I’m so happy you’re here. I’m the goofball running this shindig, nice to e-meet you… I’m a graphic designer, mindset queen and hand letterer with really BIG DREAMS. I’m also an amateur photographer jumping between Phoenix and Los Angeles, I put hot sauce on everything and practically live at Disneyland.
I am writing this to you with love in hopes that I can serve as inspiration when times get tough. It’s been a long road professionally and emotionally to get to this point in my career and life where I am actually and genuinely happy. You see, I quit my full time job 3 years ago with a determination that I could make it on my own by being one of those traveling bloggers. That dream quickly came to an end and before I knew it, I had three failed websites under my belt. I was technically unemployed, weeks from getting married, and had just landed my first (underpaying) freelance client. Yikes!
This is the part where I tell you how I started, how I failed and how I came out on the other side… so sit back, relax and grab a drink… it’s story time!
Let me take you back to 2012, I had just moved to the states for college and left my comfort zone (and country!) for a new adventure. I was born and raised in México, and when it came to art school, I wanted more, so I applied to design school abroad, got accepted, got a student visa, packed my bags, left my country and moved to sunny Santa Monica, California.
Everything after that is pretty standard, I graduated graphic design, got a job in advertising, hated it, felt overworked, underpaid and exhausted all the time. I hated the office culture, the gossip, the way it takes up more than 75% of your life, basically the same thing every millennial whines about in a 9 to 5 cubicle job.
You can probably guess what happened next. Being a Jr. Art Director often left me feeling underutilized, under-paid, and creatively unfulfilled *cue the tiny violins*. I felt like I was living a monotone life, doing it for the paycheck, and let me tell you, that is no way of living. Think about it, we live in a world where your job takes up about 80-90% of your life, where weekends are the only time you can be you.
So after 3 years of working at the same company, I quit. I was tired of coming home hating life, crying, having anxiety attacks and just being unhappy. Looking back I remember I googled obsessively for other stories that would inspire me to quit, but at the end of the day, it was because I was going to get married that I quit. I was at a very low point in life, away from home, family, friends, stuck in a job that where I felt unappreciated. I needed to enjoy getting married without worrying about clients or bosses.
I was totally not prepared for a world without the structure of a job or school, where you know what time you need to be somewhere, what you’re doing and hell, even seeing people on a daily basis. Quitting my job lifted this enormous pressure and gave me the freedom to plan my wedding with joy, the problem was that I had no schedule and no one to hold me accountable but myself. Before I knew it, I was waking up at 11am every day, watching tv all day and doing the occasional wedding errand here and there. I gained a lot of weight, felt lonely, was broke and still felt unhappy…
I realized no one was going to tell me what to do and I had to start motivating myself. After long heart to heart talks with my then fiancée, Keal, I decided to start my very first website and kick start my new ~blogger~ career. Lucky for me, Keal is an excellent coder
Starting small, I designed a website that showcased my design work to attract freelance clients so that I could start making money again. The first bump in the road was that most of my work was advertising and not in any way what I wanted to be doing with my life, so I decided to create fake brands and case studies of work I wanted to be doing, this made me happy, designing for me made me happy.
Second bump in the road was that I had no idea what I wanted to blog about. All I knew is that I wanted to join the ranks of those gorgeous bloggers that had glossy images that oozed happiness and color. I fell down this rabbit hole of obsessively analyzing bloggers and what they where doing. I was amazed by how they could work with big brands and create content for their blogs on their terms! I looked at all their millions of followers and scrolled through their perfect Instagram profiles… they all seemed happy! I wanted that, I could do that, I just needed a website.
My first site had landed me a couple of freelance clients that were giving me some money, so now I could concentrate on building my blog, building my following, joining those gorgeous bloggers and finally being happy. Hello website number two.
I decided on the name HelloDesignSugar for my first blog (don’t ask why, I seriously do not remember), this first blog had no real direction but I had no idea at the time. I was blissfuly happy as a newlywed and since I had no permanent job, me and Keal decided to drop everything and travel for a while. We ended up living in New York and London for the span of 3 months, we got to travel around Europe and crashed with friends we knew, I was very happy and have great memories of that time. I started doing lettering and posting it up on the blog, I even designed some free wallpapers that people really seemed to like, I was doing it, I was a ~traveling~ blogger… but not really.
I’m not proud of this, but when we came back home to LA, I entered this evil vicious cycle… I would see what was working for other bloggers and tried to do that, I wrote things like how to freelance or top 10 golden rules of freelance, DIY your own industrial mirror!, what no one tells you about blogging, packing for a new york summer, and I felt like such an impostor…
This blog was re-designed 3 times, in the span of like 2 months… because I kept trying to be someone I was not, I kept trying to look and sound like those other successful bloggers (again, not proud of this), wondering why I didn’t have all those followers yet? Where were those brands knocking on my door for sponsored posts?
I hit rock bottom, I was writing about things that I hated and had no interest in, and I was still waking up at 11am and watching tv most of the day not bothering to get up and do something. It had been two years since I had quit and I felt like I had accomplished nothing career wise, which brings me to website number three.
Deciding to go back to my roots, I got this idea in my head to just grow my freelance job to a full time ~boutique design studio~ which is just a fancy word for it’s still just me freelancing but under a different name to make it seem bigger and more legit.
This time I was partnering up with my bff and hubby, Keal. We called it Kemy Studio and we advertised it as a full service studio because he can code and I can design. Boom! I suddenly created packaging and websites! I did get a lot of clients out of this, and loads of client stories that I will someday go into detail, but this is already kinda long, so I’ll link back when I write about that.
Before I realized, I got sucked into another vortex and ended up redesigning the Kemy site two times. I kept comparing myself to other small studios and just never felt like mine was enough, like I was enough. I tried to shove those thoughts to the side and focused on my clients and my work, but you see the thing about clients, is that they are all like mini bosses that you have to battle with to save the integrity of your designs. Don’t get me wrong, once in a while you get a great client who trusts you and your design knowledge, but most of the time it’s a battle to get them to understand why something will or won’t work.
I was still not making even half the money I used to make from my 9-5 (and that was like nothing), then I got this great idea to copy all those other bloggers who were selling e-books and courses! I remember we were in my hometown in México at a coffee shop and me and Keal were going over yet another website re-design. I wanted to include a section where we could make passive income through online courses and I was outlining what I wanted to sell. I distinctly remember dropping my pen, staring at a window for a while, turning to Keal and saying… I don’t want to do this. That was the first time I had been honest with myself.
At that point in my personal life, Keal had gotten a new job offer for a social startup in Phoenix, it paid good money and we were in need of a change. After a lot of back and forth and pro and con lists, we decided to give it a try and leave our beloved California. It gave me the chance to reevaluate my life and have a fresh start. I had learned the hard way to stop comparing myself to strangers on the internet, and to repeat to myself good for her, not for me. I didn’t want to become jealous of other women who were successful, I wanted to admire them and be happy for them. I don’t know their story, I don’t know their struggle or how they got to where they did, so I was going to stop focusing on them and focus on me and my own journey at my own pace.
Moving to Arizona was a complete culture shock for us and to be quite honest, we still yearn for California (which is probably why we go back to visit every chance we get), but it did give us the opportunity to purchase our very own town home where we have set up shop in our garage.
Now I’m at website number four and this time its totally me, it is nerve wracking to put myself out there but I’m doing things I like with no limits. I design what I want when I want and it makes me happy, I look at my site and I see myself, not someone else. I don’t know what the future has in store, but I’m happy for once. I wake up at 7am every day, I exercise, meditate, design, create things because I want to and I feel like I have finally found my groove.
I’m not saying my life is perfect. I’m constantly on a tight budget and still have freelance gigs on the side. But this time I did it for me, and I am enough.