By Sierra Sizemore
Sitting at my desk in the University of Oklahoma (OU) payroll office where I’d spent the last year as a student employee; making copies, repeating the alphabet over and over again while filing international tax paperwork and direct deposit forms and transferring phone calls to people who actually knew what they were doing, I received an email from LIM College in New York City. The email subject read “Decision Update to Your LIM College Application Update!” The suspense was so heavy I could barely lift my hand to the mouse and the mouse to the link that once was clicked would change my life.
I clicked on it, I got accepted and I was going to fashion school. The excitement poured out of my face. Beaming with joy, I called my mom. I called my best friend. I called my brother. I wanted everyone to know that I was finally achieving what I’d been working toward for more than ten years. Acceptance letters, financial aid packets, and new friends were filling the empty holes in the design of my future.
The class Facebook page oozed with potential. Future classmates quickly turned friends and before I knew it I had roommates. Four girls in one tiny New York City apartment wasn’t ideal, but we were determined to make it work. We created a Google doc which served as a shopping list and an inspiration board. We were part of a public Pinterest board in which we would share design ideas and plans. I spent hours every day searching for apartments in every neighborhood trying to find a place that would accommodate our needs.
On our apartment wish list:
- Absolutely cannot be located in the Bronx
- Includes a dishwasher
- Under $700 per person per month
During this time is when I truly got the reality check I so desperately needed. To live in New York City means to hustle and hustle hard. I didn’t have parents that would carry me through college like the rest of my classmates.
The tuition at LIM College was triple what I was already paying at OU. I started out owing more than $13,000 out-of-pocket after aid and scholarships for just one semester. This was a massive roadblock. I would get loans and save my money and everything was going to work out, I thought. I hosted garage sales, worked overtime and sold nearly all of my belonging in hopes of becoming a minimalist in order to fit what few things I had left into a pocket-size Manhattan apartment.
Since my twelfth birthday, I’d been dreaming of Manhattan. I spent my days illustrating in my mind what life would be like if I lived in a place that would allow me to be my fullest self. I was always fascinated with the city because of how utterly different it was from everything I had ever known in small-town Oklahoma. On the other hand, fashion was something I knew well. In the fifth grade, I’d concocted a notebook that housed all of my poorly etched designs. Being a naïve 10-year-old, I begged my classmates to grade them. Most of them were being kind, I’m sure, because my art skills were less than adequate. Nonetheless, the letter ‘A’ was reassurance that I was good at something other than sitting still and looking pretty.
Through New York City I knew I could do big things. The opportunities are infinite and
inspiration abounds. Around every corner is a new ‘It Girl’ or ‘Fashion Icon’ waiting to be born through the eyes of the latent; those hidden behind LCD monitors and pixelated glass reflections. Maybe this vision seems shallow and finite, but the beauty in fashion is that it is ever-changing. It is never boring and always boastful. This daydream turned into a plan and that plan later turned into disappointment.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but I chose to ignore the inevitable. After I came to the realization that I wasn’t able to turn my dreams into reality, I did a lot of self-evaluating. It was hard to accept at first and still is some days. I watch friends living out my dream on Instagram and envy every subway ride or walk through Central Park. It was gut-wrenching that something simultaneously as monumental and minute as money could hold me back from the one thing I wanted most, but the truth of it is I am the product of a single mother and I wasn’t prepared well enough for a change that big. Maybe it would have been easier to accept had they rejected my admission in the first place, but instead, I was the one who chose to say no. I felt as though that acceptance was the definition of my worth and for a long time, I was comfortably situated in the in-between state of content and regret.
In hindsight, a year-long break from school was everything I never knew I needed. It gave me time to mend relationships that I had stopped appreciating. I spent time with those I love most in the world. I had a lot of time to self-reflect and I learned more about myself in that year than I had in the other 20 before.
I started to appreciate the world outside of New York City and truly saw the abundance of inspiration that surrounds me every day. I’ve experienced things I don’t think I ever would have if I had chosen to follow my illogical heart to fashion school. I etched some check marks on the bucket list and faced decade old fears. I saw the mountains for the first time and swam in the ocean in Malibu. I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway and blasted John Mayer with the scent of pine trees permeating the air and feeling the ocean breeze brushing against my face. I got wildly intoxicated on booze and on life in Wrigleyville during a Santa themed bar crawl. I almost broke limbs while skiing in Colorado and walked until my Chucks fell apart in New York City. I did all of this for less than a quarter of what it would have cost me for one semester of a private university education. I’ve become fascinated with every sight and scent and learned that a $40,000 per year education is not nearly as fulfilling as seeing new faces and new places because falling in love with the world is intensely more intoxicating than falling in love with a human.
I’ve made some questionable decisions in my life, most of them alcohol induced, but choosing to reject my dream was not one of them. I put one dream on hold, but I fulfilled many others. Despite being told I can’t, I persist. I persist to show everyone who has ever told me I can’t that I can and I will. The most important lesson I’ve learned in this short period is that time is fleeting and tunnel-vision can be unhealthy. I still plan to be a writer or photographer or designer or whatever else I feel inspired to be each day. I want to travel to Milan and ride a horse bareback on the rolling green hills in the Irish countryside and soak in the Icelandic hot springs. Instead of focusing on titles, I’ve chosen to focus on present experiences because they are what truly define us.