“I chose myself when I traveled to Paris alone and fell in love with solitude.”-solo Paris travel, November 2019
Once again, I was laid off in my fashion career. The fourth time, to be exact. Then a miracle happened. The universe presented me with the gift of choice. Thirty hours later, due to unprecedented circumstances, I was given the option to return to my job or remain laid off. For the first time in my career, fate was in my hands. I only ever experienced exiting companies on their terms, even when I wanted to be the one to leave.
My experience as a handbag designer at Tommy Hilfiger was the healthiest in this cutthroat industry. The rare work culture, founded on autonomy and work-life balance, was a dream combination. It is here where authenticity is encouraged. It is here where I was able to pursue hobbies other than fashion. It is here where I was able to continue dreaming outside of this dream job, and eventually discovered a passion for writing.
After years of therapy and prioritizing my mental health, I was able to navigate this fourth layoff as it happened. I understood the logistics of restructuring within the team not to take it personally while simultaneously feeling the grief that comes with rejection. To grieve rejection is part of the human experience I used to reward myself for avoiding. To honor my feelings allowed for me to break the fourth wall with the executive vice president. Having nothing to lose, I shared my departure from the industry to follow the next chapter of my life as a mental health and wellness writer, a path I was secretly exploring the past year. He congratulated me on my next journey and sent me warm wishes.
To my surprise, within 30 hours later, the executive vice president called to offer my job back due to unforeseen events. I now stood at a crossroad in my life. Return to a position providing comfort, security, and opportunity for growth or walk towards a path of uncertainty as described a few days prior. Over the past year, I felt my passion for writing overpower my love for designing. It was a strange feeling I never thought I’d encounter. To return to safety amid a global pandemic was tempting, and I was grateful to be welcomed back, but I could no longer ignore my burning desire to leap into the wild unknown.
The beauty of the wild unknown is that I have been here before. I was here at 22 years old, a recent college graduate who just moved to New York City with a powerful determination to break into the fashion industry. My tenacity carried me through the doors of Michael Kors, Coach, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, and finally reaching my dream to design men’s accessories at Tommy Hilfiger. Had I not embraced the wild unknown, I would never tap into my full potential as a designer. At 22 years old, I silenced the noise of those who did not believe in me and followed my intuition.
As I made my way through the industry, I became addicted to external validation. I inhaled the glamour of fashion week and extravagant holiday parties. I role-played the obedient assistant designer to appease executives to level up in the game of politics. I silenced myself in the face of dehumanizing treatment from female leaders twice my age. I began to please everyone but myself, and soon sank into a paralyzing pool of depression at the age of 27. By the time I reached Tommy Hilfiger, I was severely suicidal and a master at disguising it. I believe the universe lead me there so I could heal and return to myself.
My first week at Tommy was mind-blowing in the way every person was treated like a human being. At previous companies, I was conditioned to believe my worth was attached to my title. This belief did not exist here. I was seen, heard, and valued in the same way as someone in a higher position. Titles did not dictate the quality of an idea. An idea was an idea regardless of status. I remember getting criticized for the first time in my career for not voicing my opinion in a proto review meeting. I jumped so high for joy at the desire to hear my input. From that day on, I never stopped speaking my mind.
Fast forward to this monumental fork in the road; I shuffle in the anxiety of what I am about to do. I took a deep breath and decided to remain laid off for the fourth time, followed by a five-minute Ted Talk. I thanked him for the opportunity to return and told him I owe it to myself to see this newfound career through. I expressed gratitude for a rewarding experience at Tommy, where I was able to thrive and be my most authentic self. He once again congratulated me and sent me warm wishes. For the first time and the last time in my fashion career, I closed the doors on my terms.
I realized how crucial this moment was for me. It was proof of my transformation of choosing myself every day for the past year. I chose myself by diving into writing. I chose myself when I traveled to Paris alone and fell in love with solitude. I chose myself when I performed at an open mic amongst talented Colombia MFA poets. I chose to follow the joys in life and allowed it to expand my heart.
I shed my people-pleasing traits and cultivated a sense of self no longer bounded by anyone, anything, or any job. This was the foundation of my decision to depart from fashion. It was the life lesson of learning how to choose myself first and every day.
As I transition from fashion designer to writer, my ability to create remains intact. The creator in me has found a new medium through writing to encourage those around me to take up space in the world. As a society, we are conditioned to put everyone first. So, we live our lives based on obligation and the fear of judgment. The result is a culture filled with resentment, unhappiness, and self-doubt. This lifestyle is unsustainable and perpetuates a community of unlived dreams.
To choose our self is uncomfortable, scary, and isolating but a step towards the life we deserve. This global pandemic has shown us life is too precious, and time is too short not to follow the fire igniting our soul. Uncertainty is a place where dreams awaken. It is a place where possibilities are endless. It is a place where we evolve. It is a place where we are meant to be.