A teacher in college once told me I had no taste and that I would be better off “designing pamphlets for grocery stores.” Her main argument? You develop good taste from birth: where you were born, your family, and your surroundings. She said I was talented and smart but would never have good taste.

It was all prompted by a freelance job I was doing for a jewelry company, a social ad campaign. The owner knew my teacher. Rio, where I was born and raised, is a small (and sometimes classist) town, especially for the most affluent.

My family comes from a humble background and could never afford the university I attended (PUC-Rio). The only reason I studied there was because of the full scholarship I got. I was no stranger to feeling out of place. I did not have access to what many of my friends enjoyed daily. But I dreamed and worked hard to taste a better life.

The jewelry company gig was part of that hard work. I tried hard to incorporate feedback but soon got a message the owner wanted to stop working with me. Trying to understand what happened, I asked a few friends connected to the owner. Then I heard the whole story involving my teacher. I did not know how to feel back then, but I did know it struck a chord with all my insecurities. I had a dark period where I threw myself into work to prove my teacher wrong. To prove myself wrong sometimes.

After years of internal work, I’m in a much different place. I transformed doubt into faith and accomplished things beyond my wildest dreams. The feeling that I’m just getting started is even better. I’m recognized for my creativity, taste, empathetic collaboration, and leadership.

Most of what my teacher said was B.S. Taste is essential but can be trained, forged, and encouraged. There is one piece of truth in what she said: What (and who) you’re surrounded with matters.

People can banish potential out of existence by arriving at quick conclusions, just like my teachers and others I’ve encountered over the years. A thick skin is necessary in creative industries. But I’ve had leaders, mentors, and friends who gave me time to find things out at points where skin was the thinnest. My goal as a leader is to pay it forward with the same level of faith, care, and empathy.

P.S.: Designing for a grocery store rules, too. Don’t let people tell you what’s cool or not.