When it comes to excellence one thing is sure – there isn’t such thing as a single set of standards. And as annoyingly plain and obvious that fact may be, it’s not so easy to see or understand when it comes to your own situation in life.
When you feel like you have no clear idea about what to aim for or what choices you need to make to take you on the right path after school, find solace in knowing that there is much more to excellence than results and recognition.
Know what I’m talking about? If not, I’ll let Bernadette do the rest of the explaining with her take on excellence in her own story below:
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What do you do/enjoy/etc.?
My name is Bernadette and I’m a Freelance Designer. I’ve worked in digital/web and brand building. I enjoy watching superhero movies; spectating football (soccer); listening to french radio; and playing strategy board games.
I’m inspired by great storytellers of all mediums. Be it moviemakers (we need more original screenplays), of oral/musical (hip-hop and rap with visually-packed verses) or written form (set in crazy immersive worlds). I generally like sci-fi and space adventure movies. I want to be a storyteller in everything I do, and design is a great place to do it.
I am currently learning how to run my own business.
2. How did you feel and what did you do when you finished high school and the HSC? (study? work? travel?…)
I did feel a little bit apprehensive about finishing school. But I wasn’t super emotionally attached to it either. I was more nervous about the exams and my major projects, thinking they were the most important thing in my life at the time. Not having had a part-time job during school, I was relying on my grades to get me where I wanted to be. (This is a point I want to bring up later).
I applied for a scholarship when I was in year 12 and got it. It was a $5000 grant to study at University of Western Sydney (now WSU) or any TAFE in NSW. Now, I didn’t expect to go to TAFE after high school as I had some prejudices against it thinking it was a lower form of education to university but I take all my prejudices back because it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to my creative career.
I chose it because I knew I had a craft, a skill (drawing) and I wanted to hone it. I wasn’t convinced university was right — at that moment. So while others were going to lectures and tutorials; reading heavy and expensive text books, and sitting stressful exams every semester, I was going to life-drawing classes; visiting art museums; doing movie-reviews for homework; sketching storyboards for animation; playing with every kind of medium and getting my shoes artistically dirty; building maquettes and putting on class showcases at the Enmore Theatre. The grant paid for all my art supplies for two years.
I kept pinching myself thinking — this is learning? And I did learn loads. But eventually, I wanted to keep learning, so I applied for uni and got my design degree from UTS. It’s funny how things turn out. I didn’t get good enough grades to get into UTS when I was seventeen, but by that time I had a portfolio that earned me a place there as a non-school leaver.
So back to that point about grades. For some people standardised testing is key to their careers e.g. medicine or law school. But for me, that wasn’t the case. I hope more young people realise this.
3. When you think about the idea of reality vs expectations, do you think your high school self would have expected you to achieve what you have so far and be doing what you’re doing now?
If you asked me when I was seventeen if I could ever see myself as my own boss, I’d tell you — you’re kidding. But only because my initial expectations were that goals are pretty linear. You do step, 1, 2 and 3 to get to 4. Which for some could look like, 1. Finish school 2. Do some more school 3. Intern at some places and get some experience 4. Keep working a few more years until boom, you’re a professional.
It didn’t work out that way for me and I’m pretty surprised that I wasn’t super devastated. Probably because seventeen year old Bernadette was pretty open and dream-oriented.
I am pretty ambitious but not in a financial achievement sort of way. I always wanted to be excellent at what I was going to do, like there was no point in being average. It’s taken me a long time to realise that excellent doesn’t necessarily mean with accolades or public recognition. Nor does it mean at the speed of light. I like to think I’m the slow and steady wins the race sort of person, rather than the Veruca Salt “I want it now” types.
Starting my own business as a sole trader wasn’t planned but it came out trying something that might push me personally and professionally. It also came from great mentorship from some pretty amazing colleagues and support from my family, so I took the opportunity without 100% certainty of success. But who actually does?
I still want to be a Children’s Book Illustrator. Let’s see where the journey takes me!
4. Now that school’s out across the country what’s one piece of advice you would give to school leavers about to embark upon a new stage/adventure in their life?
My advice is to regulate your idea of success and failure. How do you measure it? What does it look like and feel like?
To me, success is finding that you’ve been stretched and challenged despite results looking suspiciously like failure. I believe it’s about measuring yourself against yourself and nobody else. Did you find something difficult? Good. Did you try? Good. Did it fail? Good. At least you learned something and now you have experience points to fuel your next challenge.
My second piece of advice is: don’t get comfortable. Because the minute you feel comfortable, you’re not being stretched.
Lastly, school’s out for now but you’ll find yourself forever a student. Everyone is a novice in at least one thing, no matter how intimidatingly seasoned and experienced they appear in age or position.
Happy adventures kids!