When Burned-out by Work, One Woman Found Balance in the Freelance: Kate on Work/Life/Passion Balance
Gosh, I am overwhelmingly excited to introduce Kate to all of you. An incredible human being who not only is insanely talented but just all around the best. Seriously the best. She moved to Richmond which I don’t love, but I still love her. Without further ado… Kate!
Hi! Who are you?! What do you do?
Hi! I’m Kate. I’m a creative director & graphic designer currently working for my own design company, Camp Studios, as well as at a full-time freelance gig for a big financial services company.
Work/Life/Passion Balance, what’s your method?
I didn’t so much find balance as I toppled head first into it (plus, if you’ve ever seen me do yoga, you know from one tree pose that balance isn’t one of my natural abilities). I worked for many, many years for many, many hours a week fueled purely by a passion for good design and a fear of disappointing others (clients, managers, teammates, my parents — you name it). Then one day, after a particularly ugly 36 hour stretch of work building an app we hated by that point, where we’d only been back to our apartments to shower, I tried to send the designers home, saying I could finish up. And the response I got was “If you’re doing it, we’re doing it.” And that’s when it whacked me right in the face: I’m setting a TERRIBLE example! What am I really teaching these designers whom I adore and cherish? That jumping to every unreasonable demand was more important than our health and wellbeing?
And that was really it. That was the tipping point of a long-simmering, rarely-acknowledged sensation of: there’s more to both life and work than this. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a designer any more, it was that I realized that being a designer on my own terms was infinitely more attractive. So, in fairly quick succession, my husband and I decided to do the following things: quit our jobs, start our own design firm, move out of Brooklyn and down to Richmond and, in between moves, take the entire summer off and live at the beach to regroup and recoup. It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time.
That was just over a year ago, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It certainly wasn’t without second-guesses and stumbles along the way, but on the whole, I’m so much happier now than I ever have been. Right now I’m balancing fairly well my fulltime freelance gig (read: dependable paycheck) and working on half a dozen clients of my own. It helps that good design is my passion, so work and passion bleed together and make the longer hours ok. I also have a much healthier attitude towards the amount of time I should spend on a project; it was liberating to finally realize that some of the things I was killing myself over went largely unnoticed by the client. Now I can decide whether I want to put in that extra two hours on a detail that will ultimately make me satisfied and proud of the work, or if it’s something I’m ok letting go.
Overall, what has helped balance me the most is putting my time and energies into the things that matter. In the last year, we moved states, took a two-month vacation, started a business, got married, bought a house and (juuust under the wire) got pregnant. I can’t say I necessarily want every year to be full of such massive changes, but I have a sense of momentum and accomplishment that helps generate the desire to keep growing and trying new things. I’m not even that stressed about the huge changes the baby will inevitably bring (she says optimistically). Talk to me in a year, though.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Definitely not a designer or artist. I took art classes here and there but I certainly wasn’t an “art kid.” I was certain I was going to be a lawyer—I even went into college as a pre-law major. It wasn’t until I saw my roommate’s (a graphic design major) classes that I thought, “hey, that looks fun.” So I signed up for an intro to graphic design class my second semester and never looked back.
The best part is, when I called my parents to let them know I was switching majors, there was a long pause and they replied “Thank god you figured it out! We always knew you should be in the arts.” That was a huge relief (my folks are the best). Plus, I like to think that I’m always creating a solid, rational, evidence-based case when I present work to the client, so that’s how to work in some of that lawyer-y stuff.
Now that you’re pretty much a grown-up, what do you think you’re going to be when you grow up?
I’ll always be a designer. It’s in my heart and brain and soul and hands. With luck and hard work, our company will grow into something that will be sustainable for our family and allow me to achieve a great balance of work and motherhood.
Thanks for chatting! Where can folks find more info about you?
Our company site is http://www.heycamp.com, and our twitter handle is @camp_studios.
Anything else you want to share?
One article and one book resonated strongly with me around the time I was deciding to make all these big changes: “Why Designers Leave” on medium.com and (don’t gag at the title, it IS self-helpy but totally worth reading) “Choose Yourself” by James Altucher.
And this will always and forever be my go-to moment of zen: YouTube
half dozen clients by yourself is no easy feat. Thanks for the inspiration today and the book recommendation.