How I got to where I am

(in other words, how to be relatively successful with no fucking clue what you’re doing)

This story starts about 5 years ago, with me sitting at my desk in PSHE in school, with the topic of ‘UCAS Personal Statements’ on the whiteboard. Our first introduction to the rest of our lives.

And I was absolutely crapping myself.

All of my friends had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do. Jenny, psychology. Flo, Primary education. All wholesome, acceptable careers with a pretty much guaranteed path to some form of good job and pay check a few years down the line.

Little old me, on the other hand, with her nose stud, dyed black hair and mini-fringe, was not having as much luck.

I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil and sewing since I could successfully not hurt myself with a needle. Felting since I learnt stabbing fabric strands repeatedly with a group of needles was a great way to take out anger. Knitting since my Grandma sat me down one night in front of a late night showing of North by Northwest and taught me how. Writing since year 6, when I wrote what I thought at the time was the best horror story to grace this Earth. Poetry, since my first crush. Photography since my dad gave me an old Rolleicord (I have since named her Quincy and she comes everywhere) for my 18th birthday. Filmmaking since I picked up our old JVC and created skits with my sister.

I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that art has always, and will always been a major piece of my life and identity. It’s my best form of therapy and release.

Yet, staring at that blank piece of paper in PSHE, I had no fucking clue what I wanted to study at university. And, it wasn’t like I had any other options aside to go to university. Nothing was presented to me. It was go to uni. No other options.

I had my parents doing the classic ‘do something you’ll get a job out of’, so, at first, I chose history and/or psychology (I really had no clue).

I was studying them both at A-Level and was doing okay, and relatively enjoyed them, so I thought why not? Joint honours, lets see what happens. My parents will be happy, I guess, maybe, perhaps, I might enjoy a bit of it and get an okay job at the end. The unis I planned on applying to were pretty bog standard unis for the UK, big campuses, lack of personality.

And so, when I started realising my Art classes which I religiously went to 4 out of 5 days a week in school, were drawing to a close, I got deeply upset.

I still had one more year, but Mrs. Walsh, my art teacher and hero, was leaving, and so my time with her was coming to a close too. Over the past however many years she taught me (I can’t count) she became a massive influence on my life in an overwhelmingly positive way (I sound like I’m on one of those get into teaching ads now). I just wanted to make her happy.

So, one night, with my bunny rabbit bouncing around on my bed, I lay down and started to look at arts courses. Bearing in mind I had only a week really to hand in my application for early submission courses. And I found what I thought to be the best bet.

Design for the stage.

Set and costume design. Right up my street. But all the courses looked so prestigious; the schools of higher education (not universities, chin chin) were like the Oxford and Cambridges of the arts world. But, I thought ‘YOLO’ and decided to apply anyways. What’s the worst that can happen?

I worked incredibly hard on my personal statement and applied to my five choices and got interviews for all! Then, in a feat of organisational genius, I arranged for 4 out of the 5 interviews to be in the same week, so I only had to do two trips!

And so, through my hard work and very last minute portfolio building, I got into 4 out of the 5 universities. I travelled round the UK by myself, going to each university and being slightly jealous of all the students there with their parents whilst I stood alone. I talked and I talked and boosted myself up and portrayed myself as a prodigy, and I got in.

I decided London. The big smoke. I’ve always had a fascination with it, always been a city girl at heart. It’s just so busy. So much to do and see. So many people. How could I not?

And so, I started my course in September 2015. Ready to embrace the university life. Ready to build my career. Maybe win an Oscar for Design by the time I’m 30.

And I did not enjoy it.

It wasn’t the university or the lecturers or the people I was with (I met my best friends on my course) but I guess just the subject itself. I enjoyed some elements of it; Photoshop and Illustrator, costume designing and CAD, but hated a lot of the other aspects, such as awful directors to work with, set design in general and other things which unfortunately would be a major part of the job. Some people, including Alex, one of my best friends, did extremely well and are now making a living out of it, but it just wasn’t for me in the end.

I considered dropping out or doing another course very heavily all throughout those three years but ultimately decided against it; after all, I was going to a prestigious university and like always, I was scared of the unknown.

I stuck with it for three long years, working part (basically full) time in pubs and bars to pay my way in London and eventually came out with a 2:1.

And no fucking clue what to do with my life.

Although I’d considered costume design for a long time, the incredibly long hours, low or no pay for a long time to begin with and fluctuation in work made me reconsider.

I applied to literally hundreds of jobs and was stuck in that post graduate void for a while, working a not very enjoyable retail job (kudos to you if retail is your career, I highly commend you, but it’s just not for me). Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was not as driven as I should have been. I was just applying and applying and applying. But I stuck with it. I kept on applying, kept on working and so on. Until fashion styling came up as an interview.

And I aced it.

And I got the job.

And I love it.

For now, I’m happy. I’m not necessarily saying I want my career to be in fashion styling, but I feel like it’s a good place to start.

Without trying to be as cheesy as possible, don’t give up on your dreams, even if you don’t know what they are yet. I knew I wanted to work in something creative but didn’t have a clue specifically what I wanted to do, so I declined a hefty salary for a CAD job because I didn’t want to sit at a computer screen from 9-5 Monday to Friday.

Also, don’t sell yourself short. Obviously and unfortunately, if you want to work in the creative industry these days, you’ll probably have to work for free at some point. Do free work that’s actually worthwhile, not just getting coffees. I found working for costume designers a great way to learn skills which are transferrable to my job now!

Also, my biggest life lesson is (aside from self-love), and it may not seem like it, but everything happens for a reason. For example, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my unenjoyable retail job post-uni; it taught me how to sell, which, as a stylist, is definitely experience you need.

What I’m trying to say is, things might look bad or unknown in your future now, but trust me, everything works out okay. Work hard and be nice to people, but not necessarily in that order.

I’m not trying to show off. Seriously. What I’m trying to say is working hard pays off. And sometimes you might think of giving up or thinking maybe it’s not all worth it but it is. I worked hard for some good skills and work experience and it paid off. I worked hard for a degree and it paid off. Maybe I didn’t enjoy it, but it worked.

But saying that, if you’re brave enough to come clean with yourself and say ‘hey, me, I’m not enjoying what I’m doing with my life’, I would be so proud of you for changing your direction to one you feel is worthwhile.

I, finally, after years of ambling through jobs and a degree, feel like my life is worthwhile and I guarantee you it’s the best feeling in the world.

C x

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© 2019 Ciara Loane

Created by Ciara Loane.

London-based writer and stylist.

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