woman wondering

Wrestling With a Decision: How I Knew Graphic Design Was My Passion

By: Kathy Laing

There’s a cliché about how we experience that moment when our life plan becomes clear and we realize what it is we want to do professionally. According to some, there’s a flash of insight, an epiphany or a moment of clarity when everything falls into place.

My moment wasn’t like that.

While I remember with perfect clarity the moment I realized that I wanted to become a graphic designer, for me that moment wasn’t so much a eureka as a yikes: I was crouched over a young wrestler who had just broken his ankle, getting yelled at by angry parents and a furious coach.

Let me back up.

Growing up, I was always passionate about art—always interested in creating. From elementary school through high school, I took a series of independent art lessons where I was able to experiment and learn with different media, materials and techniques.

When I began taking classes at a career center as a junior and senior, I was both surprised and disheartened to hear from a counselor that in his opinion, the only realistic job I could hope to get with a background in commercial art would be as a screen printer. It was a dose of reality – or so I thought.

I gave up my dream of being a professional artist and decided to pursue nursing instead. After some false starts, I ended up working toward a sports medicine major and an Athletic Training degree at Central Michigan University. My senior year, I was in charge of a high school wrestling team in Mt. Pleasant as part of the program.

One of the star wrestlers was injured in his match, and it turned out he had broken his ankle quite badly. My assessment of his injury and my conclusion that he was too hurt to continue his match was not well received. Everyone wanted me to get the kid back on the mat. I had a coach yelling me, I had parents yelling at me and it seemed like the health and wellbeing of the athlete was relatively low on everyone’s list of priorities.

I realized just how uncomfortable I was and that this wasn’t fun for me. In fact, I was miserable.

Where I was having fun, on the other hand, was at my part-time college job at a Kinko’s copy shop, where they had just gotten computers for the first time. Since no one really knew how to operate the new machines, I was given the opportunity, and I took full advantage. I taught myself how to use the computers and was designing flyers, resumes and doing all kinds of graphic design work.

The irony of my part-time job helping to rekindle my love of art and becoming my full-time passion and purpose isn’t lost on me. I owe my career as a graphic designer to that job, and also to the fact that I was fortunate enough to recognize that I needed to make a change.

I think back to the moment at the wrestling match today, when I’m working on a challenging creative project for a client or when inspiration is elusive. I think about how lucky I am to be doing something I truly love. I feel so grateful to be working in an environment with creative, talented and supportive coworkers, where I can push myself artistically and professionally to get better and to be great.

If there is any lesson to be learned in the story of my “moment”, I think it’s about the importance of pursuing your true passion no matter what. It’s not about what you think you should do, but what you know you love to do. And about how an angry wrestling coach screaming in your ear might actually be telling you something important—if you are ready to listen.