You know what FOMO is, don’t you? You’ve heard of it. The feeling that there are amazing things happening all around you, and you’re missing out on them. But what else is FOMO?
FOMO is also the unpleasant thought that you’ve missed out on opportunities. Either through not taking them, or finding out later that you were in reaching distance, but somehow... still missed out on them. When these feelings bump into Imposter Syndrome (that feeling where no matter how much you may have accomplished in your life, you still feel like a fraud) it can have some very nasty side effects. What do I mean?
I just turned 32 this year. I also just finished getting my BFA almost 5 months ago. Unlike some of my peers, I didn’t go to college after I finished high school. I had my son when I was 19, and worked in retail. I ended up meeting someone and moving across the country, and decided on a whim that I wanted to go to massage school. I was 22 when I finished, and to keep things brief, it wasn’t the best time. I was good at my job, but I burned out in two years.
After meeting my now husband (who was a software engineer at the time), I got the wild idea that I would be great at that and thus started my journey
into the clutches of the demon known as Sallie Mae (and Navient) down this road. I did this for two years, before realizing that A. I sucked at all the necessary math (I can barely add and subtract so calculus and whatever the hell “discrete math” was were out of the question), and B. I just didn’t love it. Which of course meant I failed most of my classes and even ended up nearly being kicked out.
So what then? Well, luckily enough I figured out that maybe Graphic Design is where I wanted to be. I could still make stuff like I wanted to, but I could do it in the visual way that I worked best.
Of course this meant that I had to basically be a freshman again on paper since I was changing to a new 4 year program. So I did it. And this is where it started. Here I was 28, married with a child, a mortgage and the responsibilities of a grown ass lady surrounded by kids fresh out of high school. Granted I made some good friends and it was a great experience (for the most part), but it was pretty lonely from this end (not to mention I was also the only Black person in the class, the program, and one of the few in the school. Yay PWI life).
I had daily reminders that here I was, almost 30 and starting over. Why didn’t I just go to college out of high school? Why didn’t I go for a 4 year degree instead of massage school? When I graduate, who will want to hire me instead of a fresh faced youngin? Around this period some of my friends my age were completing graduate degrees, and becoming Doctors - here I was just starting out working on a BFA. I felt inadequate. So where does the Imposter Sydrome come in?
Well, the minute I started out in design school, I threw myself into projects. I took everything that I thought was fun. I didn’t realize it at the time but being a “grown ass lady” meant that I already had some sense of myself (not as much as I do now that I’m over 30). I may have been too old to be a “hot young designer”, but I was also too old to play games with. I was too old to be manipulated and pushed around. This helped me a lot. But I still felt it was too late.
I have my moments now, where I’m at a senior level careerwise in general, but still technically a junior level in design, and I feel bad about it. I still feel like I’m not as desirable as the younger designers. These crop up alongside my feelings about being one of few Black Designers, but mainly it comes down to “I should be further along that I am now at my age, and I’m going to be a failure because I’m only getting older”. That I waited too long, the folks that started earlier than me are better than me,and I’m too late to do anything successful in life.
Realistically, these feelings don’t make any sense. I’ve accomplished some FANTASTIC things in my short time as a designer. I’ve had the ability to donate my time and designs to charity, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute visuals and design work for a film - I’ve even had people tattoo some of my work on their bodies. During my short time in CS, I had the opportunity to work with some team members from Google New York on an open source program - I’ve done amazing things. Things that I’m proud of, and things that I firmly believe (now anyway) that my life experiences have contributed to.
The thing that took me the longest to realize was that not everyone is where they are meant to be, when they think they should be there. This is something I still fight with sometimes, but for the most part I’ve learned to see that just because I took the long way around to my destination doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to be there.
We all have to come to our potential and our path in our own time, and comparing ourselves with others around us is a sure way to fail. I hope others out there that felt the way I did (and sometimes do) - the “non-traditional” students, the late-comers, the mind-changers and the “pant-seat flyers” realize this too. You’re just as worthy and deserving as anyone else. Especially if you’re going after your dreams and goals. The important thing is THAT you start, not WHEN you start. I wish I could tell my 22 year old self that, but like everything else in my life, it took me awhile to get the message. And that’s ok. I got it eventually.