From Barmaid to Brand Designer in 5 Years

With a new year finally rung in, you might be looking forward and thinking, ‘what if’? What if you followed that dream of yours, that secret desire you never told anyone about, and finally made it a reality? Well, if someone told me I’d go from Barmaid to Brand Designer in 5 years, I’d tell them they were crazy!

It can seem pretty daunting and a little scary, but there has never been a better time to try! I’m a firm believer in never giving up on your dreams (because you’ll never know when they’ll come true), and to show you why I wanted to share a bit of a personal story with you – of my dream, and my journey to achieve it.

Barmaid To Brand Designer

When I was 16 and leaving school, I was like most people. I didn’t really have any clue what I wanted to do with my life, despite being told for the last 2 years that I had to decide on my career soon. What nonsense that idea is! Hardly anyone knows what they want to do with their life at 16.

And since I didn’t, I went to college and took a selection of quite random subjects that were interesting to me, but weren’t really geared towards one goal. Drama, Classical Civilisation, Media Studies and Graphic Design. Little did I know that the last one would be my true calling in life and lead me to become a Brand Designer!

I loved all of my classes, but when I attended my very first graphic design lesson, I felt like a fish out of water. In fact, I was a fish out of the water and up a tree! Most of my classmates were already whizzes at Photoshop, and had already learned a lot of the groundwork at the attached school. But because my school was very traditional (think Hogwarts crossed with St Trinian’s), and had been very ‘safe’ with their subject choices I hadn’t had any experience with more technology-based subjects.

The most I could bring to this subject was an A* GCSE in Fine Art – but graphic design intrigued me. It was so modern, and offered a blend of art and computers, which were the two loves of my life at the time. 

barmaid to brand designer 05

Fall in Love With Your Dream

Because I was so behind and I wanted to catch up, I asked my dad for a copy of Photoshop CC3. Bear in mind this was back in the time of chunky monitors, when Photoshop cost £400 and you had to go and buy the disc from PC World. But my Dad was a fantastic supporter of mine, and I walked away from PC world with a shiny new computer programme and a spring in my step.

Once I had it all installed (how did we live without digital downloads?!) I played around with it every single evening. And I fell in love with it. With the endless creative possibilities, I could conjure up from scratch. The sky really was the limit, and by falling in love with my dream I got good. So good in fact that my tutor advised me to submit my final major project for an award.

I won first place.

barmaid to brand designer 03

The Barmaid Days

When I finished college I felt a lot of pressure to go to uni – after all a degree would land you a better job in graphic design, or any job at all really since every employer wants a degree nowadays. So last minute I enrolled at Farnham UCA, supposedly the best uni for the creative arts in the country. Except… it really wasn’t.

When I rocked up on day one, I was faced with a classroom of 70+ students, 2 part-time tutors who barely spoke any English, and not a single computer in the room. In fact, if you wanted to learn about Adobe programmes you had to pay extra! The whole programme was stuck in the 90s and it just wasn’t what I signed up for. So in my second year, I dropped out, which is how I ended up tending the bar in a local pub.

That pub is where I spent the next 5 years of my life. Don’t get me wrong, pulling pints is honest work, but it just wasn’t what I was meant to do with my life. I knew I should be doing something creative, and yearned to get back behind a computer screen.

Then one day, the universe sent me a sign. One evening thanks to some roadworks I was diverted down a road I never usually travelled, and I passed a billboard advertising that my local college was upgrading to a university, and the courses included graphic design. My heart fluttered and I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. I was terrified of history repeating itself, but I knew I had to give it a shot.

barmaid to brand designer 04

Follow Your Gut

I did my research this time and went along to open day, and it was absolutely wonderful. Even though I had the biggest argument of my life with my Dad earlier in the day (he thought I was wasting my time and money), I still went, and when I sat down in front of my soon-to-be tutor Matt, I just felt everything click.

After my interview, I walked out of the room to see my Dad standing there with open arms saying “Gemma, if this is really what you want in life, then work so hard and never give up on your dream”. Those might be the most important words he’s ever said to me, even if he doesn’t know it.

3 years later I donned the black cap and got my Bachelor of Arts degree, and looking back my parents and I could see it really had been the best decision for me. I had a dream, trusted my gut and never gave up on myself. And thanks to all of that work, I landed a job at a top design agency, working with big clients like PayPal, Google, JP Morgan and more.

But since you’re reading this here, you already know that didn’t last. After a few years, I became irritable and restless at the agency, and felt I needed to spread my wings.

Now, a new dream appeared in the form of a little voice saying ‘you should start your own design business!’. I got stressed, angry and depressed all the time, and one December I woke up in hospital on a drip, having caught a chronic sinus infection from the horrible conditions in the office.

That was my wake-up call, and as soon as I got out of hospital I handed in my notice. And that was the first step in believing in myself.

the beginning of a dream

And look where I am now! Infinity Creative is the realisation of a lifelong dream, and though it’s been a rough road to get here, I wouldn’t change a thing. So this year, while you’re writing your new years resolution list, why not add your own dream on there, and see just how far you can take it?


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