Alternative Paths to Achievement
I had always been a serious Rule Follower, striving to do things the way they were supposed to be done, the way other much wiser people claimed to be the only and correct way. 

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in history, I went on to grad school for human services administration. I knew what I wanted to do and that was simply the next step in the journey—never thinking much of the fact that I spent more time on a fake logo for a fictional nonprofit over the fake policies that a major assignment required. I kept checking “must do” items off my list following graduation: moving to DC to be closer to the action, getting a job at a nonprofit writing grants, exhaustively networking at fancy events and gleefully sharing where I went to school when everyone asked.

Even after moving, I continued to work for nonprofits, writing grants for larger and larger amounts and designing program curriculum and outreach materials. For the most part, I enjoyed this work outside of the fact that the salary was not enough to cover the very degrees I was required to have. I carried on like this for years until I had my son. It was a difficult pregnancy and birth, and my chosen career let me down. There was no flexibility or patience to accommodate my new life and I had to quit.

I’ll look for a similar job when things level out, I told myself. I’ll be back at it in no time, I won’t let this temporary hiccup bring me down. But, it wasn’t a temporary hiccup and things didn’t level out. My son had asthma and major food allergies that we were discovering by trial and error and emergency room trips. As things carried on, it was clear that I could not return to the career that I did all the right things for. What a blow. What an earth-shattering loss.

My new life came with new restrictions. I could no longer commit to a set schedule, had to work from home, and needed to be paid enough to cover my existing student loans. I realized design may be a good place for me. I could obtain flexibility and the creative outlet I needed in my now extremely isolating life, suffering through what I only see in retrospect was postpartum depression. Yet, this go-getter, clever problem-solving line of thinking quickly faltered when I considered how ill-suited I was for this transition. I couldn’t afford to go to school all over again, I couldn’t commit to a traditional education schedule, I felt too old to make such a dramatic career shift, I didn’t know where to start.

I realized I had to learn about design online for this to work. I didn’t have the knowledge to be a real author, but I published a book anyway by compiling a series of articles I had written about a topic as I learned. I went on to get the leadership exposure that no company would give me without prior experience by founding and running a leadership conference for marginalized individuals in tech⁠—something I was very passionate about. I developed chronic health issues and could no longer work 40+ hours a week so I founded a small design agency to fully own my schedule. Agency life is full of ups and downs, so I published a blog post about looking for a part-time role and spoke to my core values. I discovered a perfect culture fit at SuperHi within a position that’s ideal for the personal restrictions that I was very open about. 

This could all be chalked up to pretty significant achievements through the eyes of many following, but it felt like cheating and therefore nothing to be celebrated as it unfolded. I wasn’t doing any of these things the way others said they should be done.

Taking alternative paths to career achievements is hard and I wish I didn’t have to operate this way. It inherently fosters imposter syndrome and requires workarounds that are exhausting and ambiguous. I am vulnerable, fragile, paranoid, and at a constant disadvantage to my peers. 

Taking alternative paths to career achievements is great and has allowed me to thrive and exist in a space that I enjoy more and could otherwise not be a part of. It’s an adaptive approach to working through unforeseen barriers and my experiences and story bring an enriching perspective to my job, making me a more thoughtful designer. 

At one point I felt both of these lines of thinking deeply and truly, alternating between them month to month, day to day, hour to hour. As time goes on, I have come to realize that this custom path has been especially beneficial and I am immensely grateful. It was unhelpful to get stuck on how wrong and unfair this felt at times; focusing on how much I can’t do when viewed through the lens of what is the “right way” is massively defeating. I now know, on most days anyway, that the right path to achievement is flexible and fits best within the constraints life imposes. 

Joni Trythall is a Technical Content Creator at SuperHi living in Wilmington, DE. She can be found online @jonitrythall or on her website

*SuperHi is a sponsor of Desk Lunch.
Art used in this issue: “Galleria” by Barbara Brown
Desk Lunch is a community for all creative people of marginalized genders.

Desk Lunch is supported in part by SuperHi, an online school and community helping creative people learn and thrive. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
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