Society asks a lot of high school seniors. We expect an 18-year-old brand new adult to choose a career path when they are only learning about who they are in the world. Some new adults know what they want to do without a doubt or question. For others like me, we are steered in a direction because we are good at something. I was pushed toward art, which isn’t the norm, especially for a person of color from a marginalized community. In high school, I was the girl in all the art classes, I was fortunate enough that there were several offered at my school in Northwest Indiana. At the time, art was something I did as therapy, it helped me escape from my reality. I won awards for paintings and projects were always on display, but I made art for myself I couldn’t ever see myself making art for a job.
I decided to pursue graphic design because I didn’t want to create art for other people. I thought I was supposed to have a 40-hour-per-week career and work for a company. That’s what people did, right?
I graduated from art school in 2008, at the height of the economic recession with a paid internship from which I was ultimately laid-off. Competition for jobs was tough, but I was determined to do what I went to school for; I didn’t know how to pivot. My parents didn’t go to college, and their parents didn’t finish high school — from my perspective, I was miles from where my family was just two generations prior. I moved around a lot during the two years I searched for work but was constantly rejected. I settled in California after no luck securing a job in Michigan or Indiana. I have family in California who opened their home to me. I wasn’t pivoting, I was surviving, I took a job at Subway (yes, the sandwich shop) and continued to try to do something relevant to my degree. I eventually found my way and worked at some amazing companies such as GE Healthcare and Steelcase as a graphic designer, and I moved back to Grand Rapids after six years.
It wasn’t until my mixed race son started experiencing racism in preschool that I decided to pursue work in a field that would contribute toward much needed social change. This decision sent me on a path that would lead me to my passion. I joined the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) West Michigan. As I learned more about the diversity, equity and inclusion, I was tapping into something that had the power to make the world a better place for my son.
During this time, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Diversity and Inclusion scholarship to the National AIGA Design Conference in 2017. It was there that I met a wonderful group of people devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion in design. I conversed about so many deep and meaningful things, and it was this experience that inspired me to become the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the West Michigan AIGA chapter.
It was in these human connections that I found my true voice and passion. Today, I am in graduate school pursuing a master’s degree in social innovation; instead of designing logos, I am now moving into designing equitable systems and solutions.
That was my ultimate goal, to create a better world for my child to grow up in. I realize now, that when something is right, it flows much easier than trying to make something work that just doesn’t. Take the path of least resistance — your career may not be your dream, and thats OK.
Naomi Silas is a graphic designer with more than 10 years of expertise. She founded Seventh Creative, an independent design studio, in 2017. Being the youngest of seven children and growing up in Gary, Indiana is something that she never forgets; no matter where life takes her.