Go to college, graduate with a high paying job in the bag and live happily ever after. In today's society, this fairy tale cookie-cutter recipe for success is often held over millennial heads, complete with the threat of student loan debt and the pressure to build credit. For stylist Kiarra Jones, prosperity lies along the lines of an unconventional career path. After a few years in college and a bit of work experience, Kiarra decided that her mental health was more important than trying to live up to societal standards.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AND HOW'D YOU GET IT?
My first job was refereeing. I got it through my cousin’s dad. That was his career at the time and it was something that allowed me to still do high school sports. I was already familiar with sports, so it was comfortable for me.
YOU WENT TO COLLEGE AT ROCKHURST IN PURSUIT OF A COMMUNICATIONS DEGREE. WHAT WERE YOUR ORIGINAL CAREER PLANS?
I never really had a set career in mind. I always knew that I loved talking and I wanted to use my ability to speak well in my profession. I love being able to connect and identify with people and I love diversity, so I knew communication would play a key part in being able to connect with those around me.
THINK BACK TO YOUR MOST RECENT JOB SEARCH PROCESS. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU?
I think fortunately, it’s been pretty easy because a lot of the education and services I received through Rockhurst. I took a career course and learned how to research jobs, how to interview, create a resume, a cover letter and my pitch. The help I received there made it a lot easier and made me a lot more confident when it came to finding a job. I was never in despair or felt discouraged.
WITH THAT CAREER PREP FROM ROCKHURST, YOU VENTURED INTO THE EDUCATION REALM. SHARE THAT EXPERIENCE.
I got my first teaching position through Rockhurst career services. I wanted to try something that I would never think to try, something out of my comfort zone. I had also taken different aptitude tests and education popped up a few times. In my mind, I was like, “No. I could never be a teacher.” However, an opportunity presented itself and I decided to go for it. Before going in, I didn’t like kids, but I took a leap of faith and wanted to try something unexpected. Initially, I didn’t expect much to come from it. After my interview, I got excited about the prospect of being an assistant teacher. Learning about the program and the kids was exciting.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SWITCHING PATHS?
I would say knowing yourself is important. Know what’s best for you. I worked for a rental car agency during my time at school, and I was really good at that job. I was the second-highest earner in the company, however, I was still unsatisfied. I knew that even though I made nice money, it wasn’t worth it because I wasn’t happy. I didn’t look forward to work, and I was just there to get a check. I thought, “Why stay here when I could be somewhere else, much happier, doing what I like to do, around like-minded people?” It’s funny because before I quit, my manager told me I wouldn’t get my commission check and I told her I would rather go somewhere and earn less money and be happier. My mental health is number one and I was miserable.
"I JUST HAD TO MAKE IT UP IN MY MIND THAT IF I WASN'T GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THIS WAY, I WOULD JUST HAVE TO CREATE ANOTHER PATH."
DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY VALLEYS AS YOU SWITCHED GEARS? HOW'D YOU OVERCOME?
Quitting my job and leaving school at the same time was the biggest valley. There was a period of about a month where I wasn’t in school and didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do next; I was kind of just in limbo. I was just existing, but not really living.
I quit my job at the rental car agency due to a panic attack. School was getting tougher and tougher for me, and when that ended, it was the end of my basketball career. I remember feeling depressed, discouraged and scared. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. At that point, I felt like a failure, but I learned that there is no straight path to success. I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I wanted to give up and just sit around the house, but I forced myself to find another job. I told myself it was okay to step away from school to focus on my mental health and get myself together. I tried to not focus on the seemingly negatives. I decided to focus on figuring out the next steps and realizing that it was okay for me to step back, take a look at my life, see what had transpired and figure out where to go from there. I just had to make it up in my mind that if I wasn’t going to be successful in this way, I would have to create another path.
AFTER PURSUING EDUCATION FOR A WHILE, YOU MADE A SWITCH TO RETAIL, WORKING FOR ONE OF THE MOST INSPIRATIONAL AND INNOVATIVE ATHLETIC WEAR COMPANIES IN THE WORLD. WHAT WAS MISSING IN EDUCATION?
I like the challenge retail has given me. In education, each child is different and lesson plans are different, but it got monotonous. It was very routine. In addition, I got to see how flawed our education system is. For what I was required to do, I felt undervalued and underappreciated. I loved working with the kids, but I was still unsatisfied.
In retail I feel a lot more freedom and flexibility, from my work schedule to how I can express myself. I don’t have to filter as much because I’m not around children. Being a stylist, I get creative freedom and I love being able to do things visually. I’m around more like-minded people. The culture speaks to me, in that working for a sportswear brand, I can personally identify with it more. I get excited doing what I do because I’ve been an athlete my whole life.
WHAT SKILLS DID YOU LEARN FROM COMMUNICATIONS THAT TRANSFERRED TO YOUR EDUCATION AND RETAIL FIELDS?
Honestly, I think the interpersonal communication aspect plays a big part when it comes to my work experience. I think being confident and able to spark conversation with strangers or communicate with a child can be difficult for a lot of people. It’s a lot easier for me because of the courses I had. I think I have an advantage in the workplace because I’m able to communicate effectively with my peers. It’s helped me be successful in each position.
WITH SO MANY CHANGES, HOW HAS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS CHANGED?
I think at this point in my life, I do think about what success is, and as hard as you try not to, you look at your peers and compare. I define success as being able to support myself and being happy with my life and the choices I’m making. I used to compare my journey and was really hard on myself. I’m not content; I do still want to advance and grow but I do think that I’m doing well. I’m in a good place. I set goals when I got to my new job that I’ve surpassed so I see that as success. I’m always working to get better.
"AS CLICHE AS IT MIGHT SOUND, THERE REALLY IS NO OTHER PERSON IN THE WORLD LIKE YOU. I'M THE ONLY KIARRA TAJAÉ JONES."
HOW DO YOU STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF AND FOCUSED ON YOUR JOURNEY IN A SOCIETY WITH SUCH A FOCUS ON BLASTING HIGHLIGHT REELS ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
I think I’ve really had to learn to love myself. That’s everything from my personality to my appearance to my journey in life. It’s been a struggle, but I really learned, as cliché as it might sound, there really is no other person in the world like you. I’m the only Kiarra Tajaé Jones. We all possess our own unique qualities and characteristics. We all have something to give back to this world and realizing that has allowed me to not get caught up in social media hype and pop culture. I gossip from time to time and I do care about my appearance, but at the same time, I don’t see a reason to compare myself to others when I’m as special as I am.
"YOU REALLY REALIZE THAT WE ALL HAVE A LOT MORE IN COMMON THAN WE THINK WHEN WE START TO HAVE THOSE CONVERSATIONS."
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR 19 YEAR-OLD SELF?
I would say, “Ask for help.” That’s something I struggled with a lot and I’ve gotten better at it the last couple of years. Growing up, I was afraid to ask for help and let people in my life know I was struggling with things. There’s certain things I might not have gone through if I had just asked for help or talked to someone about it. Realizing that I’m not alone is something I would tell myself, and that’s because I rarely opened up to those around me. You really realize that we all have a lot more in common than we think when we start to have those conversations. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to give up or not try.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 5 YEARS?
I see myself thriving. Financially stable, happy and healthy. Ultimately, I would love to stay with my current company for the long haul, and I see myself advancing.
Photos by Myles Vann