I am going to share my academic story with y’all. It is untraditional and it is not the story that my high school self thought I would be telling, but I know I am not alone in that. It is very (VERY) long, thorough, and infused with photos, sweet tidbits of love from my mama, and honest pieces of my heart. By sharing this, I hope my story will encourage someone and also make sense of the way that I have big huge creative ambitions in my heart without a design or journalism degree to match.
I have shared little bits and pieces of my story here before, beginning with part of my very first post:
December 30, 2013
This year I made the difficult decision to take more time away from school. Ever since I was in middle school, college was something that was a must for me. As a first-generation college student, I was confident that it was something I wanted for myself. To explain the story in brief: I began college as a nursing student because it seemed like the ‘safe’ and sensible thing to do. There was job security, flexibility, and it would allow me to help others everyday, which is important to me. However, this heart of mine is filled to the brim with creative ambition. I love to create, it makes my heart sing. I could create all day everyday and be the happiest person alive. As long my creations inspire me and others, I’m content. When I decided to make the bold move to pursue design instead of nursing, it was the beginning of my sophomore spring semester, in early 2012. BEST decision I EVER made (after accepting Jesus, of course!). It has brought a lot of challenges because the school I was attending did not offer any course of study in design, so ever since then I have been looking for a school that is affordable and offers a program that is a good fit. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason though, and the fact that I have been out of work with this back injury for the past three months makes me feel better about taking this time away from school because I would not be able to attend classes right now anyway. God makes everything beautiful in its own time, and maybe His plan for me is different than the traditional college route.
Ever since I can remember, I loved school. Throughout middle school and high school, that passion was reflected in the classes I took and the leadership roles I held. I worked hard, desiring to open as many opportunities as I could for myself. Early in high school, I had ideas of being an architect, interior designer, or journalist, but I had this idea that I needed to choose a major and career that was financially secure, with the goal of working in a field with a growing demand. During the fall semester of my senior year I decided that the solution for that was to apply to college as a nursing student. The program at my state school is competitive so I decided that if I were to be accepted there it would confirm that it was the right decision for me. In January 2010, I was accepted to the program and in June I graduated from high school with the assumption that I had chosen the right career path, one that would be respectable and secure.
In August of 2010, I moved across my state to begin college at the University of New Hampshire. Over the next 18 months, I began a tumultuous journey of growth, interwoven with confusion, homesickness, new friendships, my first relationship and subsequent break-up, and the constant thread of feeling unmotivated with my major. My classes were HARD. I went to college thinking that I was capable of meeting the demands of a nursing program. I had done very well with college preparatory courses throughout high school so I thought that I would naturally succeed in college. Instead, I was struggling big time. I was unmotivated and had hardly any interest in the material that we were studying. While I knew that I didn’t have the same passion and fervor for nursing as my peers did, I had anxiety whenever I thought about changing my major. I was convinced that my disinterest was due to the fact that the first year of nursing school is marked with prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology, psychology, and nutrition. I thought that surely I would fall in love with nursing once we began hands-on practice and clinical experience at the start of sophomore year, so I stuck with it and endured.
In September of 2011, I moved back to school to begin my second year as a nursing student. Having invested a full year of time and tuition into the program, I felt a lot of pressure to succeed and gain momentum. My parents were very supportive and encouraging, continually telling me how proud they were of me.
On the morning of my first day of clinical experience, our instructor met with us in the conference room for orientation. As we sat there in our scrubs, she asked us to rank our desire to become a nurse on a scale of 1-10. Each girl around the table gave an answer of an 8, 9, or 10. By the time it was my turn, I had a huge knot in my stomach. I had so much doubt about my career path and I felt stuck. I wanted to give the program a fair chance and complete the semester of clinical and lab experience before I would reconsider my plan. At the time, I felt like switching my major was giving up and showing the world that I couldn’t finish what I had set out to do. I felt like I had wasted lots of money on tuition. Most importantly, I didn’t want to let anybody down, including myself. As the semester progressed, I did not experience any sense of peace or confidence that I was in the right place. I tried my best to give every patient the best quality of care and compassion that I could give them but my heart was not in it. If anything, the experience made me more aware that I did not have a passion for nursing and I couldn’t see myself doing that as my life’s work. While my fellow nursing students were agonizing over upcoming exams, I was creating decorative projects for my dorm room, piecing together collages on Polyvore (long before my experience with Photoshop), and making frequent trips to Target, the craft store, and the local coastal town to explore their stationery shops and boutiques. In November 2011, I discovered Tumblr and Pinterest. When that happened, an entire world of creativity unfolded before me and my heart was lit on fire. I feel like that was the first time in my adult life when I felt super passionate about something. I enjoyed the entirety of Thanksgiving break by exploring my creative interests.
By the time finals arrived in December, I was burnt out. I ended up getting very sick that week and found myself in the health services office, taking prescriptions and nursing myself through a fever in the midst of the most difficult exams of my life. By the time I moved home for winter break, I felt like I was able to escape from the pressure of nursing and I could finally breathe again. During break, I invested a lot of time exploring Pinterest, Tumblr, and learning to use my new sewing machine. I began to redecorate my room and made regular visits to the recently-opened Hobby Lobby with my friends because all I wanted to do was create. When the start of spring semester approached, it became blatantly aware to me that I was not meant to continue as a nursing student. In an attempt to buy myself more time to determine my next move, I enrolled as an undeclared student within the same college of health and human services for the spring semester. While many people questioned my decision to leave the nursing program, my sweet mama remained my biggest cheerleader throughout the process, and for that I am forever grateful.
On February 10, 2012, I made the decision that I was going to chase my dreams and pursue a creative career. Even though it was three weeks into the semester, I dropped all of the health-related classes that I was in and enrolled in art classes instead, including my very first studio course.
I had no idea of what my career plan would look like, but I jumped headfirst into looking for it. I caught up in my drawing class, participated in scholarship competitions, and I even applied to and considered participating in the Disney College Program. It was a long, tiresome, and yet totally invigorating process. In the midst of it, I realized that I was going to have to transfer schools because my college did not offer any design programs whatsoever. That disappointed me a lot because I liked my school, but I didn’t want to spend money on a major that didn’t translate into the career I intended to have. As a first-generation college student and the oldest of two children in my family, I was on my own as I paved the way for my academic future. Fortunately, my mama and grammy continued to cheer me on and pray fervently for me and my new adventure.
I had a strong interest in event planning and interior design, but I still had a very small perspective of the scope of design and its many applications. On a whim, I emailed the only blogger that I was following at the time to ask her for guidance. She graciously emailed me back and set up a time for us to talk on the phone that weekend. During our phone call, I was introduced to the concept of graphic design. It seemed like a great fit for me, as it had the potential to translate into the many different avenues that I was interested in. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the concept of studio-based majors, BFA programs, and accreditation, so I decided to apply to the only local graphic design program that I could find. I was accepted a few weeks later and felt as though I had found my place and my plan. I finished my semester at UNH in May and said an emotional goodbye to the place where I had experienced a lot of growth and formed many fond memories.
As the summer began, I started a blog where I was able to apply my love for writing and express my interests (I have since taken it down because I was not passionate about it at the time). I registered for classes at my new school, but quickly realized that it was not the place for me. The graphic design program was not as thorough as I’d hoped it would be, and the tuition was twice the cost of UNH. While I had never ever considered taking any time away from school, I made the difficult decision to do so. I began to work full-time at the receptionist job I had held in high school and – while I cringe as I type this – I began to live rather aimlessly for the next year or so. I didn’t explore my interests much, I didn’t look for new schools, I just worked. Time kept passing and I was simply existing. I don’t remember being sad or depressed in that season, but I wasn’t living abundantly or in pursuit of anything specific. My relationship with God wasn’t very strong, either. In the midst of that season, I experienced unexpected back pain and was later diagnosed with a herniated disc in my spine in January 2013 (more on that here). That caught me majorly off-guard and added another element of uncertainty to my situation.
I continued to work full time and serve at my church, making it through the spring and summer of 2013 without any major flare-ups. At that time, I decided to resume the search for design schools but with a new sense of purpose and hope. I was starting to come alive again. I explored options in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but the offerings were incredibly costly and didn’t feel like the right fit. In late August 2013, I discovered Adobe Creative Cloud. Until that point, I had no idea that the Creative Suite was so accessible, so I had previously written it off due to cost with the thought that I would acquire it when I enrolled in a design program. By means of the free trial, I began to play around with Illustrator and found myself staying up late each night to practice and experiment with it. At the same time, my heart began to be burdened with love for a place I had never been to before: the South. Naturally, this became my first piece:
My first-ever graphic design creation!! I should totally be asleep right now but instead I’m awake playing with my new software. I only have a couple hours of experience but I’m trying and loving it ❤
I began to look for design schools in the South, hoping I would find the right opportunity there.
I had my eye on Auburn and connected with an alumna from there, but after only a few weeks I began to experience severe pain down my leg. I tried to ignore it but in early October it became too severe to even walk and I was then referred to a spinal surgeon. That became a long journey, beginning with leaving my receptionist job, putting a halt on looking for schools, and seeking treatment for my injury instead. During that season, I launched an Etsy shop with graphic design prints and continued to explore my options a bit. I continued to fall in love with Southern culture and began to discover several creative professionals who were all rooted there. I tucked away a hope in my heart of one day moving there and connecting with that world, but my main focus was getting well and regaining my health.
The entire process, including my eventual surgery and recovery, took about nine months (until this past summer). Once I was healed and doing well, I began to look at school again.
I shared a bit of an update in August in regards to my academic plans:
August 7, 2014
You guys!! I’m going to be a student this fall! While many of you know that it is my dream to work in a creative job, my journey to getting there has been marked by overwhelming tuition statements, lack of local accredited programs, and an injury thrown into the middle of it. Switching career paths has been an adventure and I have learned so much from it! My two years of nursing school were just sitting there on a transcript with nothing formal to show for it. Recently I started looking into design programs in the state that has captivated me for the past eight months: North Carolina. The design program at NC State is comprehensive and full of the material that I am most interested in. Applying to it is something that I want to pray through and consider, as it would be a grand adventure and a huge step in the direction of my goals. If I am to apply to the graphic design program there, they only accept applicants for the fall semester, with the deadline being November 1st. Rather than take an additional entire year away from school, I decided to apply to locally complete an associates degree over the next three months. Fortunately I am able to do that with just two courses because of the 62 credit hours completed as a nursing student.
Last week I decided to take action on that goal and apply for re-admittance at my initial university to continue my studies for fall semester, even though the deadline for admissions was six weeks prior. My parents have always taught me that ‘it never hurts to ask’, so I drove to the admissions office last Thursday and told them my plan, despite having passed the cut-off by a huge margin. I poured my heart out to the admissions member, sharing my dreams and how I intend to get there. While she was enthusiastic about making it happen, ultimately the decision was up to the admissions council. I waited patiently over the past week and then today I received my acceptance letter in the mail. I’m really excited to get back into the classroom and accomplish this step towards the big picture of my goals! God is good and I am grateful for this opportunity 🙂
I have since been in the process of completing the two classes that I need to finish my program and will be obtaining my associates degree this month. Having an associates degree in general studies is a very different outcome than I thought I would have reached at this point, but I am learning to embrace it because it is part of my story and it is something. I still have hopes of obtaining a design degree someday (I fell in love with the College of Design at NC State a few weeks ago), but if I do so it will likely be very costly and take a while because many design programs must be completed in sequence. Since I struggled a lot as a nursing student, my GPA is not an accurate representation of my abilities or work ethic. I have improved it this semester to reach a 3.0, but it still discredits me from having the competitive edge that I am used to having. In addition, many scholarship opportunities for transfer students are dependent on having achieved a solid GPA in all previously-attempted course work. With all of those elements, I am unsure right now if a bachelor’s degree is part of God’s plan for me. I always thought that I would need one to be ‘of value’ in the professional world, but I am learning that my worth does not come from that.
If I could begin again, with no financial or medical restriction, I would have done a studio major at a great design school in the South, with a minor in journalism. I would have tried to gain as much experience as I could through internships and I would have built a solid portfolio. I would have connected with creative professionals earlier and would ideally be working creatively now. However, while that sounds perfect and lovely, it is not my story. My story is in the midst of being written and I have a hope within me that my untraditional path has not compromised the possibility of achieving my dreams.
Maybe I will move to the South. Maybe I will stay here. Maybe I will have my dream job. Maybe God has another idea in mind. If He wants me to become an incredible designer, writer, and creative professional, He will make that happen by whatever means He deems best. In the past, and even up until recently, I have been hungry for purpose and striving for something better than what I have now. Through my experiences, I can now see clearly that God gives us all of the purpose we could ask for and that, in His timing, He equips us with everything we need to rise up to the opportunities He sets before us. Be encouraged, friends. He is writing a beautiful story and is with us every step of the way.