[Dear Wendy] Peyton Petty

Dear Wendy,

I hope my previous letters have been helpful so far in helping assuage your fear of never being able to decide on what to do after graduating! I just had a wonderful conversation with another Wellesley alum that I think will provide a great perspective because, after graduating, she didn’t get her dream job immediately. In fact, she told me that she only recently started “getting rid of [the] trappings of life” to do what she loves. Additionally, her account of her struggles at Wellesley is something that I think we can all relate to.

Peyton Petty graduated from Wellesley in 1977 with a major in art history and a minor in studio art. She’s currently in CPE, a clinical pastoral education program, and works with adults who live with severe mental illness, most with co-occuring drug or alcohol addiction. In addition to working in clinical pastoral care, she is a hospice respite volunteer, and also paints with neighborhood children in her art studio. But when she graduated from Wellesley she wanted to be a commercial artist.

Peyton moved to New York after graduating Wellesley and started working in art galleries thinking that it would be a good stepping stone for her into the art world, but realized quickly that these positions focused on sales. Disheartened, she quit working in art galleries and took up various positions in advertising agencies. Later, she became a product manager for an investment management firm, where she started writing marketing materials as there was no one else to do the work. She realized she loved writing, and, with the birth of her children, one of whom had special needs, she became a freelance business writer and newspaper reporter. In her late thirties, she also got back into her art, training to coach art making and eventually running a creativity workshop called “The Fine Art of Play.” Her current dream is to combine what she has learned in the mental health fields and in her work as a pastoral care provider with her art. Next year, she will be introducing at-risk children to process art, a supportive painting practice.

Such a twisting career path should not be as surprising now that I’ve told you of what some other alums have been through, but what stood out to me about Peyton was that she didn’t need additional traditional schooling to do these jobs. When I asked her about it, she replied that it was “just Wellesley being Wellesley”, as she had learned to take initiative during her time in college. She also moved around a lot (another contributing factor to her diverse work experience) but kept on pursuing art wherever she went. In each community that she lived in, she would start an art community and organize art shows and studio tours.

You may think, from my account of Peyton, that it would be pretty obvious that she should have pursued a career in creating art, but it took a lot of time for her to realize this. She originally wanted to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, but her parents didn’t let her and she “didn’t have the confidence or self-knowledge to fight back”. She had a really hard time at Wellesley, because she didn’t realize that it was “okay to ask for help… to not do it all.” She also says that she wasn’t as aware of herself back then as she is now. Specifically, she told me how she experienced a pivotal moment of “such contentment and peace” while working on an art assignment for class, but didn’t pay attention to it. Peyton struggled with reconciling who she thought she was with who others thought she was, as well as dealing with her parents’ expectations and I think that part of the struggle was because she lacked a strong support network.

So please, Wendy, make sure that you have a group of friends, professors, and mentors that you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Many times, we’re sucked into the mindset of “I can do this alone” when it may be easier if you had help or moral support. Don’t try to decide on what to do after college by yourself; reach out to your professors and friends! Make use of the resources that the CWS and the Stone Centre has so that you don’t feel so burdened and alone. Peyton suggests that even if you don’t ask for other peoples’ opinions, simply talking to another human being may be helpful in working out your thought process. “You may know what you want, but you may not know it consciously yet.” she adds.

One other thing that stood out to me in our conversation was “going to the energy” and “going where it’s juicy”. It may sound a bit weird, but I think Peyton is just trying to encourage us to be conscious of our subconscious and to listen to our gut feelings when trying to make decisions. Many times, we may want to do something but be held back by other peoples’ expectations and our own fears. But “it’s all going to work out” eventually, be it immediately after graduating, 10 years after, or 30 years after as it was for Peyton.



PS- If you have questions for Peyton about her experiences (at Wellesley, her current work ministering to patients and families, etc.) please contact her at artpeyton@mac.com



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