What I Really Learned By Going Back To Design School
Did you know I'm a first generation Haitian-American? Yep! And as a young girl born to two Haitian parents I was always
told expected to pursue very specific career paths...
Translation — Something “stable” (because how stable is any job really?), something traditional, and something respectable.
There was no room in the conversation for pursuing anything creative, and to be honest, I never really considered myself a very creative person; so while I may have daydreamed about being a professional celebrity choreographer, I wasn’t exactly holding my breath. In high school, when it came time to choose a major, I went with architecture & it approved by both my parents — they understood the profession…they respected it.
After studying it for 2 years in high school & another 2 years into the bachelor’s program, I made the tough choice to shift gears & decided to pursue advertising & public relations instead, with a minor in psychology.This was the beginnings of my love of storytelling — pitching companies, creating marketing campaigns, telling a brand story.
The year was 2008 so needless to say, out of school, I didn’t get my dream marketing job. To flex my skills, I jumped right into my first real experience with entrepreneurship & did a ton of freelance marketing work — from event planning to press writing. But of course I needed to actually pay my bills, so I worked retail, which landed me numerous visual merchandising roles, which ultimately bringing me back to my initial love of creating spaces.
As much as I love what I did, the retail industry left me jaded & I knew I needed a change of pace, so I made yet another pivot into interior design, swapping out fixtures for furniture, and apparel for accessories, but all while creating beautiful spaces.
It seemed like, after many twists, turns, and pivots, my career journey was starting to take shape yet, I could still hear my very traditional parents in the back of my head not understanding why I didn’t do something else…anything else…
This manifested itself into a really bad case of imposter syndrome.
Can I really make money as an interior designer?
Is this really a career or just something they say on HGTV?
What if I’m not cut out for this after all?
So like most lost, self-doubting millennials, I went back to school!
Pursuing my masters degree what something that I’d always wanted to do when “the time was right” but after almost a decade of being out of school, in 2016, I made the choice to go for it, studying interior architecture & design. While this wasn’t exactly the same type of architecture program I was studying back in 2003, talk about full circle!
Have I completed the degree yet? Nope!
Yet in the 2 and a half years since I started the program I’ve learned more about myself (and the industry) than I bargained for — and spoiler alert: none of it is actual lessons in design (but don’t tell my professors that).
Lesson 1 — you don’t know what you don’t know
I went back to school thinking I had something to prove — like if I have the degree & the credentials, then duh, my career path will be way more respectable & therefore more profitable. The gag’s on me though because, while the curriculum was amazing, NONE of it was going to get me any closer to the type of interior designer I wanted to be.
The interior design path I’m own isn’t exactly a traditional one, but obviously having never studied design, I didn’t know anything more than the program & course descriptions.
An expensive lesson? Yes. But the trade off is that it save me another 10 years of dealing with self-imposed FOMO & feeling less than simply because I didn’t have a formal degree in interior design.
Lesson 2 —formal training doesn’t necessarily get you further than being self-taught
Still having studied architecture for 4 years — 2 years high school & 2 years college — I knew A LOT more than I gave myself credit for. Add to that all the years I spent growing as a visual merchandiser, and I actually already had all the makings of a successful interior designer.
What I lacked in formal training, I made up for with natural talent & life experience — as a mom & wife, I had to make my once bacholerette NYC studio apartment comfortable for now a family of 3, and while it was no easy feat, I succeeded by implemented strategic design. These are the same skills I had to apply to vosual merchandising projects — solving a problem through functional & beautiful space design.
Can’t find that in a textbook!
Lesson 3 — entrepreneurship cannot be taught in a book
As I’ve already mentioned, a lot of what I use in my business now I simply picked up along the way as a student of life; and while my career went through many different seasons, I always came back to wanting to work for myself — to create my own lane! So even in pursuing interior design, I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to work at a firm or go the “traditional” route — sorry mom & dad! I wanted to be a different kind of designer — one that designed exclusively online & remotely, one that made money through clients and content, one that could also inspire & elevate other designers.
And as it turns out, none of the skills I use now to run a blog, an online interior design business, a virtual conference, a podcast… none of what I do was learned in the pages of my very expensive textbooks!
So what did I really learn by going back to school?
I learned about myself!
Yes, I’ve learned lots of technical skills & I have definitely refined my design techniques thanks to the lessons of my professors; but beyond that, I’ve learned much so more about myself & the type of designer I want to be…
I’ve learned that I was not giving myself nearly enough credit in terms of what I can accomplish, especially while wearing so many hats.
I’ve learned that if I want a seat at the table in this field — especially as a young black female — I’m probably going to have to bring my own chair & make a spot for myself.
I’ve learned that I have a physical, mental, and emotional strength that I didn’t even know I had, because it had never been tested.
I’ve learned how to be uncomfortable — learning new things, testing new ideas, and taking huge leaps of faith.
And most importantly, I’ve learned that I’m pretty dope as a designer, yes, but also as someone raising a family & a business by my own rules.