Confessions: Life is Hard, Success Takes Work and Attitude is Everything

These past 2 weeks I’ve been giving inspirational talks to second year Illustration students at Sheridan. It’s been fun, thrilling, a little nerve-wracking, but has mainly served as a reminder of how it felt being a student; not knowing what the future had in store.

While I prepared talks and lessons, every time I got in front of the class I had to restrain myself from gabbing on for the entire day telling them everything about life after graduating; about the real world, about people, the good bad and ugly, and about success or lack thereof. Because, on paper or in a lecture, it could maybe come off as discouraging when in reality my intention would be the exact opposite.

Today is my birthday & I intended to take the day off work. But alas, here I am writing this long blog post.

And here’s why: I feel so lucky, blessed and grateful to be where I am and to have the people in my life that I do. But in being grateful today, I’ve also been reflecting on how I got here. I’m certainly no expert and I’m far from wise (in fact, I feel like I know nothing), but I’ve done something right to be here today; a homeowner at 23 (wait…24 today I guess!) having made a successful career out of my random mixed-bag skills. (I don’t even like saying that because I think it comes off a certain way, but it’ll help me make my point.) And I truly believe a lot of it has something to do with accepting that life is hard.

We’re extremely lucky to live where we do and have the things we have, but this working economy is different than it was when our grandparents were young adults. So why do I think I’ve “made it” per se? Well, I can tell you that I’ve taken the dirt shoveled in my face over and over with a smile, I’ve kept hustling and I’ve worked hard. And I mean really worked. Not just stayed-up-all-night one time worked, but put my heart in it and out there day after day for years.

But I have a confession to make: I gave bad advice to some students the first day.

I uttered the words “be fearless,” which I don’t think is possible. I’m still scared sometimes, but that fear is healthy and once you accept that fear is something you have to deal with, you’re on your way to surviving in life. What I really meant to say to the students that day was “fear less” (which I believe in so much I even made a shirt with this on it you can shop here), which may sound like the same thing, but it’s far from it. There have been plenty of times I’ve put myself out there and feared what the reaction would be, but getting over yourself enough to do so, even if it’s uncomfortable is the key. A lot of my success can be attributed to sticking my neck out there, even if I wasn’t all that confident. And funny enough, that builds confidence over time.

Which brings me to my second confession:

When someone comments on my work or how well I’ve been doing since graduating, I often throw my hands up, laugh and say “Yeah, it’s crazy, I feel so lucky!” because the truth would turn into a much longer conversation and take the lightness out of the brief interaction. But the truth is this: life is hard. It has been and will be again but it’s how you run with that truth. Maybe a lot of the reason I am where I am today is because I dealt with this reality and was forced to face it much earlier than perhaps one ought to: In high school I went through a rough time and had an eating disorder which was my way of dealing–or not dealing– with life. I curled inward and isolated myself rather than tried to deal with it which only made life more daunting. But as a result of this time I grew up mentally and emotionally and became well-equipped to properly deal with everything else crappy that was to come.

Especially in this world of blogging and happiness and flowers and smiles and sparkly things, it’s easy to come across as this lucky, born-into-it person who has no problems and think “why can’t my life be like that?” But I can bet my bottom dollar that most of these people worked damn hard to get where they are today. Even if luck had something to do with it, to pull it off and make a career from it takes guts, hard work and most importantly, a good attitude.

I truly, madly, deeply believe that a good attitude and the right perspective can get you through many things in life and is a key ingredient in running a successful business. No one likes a bad attitude or sore loser; it’s not a good look. But it’s not always easy to smile and shrug when you’re being steamrolled by life. I’ll admit to plenty of times when I was a ho-hum individual or let someone or something get me down, but I truly believe that you can learn how to look at things differently and perspective is paramount in this process. I’m not talking about positivity here. I think just “being positive” is a scary thing to promote because it can lead to disappointment and a happy exterior with a worried interior. What I do think is more accurate is being realistic and going into things with the right attitude and viewpoint.

Because the other side of this coin is that people will walk on you; you will run into people who won’t like you for no good reason; you’ll have people take advantage of you and treat you poorly. I know I have; not once, not twice, but many times. But if you accept this fact and use these as opportunities to grow a pair and learn to believe in your work (and self) enough to defend it, you’re golden. You can come out of that meat grinder a beautiful, seasoned sausage or a mess.

So if I had to sum up what I would say to students or small business owners just starting out, it would be this:

Life is hard. And it will prove to be harder than you imagined at times. If you think school can be tough, the real world is much harder. And that’s okay if you allow it to be. So take advantage of your circumstances, be nice to your peers, profs and yourself and take a deep breath because you’re going to get tossed in the water soon enough and it’s up to you to swim. But I promise you it will be easier if you put in the time, the heart and the guts and remember to keep perspective and a good attitude.

keep your head high.

The beautiful stock photo in my header image is from Taylor Leopold.
  1. Great article. I truly believe each world, its powerful to accept that there will be fears, but yes fear LESS! My favorite two words strung together. The most important thing is consistency I think, even when someone hates ny work or me, just continue to get back out there like you said . Thanks for this!

  2. So well put. I loved rading this post. I relate to it in so many ways. It’s encouraging hearing you call your career a grab bag. That’s exactly how I feel about my career, but I’m still struggling with how to get it to support me. Thank you for this honest post and Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks Sarah for the comment and birthday wishes! I really appreciate it and I’m so glad you found encouragement in my words 🙂

      It’s hard, right?! It seems doing one thing really well exclusively was how the working world was for so long that it’s hard to know what to do when you have myriad skills. I think you may have just inspired me to write a new post on how to figure out what you want to be when you grow up 😉

  3. Hey Sabrina, Happy Belated Birthday! I loved reading this post. First, because it’s so honest. And second, because I love reading business/life advice from successful entrepreneurs like yourself. Seeing beautiful photos and vignettes is always inspiring but sometimes the raw and real talk is what sticks in your mind. So thank you for posting this. I’ve been doing freelance work in addition to working full-time for a decade; a way to test the waters I guess. I haven’t made the jump to become a full-time freelancer just yet, but it’s definitely part of my plan (that’s even scary for me to type out). I love how you mention to ‘fear less’. It took me 35 years to fully understand the importance of doing me and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. So kudos to you for overcoming the challenges in your life and keeping your head up. You’re an inspiration to people like me and I’m sure to many students out there!

    1. Thank you Amy! Really means a lot. It’s scary putting yourself out there, but comments like this reassure me, so thank you! But it’s so true; having no fear is nearly impossible, but we can all learn to fear less and power through. Good luck with you transition into the oh-so-seemingly-scary world of freelance! I’m sure you’ll do great 🙂

  4. Thank you for writing this Sabrina. I only had a little “oh my goodness, how do I get to the next step” moment just the other day. It is so good to be reminded that it comes purely from hard work and determination and the ability to fear less. And also you were dead right on saying that there will still be people who will run all over you and treat you poorly. My immediate reaction to them is to think it is a reflection on me…why don’t they like what I’m doing? How can I change that? As I get older though I realise it never has anything to do with me- it’s just a reflection of how they’re feeling about themselves.

    Happy belated birthday Sabrina, I hope you had a wonderfully happy day xx

  5. I can’t come up with an coherent sentence that can express the impact you gave to a few of us during of your EXTREMELY short visit at Sheridan with us. However, I could start by saying that you are an inspiration to at least “one of those students.” There was something about those very brief 3-hour days that really hit something inside me. It’s almost like when a child listens to or reads the heroic tales of their favourite super hero and imagining how it would be like to be flying through the sky with a big red cape… but the best part of it was that our “superhero” was standing right in front of us in our classroom. Thank you so much for your visit and I hope to hear of your heroic tales once again!

    One of those students…

    1. Wow, thank you. This made my day! To be honest, I had no idea if anything I said was helpful or if I affected anyone, so to hear this makes my heart sing. Thank you so very much for commenting. It really means a lot. Keep working hard and kicking butt and best of luck with the remainder of your time at Sheridan. I hope to come in again to visit soon!

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