Finding Color in a Gray World
Micaela Ruiz is a wise, strong and talented woman that I've known for almost 15 years.
She has always been a major source of strength, wisdom and inspiration for me ( and for the sake of continuity, I'll be referring to her as Mickey - as I've always known her ).
Mickey is a talented photographer with a long list of accomplishments to her name.
We attended school together at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, which is where I got to know and love her strong work ethic, high levels of confidence, inspiring advice, and infectious laugh.
Mickey was at the top of her class in the photo department - working in the studio, involved in student programs, and was chosen as Senior Select in our graduating year - a coveted position in the photography department.
"CCS promised a dream for me and it didn't come together the way I wanted. My confidence was shot."
We graduated at the height of the recession. Finding any job was difficult at best - finding a creative job was almost impossible. Unfortunately for Mickey, she was not spared from these challenges. After being named Senior Select and receiving constant encouragement and praise that she was being set up for success, it was a major ego hit for Mickey to struggle finding the kind of work she was promised. After working so hard and feeling like she had done everything right, it was devastating to graduate and have nothing happen.
Detroit is a special city - but especially during the recession, it was not a place that was abundant in job offers. In the year following graduation, Mickey struggled to find work and felt completely lost. As much as she loved Detroit and wanted to stay, it was becoming clear that it was time to start looking elsewhere. In the spring of 2010 she landed an interview at Converse - headquartered outside of Boston. Things were finally looking up. Mickey flew out to Boston for a 2-week test run but returned home a week early to be with her ailing grandmother. Shortly after her return to Detroit, her grandmother passed away.
5 days later, I clearly remember messaging Mickey and asking how things were going. Her response left a sinking stone in my stomach. "My mom passed away this morning. We're preparing for my Abuelita's funeral later today so we are trying to deal with one thing at a time right now. I'm in complete shock."
That same week, Converse made her an offer to join the photography team in Boston.
"I had to leave everything I knew and loved and start over in a time of complete trauma."
It seems like a cruel joke to finally gain traction in your career after a yearlong struggle of feeling lost, only to lose 2 of the most important people in your life within 5 days of each other. What an awful tradeoff. But Mickey made the extremely difficult choice to move forward.
It was a long road of healing. In some ways, being in a new city and surrounding herself with new experiences and people was the only thing she could think to do. She was in full survival mode. Slowly Mickey built up her career, worked hard, and before long was in charge of the photo studio at Converse.
But then - after 5 years, she reconnected with someone from her past, and their relationship grew. Mickey made the decision to leave Boston and move back to Detroit with no job lined up. Finally, after a few months of attempting to find meaningful work, she was offered a teaching job at CCS.
“I’m never going to get my career back. This is it.”
As much as she loves teaching, going from running a photo studio at a giant global company to teaching kids in her hometown felt like a failure. Teaching is wonderful and fulfilling, but the pay was awful. It was hard to tell students about her career and accomplishments and then have them ask almost weekly “why are you doing this? Why did you take a job that’s so below you?” It was a huge ego hit. There were constant feelings of doubt and regret for leaving her career in Boston. But every day, Mickey would power through. She told me that teaching is a performance - every day you have to be an expert, even if there are things you don't know. That in itself is the perfect embodiment of living with Imposter Syndrome - setting aside your feelings of inadequacy or unpreparedness, and doing it anyway.
"This is the next step out of the darkness."
The relationship that led to Mickey's relocation to Detroit had ended, and she was at yet another crossroads. It was time to rebuild for the third time. She once again started looking outside of Michigan for work. A friend who had helped her prepare for an interview with another company knew she was looking for work and ended up recommending her for a job with Hasbro in Los Angeles. Soon after, Mickey sold all her belongings once again and moved across the country with just 3 suitcases and her dog Frankie. For the next year, she lived with relatives and endured a 2-hour commute to her job at Hasbro. She was committed to doing whatever she had to do to rebuild. But yet - those all too familiar feelings of Imposter Syndrome still crept up. She landed the job, but her confidence still wasn't at 100%. She confided "I knew I was good - but did I just get this job because I knew someone?"
“I don’t give myself restrictions in my creativity. I don’t restrict my vision. I have a direction and I follow my gut.”
After a year in LA, Hasbro relocated Mickey to their studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where she would be working completely on her own in charge of dioramas. It was unchartered territory, but her manager completely believed in her and she believed in herself. That confidence allowed her to flourish. The job was so demanding, she says there was no time for self-doubt. In that space, she told me “I started remembering the Mickey that pushed all the boundaries - I felt curious, creative - I was on fire.”
She wasn't in Providence for very long when she was offered a promotion to Senior Photographer at the Hasbro Photo Studio in Burbank, California. There was no hesitation - she immediately accepted. Yet again, Mickey packed up her things and relocated back to Los Angeles, where she currently resides.
“I can have everything taken away from me. Friendships, health, physical belongings, my Abuelita, my mom. The worst thing has already happened to me. There is nothing else to be afraid of. I’ve already lived through it. The world turned gray and I needed to bring color back.”
There's so much more I want to include about Mickey, and I knew talking to her about her experience with Imposter Syndrome was going to produce more shareable quotes than I could ever fit into one blog post. ( And I was totally right. ) I'll leave you with something her mom always used to say that Mickey lives by. "All they can do is say no." And what else is there to be afraid of? "The worst they can do is say no. And I'll know at least I tried."