Hello Kelly Hoppen fans! I’m so honored to be here because like Kelly, I am a creative lady working hard to keep my thriving business alive along with my personal life and family – it’s such a balance! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Holly Becker and I’m a blogger, author, interiors stylist and I lead workshops on everything from blogging to decorating and making mood boards.
I started my blog, decor8, over 7 years ago when blogs were barely on the map and there wasn’t a single magazine that had one – really! In fact, when I started Facebook, Twitter and similar platforms didn’t exist. When I started my blog in May 2005, I wasn’t sure what to say on it and so it sat there for many months until I wrote my first post in January 2006. But once I got started, I believed in my passion and in the platform enough to keep going. I felt really charged up and excited. Though I had NO CLUE what was ahead of me…
When I began my blog, it was out of a small 1870 carriage house in Hollis, New Hampshire. I’m originally from Boston but relocated to New Hampshire in 2003, then to northern Germany in 2009 to be closer to my husband’s family (he is German).
Imagine this. You are in a career you sort of enjoy but definitely do not love, and you’ve been at it for around 8 years and one day you just have a mini breakdown on the job. That’s what happened to me. I was typing yet another action item into a massive Excel spreadsheet when I felt this wave of emotion hit me. I have no idea, looking back, where it came from but this wave was massive and I felt like I was going to break out in tears. I lifted myself quietly from my chair, walked swiftly to the nearest conference room, and with overwhelming relief, I shut the door and turned the lock.
With a typical all-beige and chrome corporate décor surrounding me, I sunk down on my heels, then to the floor where I laid and cried for what felt like days. I remember wishing I could click my heels and know what I wanted to do with my life. Laying on a conference room floor was quite a defining moment in my history. Thankfully no one saw me yet I was feeling a little too wiped out back then to have cared if they had. Have you ever been in this spot before – overwhelmed completely? I’m not embarrassed to tell this story for one reason: I dug out of the hole and look back at this as a positive turning point. In fact, had I not melted down, I may still be in that boring job.
After a good cry, I sat there thinking about my job and why had I turned into such a drone. Where did my creativity go? Why was getting up in the morning so hard? Why was showering a chore? Why was I so serious all of a sudden, the girl who was once so light-hearted?
I remember looking into the mirror and not recognizing myself and this had nothing to do with my tear-stained cheeks and everything to do with feeling like a ghost in a shell. I walked back to my cubical, sat down and suddenly and out of no where I said aloud, “In one year I will not be working here”. I said it and I meant it.
Oftentimes we need to hit rock bottom in order to stop for a moment and look back up again towards the light.
There is always more. At any age. You can be thirty, forty or about to turn seventy and you can still change something that isn’t working in your life. That is the beauty of being human, we have free will and a strong one at that – if we listen to it. Most of the time, the only person holding us back is staring at us when we look in the mirror.
That night and many days that followed, I was not longer crying or feeling sorry for myself. I was kicking my own butt to make changes in my career and that’s when I went back to school, only this time design school for an interior design certificate, a two year program. I started taking tons of other creative classes too, including painting, layout and design and creative writing. I even emailed Kelly Hoppen’s assistant back in 2005 to ask if I could take a class with her in London but sadly, they were sold out. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking – I didn’t have enough money back then to afford the flight.
Side note: In design school, my first mood board was to design a loft for a couple in Cambridge, MA using a single designer as my muse. I had chosen Kelly Hoppen after finding out about her in 2005 via her books, published by Jacqui Small, who is now my publisher. Isn’t it funny how the universe works?
I had a knack for decorating since I was 7 years old pushing around my parents sofa and chairs… décor was my thing! I remember my mother coming home saying that she never knew where the sofa would be next. While other girls were dressing in their mother’s heels and clothes, I was decorating the house and drawing floor plans. My mother encouraged me to decorate and to even help her pick out wallpaper and bedding. We would go to flea markets and garden or arrange flowers together. She was so creative and was trained as a floral designer, though she never practiced professionally after becoming a mother. In addition to decorating, I was constantly writing books in my room and hosting book signings for my dolls and bears. I held so many signings in my bedroom, and wrote so many little books… And today I’m writing books for a living and styling the homes in them. Who would have thought?
After being in design school I felt the need to really get my hands dirty. I started taking jobs with clients after being in school for only 6 months. I just wanted to DO something with my education. My clients and I hit it off with each new job, some became friends of mine.
The real turning point was one night in January 2006 as I was sitting in a creative writing workshop. The teacher said, “If you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist.” I remember sitting there thinking, “I’m not on the internet – I have a blog I never write on, so does that mean I don’t exist?”. The very thought of being a decorator with clients without any web presence made me feel like I wasn’t being very proactive about my new business. Having had an ebay store selling design products from 2001-2003, I recalled how much fun it had been connecting with my design-loving customers back then. I got home after that workshop and started writing on my blog, decor8 , and haven’t stopped since.
I also resigned from my job one year after I said I would that day after my conference room meltdown. But it wasn’t easy…When I first started writing on my blog, I tried to pitch story ideas to magazines to supplement my income because ads on blogs didn’t exist yet – and my income as a decorator wasn’t going to pay the bills. My husband was supporting us at the time, which helped, but I didn’t feel like I was really contributing to our family or to our future.
I thought all bloggers would be super supportive when I first started but I quickly learned that it wasn’t going to be an easy road. I also had magazine editors who were not always kind – some would steal ideas and publish them as their own – even pitches that I would send to them would end up in their magazine months later. I didn’t care though because I always felt like for every idea someone took from me, I had 10 more in m my head ready to hatch. The good thing about being imaginative and confident is that when people try to imitate you it doesn’t matter because then you can quickly think of a new idea and do something even cooler. It’s easier to be a creative than a copycat.
Of course, you need to protect your brand so you may need legal help at times – I eventually had to “lawyer up, but you have to just keep doing your best work and not let the negativity out there get you down. Negative energy can actually be used very positively if you channel it correctly. I personally think that when people stop copying you then you’re no longer interesting – so it’s a bit of a twist to think of it as positive but in many ways it is. Steve Martin said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Something to think about, isn’t it?
But yes, from unsupportive peers to copycats and even the occasional stalker (oh yes), it’s not been smooth sailing but I believed in myself enough to stay focused on what I wanted: to become a writer, to someday have a book and to decorate for a living and through my books, I’m doing just that.
My blog was doing well, I had 15 readers each and every day – FIFTEEN – and I felt like a total rising star. I look back and laugh because “numbers” meant so little to me. I felt really happy being a blogger with a few readers who commented regularly, a few of them are still in touch with me and my very first blog reader, Brent Meyers, showed up at my book signing last year in St. Paul and I nearly hugged him to death. He is still reading decor8 along with 48,000 other daily readers! But you know, I think what helped me as a blogger in the beginning was meeting and connecting with online. I valued everyone immensely and I still do.
Fast forward to November 2012. I am composing this note to all of you with a bestseller behind me in 12 languages (Decorate) and my second book already doing so well after only being out for one week (Decorate Workshop) and more books before me that I’m about to sign on. I teach workshops online, Blogging Your Way, about blogging, styling, photography and creativity (decor8eclasses.com) since 2009 and I also teach in person several times a year with an upcoming class in December to be held in my home studio space with my friend and peer, Steffi Luxat. I gave several lectures last year during London Design Week. I consult with huge companies helping them to build better blogs and a stronger social network. I write a blog that has a massive audience with over 1.8 million page views monthly. I’ve written for some of the best magazines out there, including Domino, Real Simple and even newspapers like the Boston Globe. I’m not saying all of this because I’m a show off, I’m saying it because I was the girl who was crying on the conference room floor with no clue how to change my life yet with one very clear goal: TO CHANGE IT NO MATTER WHAT.
I was the one who nearly gave up a million times ever since. I was told many times to give up. I’ve been copied. I’ve been used and tossed aside by people looking to become my friend only for my brand or my audience. There has been a lot of uphill climbing.
It has been said, “There is no elevator to success, only a staircase”, and that is so true. The reward of the climb is that you are stronger than you were when you began and you feel so good about yourself. And with each success, you are driven to keep succeeding, to continue climbing and to also enjoy the journey as you go – and also to stop now and then and relax and appreciate what you have TODAY. You gain so many friends through the process but most of all, you gain the ultimate friendship with yourself. Self care and self respect, which comes through listening to your inner voice and obeying it – is what you need to keep going through thick or thin.
The greatest thing ever happened to me last year in Soho at a signing I did at Anthropologie. A first year college student studying interior design hugged me and was shaking with nerves, and she said, “When I grow up I want to be just like you,” and her blue eyes filled as happy tears rolled down her cheeks. She was so overwhelmed meeting me, her idol, as she called me. Isn’t that really the biggest complement one can ever give you? Isn’t it wonderful to know that others can be so inspired by your work.
It is true that, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” For me, that teacher told me that if you’re not on the internet you don’t exist – and my blog has been a catalyst for me ever since – in fact, my blog has given me the chance to finally be creative for a living. No longer are my dolls and bears waiting for me to sign handmade books, I have beautiful, creative fans of my work standing in line to give me hugs and ask for a dedication in books that I’ve authored.
In closing, because I’ve just written an essay on Kelly’s blog I know, is to never give up on your dreams.. Always be yourself. And most importantly, be consistent. You’ll get there. You never know how successful you can be until you give it a try so why not give it your best shot?
Follow Holly on Twitter: @decor8
Photo credit: George Mortz, Berlin.