59: Weaving Your Story Through Your Second Career
Army Officer to Interior Designer. Sounds like the plot of a Hallmark movie, doesn’t it? My client, Laurel Smith, joins me to share her career journey and how she’s positioning interior design as a wellness solution for women who are juggling a work life, a home life, and a love life.
On this episode, Laurel and I discuss:
- Transitioning out of active duty and following her creative curiosities,
- How mom guilt has influenced her career decisions,
- Where she was getting stuck explaining her brand story and point of view on her own,
- What surprised her about working with me, and
- Choosing to slow business growth in favor of building a solid foundation.
MEET LAUREL SMITH
Laurel has had quite a journey in life so far. Prior to beginning her interior design business, she served as an occupational therapist in the US Army. In that role, she helped soldiers regain functional independence for work and leisure activities following serious injury. Laurel began to discover the inextricable connection to one’s physical environment and their quality of life.
She had originally thought that she wanted to be a teacher, but her mother introduced her to the connection between special education and medicine through occupational therapy. After college, she was inspired to go into the military after a family member was severely injured in a military aviation accident.
Laurel served in the military, doing hand rehabilitation and deploying to Afghanistan, where she was in charge of a concussion clinic. As her last active duty assignment, she worked at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and did research on how to optimize warfighter health and performance.
A BUSINESS BORN WITH MOTHERHOOD
Laurel really struggled with anxiety all of her life, but it really came out when she had her daughter, along with a sense of guilt. She felt guilty when she was working. She felt guilty when she was with her daughter because she wasn’t working.
She was looking for the autonomy to be able to be a really good mom and a flexible mom. Not only that, but Laurel needed to be happy and have a sense of fulfillment. She felt like if she was not fulfilled and not happy, then she was not being a good mom to her daughter. One of her favorite quotes is “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. Laurel ended up getting out of active duty. She transitioned to the army reserves and went back to get her MBA.
Laurel’s story is powerful, because as we can see, she loves to serve people. At first, Laurel felt guilty about going into interior design because she had the idea that the only purpose of interior design was to make rich people’s houses look good.
However, after having her daughter, she began to realize the psychological importance of making a house into a comfortable home. While she was still active duty, she was perpetually late, stressed out, and embarrassed about the state of her home. Her home had no place for toys, baby items, and dog products. She realized that it really was not the environment she had envisioned when she and her husband brought their child into the world.
As a release, Laurel began to take on small redecorating and design projects around her house, such as redoing the closet and finding multi-purpose furniture. Then, she and her husband gutted and redid their bathroom, and she felt such a sense of pride when her friends would come over and admire what she had done. It was at this point that she realized that interior design does help people. She knew that she could help people and make a positive impact.
Home is such an important place, and so her approach to design is really about making a home, an environment where people not only enjoy being, but that inspires and revitalizes them so that they can do things in their life that bring them joy.
Whether it’s hosting a dinner party, whether it’s having a birthday party, whether it’s a clean home so that they don’t have to spend their time on the weekends cleaning the house, whatever it is. Laurel wanted to approach design as an intervention to wellness and pull people into design who wouldn’t normally turn to design to improve their quality of life.
INTERIOR DESIGNER THAT FACILITATES WELLNESS
Now that Laurel has found her passion, she can use it to serve people. She was recently contacted by another friend who’s a designer. She referred Laurel to the Make-A-Wish foundation and they reached out and asked if she would partner with them on a bedroom makeover for a very deserving Make a Wish recipient.
Laurel sees this as the pinnacle of what she wants to do and her mission. She is so excited to be involved and just to really bring the vision that she has for this project to life for this child, and knows that this is what she was put on the earth to do.
Laurel has decided to go back to school to increase her skill set. She will be attending the New York School of Interior Design online. Although she knows that this will slow her business a bit, she knows that this will give her a solid foundation to keep on solving real-world problems. She’s excited to have the opportunity to take a slower, more deliberate approach to design entrepreneurship and parenthood, and allow these things to exist together.
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