Let’s start at the beginning.
I had my creative start at the young age of 10. I began graphic design and web-design in a time where websites were not premade and you didn’t simply buy a website layout off of Etsy (not knocking it…this theme is from Etsy). I was fluent in HTML/CSS by the time I was in 7th grade and was skilled in Adobe Photoshop. I had my own website database and was really good at FTP programs. I had a website that had about 7-10,000 followers PER DAY and received my first paycheck from Google at 12.
I competed in middle school in a history competition that I designed a website for at state level and received a medal. I did really well and I was really proud of my accomplishments.
Where it went downhill.
Fast forward to high school. I unknowingly joined a cult when I was a freshman in high school. At the time, I was young and met some incredible people who I felt really saw me. I made incredible friends that felt like family and I believed I found a place that I belonged.
You see, I’m a textbook people pleaser. If I can earn affection, affirmation, or love through accomplishing goals and making people happy, I’m there. Cults are perfect for people like me- rule followers who don’t question their superiors and thrive on affection.
Side note: It is important to me that you know that not everyone during this period of time was bad. I learned so many good lessons and grew close to a lot of people who were nothing but loving and encouraging to me. I was part of an incredible youth group and I’ll always be grateful for my time there. The poison in my creative journey was at the top of the leadership hierarchy. We all craved to be seen and made important by our leader (pastor), so when you short it was devastating.
During my sophomore year, I began helping on our youth group tech team and loved it! I was complimented and got attention for working hard. I was still doing graphic and web design, but wasn’t as into as when I was younger.
The lead pastor caught wind of my abilities and asked me to do some graphic design for the youth group because their graphic designer had recently moved. I was THRILLED.
If you haven’t been in a cult, you don’t know how important you feel when someone with power recognizes you and asks you to do something. I spent HOURS. I made logo after logo, design after design, tweak after tweak. He didn’t like them.
None of them.
He kept telling me to start over. No kindness, no encouragement. Just to do it again. Eventually, after feeling defeated and destroyed, he asked me to design something that “looked like [the professional designer], who they previously paid” had made it. That’s when I realized that not only did he not actually like my work, he was just using me for free labor to copy a professional’s work.
I did it. I made something 100% different than anything I had made before. It was ugly and it was approved. I was left feeling like nothing. I quit graphic and web design and didn’t look back.
That’s the power a cult leader has over a people pleaser like me.
Years later, that designer I copied approached me and told me he was sorry that I was treated the way I was and not to give up. He said that it wasn’t realistic or fair to ask an untrained, young teen to produce work of a highly experienced and educated professional graphic designer. I appreciate his kindness and it stuck with me, but it was too late.
15 years later.
Like a muscle that has been neglected, my abilities atrophied. I no longer know HTML or CSS, let alone know how to adjust to all of the changes in the graphic and web design world. I’m no longer up-to-date on graphic design software and I am relearning. I can’t do the same tricks anymore that I did before and often struggle with feeling like I’m falling short. I’m growing and I’m learning and I’m so much more supported now as I was then.
I’ve grown past the cult days and still value my remaining connections and relationships to the safe people who survived the cult’s collapse. I’ve been trying again, but this time it’s me that I’m designing for.
I no longer take orders from anyone who isn’t respectful or kind. I don’t take orders from anyone who wants me to copy another designer’s work. I focus my energy on projects that bring me joy and I’m extra grateful when they also make money.
I hope my story bring some hope to you. You are more than the bad things that have happened to you. ♥️