Late Bloomers

 
Blooming Later in Life Has it’s Advantages
 
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I always thought that being a late bloomer was a negative thing, like you missed out on so much because you achieved success later in life. I didn’t give it much thought. I floated along in life for a long time, oblivious to what career success truly meant.
 
I was one of the lucky artist-designers to get an early start on my career – I had no clue what it was going to be. During the winter break of my sophomore year in college, the father of my high school BFF asked me if I was interested in being a summer intern at his advertising agency. Hello job-handed-on-a-silver-platter. 
 
That summer I learned how to key-line and paste-up an agricultural quarterly magazine, spec type for the typographer, operate the stat machine and lucigraph, prepare boards for the printer, and also get insights into the world of advertising. It went so well that I returned the following two summers interning until I graduated and became a full-fledged production/layout artist.
 
After 3 years, I discovered that while I loved laying out publications, I was bored of agriculture, and decided to move onward.
 
I bounced around from one small design studio to the next in Milwaukee—creating more publications! At 31 years old, I was restless once again and the winter weather finally wore me down, so I made the brave move to Tampa, Fl. I was quickly hired at a large ad/design agency because of my love for publications and my mad skills creating them.
 
This time I was designing and producing an annual 90-page catalog/brochure done in 20 different languages for Royal Caribbean Cruises Int’l first, then for Celebrity Cruises Int’l.
 
I fell in love with the lifestyle niche there and then, and thought my career path was solid. It was the best place I had ever worked. Not going anywhere. Where’s the party?
 
Looking back, I never seriously thought about my future or had any real goals I wanted to reach, except just becoming a lead designer there, and partying with my friends. The only true growth I experienced at the agency was learning how to handle the high stress, manage the designers who assisted me, and juggle 20 publications at one time.
 
By the time I turned 35, I was the master of producing publications, but my design skills were just ok. I was never pushed to do great design, the work was more about information architecture design and how to fit a whole lotta content in 90 pages, and make it look good. After 6 years of that, I got burnt out.
 
Luckily an opportunity arose in Los Angeles and I quickly made a decision to leave Florida behind—California was always my dream anyway.
 
10 months later, my life became uncertain when 9-11 hit and I was left without a job. I worked on a United Airlines account and well, you know the story.
 
This is where the real story begins, about finding my true self and blooming later in life at the age of 50.
 
I moved to San Diego after visiting a friend there [here]. While it felt like home to me, I also felt lost and like I didn’t fit into the design community. I couldn’t land a full time position at any design studio or agency to save my soul. I knew I was good, but I wasn’t THAT good. And I was either too experienced or under-experienced.
 
So, I freelanced in order to get work and pay the sunshine taxes. I wandered for years and years—working part-time onsite and offsite. I did whatever I could to get by. And my design skills suffered. Once in awhile I got a great project, but even then, it was not my best work.
 
I don’t know what changed within me, but I do know my transformation from being an ok designer to doing my best work ever, was due to working with my creative business coach [RaShelle Roberts], and also from where I was at the time in my life when I was introduced to her. I had hit rock bottom—I was raw and broken, I was lost…so lost. How could I have ended up like this midlife? How did I let time slip by? I was too old to be hired, and worried what would become of me.
 
I won’t go into the details of the process we went through, but I can tell you she made me dig deep—to find out who I was as a person, as a designer, what I truly wanted in life, and in my career. Lots of soul searching, reading, writing and amazing a-ha sessions with RaShelle over the course of 5 months.
 
I had come back to dezinegirl creative studio 100%. I had stopped the vicious circle of getting part time work when my business got slow, which would cause me to lose my focus on dezinegirl and have to start all over again when the gigs ended.
 
During the process [it’s still a process] with RaShelle I discovered the niches that I loved to do and did so well at. My passion for design was reignited when I started designing infographics on a regular basis, and I also had the amazing opportunity to brand a new restaurant in Canada. I was on a roll.
 
Something shifted, something changed within me. I started to SHINE. I started to BLOOM. At 50 years old, I finally had confidence in my design abilities. I knew what I wanted, who I was, what I was willing to let go of, and what my focus was. Three years later, my design skills are top-notch—good, no, great design just flows out of me naturally, like a God-given talent. I can’t say the work has flowed in as easily—I’m still trying to even out the feast and famine cycles…but that’s normal.
 
But what I can say is that I am where I ought to be. That whole journey of my career path led me to where I am today: A LATE BLOOMER. And there is nothing wrong with that. I am a successful, gifted and sought-after designer…happy to be a solopreneur working from home on a variety of amazing lifestyle brand design projects.
 
To top that all off, I have hit the highlight of my career path [so far]. I was awarded [and I didn’t even have to compete] the redesign of all the menus for the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage/Palm Springs [there’s another story there]. They are a wonderful team there, and the hotel and desert are so lovely.
 
It blows my mind… but at the same time, it just seems right.
 
Worth waiting for.
 
 

The Freelance Designer Life

Most freelance or solo graphic designers that I know purposely set out to become one. I did not.
 
They didn’t want to work for “the man”, they wanted to make more money, or they just wanted a more flexible work schedule due to having children. Some just didn’t like working with others. It’s probably a good idea for those folks to work solo. 🙂
 
Moving from out of state into a small design market like San Diego, and not knowing a soul, freelance was the only way for me to get work. Six months later I found a steady “freelance” gig for 4 years – not my ideal kind of work, but I struggled to find my niche here and it was a reliable income.
 
In San Diego, I am too senior level for most designer positions, and have earned higher salaries in past jobs that employers here can not match; nor I do I have enough staff management experience to become a creative director or similar…well, I am really not interested in managing other designers anyway, but the pay is higher…I just never fit in…
 
…until the company I was working for got bought out and the office closed down. I was one of the lucky ones to be kept on for freelance work. And I was able to work from home. This gave me the sweet taste of the freelance designer life.
 
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13 years later, I’m still at it. And I love it!
 
Many emerging students I have met in the recent past have visions of rainbows, unicorns and sugar plum fairies in their head about what freelancing is like. They only see freedom in their schedule, how much more money they could make than a full time job would pay, and without having to work as much. I have to let them down slowly and then give them a reality slap in the face…
 
Yes, there is freedom in having a flexible schedule. However, most clients want you available during their working hours, which is between 8am – 6pm. Some even want you available on weekends when necessary. They do understand you are not chained to your computer and that you will have times of unavailability—so there is that.
 
The rude awakening is that somehow your work days get longer than you thought they would!
 
A typical day, on average, is about only 4-6 hours of billable work. More if you have mastered the ebb and flow of projects/clients {I still have not – it’s hard to control the world}. There’s the unknown future of income to worry about if you don’t have retainers or steady client work. The rest of your day is all non-billable.
 
Because you are a solo designer, you are also a small business owner. You have to wear all the hats if you want to be successful: accounts receivable and payable, IT person, marketing, sales, social media, replying to emails, and everything in between.
 
It’s all up to you to keep up with technology, learn new software and programs, the latest marketing trends, and stay on top of your industry. We also must remain sociable and schedule 1-3 nights a month for networking events, seminars, workshops, or happy-hours with peers. And…I haven’t even talked about getting in workouts, meal times, family time, and sleep! Oh, and then there is the non-paid vacation and sick time to boot.
 
When I tell them all this, their eyes glaze over and their smile goes upside down.
 
However, the pros outweigh the cons. It’s all what matters to you most, what you’re willing to put up with and what makes you the happiest.
 
For me, what makes me happy is being able to work directly with my clients [one on one], design in my style [that fits their needs], work in my ideal environment [at home in my pjs, on my souped-up mac, with my favorite tunes playing] and basically have the flexibility to go to yoga or pilates class at 11am, sleep in when I can, and not have to drive in traffic every day.
 
I’ve learned to love the business side of being a solo creative person. It took many years of workshops, books, tutorials and being involved with AIGA and other nonprofit organizations to get there.
 
Now, if I can just control the world to keep a steady stream of projects and stay in the flow! 🙂
 
There are many articles written about the freelance life that can give more insight or other perspective, that are all true > from Design Professionalism, The Graphic Quarter and Rasmussen Edu.