Thank you to Famous Footwear for kindly sponsoring this post. This post also contains affiliate links, which help pay for the upkeep of this site. That being said, I will never, ever promote anything I am not 100% in love with!
I've never told my story publicly. It's hard for me to talk about things this personal. But when Famous Footwear asked me to be part of their #StepForward campaign I decided it was time. I hope that my story will show other women that there is always opportunity to change your path, no matter how old you are, how broke, or how scared.
Growing up with a single mom, and very little money, I watched her struggle to give my sister and I every opportunity — even if it meant paying for ballet class with handfuls of change, or hitchhiking to get into town when the car was broken down. Of course she never let us know how tight money was or how often she went without to provide for us.
I am so incredibly thankful for her, and the childhood I had. I was loved, and it made me independent, ambitious, and determined to make my own way in the world and always have enough money to support myself comfortably.
So I got myself to college, paying my way by working 40+ hours a week at a local supermarket while studying full-time, got good grades, took internships, and found myself a corporate job before I'd even graduated. I wasn't taking any chances.
For almost 17 years I worked my way up through corporate life at big defense contractors, management consulting and legal firms, then moved into consumer electronics and the tech industry. I saved, I went back to school and got my Masters while working full time, then another degree, then another. I never stopped learning, working, saving. There were jobs where I traveled for seven months of the year, jobs where I worked over 100 hours a week for months on end, and certainly times where I slept in the office when there were deadlines to be met. I shared houses with lots of other (sometimes horrible) people to keep my rent low so I could pay off all my school debts, I never bought anything I couldn't pay for in cash, and I started side hustles along the way. I did wedding photography on weekends, joined dance troupes and performed at events, and worked the 9pm to 4am shift at cocktail bars so I could still get up in time for my day job.
In my mid thirties I'd consider myself pretty successful, and say 'I'd made it'. I was running a department for a billion dollar consumer brand, and killing it. I was married to the love of my life, living in a big house, driving a BMW, and had no debt. But something had started to change, and I wasn't really very happy.
I'd only begun exploring my creativity a couple of years before, and I was finding more and more joy not only in painting and illustrating but in being a part of the creative community. I found myself getting an almost physical itch if I hadn't had time to make anything in a few days, and the achievements in my corporate life seemed less and less important to me. I daydreamed about being an artist and illustrator full time, but something inside screamed at me that I had to earn lots of money or I'd find myself back in my childhood, scrounging for change in the back of the sofa. I was too scared to take my dream seriously.
Then our lives changed overnight. The company that both my husband and I worked for (and had just been promoted at) downsized in a big, and very unexpected way. The whole executive team was gone in one hit, almost everyone at a Director level and above was marched out without any notice, hand-over, or chance to say good-bye. Our whole world was turned upside down in a day. We went from having VERY good salaries to being a zero-income family.
My husband, who was on a work visa, sponsored by the company, had to go back to Australia immediately, while I stayed behind wondering how to sell everything we owned, the house we'd just bought, our cars, to pack up our lives and go back to Australia. We'd moved countries for this company, we'd given up our lives, friends, family, and worked tirelessly for them for years. I just kept thinking, how could they do this to us?
To top it off we'd just found out I was eight weeks pregnant with our first baby. I'll never know if it was biology or all the stress and heartbreak from that time, but I miscarried. It completely devastated me.
Since the day we met, my husband and I had never been apart for more than a week or two, so the months that we had to spend on other sides of the world was horrible. We were having trouble seeing a way forward, but we never stopped trying, brainstorming, coming up with alternate plans and ideas. Then a close friend here in the US stepped in and sponsored my husband's visa to come and work for his company. It was a fraction of the money we had been used to, and I still wasn't working, but it was something. I was getting my husband back.
For the next few months I worked hard to build up my own consulting business from home, while my husband commuted from Colorado to San Diego every second week for work. I was just so done with working in the corporate world and having to report to short-sighted people with no vision, who didn't share my drive, or appreciated how much work their teams put in to make them look good. I started crafting the life I wanted. Fewer clients, cutting our living experiences so I could work less hours and have more opportunities to work with people I really wanted to help ... other creatives. I wanted to use my years of experience to help other people like me make a living being creative, on their own terms.
Miraculously we got pregnant again. But instead of feeling joy, we were scared. Would we miscarry again? How would we support our family on our reduced income? But we made the conscious decision to just keep stepping forward and figuring it out as we go. Because despite our life being at its 'messiest' we're moving in a much more positive direction, and taking more control of our lives rather than letting our bosses, corporate aspirations, or outside forces dictate where we go next.
These days I'm working from home as a Social Media Consultant and Artist, and loving the freedom it affords me. Without all the distractions of an office, I get a whole day's worth of work done before lunch, and have more time to create, and help others. Our baby girl is due within the next two weeks, and we're working on getting my husband residency. As hard as this time has been it has really opened my eyes to new possibilities, and somewhere along the way I've given myself permission to be me, without any apologies. It has been freeing, and I've never been happier.
So to me, Stepping Forward means never giving up. Some days they're only small steps, some days huge, but you've got to keep moving in the direction that will help you create the life you want. Everyone's journey is different and you've got to find the pace and direction that works for you. Don't be afraid to make a change, or to pursue your dreams even if they feel unattainable right now. Just start moving towards them.
As part as the #StepForward campaign I've done a lot of thinking about my journey and just how grateful I am. If I can even inspire one other woman to take a step towards her own dreams, I'll be supremely happy.
So here's how I customized the Converse All-Stars that Famous Footwear sent me, and made them my own. A year ago I might have painted them in black and white, but now they are full of color and gold and whimsy!
Tutorial: How to Customize Your Own Converse All-Stars
I started with white Converse All-Star Low-Top Sneakers, and removed the laces.
I painted the shoelaces as well, one in gold and one multicolored and hung them up using bulldog clips and string overnight to let them dry.
After about 24 hours I re-laced them and I was good to go!
Do you ever customize your shoes, clothes, jewelry to be more 'you'?