A Personal Journey in Careers and Confidence: My Experience at Designer VACA

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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.

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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.

The Week in Pictures: 9.27.13 | Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

On Monday, We Are Branch launched. It had been a longtime dream of mine to run a boutique design studio and I was done waiting — the time finally felt right. Thanks to all of you who have added us on Twitter, Instagram, sent us sweet emails and cheered us on. It’s always scary launching a new project, not knowing what the response will be so your support has been hugely appreciated.

Two hours after we pushed the Branch site live, I boarded a flight with Joey and Rocky bound for LA to meet with clients. On Wednesday, we headed for Malibu — I’d never been before and it was even more beautiful than I’d imagined.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Thursday morning, we hit the road, Palm Springs-bound for the annual Designer VACA retreat, which is held at the Ace. I attended last year as well and it was the catalyst I needed at the time — it sparked a lot of the big shifts in my businesses that have happened since. Spending a few days at the Ace has been a welcome chance to recharge, connect with friends I only see once a year and to also catch up with fellow branchee, Star, who’s my roomie here.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

The lobby of the Ace is purposely very much stuck in the 70s but I love it. Getting away from everyday life and switching up the scenery and routines you’re used to is hugely inspiring.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Today, I spoke on a panel about personal branding, which was perfect since I’ve just transitioned my design business, including a fresh brand, site and process. My panel mates included a trio of designers I adore and have immense respect for: Eva Black, Emma Robertson and Megan Gilger. Hearing other creatives’ personal journeys and the hows and whys behind their current business ventures is so inspiring.

This retreat is such a breath of fresh air and no topics are off-limits. It’s a welcoming atmosphere that allows for learning and collaborations with no judgement. We have one more packed day of talks tomorrow and I’m looking forward to digging in and soaking it all up.

The Week in Pictures: Palm Springs

Of course, hiding out in Palm Springs isn’t all work and no play — we spent our afternoon break by the pool soaking up the rays and talking shop. I’ll have more photos and insights on the retreat next week. Thanks for following along on this week’s adventures and I hope you have an awesome weekend!

Livin’ It Up In London With The Blogcademy!

The Blogcademy London

After an epic week-long adventure through two Greek islands, it was time to get back to work. We landed on London soil on a Wednesday night in early September and set our alarms for 6 a.m. sharp Thursday morning. After many flights and boat rides, it was a rude awakening but absolutely necessary to have enough time to set up our venue for the 10 am start.

The Blogcademy London

The Blogcademy London

Once we got into the swing of things and made a Starbucks pit-stop on our way to the tube, we began to snap out of our Grecian slumber.

The Blogcademy London

We’d originally booked one workshop, which gave us a few days off between Greece and London. But, when that class quickly sold out, we launched another and the only time we could sneak it in was before the first!

The Blogcademy London

After teaching two back-to-back classes in January at the gorgeous while-walled wonderland that is Curtain Road Studios in Shoreditch, we knew we wanted to head back — if it’s good enough for Tim Walker, it’s good enough for us!

The Blogcademy London

London blows me away every time. We’ve now done four classes in the city and the London girls take their blogging very seriously. Always a stylish, eccentric bunch, they ask the most questions, take the most photos and travel hours for our meet-ups. It’s always intense and inspiring for me to watch.

The Blogcademy London

Also intense and inspiring to watch? AND a little bit scary?! During one of our breaks, Kat and Gala climbed up a rickety old ladder to Curtain Road’s rooftop. I stood underneath, afraid that the ladder would give out and that I’d have to finish the class on my own. Haha!

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Link Love: 9.26.13

link love

Link Love

• Do you suffer from the the fear of missing out? I know I do! It’s hard to ignore what everyone else is doing with social media at our fingertips.

• Agency vets share their top tips for surviving.

• 7 ways to grow your email list.

• Are you guilty of hate reading the social media accounts of people you can’t stand?

• 11 ways to create a life you don’t need to escape.

• Hairstylist to the stars, Oribe has a pretty amazing story of how he got started in the business.

• Breanna Rose designed a pretty and free floral iPhone wallpaper.

• Anna just found the holy grail of mascaras.

• As a small business owner, there are going to be times where you get knocked down.

• 10 ideas for square photos.


Photo: Kate Moss by Mert and Marcus for Interview.
View more Link Love columns here.

H&M Home Part 2: More Wallet Friendly Finds

H&M Home Part 2

When H&M’s home line launched on their site last month, I rejoiced at all of their stylish offerings and went a little nuts, ordering a bundle of goodies. Best of all, everything that showed up on my doorstep looked exactly as it had on the website and was of decent quality, considering the ridiculously affordable prices. My favorite items in my last order? These subway ticket towels and this espresso mug.

At this point, after living in my house for four years, the major construction projects are nearing an end but overall, it still is lacking some style. There’s a reason why I tend to only show the same three rooms on my blog — the others still need some oomph and I’m no interior designer!

H&M Home Part 2

I’ve been looking for some odds and ends to spice things up around my place. Over the weekend, I took a peek on the H&M site once again and they’ve made a bunch of new additions. Here’s a few I’ve added to my must have list: 1. Egg Cup, 2. Tray, 3. Vase, 4. Tea Towel, 5. Plate, 6. Metal Tin, 7. Glass Vase, 8. Candle Holder, 9. Hangers, 10. Candle and 11. Table Runner.

Have you ordered anything from H&M Home yet? What did you think?