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One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that there’s no real straight career path in our lives, and that the interesting adventures in life are what take you down pathways you never even knew existed.

For example, when I was an art history and painting major at Vassar College, there was a job fair during my senior year. I wound up receiving a job offer from Bloomingdale’s. I’m not sure why I got the job, but I think I made an impression on the interviewer because I told her, “My summer jobs so far have been shoveling a lot of horse manure in barns, and that’s a really good lesson in life, since it makes you focus on things.”

After graduation I started working at the company’s headquarters in Manhattan. The job involved taking a merchandising training course with 20 to 30 people. From there I was an apprentice to a buyer before being plunged into the women’s budget sportswear department located in the basement. It was the least sexy department in the store, but also the most profitable. So here I was, 23 years old, in charge of a staff of saleswomen, some of whom were probably three times my age.

Working at Bloomingdale’s taught me when to react fast, how to be on top of sales trends, and why sales did what they did. It also taught me a lot about business, especially five years later when I discovered that landscape architecture was the field I wanted to be in. By then I had a very good background in numbers, an exposure I never would have received had I gone directly into landscape architecture. It was terrific training for me. I try to tell young people today that it’s not the end of world if you don’t get your dream job straight out of college, and that it’s a good lesson. The most important thing is that you learn from it.

—As told to Jennifer Nalewicki

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