Do you know what's hard (other than writing your first blog)?
Vulnerability is hard. Being honest with oneself is hard. Kicking the imposter syndrome is hard. Striking out and creating a business is hard. Writing this post is hard as it touches on all the previous "hard" statements.
I was at a crossroads in early 1998. I needed to change the university I was attending, because the major I wanted to pursue (German) was not offered at that time. The only real problem: I couldn't go back to the only 4-year university in my state, and I needed in-state tuition. I recognized the fact that by falling victim to peer pressure and finding the “wrong” group of friends at that 4-year university, I would never be able succeed unless I had a solid backbone and nerves of steel.
Hannah to the rescue! My future mentor invited me to attend Texas A&M University-Commerce and to declare my major as Printing. At the time, Texas A&M would give in-state tuition to students whose home state did not have the course of study they wanted to pursue. I had no clue what she was talking about, but I took her up on it. My course of thought was that I could attend as a printing major until I qualified for in-state tuition based on residency, and then I’d change my major.
However, there were other plans in store. As I was sitting in the advisor’s office and trying to register for classes, I told him that I absolutely had to have a German course. He looked up the courses and started acting strangely. Without saying anything, he left. Confused much? When he came back, he explained that they used to offer German, but the German professor had passed away and there were no plans to replace him.
What? Come again?! I had just driven 1200 miles to attend this school. I had done my homework. I had researched what programs they offered, and nowhere did it say that German was being discontinued. Do I drive 1200 miles back home and miss out on a semester of school, or do I stay and figure out another plan of attack?
I chose to stay in Texas, even though I was highly disappointed, but I’m oh-so-glad that I did. I like to tell people that Texas saved my life. Is it hot? Yes. Is it humid? Most definitely! Is there a cricket season? You bet there is! But, I would not change it for the world, as my life was about to drastically change.
Two weeks later, my father unexpectedly passed away. It was 9/11/98, two days before my 20th birthday. I don’t know how I did it, but I somehow found my strength and earned a 4.0 that semester…and the following semester…and most of my semesters at TAMU-Commerce. I fell in love with printing and graphic design! I was able to immerse myself into my studies to postpone or numb the grief. I’m still not sure which one it was.
One thing I do know, is that if I’d gone home, I would never have been able to make it through. Long story short, an elected official dying under mysterious circumstances in a small, rural community makes for excellent gossip and rumors. Whispers, finger-pointing, and stares were the norm whenever I went back home for a visit.
Four years later, I was a graduate of TAMU-Commerce with a B.S. in Printing and an Interdisciplinary Minor (focus in graphic design/create your own with a mentor in that field). It was during this time that I began learning web design on…are you ready for it? I utilized Microsoft FrontPage. Ouch! That is a program from the past.
Three months after graduating, I found myself back at the 4-year university in my home state to go after my own dream of being fluent in German. I chose to return to the University of Wyoming as it was my father’s Alma Mater and his dream to have one of his own children graduate from there. I saw it as a way to honor him.
One year on-campus (while working at Kinko’s a graphic designer) and then I was off for two years as an exchange student in Germany. I would not change these two years for anything. In 2005, I graduated from UW with a B.A. in German.
I tried to get hired on in Boise, Idaho (where my mother had moved) at several design companies. No one seemed to be hiring and I didn’t have the confidence to strike out on my own, even though I did have a couple clients here and there.
I then learned there was a German teaching position in my hometown in Wyoming that was open and I was encouraged to apply. I did exactly that and got the job. I taught for 3 years before running into certification issues and was forced to resign. That was probably the third biggest heartache in my life (only second to losing my father and others).
These issues were caused by two or three things. The first is that I waited to start the certification process until I'd already taught one semester. The second is that I entered into a very mentally abusive relationship. It was so bad that I could not focus on my studies. I'd read 3 sentences, my mind would wonder, and I'd have to re-read them only to lose track again. The third reason is that I was not aware enough to understand the abuse I was suffering for quite a while and then didn't have the backbone to end right then and there when I did realize how terrible it was. As a matter of fact, it took him telling me that he was going to set fire to the house with me and my animals locked inside before I woke up.
After resigning, I started working at a local print shop as a designer to make ends meet. I probably would have stayed there a lot longer than I did, but my sister-in-law passed away from cancer and I felt I needed to help my brother with his three young children. I was newly married and that enabled me to quit and start watching my niece and nephews.
This print shop did contract work out to me after I started The Design Burro. I also filled in for the designer that replaced me while she was on her honeymoon. So, I did not cut all ties with this print shop. As a matter of fact, if the chance ever presented itself, I would try to buy the place. Meanwhile, I will be satisfied with the relationship I have with the people who work there and we will continue supporting each other.
Back to the story…I really wanted to have a source of income, so I started thinking about what I really wanted to do. I decided to pursue a Master’s in Secondary Education and get my certification just in case I could find a teaching job again. I also started putting a business plan together in my head.
This plan consisted of a magazine that features local businesses, people, entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, you name it! It would have a list of events happening in the area and I came up with an entire marketing plan around it. I
I decided to strike out as a freelancer and moved into a building, so I’d have brick and mortar. This is the start of The Design Burro. I named it that because I love the play on words (burro vs. bureau) and the symbolism of the burro. I see the burro as an animal that is sure-footed, works hard, is dedicated and loyal – all good qualities to have personally and professionally. The bonus is that people can call me an a$$ and I won't take offense. Ha!
By the time I was ready to make this magazine a reality, I decided to take on a partner. Long story short: Never take on a partner without solid writing drafted by an attorney. If a partner is a must, have your ducks in a row, because crooked people are everywhere. I don’t care if you’ve known someone for years. Their true side will come out at some point and you don't know what those true colors are until it happens. Just don't, unless there is no other option and then protect yourself.
Needless to say, things did not go well, and I ended up walking away from the magazine I’d put years of thought, blood, sweat, and tears into. I decided it was not worth the hassle to fight (attorney fees, mediation fees, court fees, etc., etc.). After this experience, I was burned out, to say the least. Every time I started my computer and opened an Adobe program, I got a rotten taste in my mouth. It took me years to find my passion for design again.
During the next few years, I had friends and family ask me to do things for them. I had a few friends start businesses and I helped them with their logo creation, websites, branding, etc.
I eventually applied for a job at the city in the television department. I didn’t know anything about television, but I applied anyway after hearing they were looking for someone with graphic design experience. I got the job and LOVED it! I would still be in that job, but my children come first. Long story that I’m not going to share here.
It’s been two years since I left the city. During that time, I helped another friend with starting a business. She encouraged me to fall in love with graphic design again and start getting serious with The Design Burro.
After a series of synchronicities, I decided to buckle down and try to grow my business. This is the beginning of getting serious once again. However, I have done more homework and have thrown myself into learning social media marketing and management, so I am adding that into my skillset.
I feel that over the years, I have acquired a plethora of skills and information that can be used to help succeed at business. I like to think that The Design Burro is a one-stop-shop in the sense of brand creation, essential business graphics, website creation, SEO knowledge, social media marketing and management, along with so much more.
Now that you know a little more about me, my successes, and my failures, I hope you feel as though you know me more as a human being. We all have successes. We all have failures. By sharing and showing we are human, we make connections. Those connections build into networks. Those networks become support systems. It becomes a little easier to become vulnerable and share what works and what doesn’t. I will go into those experiences in a future blog.
If you've made it this far, feel free to leave me a not in the comments and let me know what you think of my very first post. Feel free to give me constructive criticism or ideas for future posts.
P.S. I promise to include pictures and/or graphics in the next one.