We’re interviewing Millennials who have been successful doing what they love. Today, we’re featuring Sara Reitenbach, a graphic designer.
Sara’s occupation is a “graphic designer” but she defines herself as something more than that. “On a personal level I’m an artist, which is why I do graphic design – it’s who I am. And that’s why I decided to do it.” Creating art comes out of her as a person, not just something to do for money.
Nowadays Sara is working full time as a graphic designer, both as an employee in an Atlanta-based company, and as a freelancer…and she loves it. She works remotely, which translates to anywhere there’s coffee. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But really, Sara is just a normal person like you and me. So how did she land a job she loves that is so in line with her passions and talents?
Just because Sara has some incredibly marketable skills doesn’t mean it’s always been rainbows and butterflies. “I grew up in a family where I had to work. I started at Hershey Park working in food service and moved up into management.” She says she owes her ability to work with people (even people she didn’t like) to her time at Hershey. “It also taught me how to work hard and that you can grow in a job even if it isn’t glamorous.” In other words – you can learn valuable skills in any job.
“You can grow in a job even if it isn’t glamorous.”
Through college, Sara worked at a chain retail store to pay her bills. She wanted to make sure that she used her opportunity at a college education to the best of her ability. She was focused on getting a stable job with a ladder to move up on.
So she graduated college and got a job that fulfilled all the things she was looking for. Graphic design, a ladder to move up on, a decent salary and benefits. Pretty good for a job right out of college right?
But even though that job fit the bill for what a lot of people might call “success,” it wasn’t fulfilling for her. Suddenly what many define as being successful didn’t feel like everyone says it’s supposed to feel. So she left. She left because she wanted to get back to her roots and figure out what she actually wanted in a career. She needed to figure out what she was actually passionate about.
“You can learn valuable skills in any job, even ones you hate.”
But she still says that might be the most important job she ever had. It helped her redefine what she wanted to pursue in life. And even though it wasn’t everything she hoped and dreamed of, it taught her essential skills that would help her thrive in other jobs. “You can learn valuable skills in any job, even ones you hate.” For Sara, she learned to take ownership of her work. She developed the ability to complete projects under tight deadlines. “A lot of people say, ‘I’m in this job that I hate and that means this job is terrible and I can’t learn anything from it, and I don’t think that’s true.” And here’s her best nugget of wisdom, “It’s good to fight for the ideal workplace but you’re always going to have to deal with people.” Your job is never going to be perfect, because people are the worst, so learn to deal.
“It’s good to fight for the ideal workplace but you’re always going to have to deal with people.”
A Notch Down on the “Success Ladder”
Despite knowing that her job wasn’t where she wanted to be, it still felt like a step back when she left. Especially when you’ve had an idea of what success is, it’s hard to leave it and pursue something else. “In the end I knew I didn’t want to do what I was doing. Sometimes you have to do things you’re not comfortable with or are too proud to do.”
Let’s face it, our pride keeps us from doing a lot of things. Maybe we don’t even realize it, but leaving a full-time job to work in retail and start your own business isn’t easy. Sure, the hopeful end-result seems pretty glamorous – making your own hours, working at a coffee shop, being your own boss – but getting there takes work.
Networking, Time, and WORK
Getting started as a freelancer relied a whole lot on networking. The people skills she’d developed in her other jobs helped her create a whole group of people that referred new clients to her. And it worked! “I just got to the point where I was working 10 hours a day for freelance and 6 at retail. It was important to me so I just did it…and also because I had bills. It took a lot of hard work and very little sleep.”
Soon she was able to quit her retail job and go full-time with her freelancing – another big step. Now she’s working as a salaried employee for a small team based in Atlanta and continuing her freelance work on the side. She’s doing work she loves, work that challenges her and grows her skill set.
If you’re unhappy in your job, quit.
“Part of the reason we get locked in a job we don’t like is because it’s not challenging. As soon as I got comfortable [in my corporate job] I got in a rut and I didn’t want to do anything.”
I asked Sara what advice she would give someone in a job they hate and it was pretty simple. She said, “Pursue who you are as a person and your goals in life and it will work out.” If you have to pursue your passions as a side job, do it. If it means working somewhere you don’t like to pay your bills, do it. And what’s more, challenge yourself. “Part of the reason we get locked in a job we don’t like is because it’s not challenging. As soon as I got comfortable [in my corporate job] I got in a rut and I didn’t want to do anything.” Most of us can’t quit a job we hate because we have responsibilities and bills. But we do need to be willing to do the work to find other sources of income so you can take the leap to quit.
“Can’t” or “Won’t”?
I’ve been around a lot of entrepreneurs. Successful ones, not so successful ones, those who tried and tried and tried and then were successful, and all of them have one thing in common: they’re lifelong learners. These people will rarely tell you they “can’t” do something. If they don’t know how to do it, they figure it out. Which was Sara’s pet-peeve and personal motto, “If there’s something you don’t know how to do, you can make it happen. Google is my best friend. Things change so we have to evolve with them. Just because you can’t do something doesn’t mean you’re incapable of doing it.”
That’s right, stop getting in your own way, put the excuses to bed, and figure it out.
What I took away from my time with Sara.
Sara’s interview challenged me. It challenged me to drop the excuses and figure it out. It reminded me that people don’t magically become “successful”, they put in a lot of time, effort, and mistakes. In Sara’s case, it was years of hard work, and one determined step to leave comfort behind and figure out what she was actually passionate about.
A lot of entrepreneur types put off this cocky, selfish aura. As a result, a lot of us have gotten the idea that we have to be that way to be successful in business. That you’ve got to be out for yourself if you want to win. But Sara isn’t like that at all. She’s nice, she’s considerate of other people, and she’s super talented to boot. “My work isn’t about me. It’s the client’s project. So my job is as a visual problem-solver.” In other words, you don’t have to be a self-absorbed jerk to be successful. You have to work hard, serve others, and doggedly pursue what you love doing.
Want to hire Sara? (Trust me, you should.)
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org