It’s hard to say exactly when was the first time I “broke the mold”.  I grew up in a family of mold breakers, so I know nothing else other than to defy social norms out of a passion for seeking personal truth. But if I had to choose a moment where “everything started”, it would be when my family sold our house in Dallas, Texas and moved to a small town in Mexico called San Miguel de Allende. And as if that wasn’t enough to satisfy my parents need to defy the status quo, they put both my brother and I in a Waldorf school out in the middle of the desert. And from then on, the “mold breaking” in my life has just grown exponentially.

The next atypical milestone was when I found out I had dyslexia. Most people see dyslexia as a curse, but somehow, I’ve been able to turn it into a blessing. For the first fifteen years of my life, I couldn't read without getting a headache and nine out of every ten words in a sentences I wrote were misspelled. But I wasn’t crap at everything, and if anything, my dyslexic mind compensated for my lack of academic abilities in all things kinesthetic and creative. And for every bad report card I received, I redeemed myself with my creative projects. And as it turns out, my artistic mind was what got me out of my next “curse”.

All learning disabilities aside, the education system in Mexico sucks, and the schools in my town were a perfect example. By the time I reached high school my parents and I were desperate for an alternative. The only sliver of hope we had lied in me getting a huge scholarship to a boarding school in the US. I exhibited my large variety of artistic skills in an video I sent with each of my boarding school applications. It included footage of me dancing, singing, acting, drawing, sewing, and taking photos. The scholarships came flooding in. I was lucky enough to spend my last three years of high school at my top choice boarding school in New England, the New Hampton School. Attending New Hampton would be my next big milestone.

At New Hampton, I maxed out on all of the opportunities in front of me and I was well on my way to becoming a successful fashion designer. I got into my top favorite art schools in the US and I recieved large scholarships. But, of course, it wouldn't be very “mold breaker-y” of me to just go to college and follow the American Dream.  What played out during the last months of my senior year will be no surprise. It started with my research about art schools, which then led to research about the fashion industry, which led to fast fashion, sweatshops, child labor and finally, environmental degradation. By the time I emerged from my black hole of research I realized I wanted nothing to do with the education industry, or the fashion industry, or really any monopolizing industry to begin with.

Big milestone number three was deciding to not go to college after attending a college prep school and deciding to pursue a minimal, mindful and remote lifestyle instead. How I was going to achieve this without a degree, I still wasn’t sure, but I knew that college was not the answer.

Fast forward one year from my highschool graduation: my fourth and current milestone. It’s March of 2017 and I just got accepted into a program called Praxis. A program that works with young adults to help them find work they love with emerging startups. I’m traveling around Mexico and working full time as a freelance digital designer while I begin the first months of Praxis. Soon, I’ll be moving back to the US to work full time for a company that I am crazy excited about! (Pssst! That could be your company -  shoot me an email if you want to work together). 

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Despite what society says, you can move to a foreign country with your family and raise healthy and able kids. You can have a learning disability and still learn everything you need to know to succeed. You can not go to college and wind up doing work you love that pays well. You can break the mold, and if anything, my life is a testimony that you should.

Ria Hardcastle