I love origin stories. I love hearing how something becomes that way. I find it oftentimes starts in the least likely of places or from a seemingly small event, that eventually leads to changing a course in someone's life. Every little turn or decision shapes and defines that person's character or perspective on life that ultimately directs the way they go! My origin story as a graphic designer isn't by any means a thrilling one, but not without little twists and turns along the way.
But firstly, I'm a graphic designer? Most people don't know me as a designer. During my school years (which was at the York U/ Sheridan C joint program for the Bachelor of Design) I did lots and lots of baking, so a lot of people know me as Sarah the Baker Yoon - a professional one. I've catered a couple of weddings and events here and there, so that image stuck. I still occasionally get asked how my bakery is doing. Little do they know I'm actually designer by day and baker by occasional weekend!
I've had a pretty direct route to becoming a designer - the education for graphic design is quite practical with a straight-forward destination: graphic design. Other than becoming an instructor or design critic, studying design sort of (basically) means you want to be a designer. So that's what I did.
I graduated in 2009 when the economy was struggling and jobs were hard to find. So as soon as I graduated, I went straight to work. I resisted the temptation to travel and explore the world before I enter the workforce—as many of my peers did. And luckily, I found a design graduate's dream job. A reputable and highly-creative design agency in the downtown fashion district with exposed brick contrasted with pristine white walls. I worked super hard, knowing that whatever hours I put in (even the long, unpaid ones) meant I was growing and helping myself make a place in the industry.
But as much as I was developing rapidly as a designer, I realized I was starting to lose sight of why I was doing it in the first place. The work was interesting but I started to lose interest. I was tired and confused - I thought I would feel more purpose to what I was doing. So like most green, confused youngsters do, I went through an identity crisis. I suddenly felt like I wasn't living the life I was supposed to: what was the meaning of all this? In my naivety, I claimed that everyone was living a fake, meaningless life. I was overwhelmed and defeated. But in her wisdom, my mom suggested I start step by step. I could start by dedicating a few hours each week to what I had a heart for. She told me to do some research into different paths I was interested in. And since I had the support of my parents, I was free to do my searching now. I quit my design job and spent my days volunteering - I helped out at schools and at a downtown inner city program for youth. And then I decided to apply for teacher's college.
I decided that becoming a teacher would be meaningful - dedicating my life to developing and teaching children of the future generation. I would get to work with children and make a difference in the world! My first step was to get into teacher's college, and there lied a big problem. I had a Bachelor of Design, which for some reason was not admissible as a foundation for teacher's college. It could be anything else, Fine Arts degree, or just an Arts degree, but not Design! All the Ontario schools said I didn't qualify, save one school - University of Ottawa. I crossed my fingers and applied – I had to wait a few months until I found out. In the meantime, I decided to find a temporary design job to keep myself busy while I waited. Through a friend, I heard about an up-and-coming innovation firm and after a brief interview, I got the job! I started to enjoy working as a designer at an agency again. A few months later, I finally received a letter from the University, "Due to not enough applicants this year, we have canceled this year's program." And just like that, the door to teaching was closed. But I wasn't disappointed at all, I realized it was providence. Through a series of events, I was able to explore what "meaningful" work actually meant and I came to realized I have grown up a little bit.
Sure, the new job was fun and exciting: I got to work with interesting people and do innovative work. And I realized I had a talent for graphic design. But that wasn't the reason why I felt okay with going back to the industry. I learned that wherever I was, whatever I did, it wasn't the job that defined me, it's I who defined the job. It wasn't the work that was supposed to make me feel valued or give me meaning. I had something greater that gave me value in my life - and design could simply be a passion for me. As I took the expectation of 'life-fulfillment' off of my career, I was able to enjoy it for what it was. That sense of freedom and enjoyment for what I did added great value to whatever I did at work and I knew people could see that around me too.
So that's how I began my journey as a graphic designer. It's been already 6 years since I've been one! It took some growing up to appreciate where I am and I'm glad I got to gain perspective through it all. I'm still young in the industry, and I only hope to mature more and more as the years go by.
Hey, also – if you'd like, you can check out the rest of my portfolio at sarahchung.ca. Enjoy!