Finding My Blue Plate: a personal narrative of a millenial's career aspirations

Anything used to seem possible. Even my most outlandish ideas were welcomed by warmth and laughter. When you’re young you’re allowed to dream. It’s expected. It’s normal. It’s encouraged.

While waiting for my dad to finish work at Stony Brook University’s dental clinic, his friend asked me, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ecstatically looking straight up at him, I confidently answered, “I want to be an artist…but I also want to be an astronaut, part-time actor, lawyer, ballerina, firefighter, veterinarian, special spy, maybe even president, a doctor, and…” I was out of breath. But I was eager to ensure that I wasn’t forgetting anything, as I was excited to have an adult’s undivided attention—to be taken seriously.

Smiling back at me, he responded with enthusiasm, “Wow, how ambitious!” And asked, “Don’t you want to be a dentist like your father?”

“Oh! Yeah, I forgot,” I exclaimed. “I want to be a dentist too.”

He chuckled, “You know, your dad is like six feet tall. You could probably be a basketball player too one day.”

“Woah! You’re right. That’d be so cool!” I responded with jubilance.

At the time, I genuinely thought I could be all those things. I could see it. I was proud to admit it. I was six at the time.

This ability to vividly dream never escaped me. I often find myself staying up late at night reading job and internship descriptions, interviews with industry influencers, and stories about unconventionally successful CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegal, and Steve Jobs romanticizing the idea of walking on Facebook’s Menlo Park campus as a summer intern or inventing the next big thing during my “20% time,” the one day of each work week when Google employees can work on anything.

Last night was the first night in two weeks that I could go to bed before midnight. After climbing under my covers and setting my alarm, I couldn’t resist the urge to catchup on my neglected Netflix series. Just one episode, and I’ll go to sleep. As I perused through my “recently watched” list, I was suddenly interrupted by an impending thought: People who end up at Facebook or Google aren’t the kinds of people who waste precious sleep time watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S or slackers who failed to obsessively research industry trends and news. They’re people who were laser-focused and truly wanted it: I’m one of those people. I’m no slacker.

Before I knew it, it was 2:30 AM on a Monday night. I was reading medium articles about user-centered design and the growing importance of content strategy. At 3:00 AM I stumbled across TopRank Marketing’s interview with Jonathan Colman, a product UX and content strategy lead at Facebook, then his LinkedIn profile and website. I fantasized about the opportunity to talk to him about his experiences and learn from the highly-regarded individual. After all, his website’s contact page prompts, “Want to talk UX? I’d love to hear from you! Contact me directly or reach out to me on Twitter @jcolman. Want a faster reply? Try telling me a joke—that earns you bonus points. :).” I fought the urge to reach out without a well-thought-out message for the sheer chance that someone like him might respond to someone like me.

In a way, I never grew up. I’m 20 now. And I never lost this inclination to dream. But sometimes, I wish I did.

As a second-semester junior in college, I find questions regarding summer internship plans and where I plan on interning to be some of the most daunting. Though I don’t mind admitting that I’m still in the application process, I always fear the second question.

Just last week I was chatting with a few of my peers who were also asked to speak on an internship Q&A panel. We made our way towards the neatly aligned seats at the front of the room while watching a student carefully write our names, graduation years, and past internships on the white-board. The student to my right turned to me and asked, “What are your plans for the summer?”

I answered, “Not exactly sure yet. I’m actually still in the process.”

Unsurprisingly, I was asked the follow-up question: “So, where are you applying?”

Despite the anticipated question, I panicked. My mind started overflowing with thoughts of self-doubt, as I imagined my peer doubting my abilities and judging me for thinking I’m qualified to apply let alone get an interview at Facebook. As I went under, I thought of responses to underplay my answer. I could just lie and say I’m not sure, but why should I have to lie? I could just be honest, but what if the person thinks I’m arrogant. Why did I care? I could answer honestly and add, “Yeah, I probably won’t get it, but you know…” By now, I was drowning. Put simply: I was afraid to admit that I’m applying for Facebook’s content strategy internship.

Earlier today, I called my mom to thank her for the frozen home-cooked food she had sent me a few weeks ago. It was a life-saver since winter storm Stella had trapped me indoors all day. She asked, “When will you know what you’re doing this summer?” As I explained my hopes to intern at Facebook, I remembered the reoccurring debates we used to have about my middle-school career aspirations to be an artist.

Since my parents had immigrated to the states and struggled to pool together the resources to send my dad to dental school, they often reminded me about their plight to achieve the American Dream. My parents had prioritized financial stability over passion. Like most parents, my mom wants the best for me. Although she recognized my potential and passion for art, she couldn’t ignore the image of a starving artist. Our debates lasted hours.

“So, you really think I can’t make it as an artist?” I asked.

 “Sweetie, art is a beautiful hobby, but you need to be realistic.”

“But don’t you think I’m good at it? All my teachers do. I know you do.” I yearned.

“Do you know how difficult it is to be a successful artist?” She continued, “Imagine a million plates scattered throughout the entire world. Of those plates, one is blue. Supporting yourself as an artist is as difficult as finding that one blue plate.”

Looking back, the blue plate analogy wasn’t particularly insightful. However, these long talks matured me to be more realistic. In pursuit of a career balancing artistry and stability, I started in Temple University’s architecture program. Afraid that wasn’t realistic enough, I transitioned to the pre-med track, which I had originally intended to follow as an alternative to art. Shortly after, I found myself going rogue to explore the realm of business and technology. After discovering the artistry, design, and innovation underlying UX/UI design, product development, and content strategy, I’ve been constantly dreaming of a career at one of the most coveted companies in the world. I can see it. Once again, I’m looking for a blue plate. But this time, I’m proud to admit it.