Exactly one year ago, I published my Apple Music Case Study on Medium.
I remember trembling with excitement (and a tinge of fear) as I hit the publish button at 8PM. I remember sharing happy tears with those who kept me afloat through ugly tears. I remember waking up at 6 AM the next day to dozens of notifications — and watching that number jump into the hundreds as I waited in line for my usual (large iced Americano with an extra shot) at Coffee Lab.
I remember realizing that my life was about to change.
As I watched my view-count explode in the hours that followed, I found myself in awe of just how many people were saying yes to me and my story.
My design career, up until that point, had been defined by rejection. When my transfer application was rejected by RISD’s graphic design department in Fall 2016, I thought to myself “*many expletives deleted*, I’ll just teach myself through internships.” Apparently, the world had other plans, as every single internship application I sent out for design was rejected. Every. Single. One. It was as if the universe was telling me to quit design. If I’m honest, I even began to entertain the notion myself…
But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not when I loved design as much as I did.
So I kept going, and instead of relying on academic institutions or the validation of HR departments, I set out to teach myself as much as I could about product design through researching and redesigning Apple Music.
Clutching my Large Iced Americano (extra shot) a little too tightly, I realized that it was all beginning to pay off. In the following days, I would receive thousands of notes from people all over the internet. I never managed to finish my coffee that day.
Eventually, my story snuck its way through the glass gates of Silicon Valley, and I began receiving pings from the very same companies that had said no to me just months prior. I remember a Googler on Reddit saying that Apple had made a mistake rejecting me…funnily enough, Google had been the first to dole out a rejection.
It was a bittersweet feeling, realizing that I had been “good enough” all along, yet was unable to be taken seriously by practically anyone due to my theatre degree. I had spent the few months beating myself up internally, wondering why no one was willing to give me a chance, refusing to believe that something as simple as a sheet of paper could stand in the way of my work ethic and relentless curiosity.
Did three months really change me that much? How was I suddenly qualified now? Was this all a fluke? Was Hawaiian pizza secretly underrated?
A dangerous fire was beginning to burn inside of me, fueled by the torrent of questions flowing through my mind. But no matter. Fuck my feelings, I’m blowing up on Twitter. Live in the moment and strike while the iron is hot, they told me. And so I did.
I filled up my schedule with calls, hangouts, Facetimes, even blocks of time devoted solely to answering Twitter dm’s—I made time for anyone who wanted to talk to me and started seriously considering leaving school to jump straight into the industry.
Through these encounters, I would come to know a number of incredible people who continue to support me on my journey. Mills from Ustwo Games, Bo and Davina from Tumblr, Zach from Vox, Daniel from Google, Jieqian from WSJ, Lionel from RGA, Vlad and Sergie from Webflow…I had the opportunity to meet most of them in person later that summer, and was deeply inspired by their passion for design, self-driven mentality, and generous spirit.
Despite all these conversations, I eventually decided to stay in school and transfer to RISD where I would study graphic design full-time for the next two years. Leaving school and following in the footsteps of Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg et al. is considered a glorious path, but at the end of the day I wasn’t interested in following anyone else’s footsteps but my own.
I left Northwestern in June, confident in my decision to embark on my journey to become a UX designer. That summer, I spent some time catching up on coursework at RISD, a brief product design residency at Webflow, and a few trips to an unnamed fruit supplier (a story for another time).
In August, I signed a contract to intern for Apple in the summer of 2018. I let out a sigh of relief that had been building for months, only to experience the emptiness it left behind. I was achieving my dreams, but why did everything feel off?
When September came around, however, I finally broke down.