I was shocked by this new perspective on a woman who seemed born to be an artist; the idea that she almost went in a completely different direction felt at odds with the aesthetically complete version of Frida I’d come to know. But as I’ve talked about many times, we’re all far more complex and contradictory than we initially present ourselves. And so I’m enjoying the idea of Frida Kahlo, the artist, alongside Frida Kahlo, the doctor.
Kahlo’s evolution inspired me to look for other iconic people who almost didn’t end up in the profession with which we so fully identify them. Like John Grisham, who leveraged his 10-year career as a lawyer into his current profession as a celebrated author of legal thrillers. Or Vera Wang, who spent 15 years working as a fashion editor at Vogue before designing her own wedding dress and launching a wildly successful bridal line. Or Harrison Ford, who was working as a carpenter for none other than George Lucas who thought he would be perfect for a role in his new project – Star Wars.
My favorite story was about Jonah Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed and co-founder of The Huffington Post (and brother of comedian Chelsea Peretti – what a family). Peretti attended University of California, Santa Cruz where he majored in environmental studies. He then moved to New Orleans and taught computer science at a private high school before going to grad school at MIT. While procrastinating on writing his master’s thesis, he started exploring Nike’s new service for customizing your own sneakers. After submitting a few unsavory words that got rejected, he tried the word “sweatshop,” which launched an email back-and-forth with Nike that he forwarded to a few friends. The email thread eventually reached millions of people and Peretti ended up on The Today Show discussing labor practices with Nike’s head of PR, launching his career in media.
Like Jonah Peretti, Frida Kahlo ultimately found her way to her vocation by leaving room for chance. As a child, Kahlo suffered from polio and, while recuperating, she took to drawing pictures in the fog on her window to entertain herself. Years later, when she had to spend months in bed after a horrific bus accident, her parents gave her an easel and a set of paints she could use while lying down all day. There was even a mirror installed directly over her bed so she could see herself and paint the self-portraits she is best known for today.
As these stories and many of my interviews illustrate, we can only plan so much before something upends our intentions. Sometimes those disruptions are fortunate, like Peretti’s email thread, and sometimes they’re devastating, like Kahlo’s accident. But, fortunately, there’s no expiration date on choosing a different path. We can always learn something new, try something new, or reinvent ourselves. And in the end, we might find a version of ourselves that fits even better.