• Sheena Pradhan

Excerpt from a Graduate School Letter of Intent

I have two regrets in life.

The first is not competing in a pageant when I was 16.

The second is not taking time off of school when I was 19.

As they say, the things you regret in life are the things you didn’t do. The funny thing about these regrets is that I did pursue these dreams. But not when I wanted to.

When I was 16 and 19, I asked for permission and was told no.

My dream since I was a kid was to work in fashion in New York City. I always saw myself in a corporate career, but saw myself doing something creative. However, between going to one of the toughest high schools in the country, SAT prep, extracurriculars, volunteering “because it looks good on a college application,” having immigrant parents and an Indian-American community that valued STEM careers above all else, and viewed creative careers as non-existent, or laughable if they acknowledged that creative careers existed at all, somehow, this dream became lost.

I ended up at Drexel University for architecture. Somewhere in my mind, I thought architecture would be a great compromise. It is a STEM career that is also creative.

The problem was that I didn’t want to be an architect.

Around the time that I realized that I had rushed into college, I also realized that architecture school was not for me. I dropped out of the architecture program at Drexel before the end of that first year.

The summer after my freshman year, I was working at an Anthropologie retail location in my hometown and was completely enamored by the Urban Outfitters company. At the time, UO had workshops in their stores where they hired artists to create their window displays. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. One of the young women who was hired alongside me, who was my age, was promoted to assistant manager while we were working together.

When I came home to tell my mom how cool it was that my also 19-year old colleague was promoted, my mother had a strong reaction. I was in the backseat of a car with her and a friend of hers.

“Once they quit they never go back,” they discussed while I was fully present in the car with them.

To them, I wasn’t taking a break to figure out what I wanted so that I could build a career that I loved. To them, I was dropping out to be a derelict. They seemed to have no concept that one could have a fruitful career from pursuing their dreams.

I went back to school and eventually declared my major as nutrition and food science. I had an interest in wellness, so it isn’t as random as it sounds. After graduating with my degree, a job, and a spot in an internship program to become a dietitian, I quickly started to feel pretty lost and eventually that feeling of being lost turned into depression as I surrounded myself with the wrong people and doing activities that didn’t feel aligned with my purpose.

That depression led me to finally finding inspiration to sign up for my first pageant in 2012. I competed in my first pageant a year later. I went on to win my first title just two years later and got to compete at a national pageant. After another three years, I won my second state title at the age of 29, my last year of eligibility to compete in one of the big national pageant systems.

My first pageant opened my eyes to the fact that I could do anything that I wanted in life. The confidence that I gained from that pageant plus the vast number of opportunities I was seeing while living in New York City helped me to become a published writer, to begin working in fashion, to act and model, and to run my own businesses.

I have worked really hard for the last ten years. I have had to hustle, work multiple jobs, and had to run my own businesses just to scrape by. I’ve learned a lot from working hard. But I’ve also learned that there is no such thing as a “backup plan.” The best backup plan is to be the best that you can be at what you do and to build a reputation for being the best. I have also learned that success comes more easily when you love what you do.

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