By: Nicki Patel | 1.27.17
If you asked me in 2013 where I saw myself in 5-years, my answer was confident, reassured, and strategized. I was going to be working for a major league sports team in a managerial role within the accounting or finance department. I had a plan, I had a strategy, and I was going to execute no matter what it took. But like everyone knows, not everything happens as planned. I was just too determined, focused, and possibly naive to know or see that.
Once I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a dual degree in Accounting and Sports Management, I quickly realized my goal was not so simple. The sports industry was heavily saturated, gender-biased, and very competitive. Interview after interview, I continued to get the same message, “Thank you for your time and interest, but we have decided to go with another more qualified candidate at this time.” It was like a door slamming in my face over and over again.
After a few months, I began to get anxious and decided to explore opportunities in accounting, but I found them to be very much not my personality. It was usually a 9-5 gig, sitting at a desk, and punching numbers into complex Excel spreadsheets. With my parents push to at least give it a try and the lack of other opportunities, I gave it a try. I found an amazing company that allowed me to explore the field of numbers without solely being all about numbers. Plus, I got to stay in the city I love, Austin. As I grew in the company, I still felt like there was something missing or off. I began my search again for another job and landed an entry level position with a local, boutique-size accounting firm. The challenges of learning a new role was exciting at first, but all too quickly it became mundane. I continued to feel like something was missing, and at the same time, an opportunity approached me to join a globally recognized accounting firm. I thought, maybe I am just getting bored so let me give it a try – what do I have to lose?
Around the same time I was transitioning to a new job, yet again, my personal life seemed to crumble. I began to lose control of my health after a tremendous blow to my safety and security with the burglary of my childhood home. It wasn’t about the material things my family lost, it was the mystery of who had done it, the lack of community support to find the culprit, and the constant fear of someone hurting those that I hold near and dear to me, my family (my pup, Milo).
The new role started on a bad note. My health was at a point where I could hardly stay in the office for a full day. The company was very understanding, and this made me want to push myself to be present even when it wasn’t best for my health. I could blame my personality, but I think this is possibly an inherited trait – pushing myself beyond my limits. Even as I continued to develop and learn my new role, I felt this gap or hole deep inside. I was missing something, I knew it and I needed to find out what it was so I could fix it.
Through meditation, acupuncture, and other holistic approaches, I began to gain back my health, but the new job was pushing me to work beyond my means with long hours, extensive travel, and unknown project needs. I also was racking up costs in medical expenses so I began a second remote job as a personal stylist, and added a few more small gigs here and there. The second job was perfect because it allowed me to work from anywhere at any time; plus, it was the perfect creative outlet. As I worked the different jobs, I felt like I was only working for a pay-check and I knew deep down that this was somehow linked to that lingering feeling I couldn’t get rid of. What do you do when you have raised by parents who immigrated with nothing to this country, who worked and started businesses that led them to raise 3 daughters, who put those 3 daughters through college even when they didn’t have the same opportunities, and a cultural community so defined by status, money, and family honor? You push aside all doubts and hesitations, and work in tunnel vision. Unknowingly, that is what I had trained myself to do, and that is what I was doing. But, deep, deep down, I knew better, and it was just a matter of time before it surfaced.
With my new holistic approach for my health, I used the same approach to do some soul-searching. I realized what I was missing the most: passion, creativity, and happiness. I was working so hard to please my parents, my Indian community, be a good daughter, support myself, and make a career I could be proud of that I lost who I was in the midst of everything. I lost that spunk and energy that had made me, me. At the same time I began to come to a realization, my employer gave me an ultimatum. Simply, they could no longer wait for my recovery, and either I was going to put my career before my health, or they would have to let me go, AKA fire me.
This was heart-breaking because I had given this company my all. Even as I struggled with my health and security, I had worked my ass off putting the company, my career first. I would work long hours, staying late in the office, working late into the night at home, and traveling to cities 8 hours away just to return the same day so I could be in the office the next. I was pushing myself beyond my own means and for what? As I came to my senses, I realized this was a sign. I would never have left to pursue happiness or a passions without a push. This was the push from some higher power or being.
I made a bajillion career possibility charts, spider diagrams, and did tons of journaling. Finally, I took the leap of faith and left my full-time job. I feel so blessed to have the family I do because my parents were 100% on board. Also, I was very lucky because I had my remote stylist position with a few other tiny marketing and brand development gigs which definitely made the jump easier. I decided my next step was heading back to school to get into fashion, but the options were limited: I had maxed out my undergrad degrees, there were no major fashion schools in TX, and the price of moving/starting school in a new state was not realistic and feasible. I had to go back to the drawing board, and that is when I found Factory45.
It was like finding the golden ticket to get into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The concept, the program, and the mission fit perfectly. I spoke to Shannon, the founder, and I knew the moment I heard from her this was it. Now, I just had to wait for the open application window. As I anxiously waited, all I could think about was where I wanted to be in 5-years. Unlike my answer in college, I was excited by the unknown, the endless opportunity, and the new found passion I knew could lead me to places I never imagined.
When I finally got that tear-jerking, life-changing acceptance email on June 2nd, 2016, I felt like anything was possible. I felt a wave of joy, an adrenaline rush for the unknown future, but the best feeling was that small nagging hole I had felt for so long was gone. I knew no matter what the future held for me, I had followed my heart and the opportunities from that alone were endless.