When I was little, I wanted to be vet. Despite my obviously creative spark and ability to draw a hundred sketches of my family a day, the career I had planned for myself was to work with animals and why the heck not? I liked pets, vets seemed cool, and it was the one job of a handful of known job titles to choose from that I could actually relate to.
As I grew older and experienced more of the world, I decided I wanted to be an actress. And not just any actress, an Oscar toting, LA living actress that the world would be in love with. I loved drama, I loved performing and I loved films. Acting was what I was going to do. Again, I ignored the fact that I was better at writing and drawing than I was at acting in favour of holding onto my glittery dream; a dream I held onto until I was about 16.
Yup. I clung onto that dream for way too long.
It was only after discovering that in my year group of 250 people only one girl was good enough to get an actual TV job that I realised I probably wasn’t cut out for the whole acting business and I went back to the drawing board (literally). I reflected on what I was good at, and loved; drawing, making, creating and writing. So, in order to win that eventual Oscar, I aimed at a different career path; set design.
That career path decision led me to an architecture school opening day, and eventually into the school itself, and five years later I graduated with a Master of Architecture (Professional) and freaked out because I DIDN’T WANT TO BE AN ARCHITECT.
I wanted to be a set designer, and spatial design or interior architecture would have been a much more sensible starting point for that career path. However, due to forces at play such as friendships, being good at drawing, money and my Dad telling me I would only do well in life with a professional degree, I ended up in architecture. Not that I hate architecture, I LOVE architecture. I just didn’t want to be an architect.
So, in a move that Tim Gunn would be most proud of, I made it work.
I figured out what it was that I loved about architecture as a subject and the reasons why I was good at particular aspects of it. I figured out that I would be unhappy if I didn’t get to work within a spatial field and if I never designed again. I realised that although I’m not good at acting, I am good at standing up in front of a room and holding people’s attention (thanks to all those drama lessons, your investment is paying off Mum and Dad!). I finally understood that what I loved most about university was my connection with my peers and my tutors. So I bundled all of that up into a new career objective; teaching and academia.
This career goal encompasses aspects of what I love with aspects of what I am good at. And I get to live in a world right now that I love. I get to research, to teach, to draw, to read, and live and breathe the subject of architecture without actually having to navigate the world of construction drawings, clients and tenders. Why did nobody tell me about academia when I was 5? Or at high school? Or even at university?? It would have saved me so much unnecessary stumbling through life.
I’ve always admired people who have always wanted to be something and stuck with that dream. There are kids all over the world who have grown up to be astronauts, teachers, doctors, nurses, presidents, actors, parents, architects, chefs and vets (the list goes on) because they founded that dream and chased it from an early age.
But then, there are a huge group of people who stumble into their dream without realising it. I think my path has been largely shaped by my parents, who both stumbled into their careers based on what they were good at without knowing what the outcome would be. My Dad has always told me to “follow the path of least resistance” and this doesn’t mean being lazy, this means avoiding paths in life that feel like you’re always trying to knock down thirty feet walls to get even an inch further along. Find a path in life with only jump-able hurdles and then maybe you’ll find contentment. Or at least that’s what I think he means.
It’s worked for me. Trying to be an architect, trying to be something I wasn’t, was SO hard. As soon as I gave up that potential career and chose to focus on my love of the subject of architecture, I learnt about architectural research and teaching and I enjoyed my studies again. Then when I focused on what I enjoyed and fully committed to it with hard work and dedication, I found myself with job offers, a PhD offer, and a defined career goal.
I am thankful that I have been through this weird turmoil of jumping around careers and dreams until I found my place in the world, because I know that I have the capacity to adapt to new opportunities should they arise.
Which means when Peter Jackson finally knocks on my door asking me to feature in his new film as both the lead actress and lead set designer, I’ll be ready.
PS I joke, but I’m actually serious. Peter, hit me up!