Finding Your Passion
I remember the first time someone asked me, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I was 13 years old and the question paralyzed me. I had just finished playing basketball with my friends, and now I was supposed to answer what felt like a very important, very daunting question, to this random adult. I just stared at her and she said, “Aww, don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” I instantly felt like I’d done something wrong.
My parents never asked me that question. In fact, we never discussed careers or the future in my house. They’re from the Caribbean, so it was just assumed that kids go to school, get good grades, and then get a job paying six figures as a doctor, lawyer, stock broker or something of equal social standing. They didn’t come to this country and break their backs working to give you a nice life just so you could waste it writing weekly newsletters...lol.
So I worked. I worked hard because I needed to know what the hell I was going to do. I got on the Honor Roll almost every semester in high school. I joined multiple clubs so I could look ambitious and demonstrate “team player” skills on my college applications. I got a good SAT score, which helped secure a scholarship to a university that cost $46,000 a year. And when I went to college, I majored in economics because I knew that I had to impress my parents and the lady that had asked that stress-inducing question four years earlier.
And then, I cried. I hated economics. For the first time in my life, I was failing classes. I was on the brink of losing my scholarship and still had no idea what the hell I wanted to be when I grew up, or what I was passionate about.
One day, a professor of mine told me I needed some direction and recommended that I get an internship. I honestly had no idea what they were because working for free isn’t a concept in the Caribbean home, but I did my homework, applied and got my first internship at Mercedes Benz. It was an okay experience, but I wasn’t passionate about it. As the official sponsors to New York Fashion Week, they sent some of us interns to help set up the shows and that’s where I met a fashion editor who complimented me on my hair. She was a woman of color and stylish and wasn’t a doctor, lawyer or stock broker, but seemed to be doing pretty well for herself so I wanted to learn more.
We started chatting and she asked me if I wanted to intern for her. I knew nothing about fashion, so I showed up to my Seventeen Magazine interview in a full suit with modest heels. I looked and felt frumpy, surrounded by a sea of women in platform super high heels and jeans, or fabulous dresses. She told me I was the first person to ever show up in a suit, but she laughed and hired me on the spot. That’s how I kicked off my fashion career. I completed seven demanding unpaid internships at places like Donna Karan, Versace and Chanel, while working part-time and taking 18 college credits each semester. Those internships helped me to secure work after college at InStyle Magazine, De Beers Diamonds and ELLE Magazine.
Here’s how I found work that excited me:
- Do a little bit of everything. I had to join a bunch of clubs in high school. I had to start college as an economics major. I had to do seven internships because all of these things exposed me to a variety of tasks and people. That variety helped me to define what I wanted to spend my time doing, and led me to point #2.
- Write down what you don’t like to do. Everyone is going to tell you to write down what you like doing. Don’t listen to them. That’s actually really hard. No one wants to pay you for sleeping and binging on Netflix (because that’s what we really like, right?). I found much better success by listing what I don’t like, such as expenses, anything analytical, sales-related, or cold-calling. Of course, these things are still part of my role sometimes, but I deliberately do not seek jobs where they would be the main focus.
- Become a stalker. Not literally, but here’s a little secret: most of my mentors don’t even know they’re my mentors. It’s hard to ask someone to be your mentor because it’s a time commitment and most busy people can’t make it happen. Instead, I find people that I admire and learn everything I can about them from afar. I read all of their interviews, devour the books they recommend, and listen to the podcasts they like. It’s my unofficial mentorship and I learn something new about myself every time.
Another little secret: I still don’t know what I want I be when I grow up, and if I saw that lady who asked me that ever important question 19 years ago, I would proudly tell her, “I’m still figuring it out.” With each experience, I gain new knowledge, new skills, new mentors and new friends. So I welcome every opportunity because I never know what little gem I can discover from it.