I can answer this with a couple of personal stories that are relatable. Someone asked this a few months back on Quora and I wanted to expand on it more and have some fun going through some of the best times in my life. I am a lucky dude by all accounts, but I am surrounded by people who love structure, money, or have no clue on what they would do with freedom to do what they like. It’s mind boggling to me, but to be fair, I have been in the safety net of the military for over 20 years. That last one is about to change though!
We all get one shot at life and there are no room for regrets in the Mulholland household. So many people like to “what if” or “if I could just done xyz” all day, everyday. Don’t waste the time on the past unless you are intentionally mending something that is important like reconnecting with family members. This is not about that kind of stuff. This is about doing what you want regardless of what others have decided for you. I suppose you could inject a YOLO here if you want…
As far back as I can remember, I have been a free spirit in almost everything I have done. I remember walking to school in 1st grade wearing my new He-Man costume (shield & sword as well) and a bunch of kids would call me names like Flea-Man due to my small stature and made fun of me for years afterwards. It was weird running into them once in awhile and hear, “hey Flea-Man”, even 5 years later. They weren’t very creative and life moved on, but they didn’t for some reason. I didn’t care and brushed them off.
My parents gave me a lot of freedom and I took every last inch of it. This may have been a piece that allowed my parents to embrace the uniqueness that I seemed to have. You probably have this too in some form. I believe we all have it. I would imagine that if you had a sweet He-Man costume in 1984 you would have rocked it right alongside of me.
Adam Is a Licensed Hairdresser & Barber
My mother and I were taking a trip down ole’ memory lane not too long ago. She brought up the time when I came home from school one day half way through 9th grade (December’ish 1992). I had originally applied to go to my vocational technical (trade) school to be a mechanical drafter. I am handy with blueprints and I love art, but I changed my mind after being forced to spend a week in each of the 20-something trades my high school offered. Perfect scores in architectural & mechanical drafting, then hairdressing, and finally autobody…but I think everyone aced that last one. I wanted to learn hairdressing, cosmology, and barbering at the end of the trial period. I really only wanted to be a barber, but I couldn’t just pick and choose. It was simply all or none. We were allowed to choose our top 3. After filling mine out the guidance counselor called me down to his office a couple days later.
I put hairdressing as #1 on my list and they were perplexed at this request. It was 1992 and things were different back then. They asked if I was serious about my decision and of course I was. I loved the experience and would do it all over again. There was yet to have a male graduate from the program and I would be the second male to enter it. There was a guy that was a grade ahead of me but he ultimately left the program and school before taking the exam and completing high school. I became the first male to graduate the program and only the third licensed male hairdresser in eastern Connecticut (as far as I was told).
After making the decision and going through the interviews at school, it was time to tell my mom. I thought she was going to be really happy…but I was a bit off on that assumption…by a lot. Remember, this was still pre-gay marriage, pre-atheism, pre-a lot of things. Thankfully, many of us have come a ways since the early 90’s. Back to telling mom that her baby boy wanted to be a hairdresser!
I remember getting home from school and she was watching Oprah in her bedroom so I put away my things and went to talk with her about my choice. Off I went in telling her the great news and she watched me spill out all the excitement I could muster. She had a blank face and then I finally told her that I needed $140 for my tools…then she cried a bit. Not because of the money. She thought I was making a terrible choice and tried to talk me out of it.
It took her sometime to accept this aspiration of mine. She thought I was driven to be a mechanical drafter. I told her that I liked talking, laughing, being warm inside when it’s snowing and cold outside. Vice versa for when it’s hot outside. The reasonable argument was made and she trusted my decision as she had so many times previously. My mother supported me in everything I did.
Being in this trade was fun with music playing while working, everyone talking, moving around the salon and it was awesome being around others like me. The idea of drawing blueprints on the big green mat with a t-square all day depressed me. Everything was always silent in those classes. No one talked, there was no music, just creepy silence and zero fun. This was essentially a professional and productive library delivering plans to those who paid for them. This was also before CAD became a thing, so everything I did was analog. You could hear all the mechanical pencils moving around paper all day. I am so glad I made the choice I did.
My mom relented and said she would come up with the money so I could enroll. I went on to complete 4 years of the class, and earned my license towards the end of my junior year (1995). In my senior year I was working in a salon and enjoying every minute of it. The only reason I didn’t keep doing it was that my girlfriend at the time was awesome (I was 17 and all girlfriends were awesome…sorry Tammi) and joined the Air Force. She prodded me into signing up too and I was always up for a new adventure. As I said before, I always went with the flow. (My military stories may come later as the blog progresses.)
Fast forward to today, as I type this, and I am still a licensed hairdresser because of the state’s clause that allows anyone serving in the military to maintain a license without a renewal fee until they finish their time (Sec. 20-256. Renewal of licenses of persons in armed forces.). If I do not go back to Connecticut after my retirement and immediately pay my renewal fee and take some classes I will forfeit my license. I have cut hair while serving and I still practice once in awhile if need be.
Everything was stacked against me going into this decision. I was told there was no money in doing hair (not true), then I was told that only gay guys take this path (not true & could care less if it was), and the list went on as friends tried convincing me to be with them in their trades. It was about doing something I really wanted to do. In the end, there is no regrets and I loved every minute of it.
Let’s do one more…
Adam Goes To College
I wanted to go to college for graphic design for years, and for many reasons along the way, it was just never the right time. I waited until I was 24 years old to finally say nothing more until I get this done. I registered for college and I committed. Oddly enough, I started off on my network administrator degree because I did electronics in the Air Force. Holding a 4.0 after three classes and I was presented with programming for the fourth. It wasn’t for me after looking at the subject and I got worried. Calling the school hoping for a degree switch to Visual Communications was accepted as long as I understood there would be a $3,000 cost in tuition to cover the networking classes. It was a hit to the wallet, but I was getting my dream degree!
Everyone in my military career field (satellite communications) looked at me weird when I told them that my degree had nothing to do with electronics. I was even told by my peers and bosses that I may struggle in promoting because it doesn’t look good to have a degree that has nothing to do with my field. I brushed it off because this was more important to me than a promotion, assignment, or much else. This was my passion since I was a child.
In 2004, I was assigned Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA to be a technical school instructor for the Air Force on a 39-month tour. When I arrived I was greeted with lot of opportunities. Most of the instructors were taking the same degree together. They told me that I could earn my 4-year degree with a local college with zero student loans. All I had to do was attend class for eight hours on both Saturday & Sunday for every weekend totaling two years. This would let me leave with my B.S. in Electronic Technology Systems just like 80% of the instructors did.
That sounded terrible to me. Not having any time to myself for two years? Seeing my family for only a few hours each day? I noped right out of that conversation, and quickly. They still insisted that I would make more money in the private sector and promote higher in the Air Force. I told them that I was sticking to the degree and school I was learning with. I strongly dislike what I do for my job in the military and I am surely not doing this after I retire. If you haven’t noticed, I am not really a “company man”. They poked fun at me from time to time because they thought I was wasting my time and money.
Many tried talking me out of it, but I couldn’t be persuaded. I went on to graduate in 2005 with my B.F.A. in Visual Communications. I started off doing design work as a freelancer, and built a good customer base quickly once my portfolio developed. Ultimately, my passion allowed me to go on and create an LLC that was highly successful while still serving in the Air Force. Building websites and doing print design were my favorites. I learned to embrace all of my education and get to where I am now.
Once the initial success started I began doing interviews with newspapers and even TV with Brian Williams. This was my vindication for my decision to stray from the pack. I proved that my passion was worth something. I try not to rate my success by the amount of money made. It’s about the passion and overall satisfaction. A lot has happened between then and now, but I still would have not changed my decision and passion for money, promotion, or anything else.
Why Do I Have To Convince Anyone?
You don’t. You may have to make some hard choices for the good of your family or friendship and we all approach those bridges differently. Responsibility always plays a part in our paths as well. I realize that there were radical detours along the last 25 years, but I would do it all over again.
If you have people that are trying to fit you into a pre-designed destiny, then tell them it’s about your happiness. Ultimately, the people that surround you should be supportive and not have to be convinced. It’s your life to own, and maybe you can’t convince them today, but if you are truly committed, you will one day. I have taken my experiences and use them to give my kids the freedom to be who they want to be. I realize that I may be exceptionally different than most, but I do hope that your passion or the passion of someone close to you will be supported. It works in both directions.
I had fun sharing these two stories and if you have one to share with me please add it to the comments. The more we share, the more we can help each other.