The circumstances in which each of us ends up freelancing and launching our own businesses are so different! And as I was thinking of business journeys, I thought it would be interesting to share Cameron’s business journey.
But just like everything when it comes to a small business, there’s no such a thing as a business journey without it intertwining with our personal development as well. So, this will be some insight on Cameron’s life journey from the past year and a half.
Trigger Warning Depression and Suicidal Ideations
Cameron had started a new job in December 2019 that sounded like his dream job. But his mental health took a low turn, and he had to quit. That chain of events lead to a whole different life just a year and a half later.
This interview originally took place in August 2021, as a newsletter titled “How has your life changed in the past year and a half?”.
Sara: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year and a half?
Cameron: That suicide is not the answer. That a lot of the things you go through, they definitely suck at the time. But I’m very glad we went through them, because our life has completely changed—a lot! Things just kind of have a way of working out. Eventually. It sucks until you get to that point, but it’s not the end of the world.
S: With your personal journey and your business journey, it has been overall a self-discovery journey—it all goes together. Did you expect that they would happen at the same time, or was it a surprise?
C: Yes, it was definitely a surprise. I quit my job, and was like “oh crap, I don’t know what I’m going to do, everything is falling apart around me”. I was freaking out. And we talked it through and figured out a plan where I would start helping with Stargazed Studio, but I really wasn’t wanting to do it. I wasn’t big into design.
S: A lot of it was finding to do something for you to do, so you felt like you were doing something.
C: Yea, that was the big thing. Figure out something to keep me busy, more than anything. To help me take a break from work. And there was a lot of personal stuff going on as well, so my work foundation was gone, and other foundations in my life were gone completely.
The biggest turning point was working on Zoho for one of your clients. That was the biggest one. Because it gave me an idea, and it showed me that I actually enjoyed setting these business systems, making them nice and awesome for other people to use. It gave me something to look forward to, work wise. I enjoy helping you with web design stuff now that I actually know what I’m doing. But before, I was hesitant, and didn’t know if we would be able to make this work.
S: I didn’t even think it would go this direction.
C: Yea, and now there’s this system service, that we just launched recently—which is awesome! But it was Zoho that was my biggest turning point, between that and therapy. Because therapy taught me that it’s not the end of the world, and that who cares what people think—do what you need, do what you want. And Zoho taught me I can earn a living doing what I want. So, let’s do what I want!
S: In your previous job, “dream job” was a way we referred to it a couple of time. So, tell us a bit about dreams—what does it feel like to have the job you always wanted, and realizing it wasn’t what you thought. How was the transition of going from “wow, amazing” to “this is awful”?
C: Getting the offer for the job was super exciting, because I had been looking for a job for quite some time. I went to the interview, and it seemed like everything I wanted. Perfect job: industry, salary, prestige, benefits. Except for the location, Mississippi is far from everyone we know, and hot! But other than that, it was amazing. The first few weeks, I wasn’t comfortable but I figured it was because I was the new guy. I worked there almost three months. At the beginning I was hopeful and thought I’d get the hang of it, things will pick up. But that didn’t really happen. I just got the cold shoulder from all but one person, and it was just toxic—I found out why later, it wasn’t just my imagination.
It’s hard to judge too, because I was already very depressed. Part of me thinks that if I wasn’t already depressed, I would have stayed, I could have made it work and eventually enjoyed the job. But I was depressed already, and that just made it so much worse. I felt super alone, out of place, like an imposter—imposter syndrome basically!
S: It’s the depression, the new job, a new location, we had disappointments with the new house, we had a tiring move across the country. The schedule was hard, because it was winter and you had to leave to work when it was cold and still pitch black, and return when it was almost dark. It was the first Christmas away from family. There were so many factors.
C: Yes, there was a lot of stuff against us. And then, what I struggled with a lot after quitting, was figuring out what to do. I thought it would be a little break, and then I’d go back and work again in my field. I started applying for jobs again. One was out here in Utah, and I had an appointment scheduled to go up there in person. I was 90% sure I would get the job, but it wasn’t in an industry I was very interested in. The day of the interview I was freaking out, I was having full-blown anxiety attacks. I used the excuse that you (Sara) had Covid-like symptoms to get out of that situation (which was true), but after that I changed my career goals. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do exactly, but I figured that I could not go back to the same type of job, not to the same field.
S: The realization hit you then.
C: Yea, and it was crushing. I love engineering topics, I love talking about engineering. I love everything quality and engineering related. A few weeks ago, when I was doing the outdoor light installations at my brother’s house, I had a little nostalgia there for my engineering career. Doing things with my hands, drilling holes, stuff like that, because I really like the hands-on aspect of work. I miss that.
But another part of what I liked at my old career was the system part, and that overlapped with what you were doing. You needed help with your business systems, and I was like, ok, I can help with that, I really like that.
S: Was there a point where you felt like, this was your only chance to have the job of your dreams, and nothing better will ever come your way?
C: I don’t know if I ever actually thought about that. I was focused on everything else, like, not killing myself. I was more focused on “oh, this is the end” instead of thinking “there’s nothing better than this”.
But there was some “there’s not coming back from this, this will tank my whole career”. And then Covid came along and it was convenient because I felt like people seeing my resume would just assume I was laid off because of Covid, and not that I quit a job shortly after starting it. At the end I didn’t need to use that excuse, but having it relieved me from my anxiety around it.
S: You are launching your own business right now, separate from Stargazed Studio. How do you feel about that? The fact that you’re the business side of the partnership for this business?
C: It’s really weird to me still, I never would have seen myself doing anything like this. I never saw myself becoming a business owner, not of this new business, not of the business with you. I always kind of laughed at the type of entrepreneurship people, like, “yea right, you need to have a one in a million idea to make a business work”. But of course, I never thought of designers or other service providers as entrepreneurs. I always saw it as a person trying to sell a product, not a service. I always thought of it as the Shark Tank people. So I never though I’d go this route.
And then with this new business, we, Merlin [his business partner at this new business] and I, we both kind of had the idea at the same time—we’re just connected, pretty sure! We had this idea, and I just dove right into it. It was full-time work, 40-50 hours a week for about a month straight, just getting everything figured out and set up: registering the business, creating a website and online store, figuring out our business model, and all that. And I… enjoy it? It comes and goes. I get way into it, and I’m loving it. But then there’s times where I’m like, “I should probably do this, but I really do not want to”. I’m not looking forward to tax season! But I never thought I’d be here, I never thought I’d be enjoying it. I can even see myself doing this with multiple businesses too!
S: A serial entrepreneur! And how do you feel that you dreams, goals, and ambitions have changed?
C: I like it. Because my career goals and the personal life changes I had, they go very hand in hand with my long-term goals and dreams. Before any of this happened, I was just like “ok, I’ll get a job in manufacturing or quality, I’m going to just work there and hopefully stay at the same company as long as I enjoy it. Sara will keep doing her thing. We’ll have babies. It will be great”. And that’s all I had, as far as goals and dreams. I had no long-term goals, nothing.
But then all this crap hits the fan. Work stuff came first, I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was freaking out.
And then the personal stuff also happened, and I didn’t know anything. And talking to my therapist (talking to a therapist helps SO MUCH!) made me realize that it doesn’t matter.
You don’t have to conform to the ideas that your upbringing, or society, or religion, or anything else imposes on you. In the society I was raised, I was expected to preside and provide for my family, and the wife is supposed to stay at home and take care of the children—you don’t have to have children in the first place if you don’t want to! There are so many preconceptions that I had ingrained in me because of my upbringing in a conservative religion and society. And overcoming those preconceptions changed everything.
And Sara, you would always talk about having this “work to live” thing, and I realized that yea, I want that too. I want to enjoy life. I don’t want to be a drone at work everyday. I want to work just enough that I can do what I want and enjoy it, and not be stressed all the time. And that changed things, and solidified that I was not going back to a regular job. I can’t do 9 to 5. I love the flexibility. My job when I was in college, doing landscaping on my campus, was super flexible and worked around my schedule. I could take time off when I needed to. And in some of my previous jobs I had bosses who let me be flexible with my schedule. One of them would sometimes come on Fridays and tell me to go home early, and I loved that, because I hated work.
But yea, this completely changed my long-term goals. I want to have a relaxing life. Work about 30 hours a week, with you. It’s so different, I can’t go back, and I really like this lifestyle. Just casual, laid back, do what you love, make it work.
S: And we’re not yet at the point where we are completely living the way we want to. We still don’t have consistent cashflow and income we can rely on to get a loan for example. But taking that into account, how would you say your quality of life has improved?
C: I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in at least a decade, maybe more. I don’t feel the depression and anxiety nearly as much. It still comes up, when I’m thinking about how we’re not there yet, and we still rely on family. But overall, I’m a lot happier, I like this lifestyle a lot more. It’s less stressful, more enjoyable, and it’s fun working with you. The only sucky thing is that it does take time, and we’re not quite there yet. But it’s definitely much better.
S: With your new business, ShawTech Lighting, you are in charge of the whole website and marketing part. How does it feel? You’re full-on building websites now.
C: That’s another good thing that happened to me. It gave me actual motivation to learn about web design, because I could learn and implement right away on a real project. Because I did all of it. I asked you for advice on a few things, you did consulting for us. But I built it all, and everyone thinks it looks amazing, and you even said it looks better than a lot of professional designed website. And it was my very first full website. That was nice, it made me much more confident in it.
And now I’m more comfortable helping with Stargazed website projects. With the latest client project, I was way more involved. In the past I just helped putting in the website content, but now I can help beyond that. Sara chooses the design we go with, and I know how to implement it. I can be hands-on with it now.
S: Any last things you want to mention about this journey? Any final advice?
C: Life takes it turns, and it super sucks, but a lot of the times it’s for the good. I look back to the super crappy experience I had last year, and I hope I never have to go through something like that again. But if I could go back in time and warn myself, I wouldn’t stop myself from taking that job and moving to Mississippi.
Goals can change, and life isn’t set in stone. One thing I learned from the first therapist I had in Mississippi, is that he said he’s had like six different careers, and you can change what you do at anytime. I didn’t like that therapist too much, but just that piece of advice was life changing. He said that, and right away I felt that I could quit my job, and I’d be ok. You can switch careers. It’s much better to do what you enjoy doing, or at least what you can tolerate doing. If you don’t like your job, find something else. It’s preferable that you don’t quit until you have a plan b. But if it’s to the point where you want to kill yourself—just quit.
If bad things happen, it’s not the end of the world. You can get up again and try something else.
If you are having suicidal thoughts and/or mental health issues, reach out for help!
Dial 988 in the United States to receive free and confidential support.
Or visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for more resources from around the world.