I just returned from Designer VACA, an annual retreat that brings together female graphic designers and web developers, many of which freelance and own small businesses. Founded in 2012 by Promise Tangeman and Alyssa Yuhas, it is one part vacation and one part creative seminar, with panels throughout the weekend on subjects ranging from refining creative processes to establishing the often illusive work-life balance.
I was invited along for its incarnation in 2012 and I remember feeling extremely anxious when I opened that email. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go but because I felt intimidated. I read through the details and arrived at the bottom, which listed all the other women who had been invited. I didn’t know a single one in person but I had been reading many of their blogs for years. Having the chance to meet this group of peers face-to-face for the first time both excited and terrified me. I held off on responding for three days.
Finally, I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to gather with other female designers in person and that I was letting fear get in the way. I signed up.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that I was intimidated because I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be in my career. I had known that I needed to make some big changes but carving out the time to sort through my goals and having the courage to follow through with them still felt a ways off. I was confident in my design abilities but not with everything else beyond that.
Both one of my biggest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m always seeking perfection. Often, when I am showing up for a workshop or retreat, I create a mindset where I want everything to be perfect: my elevator pitch, website, wardrobe and business cards need to be sorted. But that’s just not realistic — we all live busy lives with major commitments, whether that’s to our family, friends or jobs and those things often come first before our businesses. Carving out the time to achieve a sense of perfection that doesn’t really exist anyway just sounds ridiculous.
What I realized when I arrived at the retreat in 2012 is that I wasn’t alone — a lot of us were in transition. Many of the women were younger than I was and carving out niches as brand new business owners. Just like me, many of them were trying to figure out their next steps career-wise. I had to get over my own ego, put my guard down and realize that I wasn’t by myself. Staying up into the wee hours poolside with women I’d admired online for so long really put things into perspective — we shared a lot of the same struggles. It’s easy to present a curated image online but in reality, many of us were still trying to find our way.
I showed up to Designer VACA in 2012 in a huge state of transition and I wasn’t sure how anything was going to pan out. Just a month before, my two friends and I had announced our first Blogcademy date in New York. Even though it sold out in six days, we still had a mountain of work to do with regards to the workbook design and presentation. I had just been offered a huge print feature in an issue of Computer Arts on my way to the retreat. And, I was just starting to realize that it was impossible to keep the pace with my design career on top of other commitments.
A few of the women in that first year’s retreat including Bri and Kathleen had already expanded with staff beyond themselves and hearing them talk about their studios really inspired me. After all, I enjoyed working in teams at agencies a whole lot more than working alone every day. These conversations with other women creatives planted the seeds and showed me what was possible.
This year, I arrived at Designer VACA finally feeling like the person I’d struggled so hard to be last year: in control of what I wanted, confident enough to follow through and finally okay with accepting that running my businesses(es) full-time is full of a lot of unknowns. I now realize that things happened as they were supposed to and that you can’t rush your creative journey. I needed agency experience to become the designer I wanted to be and I needed to meet certain people along the way to make Branch possible. All the pieces required to run my businesses were there; I just needed a catalyst like Designer Vaca to inspire me to take charge.
If you’re interested in attending Designer VACA next year, you can sign up for the mailing list to be notified of ticket sales right here.