I am Sarah-Jane, I’m a single mother and a design graduate of 2019. I completed my BA HONS in textile design at The Glasgow School of art, where I specialised in embroidery. Its funny because writing has never been my FORTE, yet here I am writing a blog! It’s been 3 months since graduating and although I was aware graduate life wasn’t going to be a walk in the design park, I have found it to be quite challenging! I know to welcome challenges as a means of reflection and not to feel defeated by them! Ok, easier said than done. Don’t be fooled, I have cried many times!!
I am a 37, with two beautiful children who are 16 and 6. When I decided to return to my studies in 2016, there were family members who were not fully supportive of my decision to begin with. They thought I was making a big mistake! Quite understandably, I had previously attempted a design undergraduate course on two separate occasions since leaving school and in their eyes, I had had my chances! There was concerns of where I would be financially, as a full time mature student with two kids, on her own and based in Edinburgh, I would be commuting to Glasgow daily. I could see that! They must have thought I was absolutely nuts. And possibly selfish. I get it! And just to add into their concerns , my eldest, at the time was 13 was starting to ‘misbehave’. At a time he needed his mum the most, I was planning on being away full time. It is the expectation that single mothers are to be out working full time. I didn’t see the difference between full time study and full time employment. No I lie, I saw returning to full time education as a good example to be setting for my children . Despite their concerns, i wass fully supported as I “ followed my dreams“ so to speak. 3 years on here I am, blogging about regret?
I finished with a first class, but it wasn’t easy. On top of typical student pressures I was also running a home being a mother to two children. My eldest who was going through a very difficult time, I’m not going to go into it, but let’s just say it was really tough. Near enough on a daily basis we had dealings with police, social work, family sessions, school meetings, educational psychologists and intervention services. It was a struggle for us all. I don’t know how I did it, but I did! Soon after I graduated, I decided it was best to spend the summer holidays relaxing and spending time with my youngest. School holidays ended, it was time to start Planning the future. I was missing the Hussle and bustle, and was hungry to get back into the game. Here I was in the big bad world!..... Art School doesn’t prepare you for this at all….. I knew what I was good at, I knew what I loved and I knew where my passion came from. Yet I really had no idea where to start. Despite what some people might think, having a degree in Design opens up many possibilities. It’s not just printing t-shirts! Being overwhelmed with the possibilities and starting to feel external pressure to prove this decision was worth it, got me eventually panicking. I know I am a good designer, however I couldn’t imagine how I could find a job as a ‘designer’, being a single mother, situated in Edinburgh, with no possibility of re-location. I felt I had extreme limitations. So for 6 weeks I applied for part time positions in retail. I also entered various art competitions, applied for online exhibition submissions, created profiles for recruitment agencies and set-up artist profiles with online art communities. I was researching my field of interest, networking, filling out applications for mentorship programmes and signed up for a digital marketing course. I even contemplated a Masters. Isn’t this what graduates do when they panic? I have over 15 years retail experience and couldn’t understand why I was not successful in any of the 37 part time positions I had applied for in the retail sector. I thought that perhaps I was over skilled for part time positions, so I started to apply for full time positions. I was initially looking for part time to allow for time to be working on my professional career goals. I know there are millions of jobs out there and some may have felt I was being picky! But with the pressures of proving that returning to my studies was worthwhile, the amount of my soul I had literally put into the past three years and the feeling that I had chosen studying over the relationship of my son, made it difficult for me to accept the idea of applying for positions that would completely side-track my direction. Or even put me 10 steps back. I started to realise I was perhaps over equipped with skills and experience for the jobs I was applying for and lacking experience for the positions I wanted. I know it had only been around 6 weeks of job hunting, so in the grand scheme of things, it was early days. Reality is, I have bills to pay. Being in position of extreme poverty without actually being homeless is not an exaggeration. So this got me thinking, had I made a huge mistake?
Last week I sat down to ask myself, are my dreams realistic? Is it ok to admit that returning to full time education was a big mistake? This was a tough week of reflection!
My grandad past away march 2017. last Thursday night I lay in bed and thought, “what would my grandad advise me to do?’ ........ The next day, on our way home from my daughters football training, we stopped to say hello to the most beautiful dog. The owner, male, was very kind and we engaged in the very classic ‘is it a boy or girl’ conversation… It was apparent, he had experienced a life of adversity. He said to me ‘I know you’! Initially, I couldn’t think if I recognised him or not. Very quickly we realised that we both went to the same high school. When I was in my last year at school, I recall taking time out of classes to sit with a student , who was maybe in first year. I would sit with him in the library and spend a few hours a week with him, reading, drawing, doing maths work etc. Or most of the time just talking and ‘chilling’. I’m not sure why I was doing this, as Maths and English were not particularly my strongest subjects. he was a young boy who was really struggling with his time at school and had lost one, or perhaps both parents. I’m not sure what this set up was, but I was obviously some sort of support for this young person. Turns out, this male I met at the bus stop was this young person. he explained that he hasn’t had a good time with life and in his words he has just been ‘ducking and diving’ since leaving school. We had a good conversation. The reason I’m sharing this story is because it really made me think, that way back in high school I was striving in creative subjects and supporting young people who were not neurologically equipped to ‘do school properly’. 28 years later, here I am thinking this is a new passion I have uncovered during my Textile Honours degree. Where I explored the complex subject of trauma and adversity on the brain, for my dissertation. I used my design practice to generate a dialogue of health and well-being in young people. Perhaps this was a message from grandad! Or perhaps it was simply just a moment of confirmation. Early in my post I questioned if I was sitting down to confirm regret! No I sit down to confirm that I am so proud of what I have achieved, despite the difficulties, I have demonstrated to my children you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, even when things seem impossible. Meeting this male absolutely confirmed that going back to university in 2016 was not a big mistake. I sit here and confirm with myself, that I have a passion, I am hard working, dedicated and know my worth and most importantly, I sit here accepting that things take time. After all Rome was not built in a day. So if any graduates are reading this, I just want to say, I know what you are going through, just remember that challenges are there to ask us to reflect. and if there are any single parents out there who are in the same boat or are considering returning to further education, all I will say is anything is possible.
Come along with me on my journey as a graduate where I explore the possibilities, accept challenges and grow as a freelance designer-maker in this very difficult climate.
p.s my 16 Year old is doing just great
“Turning an idea in your head into a tangible reality is one of life’s great satisfactions, whether the end result is a story, a photograph, a meal, or a business.”