It took Brittany Barnhart about five seconds to realize working for someone else wasn't for her. So this 21-year-old ditched her job to start her own thing. So millennial, right? Except Brittany isn't a stereotypical millennial. This Ypsilanti, Michigan resident busts her butt to create fun, clever illustrations and designs-- and her clients couldn't be happier. Neither could she. Here's how and why she starter her company, Just Curious.
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Last April, you quit your full-time job to start your own business. Prior to leaving, what did your life look and feel like?
Prior to leaving my full-time job at a print shop, my life felt ordinary and stagnant. I dreaded everyday, because it was the same: wake up, do personal work, go to work, get home, workout, shower, sleep, repeat. It wasn’t always like that though; I loved my job for the first year and a half. I was constantly learning, and it was a new world for me. I felt incredibly lucky; the print shop was 5 minutes from my house, the people I worked with were like family, and I was constantly learning and growing as a designer. They hired me fresh out of college and taught me everything that they knew, which I’m incredibly thankful for!
But, after that, nothing was new. There were things I could have learned, but those were project-based, so I wouldn’t learn it if the job never came in. Weeks would go by and I couldn’t remember anything that happened during the week. A friend asked me once “How was your week? What did you do?” I literally sat there for a few minutes, thinking as hard as I could to figure out what had been done that week, and my response was “nothing.” After that, it hit me that there needed to be a change.
What pushed you to finally quit your job?
A serious relationship I'd been in for three years had ended in November, and after that I took a long, hard look at my life. I realized how unhappy I had been for so long. The relationship had poured into every other aspect of my life. I remember standing at a copier, observing, and thinking to myself “I am 21-years-old, in a job that is taking me nowhere, doing the same shit every day, having the same conversations, producing work that isn’t showing any growth…why am I still here? This is MY life. There is no reason for me to be unhappy.”
It took a few months to figure out what I wanted. The thought of leaving a secure job was terrifying; I was able to clock in, do my work, clock out, have a social life, and get paid regularly. But, my happiness depended on the weekends, and that is not okay for me.
Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?
The decision was terrifying and exciting at the same time. I was starting from scratch. When I put my two weeks in, I had no prospective clients or source of income that I knew of, I didn’t have a logo or website for my business; I quit knowing that I had to build my brand from the ground up, and knew that it would take a while to get clients.
My last day is still incredibly vivid, but it seems like years ago. Throughout the entire day, I felt like I was going to puke and couldn’t stop shaking…but that’s when I knew that I was doing was the right thing. The thought of leaving my full-time job with a consistent pay was terrifying, but that’s not what was going to make me happy. What was going to make me happy was making the jump and knowing that I at least tried.
You’re only 21, which is pretty darn young to be starting your own thing. What advantages do you think your age affords you? What disadvantages?
I don’t need much sleep. Haha! This may not be an age thing, but I’m a quick learner and can pick up pieces easily as I go along. Since April, there has been so much information that I’ve been able to learn and retain, and put into practice. This way, I’m starting out now, and am able to really experiment with how to reach out to clients. I’m also more willing to take bigger risks that I may not feel so inclined to do down the road.
Disadvantages is that there are people who think that because I am (now) 22, they can push me around or assume that I don’t have a backbone. I may be young, but I know exactly what I want and work hard for what I want. Nothing is going to land into my lap, so I’m going to work as hard as I can to earn it.
Another disadvantage is when people initially meet me, they might not take me seriously, due to preconceived notions of my age group. I haven’t come across a lot of people who are my age with the focus that I have. A lot of them are still going to college and trying to find a major, which is totally normal and okay! When I went to college, I had stumbled into graphic design because I used to watch my dad do web design, and realized that it was a perfect fit for me.
What was it like to land your first-ever paid gig working on your own?
It was incredibly exciting, it actually ended up being a referral. I remember reading the email and pure joy washed over me, and goosebumps covered my arms! Someone was contacting me to solve their visual problem and trusted me with it. At that moment, I knew that running my own business is exactly what I wanted to do.
What kinds of people hire you? What are your favorite projects to work on?
My favorite projects to work on are illustrations, and ones where the client is really passionate about what they’re doing. That’s a really vague answer but the difference between working with someone who is passionate and who isn’t makes a HUGE difference on my attitude towards the project.
My portfolio is illustration-heavy because I’m passionate about it; hours could go by and I wouldn’t even notice. Ideally, I would be spending a majority of my time doing illustration work, but I’m currently doing a lot of branding, invitations, and even a coloring book!
So, you’re a millennial. I’m sure you’re aware of the general consensus that millennials are entitled, aren’t willing to pay their dues and need a lot of hand holding. Do you think there’s some truth to that?
This question is really hard, because there is some truth to it and there’s not. There is the general consensus that millennials feel entitled and don’t want to work hard, and from what I’ve seen from my graduating class and people over the years, is that there is some truth to it. (It honestly drives me crazy). Millenials are reading all of these stories on how people are becoming successful and think that it’s an easy road that will just fall into their lap. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s NOT how it works. They don’t pay attention to the rest of the story, where people build up their business for years and finally find their version of success. Millenials think there’s an easy way up, and there’s not. But, again, not all of them are like that.
When I was growing up, I watched my parents work their asses off to provide a life for their family. Watching them consistently work hard and do what they had to do, even if it was something that they didn’t want, made me work just as hard. They made a lot of sacrifices for me, so there’s no way that I should feel “entitled” to anything. When I was younger, I remember watching my mom and just being amazed at the woman that she was (and still is). She knows what she wants, she works for it, and does everything herself. Watching that when I was a child shaped who I am today; if I want something, I have to work for it and do it myself.
What’s the biggest misconception about your new career?
That anybody with Microsoft word can be a designer.
Happiest moment since starting your own business? Most frustrating?
The most frustrating moment has been having my first nightmare client within my first three months of running my own business…and not even getting paid for the entire job! You can read more about that experience on my website, but it was a horrible experience (that I’m thankful for.) It taught me a lot, but it was the two longest weeks of my life!
The happiest moment so far since starting my own business is working with a passionate client, someone who was completely invested in the idea and knew what they had to do to make it happen. He was the first client that I had after my nightmare experience, and was open to whatever I brought to the table. He was excited about his idea, and that is what made me passionate about working on his project. It was great because it was a collaboration between us and that made his brand stronger. Another happy moment was when I earned more in a week than I did in an entire month at my previous job. That was definitely a happy day! *high five*
How has quitting changed your life?
Quitting has changed everything about my life. There is no longer the feeling of stagnation and boredom; everyday is full of new adventures that are helping me become successful. There’s a huge amount of freedom that comes with running your own business and at the same time, there is a lot of diligence that needs to come with it, too.
I love that I am in control; if something screws up, it’s my fault; if I land a big gig, it’s because I hustled and earned it. What I do everyday determines where my future is going. I’m not working to help someone else have a successful future and not get appreciated for it; I’m working for me and doing what I need to do to make the future amazing.
Since quitting, I’ve become more determined, creative and confident. It has also opened up my eyes to things that are incredibly important to me: I am a 22-year-old woman, running her own business, and I want to help other women make that jump or be a source to come to when they need someone to talk to. There are people who don’t feel confident enough in their abilities, and I want to help them gain that confidence back so they can make their dreams a reality.
Think this your current lifestyle is a forever thing?
YES! A million times yes. Thinking about going back to having a boss and making them successful does not sit right with me. Just thinking about having a boss in general makes me sick. I don’t ever want to have to go back to the 9 to 5.
Advice to someone who’s considering striking out on their own?
Dive in with determination and passion. Be relentless in everything that you do and push the boundaries. Have confidence and know that if this is something that you want to do, you can make it happen.
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Want more quitters? How 'bout these fine folks:
Michelle quit her agency job to start her own web deign company.
Why these two crazy kids decided to live in an Airstream trailer full-time.
This hot babe stopped dyeing her silver hair, and launched a international modeling career.
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