Direction Unknown: No Path? No Problem

Elizabeth Scott // Columnist 

Weird and wonderful things can happen when you’re without a plan. I graduated with a degree in communications, no design experience and no idea what to do with my life. Somehow, I still landed on two feet (okay, by “landed” I may just mean that it was more of a fumble followed by a faceplant) as a designer with a newfound sense of direction.  

Growing up, I never really had a “dream” job that felt viable. I ditched the idea of becoming a rockstar after I discovered the commitment involved in learning an instrument. I was never able to conceptualize a clear idea of the “right” career path. Instead, I existed in a perpetual state of panic stemmed from not knowing those things.  

Being wildly lost and feeling directionless may not have been so overwhelming if there wasn’t an expectation for us to know what we want to do with our lives from a young age. We’re constantly bombarded with questions about what we want to be as if we’re meant to have a fully-formed idea of a suitable career, and a clearly-defined path that leads us there. We’re expected to be like a slingshot — shooting straight from high school to post-secondary and into a job that relates to our studies, never straying from course. 

Fuck that. 

I felt more like shrapnel from an explosion — pieces of myself flying in every direction with no one clear path, just a million vague possibilities. Everything sparked curiosity, but nothing presented itself as being a suitable career path for me (perhaps it was my hindering self-doubt that got in the way). 

In high school, I thought I’d become an artist or a photographer — painting portraits or snapping street style photos in New York City. But I felt a certain pressure to shift my focus towards more “practical” endeavors. (The joke’s on you, societal and family pressures! I’m a fucking artist now anyway. Sort of.)  

My response to those irritating “What are you going to do with your life” questions became a subconscious routine: visible panic and an uncomfortable pause, followed by a slow and solemn “I don’t know”The undeniable disappointment and mutual discomfort in those moments were painful for everybody. If I was the edgy young girl I liked to believe I was, I’d have responded with what I wished to say: “Shut up, Brenda. Of course I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m fucking twelve.” 

I probably could have offered a phony response aimed to impress: a doctor, a lawyer, Elon Musk! But the truth is, I really had no fucking idea and even the pressure of conjuring a fake answer caused me to panic.  

My lostness and career-path complex followed me throughout university. That’s probably why my wayward post-secondary journey ended with a mash of fashion credentials, marketing certificates, a bachelor’s degree in communications and varying stints at five different institutions.  

Even after graduating from Capilano, I was overcome by indecisiveness and the feeling that I was the only person who still hadn’t figured out exactly what it was that they were meant to be moving towards. Don’t confuse my indecision for a lack of motivation. I was still headed somewhere. My career path was just on a totally unknown trajectory, causing an unsteady balance between thrill and terror. 

Despite my lack of direction, I searched for jobs that I thought had the potential to evolve into a “dream job.” I applied for roles I believed were conventional routes after a communications degree: public relations, social media management, marketing, etc.  

It was being blindly catapulted into the real world after graduation that allowed me to stumble awkwardly and ungracefully into a career in design. No design experience, no design education (aside from a few brief interactions with Adobe Creative Suite), and no design portfolio. I wasn’t going to question the decision to hire me (not out loud, at least). I was going to pretend like I belonged there and suppress the imposter syndrome until it disappeared. Update: it’s still here, and I’m still suppressing.  

How the fuck did I land on an actual career path as a designer after being directionally challenged for years? It was an unintentional victory, a happy accident and the moment I discovered two things: 1) that “fake it till you make it” was more than just an irritating rhyme — it was actually pretty solid advice, and 2) that being lost and without a plan is totally okay and panicking for six years was probably unnecessary. 

Full disclosure: I landed a marketing role at a digital marketing agency first, peeped on the design team from afar, and discovered that’s where I wanted to be. Then, I somehow convinced them to hire me when an opening became available. The third discovery here: ask for what you want because you may just get it.  

I quickly learned the design tools of the job that I may have bluffed about knowing prior to being hired (fake it till you make it, baby!) and took online courses to get up to speed.  

I still experience major imposter syndrome working on a team of designers who all pursued post-secondary education in design knowing early on that it was their calling. I also still feel like shrapnel, in that a thousand other things capture my curiosity. I aim to try many, following a non-linear career path and evolving into a multi-disciplinary bad-ass. 

The point of all this is to say that being lost leads to the most unexpected endeavours, which can be far more fun than the planned ones. Fuck the expectation that we need to have a dream job figured out. Fuck the idea of a destined or a “right” career path. And finally, fuck the notion that our post-secondary education only launches us into a narrow window of relative career opportunities. Weird things happen when you stray from the path, and weirder things happen when you don’t have a path to begin with.  

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