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My Not-So-Traditional Path

If you would have told me 5, 4, 3 and even 2 years ago that I would not have finished college but would be working my dream job at Something Navy, I would have told you that you were crazy!

Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do; I wasn’t that girl who had a “dream job.” I knew I loved photography and being creative and obviously took an interest in fashion, but I had no idea what I could do with it.

I have met so many people who inspire me on a day to day basis, especially my family. My dad managed the office of one of the most preeminent architects of the 21st century, Arthur Erickson. My mom sold early 1920th century major works of art such as: Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Chagall, and many more. Growing up with parents who worked in the arts, I was always encouraged to use my full creative potential. I took piano, art, ballet and so on. Although I learned different skills from each experience, the crafts themselves never resonated with me. However, what I do remember is walking around school with my dinky digital camera snapping every moment I could. In middle school (pre camera phones and instant social media), it wasn’t the norm like it is today for someone so young to be documenting everything on camera. At the time I did not realize that this was the surfacing of my true creative passion, I was just taking pics! As the years went on, my peers were upgrading their phones while I was upgrading my cameras. Even still, photography never presented itself as a career option but rather a hobby even though I was known as the photographer of my friend group.
After a year of school in Paris, I came back to LA and had no idea what I really wanted to do. I was not ready to go back to college mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted to study or what I wanted in general. It was a really confusing time for me so I came home to LA for a little bit to try and figure it out. It felt like everyone else had a plan except me. I realized the worst thing for me would be to get comfortable at home, so I moved to Austin, Texas for the summer as a marketing intern at Bumble, the dating and friend finding app. The app inherently empowers women to make the first move and I couldn’t have found a better place to grow and figure things out. I was surrounded by empowering women in the office every single day.

During my time at Bumble, people I worked with saw my photography skills and gave me creative license to create content for their social media platforms. After that summer, I went back to LA and had the whole year to start figuring out what I really wanted to do. I started interning with a successful photography group, who had shot with celebrities and models like Kendall Jenner, Jessica Alba, etc. I assisted on set and learned a lot of technical skills I otherwise would not have been exposed to and essentially learned everything that people pay to go to school for! I grew more confident with my photography and started to reach out to models on Instagram asking to collaborate in an attempt to create content and build my own website and portfolio. Once I launched my website, I had offers from different clothing and jewelry companies to shoot for them. It was surreal!

Although I loved what I was doing, I still wanted more. Then, my best friend’s sister reached out to me to help with her new ecommerce startup. As you can imagine, she needed pictures for her site. She asked me to come to New York for 2 weeks and build up a bunch of content for the brand. I packed my bags for what I thought would be a short trip, but to this day, I never moved back to LA since! I became her right-hand woman and business partner, as it was just the two of us working together on her site. At the time, she could not afford to pay me but instead payed me in rent so I was living for free in the apartment where we kept all of the inventory. I learned so much working with her. I never knew what it meant to work in social media until I worked with her and how much I loved working in a small team because you really get to wear all hats. One minute I was packaging boxes and the other I was researching brands and assisting in our buys. I also helped build our social media platform from nothing to around 15k followers in a matter of months. I was creating all the content, posting, curating, learning influencer marketing (from a brand’s perspective) and more. It was a startup, so we had to make everything up and learn from our mistakes. At the time, school was definitely still a thought to me as I was the only person I knew my age not on the traditional path. I was even applying for schools while working, but for some reason I could never get myself to fully do it. I really felt like I was learning so much more doing what I was doing and now I was working full time so I couldn’t even fathom working school into my already packed schedule. I realized I had truly found my passion and didn’t want to stop.

While working with my friend, I was also working side jobs photographing for aspiring bloggers. This is really how I made a living because I wasn’t getting paid in my everyday job and I needed a way to make it in NYC. After about a year, it was really hard for me to keep up with the store, my side clients and keeping a steady income and again I felt that void where I wanted something more and something consistent.

I started looking for jobs and in that initial process of looking, I saw Arielle’s post (I still have the screenshot of the job post!) and the description and requirements fit everything I was looking for. I sent in my resume and portfolio and heard back from Nikki that day. She set up an interview and assigned me a project. By the way – I have never been more nervous doing a project in my life! 2 weeks later, I had the interview and then got the job!

And another year later (it was my one year at Something Navy last week!!!!) here we are!! So like many things in my life, when it came to my career, things kind of just rolled out the way they were supposed to. Opportunities came up that were too good to give up. I was never really a school type and for me, I felt that going to school would have been the lazy way out. I worked extremely hard to get where I am with no real roadmap to follow: moving from one place to the next, working as many side jobs as I could and learning this industry by actually being in it from the ground up.

And although I may not have wanted to go to traditional school, I 100% wanted to learn and that’s why I didn’t finish. I don’t think I could have ever been prepared for this job if the 2 years before that I wasn’t roughing it out in NYC and just learning from scratch. Trust me – this path is NOT for everyone and I think school is so important and your early 20s are such pivotal years in anyone’s life, but it is not the end all be all and for me it just worked out to not finish college. I think the biggest lesson I learned over my transformational years is to do everything with a purpose and intention and it will lead you to your goals. It is definitely not the traditional path, but it is my path and I couldn’t be more proud of where I am today.

Illustration by: Hannah Kellner

By Anna Chudnovsky

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