Friday, 23 January 2009


At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Albert Schweitzer

I went to an event last night put on by the folks over at D&AD. They started putting on pub nights at the Slaughtered Lamb (what a great name for a pub). I went to the last event which was on the topic of how certain pieces made it into the design annual and why certain ones didn't. There were a lot of feisty graphic designers there and it was a very lively talk.

The talk last night was about mentorship in the graphic design industry. Now I am not a graphic designer by trade, but I thought it would be interesting to hear about their experiences in London. The format was an established designer would speak about how they got started in the industry and who they considered their mentors and then a "younger" designer that they have mentored would speak about their relationship and what the mentorship experience was like from their point of view. It was interesting to hear their stories.

Everyone agreed on the benefits of mentorship and how necessary it is in the field of graphic design. How beneficial it is for everyone really. What people found so valuable was the learning that both people got as a result of the relationship. That's really what it's all about, learning and teaching and supporting others.

Of course it lead me to thinking about mentors I've had in my life and who are the people that I admire. It also made me feel excited to think about the support that I can offer to others. Most importantly attending the talk helped put into perspective that life is a journey and there are so many paths through life. I sometimes forget that what I am doing at the moment is going to lead up to something else down the road. That all these little things are leading up to something.

When I think of mentorship I think back to a class that I had at MCAD called Futures. It was a great class taught by Kevin Byrne. Kevin Byrne is an amazing man, he cares about his students and treats them with so much respect. He is a thinker and a doer and I've never met anyone like him. KB, as we like to call him, is just magic. He's the kind of professor that you always hope you'll have at college. He pushes you and challenges you and you know he does it because he believes in you. A dedicated educator and a great guy.

During that Futures class we had a project to create a timeline of what we thought and what we wanted our lives to be. We were supposed to create a life timeline. The timeline could go back and include some major events from our past and ended at our deaths. We had to determine when we thought our time on earth would end. At first it sounded like a really cool project to me and I was excited about it. We had creative license to execute the project in whatever way we wanted. At first it seemed like fun.

Then once I sat down to work on it I had a really hard time. Before I came to MCAD my life was do I put it? Well, I will say there was a lot of sadness and I had a pretty nontraditional upbringing. Going to MCAD was the first goal that I was ever able to set for myself and achieve.
When I thought about my timeline that brought me to MCAD it was filled with a lot of sadness. My mother was bi-polar manic depressive and growing up was unpredictable. She had a bad episode when I was 7 years old where she tried to hurt me and was sent away to a hospital. I went to live in a foster home for a few weeks while they sorted it out. I returned home to my dad and because he left early in the morning for work I started sleeping overnight at my best friends house two doors down. I would go over there after dinner and sleep there and go off to school with Cory and Nick.

To me, I feel like I've been on my own, taking care of myself since I was 7 years old. Eventually my mom came home and I didn't stay over night at Cory's anymore. Things were never normal. Although my parents loved me very much, they didn't know how to be parents. I was allowed to come and go as I pleased, they weren't very involved in what I was doing at school. I didn't have anyone telling me that I should be thinking about college. I had zero discipline and thankfully I did very well. I never fell in with a bad crowd, I didn't turn to drugs and alcohol. I was strong, but it was hard. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own and at the same time deal with my mom. I always felt like an outsider.

After high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to MCAD and be an artist, but I didn't have any money. I was living in my own apartment after I turned 18. College was something that I wanted to do, but I wanted to be sure about what I wanted to get out of it. I was paying my own way and I wasn't interested in just fooling around at school. I got a job as a waitress and experienced life for a while.

Two days before I turned 19 my dad passed away from cancer. I was completely devastated and heartbroken. My dad, despite not being the greatest father, was a cool guy and I was really looking forward to getting to know him as a person. I wish we had gotten that chance before he passed away. His death hit me really hard.

My mom had always been supportive of me going to MCAD, she believed in my talent. I made the decision that I was going to go. First I was going to go to the Minneapolis Community and Technical College so I could apply to MCAD as a transfer student. I hadn't taken my SAT or ACT exams in high school, so I thought it would be a good way to go. I also wanted to get into the swing of things, being back in school before MCAD.

Two weeks before school started my mom passed away, she had taken her own life. I won't go too much into it now, but it didn't come as a surprise. It's hard for me to even explain what that day felt like, it was six years ago. It was one of the worst days of my life. I knew how much my mom wanted me to go to school so I went. I won't lie and say it was easy, but I am glad that I went. I went to MCTC for about a year and a half. During that time things were a roller coaster. At times I did really well in my classes and was really happy to be there and then there were times when the sadness was unbearable.

Still having MCAD in my sights I decided to stop going to MCTC and go back to work for a while. I decided to go see a grief counselor so I could work out my feelings so that when I went to MCAD nothing was going to hold me back. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I wanted to be at MCAD and experience it to it's fullest. I had to deal with the feelings of being an orphan before I went.

I was also scared to apply to MCAD for a long time. I thought I was scared that I wouldn't get in, but what I was really afraid of was what if I did get in and failed... As a back up I also applied to CVA and I was accepted at both. It really was a dream come true. It was the first time in my life that I could set a goal for myself. A time where I wasn't living in a survival mode and I could be proactive about my own life. It felt amazing and scary at the same time.

As much as I loved going to MCAD it was hard to not have my parents to share it with. I think I cried everyday for the first year. I just longed to tell them about what I was learning.

So, back to the project. So not only was it difficult because of my past I had never really thought about the kind of future I wanted for myself. I had gotten so used to making the best of things and reacting that I didn't know what I wanted. It was an awful feeling to not know what you want. I really struggled and I would go and see Kevin and I would just break down and sob. I would say that I got very good at burying my feelings and hurt so I could live my life, but Kevin would have a way of asking me a question or acknowledging that I had experienced some tough things and I would just break down. He was very kind.

I wanted him to see how hard the assignment was for me and excuse me from doing it, but he never did. He knew I could do it, even if it meant facing the pain. He knew it would be worth it. He worked with me to come up with an alternative assignment and I was grateful for his understanding and belief in me.

For me I never had the experience of seeing how little steps can build up into something. Logically I could understand it, but I couldn't get it. I had never said I want to achieve this and then worked for it. I had tried to before in my life, but something would always get in the way. As I get older and I can look back I understand. It's still a hard thing to grasp.

Going through that experience in Futures with Kevin Byrne changed my life. Him believing in me really was the most wonderful thing in the world to me. Going through the assignment, even though it brought to the surface all the pain I had been feeling from my entire life, was so incredible.

I thought about the Futures project as I walked back to the tube after the talk and thought about how far I had come in just two years. It made me realize that my life is a journey and that it's the little steps and experiences that are bringing me to something and it's ok if I don't know what that is yet. I know that the good choices I make everyday are adding up.

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