“Reign Over Me” is one of the most influential movies of my life. The main character, Charlie lost his family in the attacks on September 11th. Without much social support, Charlie becomes trapped in a web of depression and anxiety and can’t move beyond the tragedy. In a turning point in the movie, Charlie’s therapist urges him to tell his story:
The fact is you had a family and you suffered a great loss, and until you discuss that and we can really talk about that, this is all just an exercise. I can be patient, Charlie, but you need to tell someone your story. It doesn’t have to be me, but someone.
I’ve had my fair share of tragedy in life – thankfully nothing as profound as what Charlie experienced. I hope by sharing my story with my readers, I can move further beyond these tragedies. Sunday, June 17th was a double whammy of remembrances of two big tragedies in my life. It was the 9th Father’s day without my dad and what would have been the 30th birthday of a dear friend I lost this year. I’m in the process of healing from the loss of my friend and don’t yet have a complete story. However, I’d like to share the story of how my father was able to guide me to my dreams, even though he was gone. This is the story of how I became creative:
Nine years ago I was in my third year of engineering school. A number of my classmates took internships with government defense agencies and were working on projects like designing missiles and other dangerous technologies. I knew this wasn’t for me – I didn’t want to work on projects intended to inflict harm on others. So I decided to focus on working on projects with the complete opposite intentions – to bring happiness to others. I wanted to work on the electronics in toys.
And then my dad died. It was an unexpected loss – I suddenly became a daddy’s girl with no dad. During this dark period of my life, moments of happiness were very hard to come by. One of the only things I could do to find happiness was to be creative. In fact, during an internship I remember rushing home on my lunch break each day just so I could spend a few extra minutes working on my personal creative endeavors.
I also realized just how short life really was – my dad was only 52. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed as much of life as I could in case I died early too. I did not see myself being happy implementing the electronics in toys – I knew creativity was my key to happiness and there wasn’t enough creativity in implementation. I wanted to design what the toys did – I wanted to use my creativity to add happiness to the lives of the young and the young-at-heart. My father’s untimely death helped me realize my dream – my dream was to design toys.
After much research, I found the Toy Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I read that only 10% of applicants were accepted into the program and applicants were required to complete an art test. Coming from an engineering background, I had no skills in art! I figured it was at least worth a shot and I applied. I completed the art test and later flew to NYC for an on-site interview. Much to my surprise, I was accepted on the spot!
I soon realized I had a very difficult choice to make – how could I leave my engineering program after 3 successful years? Was it worth leaving the group of friends I made in Rochester? Would my relationship with my boyfriend survive the long distance relationship?
I talked it over with my then boyfriend, Nate. He encouraged me to go. He told me the pursuit of my dreams were the most important thing for me right now, even if it meant we might not stay together. It was great advice from a really great guy and eventually I married him!
My biggest fear however, was that I wasn’t going to be any good at Toy Design. I remembered the last conversation I had with my dad. He’d recently been laid off from a technology position and urged me to find a different major since he knew engineering jobs were very slim at the time. I felt like I had my dad’s approval to pursue Toy Design – this was enough for me to build up the courage I needed in order to take this giant leap of faith.
That september, classes at FIT were underway. I was very shy and not at all confident in the quality of my work – I was the only student without a background in art. The entire first semester was focused on hand drawing and rendering, skills that I’m just not good at. But, I was determined to become a toy designer and somehow I managed to get through the semester.
The second semester is where I started to shine. We learned soft-toy prototyping and I was GREAT at it! I sprung out of my inflatable bed each morning and couldn’t wait to work on my little toy skunk! We were also learning computer rendering and 3D modeling and I was much, much better at these too. Things were really coming together! The next year we learned hard-toy prototyping – I made a tiki-themed bowling set and was even able to use my prior skills in electronics to prototype a real volcano eruption! I was so driven to carry out my vision that I ended up being first in my class to finish prototyping – some classmates even referred to me as “Sonic Krysta.” I managed to graduate from the FIT Toy Design program with honors and land a prestigious job that no FIT student had before me – a Toy Invention position at IDEO.
So my dream came true, I became a Toy Designer and produced many great products. As much as I wish my father hadn’t died that day 9 years ago, I’m not sure if I would have the creative abilities that I have now or have experienced the true happiness of achieving this dream. Wherever my dad is today, I just hope he knows how much he’s made possible in my life.