I loveeeeeee this interview because it really embodies how you CAN actually switch careers to do something completely different than you were before or thought you ever would be doing. Maryam is a friend from college, and we’d kept in touch via Facebook over the years. I noticed (and was wowed) but her- excuse my French- cajones- at leaving her post as a therapist, moving to a new city and making a go of it as a fashion/textile designer. In typical whoa-I-am-wowed fashion, I contacted her and what follows is an excerpt of our convo.
My ‘past life’ was working as a therapist in Philadelphia. In February 2012, I had enough hours to sit for my license, but I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t the right path for me career wise, and I wanted to move back to New York to be closer to my family. An older (and wiser) co-worker actually suggested pursuing fabric/print design and hearing her suggestion was like a light bulb when off in my head; that was what I wanted to do.
I then started making a plan on how I’d make my dream a reality. Long story short, I left Philadelphia at the end of May 2012 and moved in with my parents, started taking summer classes at FIT, interned for a few really great designers/companies in the Fall/Winter, and started freelancing last Spring. I started with my current company last July as a freelance textile design assistant and I was just recently promoted to a full-time assistant designer.
2. Describe a time in your career where what you were asked to do/expected to do was not in line with your values. How did you handle it?
When I first started working in design, I thought that sometimes the team I worked with breezed through work too quickly and it gave me the impression that they weren’t giving it 100% effort (my value- always give it 100%). After a short time, I re-evaluated my value to see if it accurately applied to the scenario (and it didn’t). I realized that to be successful in my job, I needed to adapt/compromise and make the best use of the time I was given and I couldn’t put too much effort into one thing. We are given quite ambitious timelines in design, so even though I could easily spend all day working on one project, I actually need to get five done in that same time span. To quote one of my favorite TV personalities, Tim Gunn, sometimes you just gotta “Make it work!”
3. What is an instance- career or personal- that you would handle differently today?
I really do believe the cliche saying that “everything happens for a reason” so it’s hard for me to think of an answer. If I had to provide an answer, I guess I’d say I would’ve taken more time to let my loved ones who have passed away in the past few years know how much I loved them.
4. Tell us about a person who has had a profound impact on your life and what that impact has been. (you can use specific names, but do not have to)
I’ve been really blessed to have a lot of people in my life who always supported my dreams, but I think the two that stand out the most are my mother and father. I’m really close with my family, so it definitely did matter to me what they thought of my idea to pack up and move everything. I still remember how nervous I was when I made that phone call home to tell my parents of what I wanted to do for I really wasn’t sure on how they’d react. Ever the practical parents, they were totally supportive of my dream, pending that journey somehow had health insurance coverage! (it did). I think initially they weren’t 100% sold on my own commitment to my dream, but after seeing me commute two hours each way to take summer classes at FIT three days/week, I think they understood how determined I was and for that I will forever be grateful. I feel having the love and support of others around you is so important when you’re going through something that leaves you somewhat vulnerable.
5. What would you say to women who have a dream/ambition but are discouraged from reaching from it or are told that ‘it’s going to be difficult.”?
I forget where I came across this quote, but a favorite of mine is, “Nothing worth having is easy”. I would say if you have a dream, start making a plan towards it. I took four months to plan my move before I actually acted on it. Even if you don’t know what to do, there is someone out there who does, so you just need work on finding that person. Everyone’s different, but for me the fear of regret troubled me more than the fear of failing.
6. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I actually have two….neither of which I remember where the advice came from, but definitely helped me along my journey.
1. If you have a dream, let everyone know about it. How did I know to come up with the plan to start taking classes at FIT? My best friend up in Long Island was a dental hygienist and one of her patients was a former chairperson of the print design program at FIT- she literally picked his brain for me while cleaning his teeth!
2. No one is going to hand you a job. I kept telling myself this along the early stages of my journey. After taking classes at FIT, a friend had recommended getting an internship. Since I wasn’t a matriculated student at FIT, I didn’t fit the criteria for them to help me find an internship so I had to do it on my own. I got my first internship with my favorite designer (Mara Hoffman) by initially cold calling the company. Having that on my resume opened up doors to interning/working at great companies such as Alice + Olivia and J.Crew.
7. What is your #1 tip for a healthy lifestyle?
Try not to dwell on the negative because it can weigh you down so much. Also, I’m a firm believer that all is right in the world when you sleep enough, drink enough water and take your vitamins 🙂
8. Talk about a time in your life where you felt stuck and what you did to stop feeling that way.
I think shortly before I decided on my master plan to switch careers and move, I was feeling ‘stuck’ in Philadelphia because nothing was really changing in my life; my friends around me were achieving the milestones that occur as we age (marriage, babies, promotions) and none of that was happening for me at the time. Granted I didn’t necessarily view this as a negative, but I definitely felt stuck. I guess the best way to summarize how I got unstuck was that I challenged myself more and opened myself up to trying new things that I never though were previously possible.
9. What is the singlemost issue facing women in our culture today?
I think one major issue is whether a woman can “have it all”. I see that as trying to see if a woman can have both a thriving career, but also a thriving personal life (love, marriage, children, etc). I honestly am still thinking about it, so I don’t have my own belief on the issue yet.