I used to wake up each weekday morning with a sense of dread. Another 1 hour commute. Another 8 hours of mind-numbingly boring work. Another 1 hour commute again. Another evening that I couldn’t really enjoy because I was going to have to get up the next day and do it all over again.
I was “living the dream”. I had a young family, a house in a “good” suburb, an expensive car, a career, a secure 9-5 job. I had everything that I thought I’d ever wanted. But I was MISERABLE.
There was nothing particularly wrong with my life. My job was boring but it wasn’t awful. I just couldn’t shake this overwhelming feeling that surely there had to be more to life than repeating that same unfulfilling week over and over again for 40+ years. My workmates were just as unhappy as I was. The older ones absolutely hated their jobs, and I was following the exact same path that they had. I felt like I was seeing my future and that made me really sad.
The turning point came when I was 24 years old. It was the week before I was supposed to start a 5 year accounting degree. I really wasn’t that interested in accounting, but completing the course meant that I’d be paid twice as much for the job that I was already doing, and I’d have regular paid time off work to study and do assignments. And, most importantly, everyone in my life thought it was a great idea. Back then, I used to do what other people thought I should do because I didn’t trust my own judgement.
Three nights a week I’d have to race home from work, pick up my car and drive another hour to get to uni, but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be so bad, and it would be worth it in the end. All because I’d be making more money! I was going to do this for 5 whole years purely for more money!
My heart was begging me not to do it.
For many years I’d wanted to be a graphic designer. As soon I finished high school I started to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in graphic design and marketing, but I didn’t enjoy the design subjects (mostly just art history and basic Photoshop skills that I’d already taught myself!) so I decided to change my majors to journalism and creativity writing. But then I left uni when I was only half way through the course. After that I worked all kinds of jobs ranging from retail and telesales, to cleaning and hospitality. I even spent 6 months working as a makeup artist despite not even wearing makeup myself! Eventually I went back to uni and started working for a wholesale food supplier. I worked my way up until I somehow ended up with a career in finance.
I found working in finance to be incredibly boring, and I still really wanted to be a graphic designer. I had an entire draw full of brochures for graphic design courses, but it just wasn’t practical. An entry-level design job wasn’t going to pay my mortgage!
Day one of my accounting course started to get close and closer, and the overwhelming sense of dread became so strong I felt like I was going to suffocate. A voice in my head told me that I HAD TO go online and have another look at design courses. So I did, and I immediately found a design course that was just about to start. It was the Diploma of Graphic Design at the Southbank Institute of Technology. It was 3 nights a week and it was a only a 5 minute walk from my workplace, giving me time to finish work, have dinner and walk to class.
I un-enrolled from the accounting course and enrolled in the design course. It sounds simple enough, but at the time it felt like the most terrifying and risky thing I had ever done in my life!
The design industry is REALLY competitive, so I felt like I was throwing away a lucrative career with great job security, to try to make it in an industry where I was likely to fail!
My (now ex) partner didn’t support the idea, my friends didn’t support the idea – even I didn’t support the idea! Well meaning people told me that I shouldn’t throw away a promising accounting career. They told me I was too old to change careers (I was only 24!), they told me that the design industry was too competitive and I’d never make it. But I listened to my heart and enrolled anyway.
This time around I absolutely LOVED studying graphic design. I’d always struggled academically, but I breezed through the course, getting top marks easily, because the way the classes were structured suited my learning style perfectly.
After the first couple of semesters I quit my day job so that I could study full time. I went back to hospitality (something I swore I’d never do!) because it meant I could work at night and attend classes during the day. I was also doing volunteer graphic design and admin work, which enabled me to start getting freelance design work through word-of-mouth. I was so happy!
And then my partner was fired.
And then I was fired.
We started powering through our savings and missing mortgage payments. I needed to find another job and I needed to find one FAST. I was told that it was “impossible” to get a graphic design job without at least a Diploma level qualification and a really good portfolio, and I didn’t have either, but I started to apply for every entry-level graphic design I could find.
And I got an interview! It was at a digital agency and I was so thrilled to even just be considered for the position!
I went to the interview and I was so nervous I couldn’t stop shaking. I fumbled over the interview questions. My portfolio was awful (looking back at it now I cringe!). The interviewers told me that it needed work, but they could see that I had potential. I thought that there was no way that I’d actually get the job.
But I did!
My new bosses were keen for me to keep studying, so they were happy for me to work around my timetable. Being a part-time entry-level design job, it didn’t pay very much, but I didn’t care. I was lucky enough to get a second job working at a night club, and I was freelancing too. I was VERY busy but I didn’t care – I was so happy!
My partner got a new job too, and we were able to pay our mortgage again.
Time passed and I was promoted to a full time Graphic & Web Design role at the same agency. I absolutely loved it! I did printed design, as well as digital design and website design. If I had any spare time I’d ask the other members of the team if they needed help with anything, so I ended up learning web development, and SEO, and project management! All skills that I still use to this day!
Even though I loved working there, I was offered what I thought was a better job, so I left. Big mistake! The “better job” was anything but, so I quit after just a week! I couldn’t believe it, I was working in a highly competitive industry and I’d just quit two jobs in the space of a month! I was so upset. And I needed to find a new job ASAP!
At the time, I was doing an advertising course in the evenings, so I asked my teacher and classmates for advice. They suggested I apply for jobs in marketing. They said my skills as a designer would be considered so valuable employers might be willing to train me on the marketing side. So I applied for every marketing job that I could find, and they were right! I got a job working in the marketing department at a cosmetics company.
This job was NOT a good fit for me! Everyone else at the company was into mainstream fashion and makeup and they loved the Kardashians. I couldn’t believe I’d somehow ended up with a second job in the makeup industry when I didn’t even wear makeup! It makes me sad to think that I spent a year working in a job where I didn’t fit in, when someone else would’ve absolutely loved that job.
I was primarily hired for my graphic design skills, but when I wasn’t designing, it was my job to help the rest of the marketing team with whatever they needed. This was fantastic because I got to learn about sales and marketing, running an ecommerce store, and wholesaling.
The job was only part-time, but it paid just enough to cover my fixed expenses so I decided to use the opportunity to start freelancing. I’d always planned to eventually make freelancing my full time job, but I was really scared of not having the security of a regular income, and I was stuck in the mindset that I “needed” to have a 9-5 job.
As you can probably guess, freelancing did work out for me in the end, and I’ve now been self-employed for the last 5 years!
I did need to do to some serious mindset work and get over some BIG money blocks, and it took a lot of hours and hard work in the beginning. But I got there and I’ve never looked back!
Being a freelance graphic designer has completely transformed my life.
Because I’m no longer locked into a 9-5 job and I can work anywhere in the world, I have the freedom to travel. In my first few years of freelancing, I was able to do volunteer work in Nepal, travel around England and Europe (the photo above is from when I went to Disneyland in Paris!), and take a month off work to prepare for my wedding and then take a month-long honeymoon travelling around South-East Asia!
Now that I’m a mum, I’m able to work around my daughter’s schedule. When she was a baby I was able to work from home while she slept and nursed. Now that has become unmanageable, I use part-time childcare and work during her day naps and after she goes to sleep at night.
I’m also able to use my design skills to support causes that I really care about. I do free and low-cost graphic design work for human rights, animals rights, environmental and vegan advocacy groups and activists.
I’m also in the very fortunate position to be able to be fussy about the clients that I work with, so I choose to work with businesses and NFPs that are doing good. People that value ethics and sustainability over making a quick dollar.
The highlight of my job is definitely my clients. Instead of working in an office with a group of miserable women that hate their jobs, I now get to work with women that I really passionate about what they do. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with the loveliest people, many of whom I now consider my friends, and I love being able to help them grow their businesses.
And it’s all because I make one scary decision that completely changed my life!