Finding a path
Contributed by Allison Burt-Tilden
As a small child growing up in 1980's Portland, I felt like I had it all: a loving family, a nice home with lots of other children nearby, and a secure spot as teacher's pet at school. All of this came crashing down shortly after I turned seven. My parents declared bankruptcy, my dad had to sell our home and his flourishing business, and we began living a pattern of chaos that would last more than a decade. My parents fought bitterly until their eventual divorce, I was enlisted as a secondary parent to my two much younger siblings, money was always an issue, and we moved every six months on average, often living with my grandparents in between rentals. Needless to say, I developed some pretty gnarly anxiety and as a result, I started to struggle in school.
By the time I turned 18 I had already dropped out of high school and gotten my GED. Despite having worked full-time for a couple of years already, I had no idea how to manage money or how to find my purpose in life. I went to work, paid the rent, paid the bills, bought some food, and spent whatever was left on make-up and clothes. As a life-long lover of fashion, I used my free time to read high fashion magazines and shop, which was my main joy in life. As far as I could figure out, life was about working so that I could shop.
In my early twenties, I was overjoyed to make the move from the service industry to an office job – and just like that, I fell into real estate. For a high school drop-out, it seemed like my golden ticket; a good salary, benefits, evenings & weekends off, and most of all, stability. Never mind that the work itself didn't interest me, I was doing what people are supposed to do. Naturally, it didn't take long for me to feel completely dissatisfied. Remembering how easy it had been to fall into my job, I gave my notice and went back to the placement agency to ask for something else. That's when my total disregard of news and current events first bit me in the ass. The year was 2002 and apparently the country was in a recession. After six months of unemployment, I got swept back into real estate after finding a series of dead ends elsewhere. Apparently my experience was quite sought after.
For the next ten years, I slogged my way through the industry. I worked in escrow and in mortgage, I worked for a listing brokerage, I negotiated short sales, I went back to mortgage – and what I remember most of those years is being utterly miserable. I dreamed of quitting and going to school - but for what? My interests were so varied and the harder I tried to decide on a path, the more confused I became. Part of me has always wanted to do something in science or health care, while another part of me desperately wanted in on the fashion world. No matter which ideas I entertained, I always felt like someone who was peering through a thick glass wall and I couldn't imagine ever getting past.
The turning point was slow in coming and in some ways, I feel like it's still happening, like I'm at the halfway point through a revolving door. It all started with meeting people at parties and dreading the inevitable question: 'What do you do?' I didn't want to talk about it! I would reply that I hated my job, that it doesn't define me, that I wanted to do something else, something in fashion, and ultimately, all the reasons why I couldn't make a change. This is where I want to take a moment to thank each and everyone one of those people who were such good sports listening to my negativity, but mostly, I want to thank each and every one of them for also telling me: Just do it.
It took years and probably a hundred such meetings and discussions before I had the epiphany. There I was at another social gathering, introducing myself to someone new and dreading the inevitable. 'So what do you do?' came, but this time I answered, 'I'm a blogger'. Granted, at the time my blog was more of a personal thing and I hadn't shared it with many but that simple sentence enabled me to think of myself outside of the real estate box, to talk to someone about something I genuinely enjoyed doing, and to give up the negativity that was really starting to grate on me (I can only imagine how it came across to others). Sure, I was still working in mortgage but suddenly it was just my day job - something understood as just a means to an end and not really worth discussing.
Once that first shift occurred, suddenly, I realized I was indeed a blogger. I started brainstorming new content ideas, I pushed my boundaries (like, a lot), I upped my game, and I started sharing the results with people. Crazily enough, they liked it! Blogging is not my ultimate goal but it has helped me in so many ways. I now understand my talents for writing and photography and how I can apply them to my love of local & indie fashion. Most importantly though, I have learned that not only can I step outside of my comfort zone, I can re-define my comfort zone.
Four years later, my blog has a small but steadily growing following and I work as a contributor for a really big blog (honeykennedy.com - check it out!). I'm about to take the next big step in putting myself out there for even bigger jobs in fashion writing and photography - I'll be honest, it's scary as hell! When I look back at miserable me sitting in a cubicle, processing loan applications and hating life, I remember the hard work and determination that has, so far, gotten me out of that cubicle, resulted in a body of work I'm pretty proud of, and helped me make real connections with amazing people doing amazing things.
When I think back to all the praise I received for my writing in school, how much I enjoyed learning photography from my dad, and how much time I spent engaged in anything and everything fashion related, I see that this has been my path all along. Despite having not had the best role models when it came to living a happy and purpose driven life, nor any real education to speak of, I found my path, and not only that, I'm working on forgiving myself for finding it later than some others. Finally, I see a glimmer of light over the horizon and it’s lighting my path.
Allison Burt-Tilden is a Portland based indie fashion blogger and freelance photographer. She's the creator & editor of Votre Grande Soeur and a contributing writer & photographer for Honey Kennedy. When she's not working, you can find Allison enjoying a burger at one of her favorite spots on N. Mississippi. Follow her on Instagram @votregrandesoeur.