From Pre-Med to Fashion: A Story of Sacrifice and Fulfillment

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One day you’re applying for college. The next day, you’re in your first undergraduate class.

It’s crazy.

You’ve chosen your major. You think life is set once you finish undergrad and get into graduate school. You intern, you network, you try hard—really hard—because mentors tell you that that’s the way to success. You’re doing what you’re “supposed” to do, and your friends are doing it too–interning, taking the MCAT, the GRE, conducting undergraduate research, etc.

Like a robot, you get through your days like this. You think the road to making it big is a straight line, and you’re confident that, as long as you follow this line, you’ll also make big bucks somewhere later down the road.

582277_1756919276876_1535265973_nYou’re young, energetic, hopeful, and ambitious to succeed. You’ve heard of other people’s successes, seen your parents get ahead, and have shadowed professionals for years. Now it’s your turn, but why is it so hard when you’re the one trying to figure yourself out? It’s easy to listen to someone else’s story of how they achieved success, but the journey is tormenting when you’re the one seeking it.

In college, I was shortsighted and saw my life in quarters of a year—three months at a time. I wasn’t able to see past graduation—even if I did think about graduation, I didn’t think about the tough life after it; I wasn’t thinking about the months of unemployment I would face. I didn’t realize that graduation was actually just the beginning of my education. Everything prior to that was just a safe haven.

Let me tell you something about college that took me years to figure out. There are two types of college students – the “lucky ones” and the “unlucky ones.” Many of us don’t find out which category we fit under until after college is over and the world finally puts us up to the test of being a real adult.

The “lucky” ones are the people who go to college and know exactly what they want. They either thought out their lives early on and found what they’re truly passionate about or the path was laid out for them and they decided that that was the path they wanted to travel. Not only do they understand the value of the time they spend in learning about their future career, but they work with a purpose towards a clear goal that will fulfill their definition of success. Everything they have to do to arrive at their endpoint of success is meaningful and worth it.

Then there are the “unlucky” ones—like myself two years ago. We don’t really know what we want to be. We choose a major that sounds good, we go to class just to feel the accomplishment of actually being present in class, and we master the art of procrastination. We intern because it is the right thing to do, but…

…we quickly understand that we have other interests and passions that we would rather spend our time on.

When I first started my undergrad, I thought that I wanted to be a doctor. I chose my major because it sounded cool and the media made health care seem like an exciting world to be in. Slowly, through my first three years of studying math and science, I began to lose sight of medical school. I eventually discovered an open door, and I clearly remember the day when I made the decision to switch from biology to fashion.

I had just arrived home from updating the new intern schedule for the Emergency Room Clinical Care Extender program at St. Mary Medical Center. Tired, and not looking forward to writing my neurobiology lab report, I logged onto Tumblr, with a hot cup of my favorite green tea in hand, hoping to escape to something more exciting for just ten minutes. The cute dress, the YOLO quotes, and the New York Fashion Week photos beckoned me to finally make a Google search for fashion school.

Long story short – I requested more information about FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in Downtown Los Angeles, applied, completed my admissions project, and got accepted as a one-year Professional Designation student in Merchandise Product Development.

I was thrilled.

A year later, I am a graduate of both UCI and FIDM with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and an A.A. under my belt. It has been a little over two months since I graduated from FIDM and more than a month that I’ve been an Assistant Product Developer at Forever 21’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

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I’ll be honest – the journey was tough. At one point, I wanted to give up studying at FIDM. I questioned myself and wondered if the change was what I wanted.

None of my friends were going down the same road that I chose.

Despite the tinge of loneliness that I often felt, I remembered that, one year ago, I was courageous and took the risk of stepping off the usual path. It didn’t occur to me then that the hard work that I thought I had put in for my B.S. was actually nothing compared to the blood and sweat I put in for my A.A. degree.

Since my homework at FIDM was all time-based work–meaning that my work could be completed if I just spent the time on it–I had to stay home all the time.

I said “no” to outings with friends and, on Fridays, I got excited for the weekend only because I had 48 hours to complete my work in peace. My homework required that I sit down at my desk for 10 hours or more on my MacBook. It became a true test of racing time, and I slowly lost myself to the weeks that flew by. I was suffocating because I wasn’t used to the new changes in my life: a different crowd, the chaotic city, and homework that actually mattered.

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Right off the bat, I noticed that I was different than the other students who graduated high school and went straight to FIDM; I had a clear, serious goal and I understood that I only had a year to learn everything that I could about the fashion industry. I became a more proactive student, learning as much as I could in the little time that I had.

My mind was fried every night, but that was nothing compared to how burned my eyes were from staring at the computer screen for long hours. Because I was getting very little sleep each night, I worked on minimal energy and lost my appetite. Sometimes, I even forgot that I had skipped breakfast, lunch, and dinner. After I graduated, I had to re-learn how to eat and act upon my hunger. Slowly, I learned to be hungry again.

Emotionally, I was sad every Friday and Saturday night when I could hear the downtown traffic outside my apartment window. At two in the morning, I could hear people leaving the clubs after seeing a top 100 DJ at Exchange LA. I often wished that I could have the time to be where they were – outside. My usual social life was nonexistent because I would spend any free time I had recovering from the week, but even free time to recover was rare. Because I wasn’t sleeping or giving time to myself, I eventually became a mess.

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But I don’t regret it. There was no other way around it if I wanted to graduate with honors and show future employers that I was serious about my career change. I wanted to be in the fashion industry.  I was willing to make temporary sacrifices in order to make my life my own.

When I reflect on my accomplishments since I graduated from UCI in June 2012, I am proud of myself for following my gut and doing something that makes me happy to be who I am.

Nope – I am not an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, or a pharmacist. I am a product developer and fashion designer who took a chance in designing her life and walked away from something she knew would not make her feel alive. Even if it was difficult and lonely, I am very happy that I was able to finally fight for a career and lifestyle that I really wanted. In fact, I am fortunate.

And now—finally—I am able to live it.

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Photo sources: Victoria Karen Lin, Raphael Patricio A, Desktop Nexus

Note: The UP Lab is not affiliated with FIDM.

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