My Journey: From Doodler to Designer
I never really considered myself “artsy” or creative. I was athletic. My brother was known as the smart one and I was known as the athlete. My dream was to play college softball and I never really considered what I would do after that. I must have assumed life as I knew it would be complete once I reached my goal.
Thinking back now, I guess I have always been a little bit creative. I loved to doodle and draw from a young age.
When I was three, I painted my mom’s vacuum cleaner with white out. The entire thing. A few years later I gave the underside of our butcher block a nice makeover—it included our home address and a lovely flower, drawn with sharpie. I remember getting in trouble often for drawing on myself, too.
Like I said, I didn’t put much thought into what I wanted to be when I grew up, but once I started college I was kind of forced into deciding. I didn’t decide to become a designer overnight. My journey to where I am today was both unconventional and unpredictable.
I spent my first two years at a Junior college—where I did play softball. I somehow decided to major in interior design and to this day, I have no idea how or why I chose that as my major.
As you probably know, you typically take basics the first two years of college, so I didn’t take many classes pertaining to my major in Interior Design.
After my sophomore year, I transferred to a four-year school—Texas Tech University. Upon visiting their interior design program, I learned if I wanted to pursue this degree I would have to take four more years of school. I didn’t want to waste the 60-something credit hours I already earned, so I decided to choose another major. (This may seem silly to some of you, but it turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise)
I switched my major to advertising.
I started taking classes in advertising and at first I really enjoyed it. I remember one class in particular in which we watched a lot of Mad Men, which was both enjoyable and surprisingly educational.
I loved the emotion and design aspects of advertising, but I did not enjoy creating catchy slogans and pitching commercial or advertisement ideas. I didn’t want to write the content, I just wanted to design the ads. I was pretty sure advertising was not for me.
So I started exploring my options.
I considered photography. I had been taking a photography class as an elective and really enjoyed it. I was able to purchase my first DSLR camera and was intrigued by pursuing a career as a photographer.
Unfortunately, Texas Tech didn’t offer a degree in Photography. Or a degree in Graphic Design, but I discovered they offered a degree in agricultural communications.
The communications aspect covered the gamut of my interests. I would be able to take classes on photography, writing, public relations and several classes on graphic design. And I had a background in agriculture, so it seemed like the perfect fit.
So I switched majors again and decided to do an internship for class credit.
It was an internship with a successful local photographer who ran her own photography business. And she just so happened to be my best friend/roommate’s sister.
I worked beside her for 6 months selecting and editing photos from her photoshoots and weddings. l also had a front-row seat to see how she ran her business.
My decision to take that internship was hands-down the best decision I could have made.
I learned so much about photography, design, entrepreneurship and life in general during that time.
When I think back, I truly believe sometime during those 6 months is when I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I loved the idea of creating a life I would love and not being tied down to an office 8 hours a day.
Soon after I graduated college I got married. I had a hard time finding a job, so I started doing some freelance work. I did photoshoots for friends and family, as well as a few design jobs here and there. I discovered photo shoots were not my favorite thing, but I really enjoyed doing design. I picked up a few more design clients and began teaching myself the Adobe design programs.
A few months later, my husband was offered a job in Washington, D.C. and off we went.
After several months of job hunting and working a retail job I hated, I finally landed an internship as a designer for a non-profit.
I was so excited to be designing.
I was inexperienced, but I had more than enough passion and determination.
I worked my way from intern to full-time designer and loved it. I had fabulous coworkers, worked for a company that was family-oriented and had great benefits. I liked that I was getting to design new and exciting things, but something was off.
It wasn’t the dream I had pictured.
The desire within me to be my own boss grew and grew. As time went on, I started getting the Sunday blues—which are a very real thing—and I dreaded going to work everyday. It wasn’t fulfilling.
I decided to start working on my dream to be an entrepreneur.
I opened an Etsy shop and started selling products on the side. I sold things like Christmas cards, graduation announcements, baby and bridal shower invitations. People started buying and it was exciting! I finally had an outlet to design whatever I wanted and people liked my designs.
That was the start of it. It began to scratch the itch.
Then in September 2015 I attended a conference called Circles in Grapevine, Texas. It was a conference for creatives—designers, photographers, etc.—and most of the speakers at the conference were freelancers or business owners.
I was so inspired by all the people around me “living the dream” that when I came home from the trip I decided to set a goal.
I told my husband, “One year from now I’m going to be full-time freelance.”
In September 2015 I set a goal that by September 1, 2016 I would work for myself.
The first thing I did was buy a book about freelancing—suggested by the photographer I interned for in college.
I started researching all the things I needed to know and do before I could reach my goal.
I purchased a domain name, photographed my best portfolio pieces, arranged for a photographer to snap a professional headshot, wrote my “about me” and launched my website.
Casi Long Design was becoming a reality.
Then came the hardest part: continuing to work my full-time job with the intention of taking my business full-time.
This is likely the phase several of you are in right now and I know it is HARD.
It’s hard to stay focused at your full-time job. It’s hard not to tell your coworkers you want to leave. It’s hard to work all day and go home just to work all night on your freelance work. It’s hard to be exhausted all the time, but it would be even harder to let your dream sit and wither so of course you keep pushing. No matter how much time and effort it takes, you keep working.
A few months into the process, I realized something.
I realized I could only take on so much freelance work because there were only so many hours in a day.
I was working my full-time job from 9-6 everyday, going home to eat dinner with my husband, fulfilling my prior obligations and trying to sleep enough to be functional. The remaining hours left for client work was limited.
Not to mention I felt like my client work was getting leftover energy since I was so worn out.
I also realized I wasn’t able to market my services and attract clients without letting everyone at my full-time job know I was trying to leave. Social media can be a blessing and a curse.
I felt dishonest and deceitful.
Everyone always tells you to grow your client base to the point where you have enough work to quit your day job. What they don’t tell you is it’s really hard to do that—and do it well—while working a day job.
So I made a decision.
I decided to quit my day job before I had a large client base.
Before you gasp and shake your finger at me, I knew my husband’s income would sustain us and we had enough saved up to live for several months even if I had zero income.
I knew this way I could devote all my attention to growing my business and doing client work without being distracted by my other job. I knew I could wake up everyday and look forward to going to work. I knew I would feel at peace knowing I wasn’t lying or keeping anything from my coworkers.
I knew at some point I would have to take a leap of faith and pray the Lord would catch me.
So I lept.
I gave my boss 6-weeks notice and the rest is history. I officially started working as a full-time entrepreneur on June 14, 2016—three months before my deadline.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I haven’t, for one second, regretted it.
Everyone’s story is different and what works for some, may not work for others. But don’t think the safest option is always the best option for you. Trust your gut and take a leap, because every once in awhile, you may just land on your feet.