When I finished my bachelor’s degree in August 2015, I swore I’d never step foot in a classroom ever again. I balked at every curious person who asked if I planned to attend graduate school — and I made no attempt to hide my feelings. Their question was usually met with a burst of obnoxious laughter.
It wasn’t that I hated school, or learning in general; quite the opposite. But my four years at the University of Texas were no picnic. I was too busy for a social life or a job, which meant I was a broke, friendless hermit with a growing mountain of student debt. The school itself, its resources and its professors were all incredible, but I found my courses to be extraordinarily difficult. I had been an excellent student my entire life, but my grades were suddenly pitiful. In class, I hardly spoke and made every attempt to slip under the radar — you can’t be embarrassed if no one notices you at all, right? I never felt my abilities matched those of my peers or that I really deserved to be there. I often woke up at 3 p.m. and went to sleep at 3 a.m. Every meal I ate came from a microwave or a drive-thru window. I couldn’t keep up with household tasks even when I tried. I had regular freak-outs about the future because I had no idea where I’d live and work, how I’d find a job, or how I’d even survive on my own. The cherry on top of all of the above, and likely the culprit behind most of it, was my then-undiagnosed severe ADHD. I was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.
So, the thought of volunteering myself to do all of that again in grad school was comical. It still is… sort of.
But, as they often do, things eventually fell into place. I somehow landed jobs with not one but two web publications with a large national audience, I adopted a puppy to smother with love, I moved into my own apartment and filled it with things I definitely don’t need, I met the geek of my dreams, and I started treatment for a learning disability that went unnoticed for 25 years.
I’m still a broke hermit, though. And it’s exactly why I’m here at San Jac. Working from home is amazing but so, so lonely. And while I love my jobs and am extremely grateful for the wages I make, there just isn’t a clear or lucrative path for me to advance in the future (especially when publications are laying off copy editors left and right and moving away from text-based content entirely). I also have no benefits whatsoever. My paycheck amounts can vary widely from month to month. I’m kind of stuck, and I lack the necessary skills to make any sort of strategic career move.
However, I noticed a common theme while dwelling on my stuck-ness. Since even before graduation, there have been lots of awesome jobs for which I was almost qualified. And, aside from years of relevant experience, almost every qualification I lack is an aspect of graphic design — not necessarily coding or business, like I’d expected. So, lucky me, because I’ve loved design forever. I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for 10 years, I feel a constant compulsion to create things, and I’m much better with a computer than I am with a pen and paper.
Further, I believe I’d probably be a better designer than a journalist. Don’t get me wrong — I love the journalism world. But I’ve always been… well, painfully mediocre in it. I had classmates that landed multiple bylines in the New York Times, incredible internships, or a fancy dinner with the school’s directors and Bob Woodward (true story). But I was never even on the short list for the actual short list. I’ve felt more proud of logos I made for friends or myself than I have of most articles I’ve written. I’ve won small design competitions but I’ve never even competed in anything related to what I actually do for a living. The only class at UT that truly clicked for me from day one was an intro to advertising for non-majors.
What I’m trying to say is simply that I no longer want to be mediocre. I’d like to be pretty good. I’ll never be the best designer — or best anything — out there. I have no desire to be famous or something, and this isn’t about being better than everybody… or anybody. But there’s just this feeling you have in your gut that says, “Yes! This is it! This is awesome and fulfilling and I can do this thing! This end product doesn’t make me want to fall apart and shave my head à la 2007 Britney Spears!”
I have that feeling when I edit pictures. I have it when I play around in Illustrator. I have it when discussing fonts. I had it when I made some satirical product advertisements and infographics, AKA my best work. I even have it when I put obnoxious designs on my nails and when I dye my hair weird colors. But I’m not sure I’ve ever had that feeling while conducting interviews, writing news articles, or doing research. Pursuing this certificate is really just my way of chasing that feeling.