Everyone makes mistakes. Small mistakes— forgetting the grocery list; expensive mistakes— getting a speeding ticket; embarrassing mistakes— sending a text meant for a significant other to your mom. And sometimes we make mistakes of epic proportions— life-altering decisions or choices that just didn’t have the results we thought they would.
The funny thing about mistakes and failure in general, is that they also represent learning opportunities or opportunities to change for the better. Even those of epic proportions. Especially those of epic proportions. The bigger the mess-up, the more you can learn from it.
I made one of those mistakes of epic proportions. Some people might not consider it a mistake, but I do, and you’ll find out why in a minute.
I went to art school.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, what’s so bad about that? Art is great!” And you’d be right— art is great and I love it. The trouble is, I only went to art school when I should have taken the time to pursue a second major in addition to art. I should have done a second major because I desperately wanted to, but I was afraid of failing, afraid that I would have to do math when I was utterly convinced that I had little mathematical or otherwise analytical ability. This, in the face of a 5 (the highest possible score) on the AP Biology exam, a 740 (out of 800) in my SAT II, and an overall high school GPA of 3.9. I know. Don’t ask me why I thought that way, because I still haven’t entirely worked it out myself.
So I went off to college, to art school, because it was the only thing I wasn’t afraid of.
Lesson 1: Never avoid something you want to do just because you are afraid of failing.
I’ve been drawing constantly since I was a child— in my free time, during class (my teachers just loved that, as you might imagine), on road trips, while I thought about how to tackle a school project, and eventually even as part of my study regimen to help with memorization. I took all kinds of art classes in a variety of media— painting, ceramics, glass. So it was only logical that I would go to art school and continue my education in that area.
I enjoyed a lot about my experience at Washington University in St. Louis’ Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. And I vastly improved my drawing and art while I was there.
But it felt incomplete.
I consistently thought about adding a second major, considering an array of different options that struck my wildly varied interests— biology, English, meteorology, business. Suddenly I was two years into college, facing a decision about what my major in art would be and realizing that it was too late to add a second major if I was going to finish in the four years covered by the faculty tuition benefit program.
Lesson 2: Don’t wait too long to make decisions, or the window in which to make them might close.
When graduation rolled around, all too quickly for my liking, I found myself staring into an opaque future. Of course, the future is unknowable, but that part of all of us that forms our vision of ourselves, our dreams for what we hope to become— that kept coming up blank.
But I had my BFA in Communication Design in hand. I had to do something with it. I had to do something or I’d be a failure, that thing I feared most.
I started working graphic design internships— even two at the same time, one five days a week from nine a.m. to five p.m. and the other three days a week from six p.m. to ten p.m.. I threw myself into the work, hoping that I could convince myself that design was really what I wanted to do with myself, when in reality, I was completely at a loss.
I did a brief stint in Atlanta, but quickly came back to St. Louis after a few months of being unable to find a job in design and being separated from any kind of friend or social network. Again, I returned to working internships, still unsure of where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do.
Eventually, I got a design internship at the St. Louis Federal Reserve. I was happy to have the job— it paid pretty well, and it was in the Public Affairs department, where I’d be able to gain more exposure to areas other than design.
Lesson 3: Always take advantage of the opportunities that will help you learn something new.
My job at the Fed was a turning point. I was allowed to sit in on meetings, even taking an active role and sharing my ideas. I got a taste of what it was like to talk about marketing strategy, event promotions and merchandise, campaign tactics. It was the first time I was really able to see and discuss how my designs would function in a formal marketing environment. I realized that I enjoyed those strategy meetings much more than sitting at my desk tweaking the kerning on a headline for the millionth time.
I started to toy with the idea of going back to school for marketing. As my internship with the Fed came to a close, as all internships do, I came to my final decision: I would return to school for a bachelor’s degree in business with a major in marketing at the University of Missouri St. Louis. In my estimation, it would be a solid education for a price I could afford without going into debt.
I knew that to do that, I’d have to face my fear of math, my fear of failure. I hadn’t taken a math class in five years.
Upon my acceptance to UMSL, I began by taking a fast-paced summer course designed to prepare me for the math placement exam, required for determining which math course was an appropriate starting point for each student.
Despite my nerves and a wasp that flew into the side of my head just before the exam started (it didn’t sting me, and I managed to kill it quickly), I did well and placed into the College Algebra class for the fall semester.
The rest of my schooling progressed smoothly enough from an academic perspective. Even through personal struggles of various sorts, including my own health condition I’d been dealing with since 2009 and remediating surgery in my last semester, I graduated on May 18, 2014 with a BSBA in Marketing, Magna Cum Laude, Tau Sigma National Honor Society, and Alpha Mu Alpha National Marketing Honorary recognition.
Lesson 4: Success is a combination of effort, luck, and facing your fears.
As I look back over my education and my career path so far, I realize that the mistake I made was letting fear guide my decisions. Since facing my fears, I’ve learned a few things about myself:
- I’m pretty good at math
- Statistics are actually okay
- I write well
- I actually like public speaking
- Art is fun, but I need to feed my analytical side too
- I can meet and beat a challenge
The more I think about it, the less my early decision to go to art school feels like a mistake. Instead, my BFA helped lay the groundwork for dual degrees that put me at an advantage in my chosen field. Marketing is a wonderful combination of creativity and analytics, and I’m so excited to have finally started.
About the Author
I am a digital marketing professional at a small, SEO-driven firm. My daily activities include writing marketing copy with an eye toward SEO, analyzing data using Google Analytics or other programs, making the most of my Google AdWords certification, and consulting with companies to help their businesses grow and thrive.
My hobbies are diverse, and include illustration, design, photography, creative writing, camping and hiking, playing classical piano, and shooting competitive archery.