NEWSFLASH: I was just your average college student. I'm a proud Spelman Woman but I didn't really showcase my aptitude in school (though I had a great time!). I remember graduating and feeling a bit of a panic, not knowing "what I was going to do with my life" because I hadn't followed a traditional path. While most everyone I knew spent their summers in great internships or studying abroad, I was home & hanging out with friends, working at Outback Steakhouse--far removed from cool companies or groundbreaking research. After graduating a little behind schedule, I started working for Kroger corporate and found myself smack dab in the middle of job purgatory. My California experience was great but upon transferring to Atlanta & approaching the 1 year mark, quickly it became a job that sucked the life out of me. Three of us worked in a teeny tiny office on the second floor of a warehouse made of cinder blocks with zero exterior windows. Each desk faced a wall. I remember I used to dread Saturdays because it meant that the next night I'd have to get ready to go right back to work (and you know your job sucks when you're dreading Saturday nights). When my manager pulled me aside one day to tell me that I "needed to stop talking about my upcoming graduation around the office because it was flaunting it in the face of everyone else who didn't have a degree" (people who were all at least 15 years older than me), I knew it was time to go and I did.
In hindsight, there were some great things about that job though. Not only did it get me back to Atlanta (and cover some of my tuition) but I also got to know some really great guys who worked in the grocery/freezer warehouses on the facility. Guys that, after my having only worked there a few months, banded together to help me move into my new furniture-less apartment. And since I was determined to make that house a home, I spent the weekend before & after my move scouring thrift stores for gently loved furniture and casegoods that I could refinish & re-love. I had no idea at the time that this "thrifting phase" would play such a huge role in my life as I moved forward. I tried to hold out at that job as long as I could but around the 1 year mark I decided that it was time to go. Before I left I'd started thinking a lot about what I could do/wanted to do next and I knew I wanted something that would be interesting & exciting with a lot more freedom. Hair & beauty was the thing that I was into at the time and it was seemed like a really fun and creative career so you know what? I bit the bullet and enrolled in hair school.
Lesson # 1: HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WORK YOU DO MATTERS.
Lesson #2: WORKING IN A SUPPORTIVE ENVIROMENT IS IMPORTANT.
Let me tell you what I loved about hair school:that I could be myself. For the first time in my life I found myself in an environment where the most successful people I knew were actually making money by being themselves. Wild hair? Cool. Tattoos? Fabulous. Piercings in your lip? No one cared. Hair school wasn't about how you dressed or what college you went to but solely about skill. There were some things I didn't take to (strict rules & set schedule), but what really made me feel free was the creative aspect of it all--the environment was charged with an energy of creativity. It's the first place I learned that if you carry yourself like an expert, people will believe you're one. Having a creative outlet & being able to wear what I wanted were things that I loved....but after logging hundreds of hours learning the technicaI skills, it became apparent that I really didn't want to stand up and "do hair" all of my life after all. My feet were sore from standing all day, I wasn't that great at small talk and I didn't want to discuss the finer points of pop culture day in & day out (clearly all stylists don't experience this but I believe it was my experience because I wasn't supposed to be there). After working in a salon for a few months I realized that I was more suited to be a salon manager than a stylist (another clue!), but even that wasn't something that I wanted to pursue with reckless abandon. So once I completed my hours to graduate, I just stopped trying to force it. I didn't think I was good enough to be a stylist...but it wasn't my self-critical nature that turned me away: I simply didn't have a passion for the job. I caught some flack and felt ashamed that I'd "wasted" that money but it just wasn't going to be a good fit in the long run. I never took the State Boards to become a licensed cosmetologist or anything, I just stopped....and never looked back.
LESSON #3: IF IT AIN'T RIGHT....IT AIN'T RIGHT.
While I was working at the salon, my lease was ending and my father suggested I start looking for a home to purchase. I knew early on that I was looking for something that I could put my own stamp on--change the flooring here, mini bathroom renovation there.I liked the satisfaction that came with getting my hands a bit dirty and missed having an open space where I could paint & refinish thrift store furniture to my liking. I would search the home listings on my own, drive past the properties I liked and then send my realtor a final list of the homes I wanted to see inside of. We did that until I landed on a house I thought could be perfect and I promptly put in an offer, closed the deal and became a homeowner (2006). Closing on my house marked the end of my salon days but the beginning of a new career--Real Estate. It seemed like a shame to let everything I'd learned in my home buying process go to waste and I really liked looking at houses so I thought, "I could make a pretty good real estate agent".
I was a lot like Little Red Riding Hood in those days, desperately trying to find something that fit so I could have a career I could take pride in. Something where I'd feel stimulated, excited & engaged with work that I'd be proud to share with my friends & family. I simply refused to spend the majority of my waking hours endlessly complaining about a job. The thought of being miserable for 40 hours/week had me crying myself to sleep some nights because finding meaningful work was turning out to be harder than I'd thought.