When 2017 began I said to myself, "This is the year when I'm gonna learn how to make a lot of stuff and get focused." And I did. I put other jobs, other work, and other people aside to focus on being a better maker. From the moment I went back to school in winter I worked around the clock to learn some new skills that would enable me to execute any vision in my head. I was learning a new method of communication- it was a dream.
That simple goal came with its fair share of challenges though; 2017 was emotionally and physically exhausting. I had been battling mono for a few months while training at the gym, (not knowing that my spleen was ready to burst halfway through February), co-editing our school's quickly growing fashion blog, dealing with highly demanding professors, falling in love, moving out of one apartment, moving to New York by myself, working my first semi-adult job and getting my first adult job offer, moving back to a different house, and starting my first collection. There were many spontaneous adventures, weekend trips, and freelance jobs in between. I was grateful to turn 21 in NYC, spend 4th of July on the Jersey Shore, and visit a best friend after being apart for five years. I read my first book about making investments and decided how I might start building my 401K right away. Just saying all that is enough to make my head spin as fast as a damn tilt-a-whirl. Those challenges became opportunities and what was one of the most stressful years of my life became one of the most liberating. I could not have made it through this craziness without every person I shared those experiences with.
The challenges I faced made me exponentially stronger and even more eager to be successful moving forward. This was a year of intense growing up, working hard, and reflecting; here's what I learned:
1. Some things just don't work out, and it's all good.
I had lined up an internship in New York City for ten weeks this past summer and to my dismay the corporate working world ended up being one of my worst nightmares. My inability to go for an afternoon coffee with my laptop on a Wednesday made me anxious and uncomfortable. Yes, part of this might be related to my upbringing as an only child- I have a particularly difficult time adhering to somebody else's regimented schedule. But rather than dwelling on my distaste for corporate operation, I tried to get to know myself and identify how I could work efficiently and stay inspired within the set restraints of a 9-6pm workday. I became known as the intern that moved around the office every hour, always finding a new room to work in while playing some weird indie-sonic music from my laptop. Pretty soon it felt good to be on a consistent schedule. While the schedule part got easier to deal with I was still trying, trying, and trying some more to love my job but part of me felt deeply unsatisfied- like my innermost hunger for luxury fashion wasn't being satisfied. I stopped at Barney's once a week to examine the finishings on my favorite pair of Celine pants and studied their store displays. I would get so excited about a silk charmeuse lining that I would shed a tear. I eventually realized and excepted that I just didn't fully fit the part that I was training for at this mass-market company and that was okay. Regardless of what I liked and disliked about the job, I worked my ass off the entire time because that's what you do to earn credibility and maintain a personal sense of accomplishment, (and because your team needs you and hired you for a reason so you better be helpful!) My boss was the most inspiring leader I've ever worked for and I learned a whole freaking lot from all my teammates. She offered me a great post-grad job before I even started my senior year of college but it didn't feel right, so I denied the offer with gratefulness for the experience. I was once told, "Take the first offer that comes your way" and that might have been the worst advice I've ever heard because if I'm gonna spend more than half my life doing this I better feel right doing it. Don't put pressure on yourself to find your thing right off the bat, be patient, (like I wasn't) because it might not happen in 10 short weeks.
2. On the other hand, some things just work out in your favor.
When something didn't work out how I wanted it to, it meant that something even better was to come. I got so dissatisfied with my negative, anxious attitude that I eventually decided to think positively. I found that it's a lot less exhausting to be joyful and life is really awesome if you say and act like it is. What you put out in the world comes back around sometimes.
3. I am blessed if all I am is tired.
This year I started to work on my senior collection. This is either a process people dread or love because it's really tough- duh. I love it because I'm given the time to actualize my vision. It resonated with me while working an internship this summer that I would have to work for somebody else for a while after I graduate to you know, make money and learn more. I think before experiencing real work I was taking my creative freedom and educational time for granted. Rather than being excited about the opportunity to create whatever I wanted with no restraints, I was dreading the late nights that came with that freedom. Everybody works hard, everybody's tired, and a millionaire didn't make her first million by sitting around and complaining about all the challenges she faced. I'm very blessed to have friends and family who love and support me, good health, food to eat, a cozy bed to sleep in, time to make stuff, and excess creative freedom. I'm blessed if all I can complain about is being tired- get over it ash.
4. Trust the world's timing.
This year was about trusting that the right things would come when the time was right. There are some things that happened and I thought, "Really? This happened when I'm already feeling shitty about x, y, and z??" I would get impatient and frustrated rather than taking a step back and understanding that everything really does happen for a reason. I would realize why things worked out in a certain way later and feel silly for getting upset about it. If somebody breaks your heart, you're not meant to be together. If you didn't work your dream internship, it's because you needed to figure out what you didn't want and get seriously motivated to find out what you do want. If your senior professor gets switched at the last minute, you might end up with another radically inspiring person. Say yes to that random ass Tinder date because you could wind up in a fairytale date with prince charming. Don't get stuck in the shit, keep moving forward because you have an awesome life to live and it always works out.
5. Don't live for the weekend.
You have to try and find joy in every moment throughout your days. Otherwise that same old routine will get ultra boring and you'll become a miserable human. This is so much easier said than done because some mornings when my alarm goes off at 7:30am all I want to do is hit snooze and sleep all day, but as I said earlier we're not going to achieve financial freedom by sitting around. So enjoy all your days because it's easy to live for your days off but does that really bring long term joy?
6. Be mindful of health, emotional stability, and physical needs.
I cannot do anything effectively if my mind is a mess. I can't feel good about myself if I'm feeding my body crap. I can't live long and climb mountains when I'm 60 if I don't move. I may not have my high school stick thin bod because I don't have time to workout two hours a day six days a week, but I'm moving. Early in the year I started to let go of the rituals, routines, and habits that allowed me to stay self aware and sane. Once I took a step back and realized I was living a totally unbalanced life, I could then identify why I wasn't thriving and feeling good in my relationships, at work, or at school. If I had gone without reflecting on my day to day and long term choices, I would have never fixed the problems and changed my attitude. Mindfulness comes by giving yourself time to think about why you feel the way you feel and ultimately what's driving your decision making.
7. Independence is awesome and important.
Stop dwelling on the fact that you got dumped; take the alone time to get to know yourself better. Go out with the girls, go out with the boys, get lost in your work, explore your city alone, be the boss lady you actually are and take control of your future. Take the time to get to know yourself and face your deepest rooted problems- work out the shit so you can be a better human being in your next relationship. Realize that you are free to do and feel whatever you want without it seriously effecting anybody else. Most importantly, make sure this independence sticks no matter who you surround yourself with moving forward.
8. Let yourself love a lot.
Love heals and the world needs more of it. No matter where I found myself in the world over the past two years, the place has been made by the relationships I've formed with the people around me. Learn to love people for who they are and not who you want them to be. Stay in touch with people in your life who you've laughed with since day one- everybody changes, but those weird differences can make your friendship even more interesting over the years. Be open to loving new souls even if you've only known them for a few days. Love makes you smile, it makes your heart grow, and it means being severely vulnerable in the best way possible. Ensure your loved ones actually know how much they're loved, valued, and appreciated- you never know when they'll be gone.
9. Believe in your dream.
Going after what you really want in life is scary and sometimes looked down upon if your career goals don't have a straight line path. There are a million moments in one day when I doubt myself, but there are a million and two moments when I remember why I'm doing it. I've thought so many times, "Why didn't I just go into something easier, why didn't I go to normal school? Why doesn't anybody have answers for how this is supposed to be done? Why the hell does it matter if that color is slightly too dark?" But those questions are all questions that keep me on my toes and keep me engaged in my industry.
I love design, period. I wouldn't be even slightly satisfied doing anything else. It took six months of 2017 for me to realize that I can do whatever I want with my creativity right now- I didn't have to do what was considered, "normal" or, "expected" of me. Rather than fearing the unknown, perhaps I'm called to embrace it and run with it as far as possible. Stay focused and chase what you want without looking back; don't take any opportunity for granted because everything you experience can only help you if you stay positive. Sometimes listening to what you, "should do" or, "could have done" will only distract you from achieving anything. We were given the talents and passion we have for a reason so do something about it.
Life is way too short to settle into something that you don't love. 2018 is about fearlessly going for it. If you want to follow this year's journey, hop on over to my Instagram account @ashley_romasko to track the progress and development of my collection.