If you're a return visitor, you might notice that my shop - though re-designed - is looking a little sparse. I had a lot of products up here before, but I've taken it all down. I haven't really been broadcasting what's been going on with me, but I guess I should talk about it since I'm slowly starting to drive traffic back to this shop.
What I'm writing here is stream of consciousness. Hell, I didn't really plan on writing all of this out. But I think it helps others to know that I might be going through similar stuff because I've felt so alone with my emotions over the past year+. And also, I want to remain very transparent about my journey because I want the Tinlun brand to represent honesty and authenticity, if nothing else.
Life has been throwing me curve balls.
This roller coaster started in April of 2017. I had just attended Creative South '17 where I had a Tinlun booth set up in the vendor hall. It was a really cool experience to set up a legit booth for the first time and get my products in front of a crowd of fellow creatives. I made more money that weekend than I had in my first two combined years in business - and that's not bragging by any stretch.
The fact of the matter is that I made so little revenue as an all-online business that my accountant actually laughed at me during tax season. She actually said, "This itty bitty number is your income from last year?" Getting my products in front of people and being able to interact with people face to face was game-changing. I knew then and there that I had been doing everything wrong for the previous two years.
I needed to pivot, but it was already too late. Our family financial planner had just told us that our savings was reaching a dangerously low number; it had been plummeting as a result of me essentially being a negative income while trying to get Tinlun going. I decided to try to scale back on Tinlun (but keep it going) while taking on some freelance.
I got a few freelance gigs, but nothing close to the income that I brought in as a full-time corporate graphic designer. By now, it was June 2017 and not only was I struggling to make any money, but I was also not spending enough time with my family. All of my energy was going to freelance life - not just doing design work, but also trying to meet with people, building connections, and expanding my network.
I felt like my life was being flushed down the toilet and I needed to be rescued. I needed a way to make income doing something I'm passionate about while allowing time for my family. I made the extremely difficult decision to officially back-burner Tinlun while I looked for a full-time job.
Hitting rock bottom.
Even though I told myself it was on the back burner, I mentally felt like Tinlun had died. And I mourned, hard. I also felt like an absolute failure - that my dreams had been crushed and that I was really the only one who could feel the weight of that defeat. On top of that, I had put my family in a difficult situation because I had exhausted a good chunk of our savings. I'm supposed to be the entrepreneur / father / role model to our kids, but instead, I had just fucked us all.
It was a dark time for a bit. Spending all my time job hunting, still not devoting enough time to family partly due to the job hunt but mainly because I felt so much shame that I found it hard to face them while pretending everything was ok.
Finally, an interesting job prospect popped up; it was a design position at a local digital agency. I interviewed, and the people seemed really cool. By late July, I had accepted a job offer. Working there was a whirlwind. The pace was faster than anything in my previous job experience, and I was struggling to keep up. It got to a point where I was bringing work home and working late nights and weekends. I kept thinking, "This job was supposed to give me income AND time with family... and I haven't tucked my son into bed in months." But I got to contribute to big projects with bigger clients than I've ever worked with, so I pushed on and tried to learn as much as I could.
In December, during a critical time in which I was supposed to contribute a lot to one of the projects I was on, I came down with the worst flu I've ever had. I was out of commission for a week, but I tried to be a soldier and work through it from home. In reality, I could barely function, but I kept hoping the next day I'd feel better and catch up on my work. Well, a week went by where I made zero progress, and I ended up delaying the entire project - and the company's revenue.
Rock bottom. Again.
To make matters worse, as a result of all of that, the entire team I worked with had to work through what should've been an entire week off of Christmas holiday. I felt awful. That was absolutely the shittiest winter holidays of my entire life. I remember my bro-in-law and his family visiting for our annual gift exchange, and on the outside I was fine, but on the inside I wanted to destroy something.
At the start of the new year, I was put on a probation period of sorts. I was told I needed to figure out how to work better / faster and learn to manage my time better. I approached it with a good attitude because I thought it was a good chance for me to learn something - plus I had finally started to come to grips with my Christmas disaster and begun to crawl out of my misery hole. But it became apparent early on during that probation period that I wasn't going to be a good long-term fit; I was being given more work in an attempt to teach me how to manage my time better, which didn't make sense to me. Obviously, I struggled to meet the expectations of my bosses, so instead of wasting everyone's time for a couple of weeks only to then be fired, I went ahead and submitted my resignation.
Rock bottom number three.
It was really hard to say goodbye a lot of the people I worked with. I genuinely had fun and enjoyed working with them, but damn that job ran me into the ground quick. I've accepted that I'm not built for agency life at that pace. And the extra dumb part is that all of the great work I actually did do for the big clients - I can't even talk about any of it nor show it because it's all under a fucking NDA.
So now it was February 2018. I was jobless again, but even more emotionally defeated. I thought I had found a decent solution to the problem only for it to chew me up and spit me out. I felt like I needed to completely reset everything, so I took all of my products down from my online store. I wasn't selling anything anyway, and to be honest, I don't think anyone even noticed. The only choice I had at this point was to give freelance a legitimate shot while trying to apply all of the hustle mentality I had been exposed to at the agency.
I re-vamped and updated my portfolio website to show more of the work I wanted to do. I began tracking everything - projects I had taken on, exactly how much income I made, etc. I kept this up through June, but the income just still wasn't good enough. So I started reaching out to prospective employers yet again.
And then August came. After a very slow summer, I'm suddenly caught in an avalanche of freelance activity. More project offers than I can handle, and on top of that, an opportunity to start a 3-month-long full-time contract with a company I had previously done a freelance project with.
That contract starts on Monday. Somehow, I'm going to have to crank out all of the freelance projects on top of the full-time contract without killing myself in the process. I'm excited for all of these opportunities, but I'm also very nervous. I can't help but feel like I'm entering a similar situation as before with the agency job - and almost exactly one year later.
I actually still get nightmares about the agency job from time to time - about underperforming in some way or missing a deadline and waking up in a panic. That job really screwed me up. I actually turned down a job with another agency about a month ago - even though they had really awesome things to say about my work - because I wasn't willing to put myself through agency life again. No way.
You know the whole designer/client conundrum of only being able to pick two of the three among speed / quality / cost? I've come to realize that I can only pick two of the three among family / career passion / income. I can only hope that somewhere down the road, I can somehow have all three. If you've found the magic solution, good for you - and please share how. If you've made it this far in this brain dump, I hope it was helpful to you. Thanks so much for reading.