Should I stay in retail or go back to school and pursue a dream?
April 13, 2015 11:41 AM   Subscribe

I've been sucked into retail and have put my education on hold due to a lack of certainty on a major. I had tried three different programs, but an impractical dream sits in the back of my mind that I have never even attempted. Do I give up good money in the interim for long term fulfilment with a risk?

I am almost 23 years old and while most people are graduating, having kids, and even getting married, I still have a bit of uncertainty within me about my path in life. I feel more emotionally stable than I ever have, I feel the most capable I ever have, but I still can't seem to make up my mind for the life of me.

I currently live at home with my mom and stepdad in a small town. I do not like it, but it has grown on me in some ways. I'm too liberal for the type of community it is. Everyone loves church, family, and the farm. I never was raised that way. I grew up in the suburbs and am the product of an atheist and a catholic.

In high school I was a natural born writer and my family calls me "the writer of the family" though I almost never read and haven't written creatively in eons. I always scored well on writing assesments and my teachers often praised the ability but I don't have passion behind it unless sporadically inspired. I never thought I was that great but I was scored distinguished and was one of 12 in the entire school at the time.

My sister is an overachiever in medical school and perfectionist who loves to see the number on the scale drop lower and lower. My other sister is following in her footsteps but is much more empathetic and doesn't care as much about appearances. My brother made some questionable decisions and now is 30 with four kids and is really struggling to get by. Then there is me. I'm managing a retail store and was doing well in school, until it came time to declare a major. My indecisiveness has been a savior and the devil all the same. I've been in and out of romantic relationships and it seems they came about to distract me from my own sense of "what next?"

I know I don't have to have all of the answers yet and a lot of times those people who think they know what they want and who they are, don't until a bit more life experience. Retail has been life experience, but I don't feel as if it has been the right life experience.

The dream in the back of my mind has been to design clothes. People hear that with their engineering degree or their biology degree and scoff. "What are you going to do with that?" Surprisingly my father was supportive and my mom was too, until she married my stepdad who is very analytical, cheap, and practical. They swayed me to pursue other things. It lead me to a lack of interest in my education and feeling stagnant. I got into a design program once but opted out. I applied again but don't have a decision yet.

Here I am, waffling again. I make good money in retail. I'm lucky. But I hate my life and who I become in retail. My father says stay. My mom says go. They have flip-flopped. I would take on more debt in the design program and have to pretty much start fresh. I was offered a lower paying job that would allow me the opportunity to go back and live with my dad in the city. Everyone says what about the money, won't you miss it? With a boss who cusses at me, belittles me, and makes me feel like the shit on her shoe, I can say with every fiber of my being I WANT OUT. I work on my days off. I work alone and it is hard to go to the bathroom or even eat. My health has suffered; utis, dehydration, anxiety, sleeplessness, etc. I am expected to "just know" so many things and the demands are laughable.

I have always loved makeup, beauty, beautiful clothes, and elegant women and men. I also love the art of creating new looks. I want to make people feel beautiful/handsome. I want something I made with my own two hands on someone else. Even if I never get my own line, I want to be behind the scenes crafting the next thing. I am scared I will not like it once I go. I'm also scared I will. I'm scared to move. I'm scared to hear the judgments of others. I'm scared to let others down; my dad, my boss, my ex boyfriend who wants to come back into my life. I am such a people pleaser that I let the feelings and thoughts of others come before my own and it cripples me when it comes to decision time. I have a job offer sitting in my inbox that I have been sleeping on for two days.

I don't know if I should stick it out, do the practical major, keep the job and do school part time, etc... or pursue the dream of something that has been a part of me since I was little. I always wanted to be on stage but I am an introvert, it was not for me. I see this as the introvert way of me being on stage. Lol I know this is where my true passion lies. But I am scared. Scared to make the wrong choice and my life will be ruined. Scared to look like a fool. How can I make a decision and not worry what others think?
posted by Chelsaroo650 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try on design school part-time and continue working. It's definitely worth a shot!
posted by harrietthespy at 11:53 AM on April 13, 2015

How much debt, and time in school, are we talking about here? What sort of degree would you get and what sort of job options are usually available to graduates of the program? Having a dream is good. Wanting to do more with your life is good. Being unrealistic about where your dream could take you is bad. Don't go back to school just because you hate your current job, that's what finding a new job is for. Do you know there are assholes working in fashion? Oh boy, there are, and they're all richer, thinner, and better than us (they'll say so themselves). It can be a tough industry to gain a foothold in.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:54 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about fashion merchandising (as an option for your major)?

In addition to design, you might want to learn more about the business side of fashion -- especially since you're doing well in retail currently.
posted by rue72 at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2015

- Quit your current job! Without a doubt, it is making you miserable and you can certainly find a better combination of happiness and income somewhere else.
- Find out more about what happens to people after they go to design school. Read. Meet and talk to real people who have done this. Is going to school necessary? Is it sufficient (how many unemployed/underemployed design graduates are out there?
- Is there a way you can combine design and retail - either with a different, related job (wardrobe consultant, retail design) or do design on a hobby level while you earn rent in a pleasant-enough higher paying job?
- if you take the part-time job and go to school and it doesn't lead to a new career, will still be worth it? (maybe yes, maybe no)
posted by metahawk at 12:05 PM on April 13, 2015

I've worked for and with people in fashion design here in NYC and, personally, I would absolutely not go into deep debt -- the kind of debt a dedicated design school will likely land you in -- to try to break into it unless I could literally not do anything else at all and be the least bit happy. Before going to design school, find some people who are working in in the industry it right now and see what advice they have. If you want to be a Big Name in the World of Fashion, I don't know, but if you just want to design and sell clothes, there are absolutely ways to break into that without taking on massive debt and once you're in, you can network on up.
posted by griphus at 12:15 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am almost 23 years old and while most people are graduating, having kids, and even getting married, I still have a bit of uncertainty within me about my path in life.

Scared to make the wrong choice and my life will be ruined. Scared to look like a fool. How can I make a decision and not worry what others think?

Nothing you decide at 23 sets the course of the ship of your life FOREVER. A lot of people wait until 30 to get married have kids etc. If you got to the design school for a semester and hate it you can leave. General advice about art/craft related careers there's usually a more real world version of the pie in the sky job you have in your head that you can actually make a living at. Pattern Maker within a larger org vs. Fashion Designer for example. Why not take the city job and take part-time classes at a continuing ed program to see if you like the actual work of designing clothing. If you hate it go back to school for the other major. You can dip your toe in before committing.

Money: Not being stressed about money can give you some breathing room and freedom and it's not unimportant, but no amount of money will ever make you happy in a job you hate.

In terms of separating out your emotions from other people's expectations, maybe take a mini-vacation out of the area and go for a hike or a day at the beach and think about these choices and try to keep everyone else's opinions out of your head while your thinking. But I would say change your environment and then do some thinking.

Good luck!
posted by edbles at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, keep in mind that if you work in certain types of fashion retail (boutique, especially) you will be dealing with fashion design companies regularly, and depending on where you work you might even go to trade conventions (my boss would take a few store employees to Magic once a year, for instance.) Finding a boutique retail job would definitely open up at least a little bit of that world to you and let you sample it before you start spending money on a degree.
posted by griphus at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you considered being a freelance stylist? You could start taking jobs _now_ (ask another Metafilter question if you have no clue how to start). If you work your way up the retail ladder, getting better and better employers, and working with and learning from mentors who have better and better taste (as they make window displays, accessorize mannequins, etc.), you could also build your skills as a stylist _while_ working retail.
posted by amtho at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2015

I think it's ok to go to school for a non STEM major as long as

1. It's a good school, not one of those scammy for-profit schools.
2. You genuinely want to learn the subject, and will put in the effort to do so.
3. You're realistic about the financial consequences of your decision.

Even if you go major in design and don't end up doing it for whatever reason, you now have a degree, which is a pretty big thing. And I know people who have pivoted on what they want to do. Seamstress to art teacher. Pharmacist to medical school. Etc. Just going to school to study something does not actually lock you into the career for the rest of your life.
posted by ethidda at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2015

Agreed with edbles. At 23 you might feel like you should already know what you want to do, but really, you have so much time to figure things out.

Best of luck to your friends getting married, having kids, and settling down now. I hope they are super happy with those choices and it all works out. However, most (not all, but most) people who get married before age 25 end up getting divorced by age 29-30. The twenties are a turbulent time.

Solid skills in writing and retail sales will be boons to you if you go into the fashion industry, or if you want to start any business of your own, really. You know a lot about what it takes to run a business and that's what you'd be doing by becoming a fashion designer - running your own business from top to bottom. Being a businessman/woman in a 2.5 trillion dollar global industry is nothing to scoff at, thank you Mr./Ms. Engineering Degree. You may be able to bring your family around if you frame it like that, but at the end of the day, they made their choices and you get to make yours. It's so much better to look back and think, "I made a mistake, but it was mine," than to let any resentment build up because you made a choice based on what your parents or siblings thought made sense at the time.

Basically, what I think I'm trying to get here is that it sounds like you really have some great skills to use as a springboard into pursuing a career in fashion and there are so many types of careers in fashion it's staggering. If you try it and you don't like it, you will still be able to apply your experience in the fashion world to the next thing, I'm sure.

Finally, I have a friend who started out thinking hairdressing was the ticket for her (and it's a great job). She is amazing at it and started getting hired to do hair for runway shows. Based on those experiences, she's starting over at 27 to get a fashion/beauty marketing degree at a great school in NYC so that she can be a runway director. Yes, marketing. It's a business.
posted by Pearl928 at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2015

Start designing now. Live with your father, work part time, and work part time designing clothes. Rely on your local librarians and online resources to help you study design, but focus on getting a physical product out into the world. You have the skills to do this already. Sell your product at markets, stores, and online. Quit your part-time job when you can rely on selling your line.

Expect this process to take several years, just like a degree would. This is ok! You are slowly starting a small business; you will learn a lot. Go back to school when you have maxed out on learning by way of these other options.
posted by aniola at 1:12 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Note that if you are financially independent of your parents, federal financial aid by way of the FAFSA becomes more accessible at age 24, assuming nothing has changed in the past few years.
posted by aniola at 1:15 PM on April 13, 2015

Just read your posting history. I no longer suggest moving in with your dad, but think the small biz plan is still very workable for you.
posted by aniola at 1:20 PM on April 13, 2015

I can't help but notice that you haven't mentioned sewing/making clothes. Get to a sewing machine, stat! Start designing now, make samples, wear your own stuff and begin making things for others (including costuming people in stage productions since theater is one of your interests). Find out what it takes to get on one of the reality TV shows. See if your community would accept "art clothes" at the pertinent craft fairs, art center galleries, etc.

TL;DR - Just get started and the rest will follow.
posted by carmicha at 1:23 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

"We are not angry men. We are enraged. You can no longer defer my dream. I'm gonna sing it. Dance it. Scream it. And if need be, I'll steal it from this very earth." -- Archie Shepp

I could have asked your question 24 years ago, when I was 23. But I didn't. I still work retail (I own my own store) and I hate it.

posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:38 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I walked out on my retail job last week and let down everybody in my life except for myself (and my dog; he's getting a lot of attention) and you know what? The world hasn't ended yet, and it was damn well worth it.

Your current job is killing you. You're too exhausted to do anything except go back to work tomorrow. You're too exhausted and stressed to accept a job offer that is sitting in your inbox. I was at that point, not too long ago: too stressed and exhausted to return voicemails about interviews. Don't let yourself get that stuck. Accept the job offer. Because I can almost guarantee you that your "good money" isn't that good at all, not if you're working a lot of hours. Six days ago, I was making $10.50 an hour at my salaried, awesome-paying job. They just opened two positions (!!!) to replace me. Is it worth it? Also: fuck your boss. How many times has your boss let you down?

I took a stressful, badly paying, long-hours-horrible-boss job at 22 years old, stayed with it because I owed it to people and what about my resume and I'd really like this reference and well no one else at this small company left until XX Years In so I should stay a little longer and what will my dad's family think and this job makes me look good--and I'm still trying to find the person I was before that job. Take care of yourself. Value yourself. If you can do those two things, you're gold, and you'll find your way.
posted by coast99 at 1:49 PM on April 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you are going to design school or fashion trade school of some kind look closely at their graduation rates, the number of graduates who get jobs, their career centre and their internship program. Make sure they deliver what you need, which is a ticket to get a job in the clothing/fashion industry because it doesn't sound like you have the money to learn design for the sake of it. You need the degree/portfolio to get a foot in the door.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:00 PM on April 13, 2015

Get out of retail, NOW!
It sucks the life out of you and doesn't even pay a living wage. Or offer you any career opportunity.

Try to find an Apprenticeship in the field you want to build your own career so you can learn on the job rather than spending time and money at school only to have to start from scratch with debt once you finally graduate..
posted by Mac-Expert at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Unless you come from a certain type of family with a certain type of connections, and can afford to have your family support you in style while you intern and apprentice, I wouldn't go the traditional route of trying to break into the fashion industry.

While I love some of those people, they are unbelievably vapid and narcissistic. Are you sure you want to do this? Do you know what it entails?? Like, do you know how the corporate side works??

Move away from your sheltered life. Start making products and establish a name for yourself online, and at small venues like artists collectives or farmer's markets. Maybe sell your clothing line at music shows, artsy shops in up and coming neighborhoods. Blaze your own path. Don't look back. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 2:51 PM on April 13, 2015

Hey, there are a lot of options in between keeping your current job and going back to school.

I recommend you get a different job in the beauty industry. I used to manage a salon, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere most of the time.

You do not need an expensive degree to be a fashion designer. Going back to school might just make you feel more miserable, more indebted, and older than most students.

So work towards your dream at a better job with a better boss, somewhere you can get connections. Move to a slighter larger town a bit further away if necessary.

You don't have to go straight to an expensive design school in New York or whatever.
posted by quincunx at 2:53 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have always loved makeup, beauty, beautiful clothes, and elegant women and men. I also love the art of creating new looks. I want to make people feel beautiful/handsome. I want something I made with my own two hands on someone else.

Sure, but do you sew? Do you draw? Are you artistically inclined? It sounds like you are really into fashion as an idea and a concept, but you're not that familiar with the bones of it. Look deeper.

If you aren't already doing this stuff, I agree with everyone else to look into merchandising and other pieces of the fashion business. I have a friend who sounds a bit like you - really into fashion, but not actively a design person. She works in some sort of logistics/business role for a major fashion brand on the west coast and loves her job.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:35 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you aren't hands-on into design and production, some kind of stylist job could be right for you. At that point, you are taking other people's elements and putting them together.

Whatever you are doing, BUILD A PORTFOLIO.

You can start doing this online via blog, or formal online portfolio. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:09 PM on April 13, 2015

My sister in law works in finance for a company that is a middle man for designers and retailers. She got her job through a friend but wanna guess what her major was? Creative writing.

There are steps in between quitting your job, taking on oodles of debt, and diving into an undergrad fashion design major vs. working in the same gig until you retire. I definitely think you should seriously explore those steps. Can you take a free class online in this field? Cheap class online? Definitely start a blog to document your interest, Writer of the Family. Is there a Meetup in the area for people who do what you're interested in doing? I'm sure several people who have broken into the industry have written about how they did it, see what they did and think about how it could work for you.

If you do pursue a degree (and if possible, I think you should at least strive to complete a bachelor's in something), you can aim to double-major with something fun like fashion and something more practical (marketing? Business?). Start looking at internships and companies who hire early career people.

Maybe this will work out swimmingly, maybe not but it's easier to do this now than at 28 or 33. And seriously, it's wonderful if the people who got hitched and bought houses and started families at 23 make it work but that's not my jam and it doesn't sound like it's yours either. Oh well.

Also, not that it matters unless you're in NY, but I didn't realize that FIT is a SUNY school. Yay in-state tuition!
posted by kat518 at 4:25 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You should start by actually making clothes now, even before you go to school. You have to do it to see if you like it. Are you sketching clothes now? If not, start that too.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:01 AM on April 14, 2015

Seattle Community colleges have an awesome fashion design program and it's affordable. If you aren't afraid of making a cross country move, give it a try. A family member did the two year program and is now making six figures designing shoes. Yes, it was pretty intense, but for the return she has gotten it has been well worth it. The instructors are top notch having worked in the fashion design field for many years.
posted by OkTwigs at 8:10 PM on April 14, 2015

If you move somewhere for school, check their residency requirements- what the school needs to count you for in state tuition.

Following other peoples desires for your life is futile, will make you miserable, and generally a beat down, defeated human being. Also, comparing yourself to others is equally bad. Being true to yourself, knowing who you are, how you deserve to be treated, and acting like that person; demanding to be that person, if necessary- is, in my opinion, the only way to be happy.

You sound more driven and put together than I did at 23!

Also, it sounds like your job sucks. Money buys things, and probably physical comfort, but nothing else.
posted by Jacen at 2:53 PM on April 15, 2015

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