shoot camera, and my friends always asked me to take their modeling photos even though I have no idea what I was doing. The signs were always there that I would probably end up being a photographer, but I never noticed it.
At the beginning of my photography career, I photographed alt models which means a lot of crazy hair colors, a lot of piercings, a lot of tattoos, and a whole lot of latex. I moved on to photographing models for modeling agencies in New England and in New York. I then started shooting fashion bloggers and influencers. Then I began snapping small business owners and entrepreneurs which is what I do now. While I was a photographer, I also became the creative director of a spa and beauty e-commerce store for a few years before I quit and slowly devoted my time to photography. Then I decided to launch a branding company with my best friends called The Branding Edit.
I've always been used to the hustle. Financial security? I didn't know her. I always had to put myself out there to get my next job so I could pay bills for the next month. I've never had anyone else there to support me. Uncertainty is a natural feeling for me. I've come to realize it's not like that for other people. I'm 35 years old, and I have people in my life who are in their mid-20s, a few years out of college, and they have no idea what they're doing with their lives, and they are freaking the fuck out. I've had talks with my friends in their 20s, and they are so nervous about not landing that dream job that they're sticking with forever. I was always left confused because I did not understand where all this urgency is coming from. There seems to be a lack of patience happening with our younger generation. I tell them that I'm in my 30s and I don't know what the hell I'm doing and I know people in their 40s and they don't know what they're doing, and spoiler alert: no one knows what they're doing.
I was doing a photo shoot the other day, and I was telling her that I was going to do this talk and she said asked me what I was going to say to make it not depressing? I said well hopefully no one runs out the room crying, but I don't think that it's depressing or scary that uncertainty exists. I think it's liberating. Just to know that you will change your mind and go through one million different careers and that's okay. When we are young, we constantly change what we want to be when we grow up. Who says that has to stop once you hit a certain age?
I wish there were more honesty in what it is like to be a person pursuing their goals. It's very hush-hush what people are willing to share about themselves. I look at the people I admire, and it's the people who are transparent in what they are aiming for and what they're building. I love Gary Vaynerchuk. I loved being able to watch his evolution from Wine Library to Vaynermedia. I love Rachel Hollis. I love how she isn't afraid to share her dreams and goals with her audience, and even if she fails, it's okay because she tried and she's inspiring other people to do the same.
What can people do to be okay with uncertainty? I think that people should follow their curiosities. Elizabeth Gilbert says "But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach. Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, "Hey, that's kind of interesting…" Passion is rare; curiosity is every day. Curiosity is therefore a lot easier to reach at times than full-on passion — and the stakes are lower, easier to manage.”
I'm sure we've all heard it a lot that we should follow our passions but what if you don't know what your passions are yet? Who says you're going to figure it out by the time you graduate college or hit a certain age? Some people find their passions immediately, and that's fantastic! They can run head first into their dream career and will land the job they want, and I am more than happy for them. What about the people who aren't so sure just yet? Following your curiosities is the best advice that I could give anyone. Is this something that's worth pursuing as a career? Maybe you decide that working in the nonprofit is where you want to be and then you're working there, and you realize that it is wicked stressful and it's not the right job for you. Maybe you're best suited to volunteering some time to nonprofits instead of working for them. Maybe you decide that you want to help all people and you're going to law school, and then realize that perhaps you don't want to be a lawyer at all. Changing your mind is ok. Now I know there's a lot of college-age people in the room, but it's the same advice for someone 10, 20, or 30 years older than you. Changing your mind on what path you want to go down is ok because your job does not define you. It's a straightforward way to categorize someone, but it does not make you who you are.
If I decided that my career choices defined me, that would make me a hot mess because there were (and are) so many times I had literally no idea what I'm doing. Recently I launched a productivity coaching service because I followed not just a curiosity, but a passion of mine which is being really productive and organized. I love to watch productivity videos on YouTube. It's my favorite thing to do. I'm well beyond reading articles about productivity, but I can sit and watch someone talk about how to calendar block and write the best kind of to do list for hours on end (which I know is its own form of procrastination, but I digress). It got me thinking about how if you go back to my long list of potential careers as a child, what I am doing now was never part of that list. Photography was something I fell into. It's something I did at the time because it was available to me. I had a camera, and I was good at photography. It doesn't mean that I ever had a passion for it. I love taking photos and knowing that I am empowering women to show up fully as themselves to the world, but I know this is not something I'm going to do forever. A month and a week from now I'm going to be 36, and I'm having the thoughts of what I'm I going to do next. I know that I am not going to be a photographer forever. My back hurts too much doing the photographers' squat. I'm not scared at the thought of not being sure what is next. It's okay that I am back in the place of uncertainty. It's actually exciting now because I am much more secure in myself and who I am as a person that when that new bug of curiosity bites me, I will follow it and see where it takes me.
I want to leave you all feeling at peace with your own uncertainty. Be excited that you can go out there and do whatever you want, and if you don't like it you can move onto the next. There's so much pressure out there for you to graduate AND get that job AND make six figures AND find a great partner AND do all of the things. If you internalize just one thing from this talk let it be this: No one else knows what's best for you except for you. Don't try to mold yourself into what your family or your friends or your professors or the world expects of you. The only expectations that matter are whatever you set for yourself.
I want to thank you all for coming to see me today. You could have been anywhere in this building, but you're here in this room, and I appreciate that. Here are three takeaways for you to leave with.
1) Follow your curiosity; you don't know where it will take you
2) Have patience; you don't have to have it all right now, and you don't have to have it all five years from now.
3) The only expectations that matters are yours and yours alone.
This is your time now for you to have the floor. If you have any questions, please ask away. Or, if you need a safe space to talk about how you're feeling and need to get something off of your chest because you don't have that type of support system right now where you can openly say "hey I don't know what I'm doing," you can say it here. I'm here to listen.