Don't Stop Dreaming | Story of My Nontraditional College Path
Happy Tuesday! Today’s post is very different than anything I have ever shared on LCB STYLE. This is an intimidating post to write but one I have been wanting to share with y’all for a very, very long time. Last week when Instagram came out with the new “Questions” feature, one question I received repeatedly was “Where did you go to college?” and to my surprise, over 500 of you answered “YES” when I asked if you were interested in reading more about my college path. Yesterday kicked off one of my biggest projects to date, "5 Days of Deco," with the brand that has been one of the greatest parts of my story (you’ll see why below), MICHELE Watches, so I figured it was about time to share this!
To be honest, the question, “Where do you go to college?” is one that I used to absolutely hate. It used to make me uncomfortable and a little nervous, because the answer to this question has never been a short or easy one for me. My college path was definitely less than traditional, but it is one that has challenged me, grown me, and made me who I am. It has also given me more joy and perspective than probably anything else in my life. And now I get to answer the question “Where did you go to college?” with so much joy and gratitude for the very different path I took.
[I wrote a large portion of this post a couple years ago and saved it as a draft because I was honestly too nervous to be this vulnerable/open in the midst of making these big decisions about college and life in general. I wish I had gotten to share more of my story while these decisions were taking place, but it is also really fun to go back and see how all the pieces have fallen into place since then… and share it with you!]
I can’t share this story without first sharing a little bit about me. As a daughter of Christ, one of my biggest challenges personally is letting go and trusting the Lord. One Monday afternoon I walked into my elementary school Bible Study and was handed a laminated cut out of our verse of the week: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” -Proverbs 3:5. Little did I know at that age how much this one verse and sequence of 16 words would mean to me and teach me for years and years to come.
Another little bit about me: Growing up I was a planner at heart. Whether it was a family vacation, my weekend plans, or my day-to-day activities, I thrived being a “planner" and I loved every bit of this role. I also loved getting really excited about my plans. I loved having life planned out days, weeks, months, and even years in advance. It’s amazing how much this story/my college path has changed the "planning" part of me. While I still believe planning can be a good thing, life is an adventure and planning can make things a bit too predictable. And our God is a whole lot bigger than "predictable".
One of the biggest plans I dreamed up and had my heart set on for years was going to college at the University of Alabama, majoring in Apparel Design, graduating, launching my own fashion brand, making and selling my original designs, and living out my career as a fashion designer. This plan filled my dreams for years (probably from age 12-18). I was always counting down the days until I could graduate high school, start at UA, and finally get to follow through on my plan (key word: my). Little did I know how small minded my plan was at the time and how many greater things the Lord had in store… but not without some challenges too.
First, let’s rewind, to 2014. In August 2014, I began my freshman year at the University of Alabama. This was the route that I had told people I was going to take probably since I was in elementary school, so my decision to go to UA was no surprise to anyone. As I moved in and started to adjust to college, I quickly found myself more anxious than ever and feeling like my world was spinning completely out of order. I wish there was a positive way to summarize my first semester in college, but nothing at UA ever felt like the right fit for me. A great amount of this discomfort and dissatisfaction with my college stemmed from disappointment with my classes, the teaching style, and the overall academic environment I found myself in. And to be honest, a traditional classroom environment has never ever been for me. Within a few months of starting my freshman year, I decided to refocus some of the negative energy that was building in my life into LCB STYLE. I had so much creative energy but nothing to put it into, so I spent hours designing my website, and on November 11, 2014 I launched LCBSTYLE.COM. Little did I know at the time, but this may have been one of the best decisions that came out of my freshman year... I had absolutely no idea at the time what this decision would ever lead to.
After giving UA more time and another semester, I was ready to start looking for alternative options and different educational paths to take. I applied and was accepted to a couple other schools that Spring and spent a couple months praying over and analyzing what my next step would be. I had three choices: 1) stay at Alabama, 2) transfer to Vanderbilt or 3) become a part of UA’s Distance Learning program (change my major to business, finishing my degree online) and pursue my own fashion interests individually.
I ruled out option 1 (staying at UA) fairly quickly and moved forward with pursuing my decision to transfer to Vanderbilt full force. As I continued along in the transfer process, things became more complicated, because I was having to change majors and move from a large state school to a much much smaller private college. I was going to have to change majors and essentially start as a Freshman again. As more and more red flags began to appear, I became less and less confident in my decision to transfer to VU, so I began looking into option 3, online college through UA.
Less than a week until I had to make my final decision and submit my final deposit for enrolling at Vanderbilt, I received an email. This email is one that I never dreamed I would get and one I still cannot believe I ever received. MICHELE Watches, a dream brand of mine that I have LOVED for years reached out to me regarding a partnership on LCB STYLE. I was speechless when I received it. I thought, “No way; they have to have the wrong email address or name or something. This can’t actually be meant to be to me.”
At this time, I think had around *maybe* 1,000 followers on Instagram, brand partnerships were still a thing of my dreams, and I was still VERY much at the beginning of my blogging journey. After a few emails back and forth, we set up a phone call to discuss more about our partnership and the future working together. I will never forget the way their team inspired me and introduced me to the power of digital media and the growing force of influencer marketing. I remember them asking my what my dreams were for my blog, encouraging me to chase them, and reminding me that truly anything was possible. (And I still can't thank their team enough for continuing to encourage me the same way today.)
It was after that phone call that I finally felt confident (as confident as anyone could, anyways) turning down my opportunity to attend Vanderbilt and to pursue my education online through UA. Side note: I feel like nowadays online classes and schooling has become a bit more popular, but in 2015, I truly felt like I was taking a leap into the greatest unknown and a really big dark hole… and I’m not sure anyone around me at the time was actually confident that any of this would work out for me. But I kept dreaming.
After the call and making my decision, I could feel that the Lord was giving me a new direction, and I felt like I could finally see a glimpse of the incredible things he had planned to come out of this year that had felt increasingly challenging, unpredictable, hard, and hectic. It was after making my decision to finish my college degree online and pursue all of my fashion interests individually, that reality began to set in and I was thinking to myself, “Wow, I have absolutely no schedule and no guidelines, and this is 100% up to me to make the most of it.” To some that may seem like a very scary thing, but to me it was one of the most freeing and most joyful feelings I have ever felt. Just thinking back on that time now gives me the same feeling of relief and joy and excitement.
I could not have been happier to start this new college path. Because I tend to be a very self driven person, the option of pursuing something new, different, and without any borders or rules excited me more than anything. It gave my mind the power to dream again- something that I had missed so much over the course of my freshman year. Transitioning from days of what felt like being mentally trapped to having the freedom to dream and explore all my passions was the greatest gift, and I will forever and ever be so grateful for it.
To start off my sophomore year, I enrolled in 15 hours of online classes through UA, and beyond that the rest was up to me to make what I could out of this time and college path. To begin, I made out my schedule and outlined my goals for the year. (I would love to go back and find that notebook page I wrote while sitting on my bedroom floor… still feels like yesterday).
I wanted to pursue blogging, fashion illustration, and fashion design, and made a schedule of how many/which days I would focus on which. Within a few weeks, I had designed and constructed two original garments for a family trip to the beach. The freedom to design has always been a love of mine and being able to have time to pursue what I loved and what fulfilled my personal dreams was a blessing to say the least. It filled me and excited me in a way no traditional class setting ever could. Those two garments (a pair of shorts and a matching 2 piece set) will always be so special to me.
A couple more weeks passed and fashion week was here! I transitioned my focus from sewing/design to illustration and got to work drawing and painting every design I could get my eyes on from NYFW. I was spending all day finishing school work, then stalking style.com like a hawk all afternoon and stayed up all night painting the newest runway looks. From this, several designers reached out about my illustration work that they had seen on Instagram, and I was beyond flattered. Getting reposted by Carolina Herrera was a bit of a pinch me moment and a huge encouragement to continue pursuing my love of illustration. Also having an illustration reposted by Tory Burch on her Tumblr felt like the biggest honor of my life at the time. It was the building of these tiny “wins” that fueled my fire and kept me dreaming/ pursuing this totally untraditional path. To me, there is nothing like creating. There is nothing like drawing. There is nothing like painting. There is something about all of this that sparks something inside me that just moves me and excites me.
2015 was quickly moving to a close, and as much as I loved this first semester of my new college path, pursuing design, illustration, and blogging, my confidence in the path I had chosen was wavering. It wasn’t wavering because I didn’t love what I was doing, but I had let the lies of the world begin to infiltrate my thoughts and tell me that because what I was doing was so different and unheard of that it absolutely positively had to be wrong. I can’t tell you how long I believed this lie. How long I let the world tell me that “You shouldn’t be doing this. You need to do what everyone else is doing.”
After getting so frustrated with these thoughts and feeling like I needed to start considering something else (going back to UA, applying to another school, etc), I very nervously gave it to the Lord. I essentially asked the Lord, “Please show me if I should continue pursuing this path or if I need to look into something else. Show me. Please lead me in your will and show me your way." And in the coolest ways (that would take much too long to explain in detail), He answered me nearly immediately and said, “No, Caroline. I have a plan. I have a way for you. Continue following me, growing in me, and continue trusting me. I am leading you on this path."
So, with this peace of mind I relaxed and, of course, my mind started dreaming again. This time, I set my mind to something I dreamed of creating for so long- a fashion collection. A collection of designs that expressed my perspective and my love for fashion. A collection that allowed me the freedom to design and create. A collection that had no guidelines or restrictions, and a collection that was purely for me to explore the joys, challenges, and incredible journey of designing, sewing, and constructing fashion apparel. I had so much inspiration and so many ideas for this collection, I could hardly sleep at night. I slept with a sketchbook and pencil next to my bed to keep track of each and every idea. Over the next few weeks, I researched fabrics, narrowed down my designs, and got to work sewing.
Again, I was taking another 15 hours of college courses and began posting on LCB STYLE 5 days a week, so to say this time was busy was an understatement. If I wasn’t drawing, I was sewing. If I wasn’t sewing, I was studying, If I wasn’t studying, I was blogging. And if I wasn’t blogging, I was probably sleeping. Seeing this collection that began as a spark, a vision, and a dream in my head turn into something real, touchable, and wearable, was easily one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It was so different than anything I had experienced before. I was learning so much. and I could not have been happier to have finished the 8 piece collection just in time to head to the beach for spring break... to shoot all the photos of it and share the collection on LCBSTYLE.COM with each of you- who responded with so much excitement and encouragement that I’ll probably never be able to express enough thanks for.
It was after finishing this collection at the end of my sophomore year, that I really truly felt confident in the college path I had chosen, and I began to see how the Lord was using the confusion, disappointment, and frustration with my original college plan to teach me and lead me in a new direction. I would not be who I am or where I am today if He had not made me face this huge disappointment and changed the direction of a plan that I had dreamed up for years, a plan that I thought was absolutely perfect.
At the time I finished my collection, LCB STYLE was really beginning to attract a substantial readership, I had been accepted to the rewardStyle platform, I began making an income from blogging, my instagram followers were growing daily, and I began getting invitations to work with brands on a daily basis. In summer of 2016, I began to shift my focus and devote more time to this digital space and working with more inspiring brands. While I miss the time spent designing/sewing/illustrating, blogging, publishing inspiring content daily, and growing more relationships with brands I love has been my biggest focus and one of the greatest joys since 2015.
Fast forward to December 2017, I graduated from the University of Alabama (major in Business, minor in Computer Science), and in January 2018, I began blogging full time.
I could write so much more about how the Lord has continued to lead me on this path, opening doors, and giving me new opportunities that I feel so undeserving of at such perfect times and in ways that I can without a doubt say… this could only be from you, Lord. And I hope I do get to share more of that in the coming weeks, months, and and years if y’all are interested in hearing more (let me know!).
Trusting the Lord through change and disappointments can be hard. It can be really uncomfortable. It can be really scary. It can be really frustrating. But we have to remember that we are only seeing a tiny speck and He sees the full and complete picture. "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” -1 Corinthians 13:12
He is working all things together for our good, always and always. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” -Romans 8:28
Never stop dreaming and never stop trusting that His plan is good. His ways are so much higher and greater than anything we can wrap our minds around. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." -Isaiah 55:9
To this day, every time I face disappointment or feel discouraged, I think back to this time and feel so unbelievably undeserving and grateful for this journey... and for this little corner of the internet. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you for being a part of my story.
A few links:
P.s. This post is so much longer than the ones I usually share, and I feel like I may have left something out. Feel free to leave any questions below :)