I’m not good at quitting, so sometimes I just walk away and never look back.
This was my mentality as a young adolescent. I had two official paying jobs prior to becoming a graphic designer. I worked as an usher at a movie theatre and I got caught sneaking people into the movies for free which clearly had consequences. But after that day I never went back to work.
Next up, I was working at H&M for about 18 months. It was fun, flexible, and enjoyed the obvious discounts on clothes. Soon after my 17th month at the mall, I got presented an opportunity that would forever change my life and just like that, I quit my retail job in a heartbeat.
My cousin had a friend who had started a business in midtown, Manhattan and he needed some help. This is when I became a personal assistant to a CEO/creative. I was being run through the whirlwinds of being an assistant. However, to me, it was those years that I really built my foundation upon. From dealing with clients on a personal level to really befriending some of my colleagues I still keep in touch with today. Some of the duties and responsibilities were to cold call new businesses, potential clients, and do bookkeeping; which was dreadful because I’m not savvy with numbers. And to add to the stress, it was 2007 where there was no existence of QuickBooks/FreshBooks; only notebooks, pens, and plenty of whiteout. After 13 months I would then graduate to color coding magazines and begin to develop an eye for design, layout, and typography. It would be another 2 years of harassing clients about their bills and trying to convince strangers to do business with us and create new organized methods for an unorganized CEO.
It would be in the beginning of my third year where I got tired of doing the same thing and decided to pick up a book from a fellow designers table that he used as a level to have his monitor at eye level; he was tall. The book was called, “Photoshop 7 for Windows & Macintosh.” I took it home and I started reading it. The previous owner of the book had highlighted a bunch of chapters which made it more helpful. Shortly after, I began to stay late after work to practice on what I learned. Fast forward a few months; It was about 11 pm and I was at the office practicing a few techniques I had read about, and my boss was there because he loved burning the midnight oil. This is the story of my first design for a paying client. In comes this guy wearing a cheetah print fur coat with sunglasses on and a strong 5’oclock shadow with red shoes, it almost looked like he was sweating. He came in looking for another designer that he had worked with, but I had told him he was gone for the day. He asked if I could design something for him, so I turned around to my boss to see if he would take the job and my boss gave me the nod to just do it for him. My boss didn’t want to take the job, he must’ve been busy with a deadline or just saw him as someone he didn’t want to deal with. The guy comes close to my desk and grabs a chair and he starts telling me what he wanted, to my surprise he was a pimp who needed a new business card for his clientele. We worked on this design for about 45 minutes going over colors, fonts and the type of female image to put on the card. The final product was to his liking and he paid me $75. That was my first design and the first time I got paid for something that took me less than an hour. I immediately took the money and gave it to my boss, but he said, “that’s yours, keep it.” Suddenly I realized I could make some serious bank if I took on side clients and charged that fee per design.
It’s now 2010, I had a steady job with the same business and a handful of side clients that were predominantly high school and college friends that were now nightlife promoters/DJs/hosts etc. Business was booming, and I was collecting about $1500 a week on just side gigs alone.
With my full-time job still present, I became an exceptional designer and had quite the reputation with graphics for nightlife. I would design anywhere from 10-20 flyers a day for a variety of establishments and DJ’s local and abroad. However, the friends that were once the DJ’s and hosts of New York City’s nightlife soon after moved forward with different career paths, some even became designers and no longer needed my services. That meant no more extra income, and it was now time to sharpen my skills as a designer and work on becoming great and develop my own creative identity.
The company started working with many well-known brands and we were responsible for the look and feel of certain events or activations. I felt fortunate because this was the beginning platform where it allowed me to meet different creative individuals. I started to notice I was being part of business conversations where I just took in information, taking mental notes, and listening to people share their past failures in this business. The creative director began to build a new foundation of trust and reliability in me where I was given more responsibilities. I was now the senior designer, bookkeeper, office manager, hiring manager, client services, and social media manager.
I felt like nothing was impossible, but I was still not completely satisfied. I felt like the topic of getting a raise needed to be brought up. It would probably be one of the most fearful conversations I had yet to have being that I never needed to ask for one before. I felt like this whole time I was getting what I deserved but after speaking to different people in the industry I would learn that I was basically earning a salary for one job title when I was doing more than just designing. I finally had a sit down with the boss explaining why I deserved a better salary and fortunately for me, I got it.
It had been four years after my requested raise with now multiple conversations in the work of being promised that I would soon become a partner. It’s now 2015, and a total of 8 years with the company, I found myself starting to feel unmotivated to design and have little interest in certain projects. My devotion to the company would soon be questionable by not only clients that I once would give my full-time attention to, but to the creative director as well in which he noticed that something on my end had shifted. I was now 30 years old and I knew and felt that I needed to sprout elsewhere.
I stayed in the company for another two and half years and I knew I needed to leave now more than ever, I just didn’t know where to go or how I would even put this into play. I felt like I was holding back from ideas such as creating my own website displaying my work without the fear of my boss finding out. It wasn’t until the end of 2017 when I finally developed a plan to get myself out of this energy draining hole I was in. I began to use my LinkedIn network where I started creating a resume; my very first resume I might add. It’s now February 2018 and I began to attend recruiting interviews and started to become excited about the potential job I may land in this industry. This is where I got hit with some unreal info about salaries and how designers in my position are being paid. I was not only dumbfounded by the number, but the recruiters kept telling me you’re more than a designer, you’re a creative director – you have the experience and your work speaks for itself, you deserve this number and it was almost double of what I was making.
One night while on LinkedIn, I saw a posting for a social media art manager position for “XYZ.” I read the duties and responsibilities and I instantly gravitated towards it because it was literally everything I had done over the last 11 years. I crossed my fingers and began to prep myself for an interview being that it had been ages since I spoke about myself from a creative standpoint and speak through my work and experience. I practiced mostly with friends, but the conversations didn’t feel authentic and I didn’t know what kind of questions I was going to be asked. And so, moving forward I stopped practicing and decided that I would answer to the best of ability and be myself.
A week later I get an email reply from “XYZ” asking for a link to my portfolio and something in me knew that this was going to happen. I had already created a PDF with 3-4 pages of my personal work history I had done that would translate to the brand I was applying for. I went through 3 interviews: a design prompt: a written prompt. It only took 2 months for the overall process to be completed and in the end, they offered me a position I could not refuse. It was now the mid-June 2018, and I had to give my boss the most unexpected news he would receive to that day.
It was a Monday evening and the team of designers had already left for the day. I’ve practiced this talk in the mirror to myself for the past 2 weeks imagining every outcome of this talk, but it was now a reality and I felt invincible. The dialogue went something like this:
Me: hey can we speak?
Boss: yeah, what’s up (concerned face)
Me: I’ve been offered a job, and its one I cannot refuse
Boss: (sits down) ok, umm what’s the job?
Me: Its XYZ, to become the creative director of social media.
Boss: ok, how much are they paying?
Me: $XX a year.
Boss: ok, how much time do we have before you leave?
Me: 3 weeks, I want to help as much as possible thru this transition period.
Boss: ok, thank you.
Me: ok, I’ll see you tomorrow.
After this conversation, I felt a heavy weight being lifted off my shoulders with having only 15 days left before I embarked on this new journey. What made all of this feel even better was leaving for vacation right before starting the new job. I was the happiest I had ever been, and I felt so relieved to know the worst was over and I could now just help the team with everything they need to know to continue moving in a positive direction, without me.
With just 5 days of my employment remaining, my boss asks me to not share the news of my departure to anyone including clients and to not tell the team of designers as well. I was taken back at first, but I didn’t want to argue so I played along although I was secretly excited to share the news with the world.
My boss had a farewell lunch for me with the rest of the team, but it was his narration as to why I would be leaving and one I wasn’t comfortable with because now I had to lie to the staff, but once again I rolled with it. Luckily my last day fell on a Friday and I was leaving to Mexico for vacation. I couldn’t have been more excited with an abundance of emotions. I kept getting more news and information about my new job about the whole onboarding process. I have never been happier filling out so many forms and documents.
Today, I’m proudly the creative director for XYZ. It’s been 6 months since I started, and it’s been nothing but an adventure. I have my own design team that I spearhead. I’m a design leader and I feel like I am the guiding light for my younger designers. I delegate projects and speak to my team as much as possible to make sure I don’t commit the same mistakes my mentor did with me. I look over certain social activations as well as lend my creative expertise with photo shoots and printing of special materials. This is only the beginning of a new chapter and I look forward to continuing writing my experiences and breaking them down into lessons and tips for fellow designers trying to break into the creative space.