The Creative Soul's Winding Path: My Career Journey
I'd like to start off by saying that I have certainly not mastered the art of balancing multiple creative careers; I'm what you might call a "Jill of all trades." This post is more about my story.
Art & design have been my deepest passions since childhood. As a little girl, my dream was to become an artist. But I was discouraged by the belief that artists only achieved success posthumously (when they're dead and gone 💀). Not gonna work for me. So I shifted my ambitions and set my sights on architecture instead—still creating, but with more practical job options.
This led me to pursue Architecture in college. Quickly, I realized that while architects focus on exterior form, interior designers shape the user’s experience inside a space. We determine how a room makes people feel through lighting, furnishings, textures, and so much more. I was drawn to that... what art does... it evokes emotion through design. I realized interior design was better aligned with my sensibilities.
I worked in the field for nearly a decade after graduating, mostly in high-end residential work and small commercial spaces. As rewarding as those years were, I wanted change. I just wasn't feeling creatively fulfilled.
Back to school I went, and I became a professional makeup artist, hoping that it would ignite the artistic side of me I felt was missing. However, that was a bust. I'm not one to attempt something without knowing I can do it first, so I decided that I would return, yet again, to school for a Masters in Design Management.
Needless to say, it certainly wasn't what I thought it would be. It awakened a whole other passion I didn't know existed—entrepreneurship. This is where I discovered my fascinations with product design and start-ups. My strengths aligned perfectly with this. I love a challenge, I love to learn, I'm competitive and stubborn which YES, is a good trait to have. It means you're a fighter....
And with this began the pull of passion into entrepreneurship and product design.
The Pull of Passion
Interior design has and will always hold a special place in my heart. From my childhood, I had an innate fascination with the connection between the physical world and the emotions design elements and principles could evoke. What drew me to interior design was the ability to shape not just rooms, but the experiences and feelings of the people within them. It was the fusion of art and functionality, aesthetics and comfort, that captivated me.
Working in interior design for nearly a decade was immensely satisfying. I had the privilege of crafting high-end residential spaces and small commercial areas. I watched as my designs transformed empty rooms into vibrant, welcoming environments. The satisfaction came from knowing that I had a direct hand in improving the lives of those who inhabited those spaces. It was about creating not just visually appealing designs, but spaces that resonated with people on a deep, emotional level.
I loved it, but over time, I found myself yearning for a new challenge and a broader canvas for my creativity.
Product design represented a different dimension of creativity. It was about designing in the digital world—these things weren't just aesthetically pleasing, but also functional, user-centric, and often innovative. What excited me was the opportunity to create tangible solutions to real-world problems through technology.
The world of product design also introduced me to the dynamic realm of startups and entrepreneurship. It was invigorating to see how design thinking played a pivotal role in shaping successful businesses. The prospect of creating not just individual products but entire brands and ecosystems was a thrilling challenge that I couldn't ignore.
The combination of creativity, problem-solving, and the potential to make a significant impact on people's lives through product design was what ignited my passion for this field.
Weighing the Trade-Offs
If I was going to make this shift and create a new product, I had to learn how to balance the startup life (which was not paying me) with my Interior Design job (which was). It was a decision that required careful consideration. It wasn't without its challenges and fears, so I weighed my options.
What were the pros?
Diverse Skill Set: The ability to draw from my background in interior design could enrich my product design work, providing a unique perspective.
Broadened Network: Being part of two creative fields would expand my professional network, opening up opportunities for collaboration.
Personal Fulfillment: Pursuing both passions simultaneously could bring a sense of personal fulfillment that was hard to match.
What were the cons?
Time Constraints: Juggling two careers meant that time management was crucial. I feared that I might become overwhelmed.
Fear of Mediocrity: There was a fear of spreading myself too thin, potentially compromising the quality of my work in both fields.
Burnout: The risk of burnout was a constant concern. I had to find ways to prevent exhaustion.
To address these concerns, I adopted a deliberate approach. I established clear boundaries and priorities for each career while ensuring they complemented each other:
Time Management: I carefully scheduled my time, allocating specific hours to each discipline. This helped me maintain focus and avoid burnout.
Learning and Growth: I embraced continuous learning and improvement, seeking ways to enhance my skills in both fields. This allowed me to stay competitive and fulfilled.
Delegate and Collaborate: I learned the importance of delegation and collaboration. Surrounding myself with a supportive team in both interior and product design eased the workload.
Mindset Shift: I shifted my mindset from fearing mediocrity to accepting that I was on a unique, multifaceted journey. This change in perspective allowed me to embrace the beauty of exploring multiple passions.
Crash and Burn
This required balance was short-lived and I have the COVID-19 pandemic to thank for that. Living in ground zero for COVID in the US, was part of the problem. I was laid off from my interior design job right at the beginning of the pandemic, and it felt like the ground had been pulled out from under me because it meant I had no income. Like many, I was faced with uncertainty, and the future appeared daunting. But little did I know that this setback would lead me down a path I could have never predicted.
It's almost as if the timeline of events in my life led me straight into an opportunity that would change the course entirely in the direction I wanted. See, when I graduated with my 2nd Masters Degree, my capstone project became that shift into product design I mentioned. I had a great team, and we began prepping everything to start pitching to investors.
From Layoff to to Startup
It was a whirlwind period, to say the least. I found myself thrust into the dynamic world of startups without the experience I thought I needed. Imposter syndrome sank in real quick and I felt that I was in over my head. I had never built a company from the ground up, my team and I just had this idea that people really loved. I had never presented projects like this to investors asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was terrified.
Our company, The Lot Pop (previously SOLVD), was based around the concept of urban revitalization. We found that 90% of empty lots are unutilized and become unsightly parts of urban areas. We thought, what if we could leverage these sites for events? I've added a video below for reference.
In a fortunate turn of events, that school capstone, turned startup, was acquired by a company named Dwellio. Dwellio, is about finding your place in the world and Lot Pop fit right in. I immediately began working as a product designer with a project I knew well. We merged ideas into one company and it turned into a full-time opportunity. The fear I had of the experience I didn't have melted away because I could learn all of it through this other company that acquired us.
The first lesson I learned was the importance of embracing change. While my initial reaction to the layoff was one of shock and disappointment, it quickly became clear that this was a chance to pivot and explore exactly what I wanted.
Uncertainty was the name of the game, and the startup world, as thrilling as it was, had its own set of hurdles. I was thrown in the deep end of the pool and told to swim. It was during these moments of adversity that I discovered the power of resilience.
I learned resilience in embracing feedback. As a designer, it's easy to take things personal but I always looked at it as an opportunity to grow as a product designer. Now, I look back at some of my early designs and am ashamed of them. I suppose I did something right.
You cannot succeed alone, leverage the minds of your teammates, they may not be designers but they are users and often challenge you enough to get to the right answer.
Figma, a once hated foe, has become my best friend and I use it for everything now.
User Experience has taken on new whole meaning. It determines the success of a project and often the business.
Over the course the of the last 3 years, one of the most surprising realizations, was the applicability of my interior design skills in the startup environment. Skills such as project management, attention to detail, and a keen eye for aesthetics were invaluable assets in the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship.
Passion as a Driving Force
I realized that setbacks can often be the stepping stones to something greater. The layoff, though painful at the time, was the catalyst for me to discover a whole new realm of opportunities.
And through it all, my passion remained the driving force behind my decisions. I was still deeply committed to creativity and design, and this passion served as a constant source of motivation. Whether it was designing a space or contributing to a startup's vision, creativity remained at the core of my pursuits.
I hope my story can inspire others who may find themselves facing unexpected career shifts. Life can be unpredictable, but it's in those moments of uncertainty that we often discover our true resilience and potential.
By embracing change, staying resilient, applying transferable skills, and following our passions, we can navigate the most challenging of circumstances and find fulfillment in unexpected places. My journey from the crash and burn of a layoff to the exhilaration of the startup world has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. It's a testament to the idea that our paths are not always linear, and sometimes the most rewarding adventures come from the unexpected detours. So, to all those navigating uncertain times, remember that every twist in the road is an opportunity to crash, burn, and rise even higher.
Check out my portfolio for some of my work in Interior Design, Graphic Design and Product Design.