How did I go from budding artist to full time independent business owner boss girl? It took time, sweat equity, and a constant drive to be the best version of myself.
Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing and painting my friends, household objects, flowers and animals in the small town of Port Orchard, WA. As a teenager, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I replied, “An artist!” My father wouldn’t allow me to be a starving artist, and told me I needed to pick something else. I was bummed. Throughout school I took all the computer and art classes I could. I had great promise as an artist, and computers were the thing in the 90’s, so I knew my future was in both…somehow.
Then it happened, second semester of my senior year I was taking a computer CAD class, and my teacher quickly learned that I was also a good artist and recommended graphic design as a profession. At first, I had no idea what graphic design was, but my teacher explained it, “You see that logo, that billboard ,that magazine spread…a graphic designer did that…it’s art on the computer.”
I had a new dream now: I wanted to have my black leather portfolio case swinging in one hand, and my Starbucks coffee in the other on my way to a business meeting in a cute professional outfit.
With my new dream in hand, I applied to the best colleges with design programs in the state; I decided on Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA because of the design program, beautiful campus, and its proximity to the mountains and water. I sat down with the counsellor right away and planned out all my classes. I graduated in four years while working two part-time jobs, participating on either the water-ski or crew teams, and I was massively involved with the art department. With a drive to succeed, my natural talent, and a ton of time management, I had done it!
I graduated in 2008, just as the recession hit. More companies were laying people off than they were hiring, so you had senior level designers taking junior level work just to be able afford their mortgages and families. Businesses thought that was grand; they could get seniors at junior rates. BUT that wasn’t great news for this greenhorn, so I told myself, “You didn’t just put yourself through school to be a graphic designer, and not do that.” Thankfully, my cousin was a senior producer at Publicis, a broadcast company; she helped me get a three month unpaid internship. I learned a ton about the various roles and processes of an agency. Although that company couldn’t hire me, they did give me invaluable contacts for life.
After the internship ended, I was in survival mode. I had just worked for free for three months while commuting from Federal Way. I was in debt, but didn’t want to turn tail and move back in with my folks in Port Orchard. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find any design work there, and I was determined to “make it”.
It was impossible for me to get an interview; I swear, people would see my graduation date and flip to the next resume. Eventually, one of the contacts I had made at Publicis lead to a junior design production role at an ad agency at the South end of Seattle. Phew, I landed my first professional design job, albeit a short term contract!
The next few years included a lot of grit and drive, but I remember a moment, walking down Fifth Avenue looking up to the sky, and saying, “I’m doing it… I am a graphic designer in Seattle, getting paid to do art on the computer, and I am living out my childhood dream!”
I may have been surviving instead of thriving, but I was doing what I had set out to do. I hadn’t moved home, even though they said I should. I did it on my own two feet, with the support of friends and family, and I was proud of that.
Ten years, and a ton of experience later, I’ve become dangerous, and have finally taken the leap to run my own business full time. With wi-fi, power pumps, a Wonder Woman themed office and coffee, all things are possible. I’m not going to lie, it’s scary at times; you don’t know what’s going to happen through the ups and downs, but I know I can make it own my own, and completely thrive. Cheers to female entrepreneurship!