Full time employee. To full time freelance designer. Back to full time employee with a side gig. Throw in several redundancies and a life threatening accident, and you’ve got several leaps in all sorts of directions. So is the story of Olga Grueva, founder of family tree digital printing business, The Family Tree Co.
We’re big on family and kin around these parts. And many leap takers call on their family to help them make the jump. In Olga’s case, it was a 12 month bed-ridden recovery requiring the full care of her family that crystallised what was important, and inspired her to create customised, archival quality, bespoke, framed family tree prints to honour her loved ones.
Olga’s story reminds me of some wise words I once heard from Martha Beck while speaking at Oprah’s 2011 O You live event. You may have noticed that in reporting leap stories, I’m not an advocate of ‘following your passion’. But in this talk Martha reminds us that passion originally meant suffering: it’s derived from the latin word ‘pati’ which means suffer. She points that we know all about the passion of things that give us joy. But she also calls us to look at the other side of passion – that of which we have suffered and survived, as a way to tap into a hot track to our passion:
“Think of the worst thing you ever suffered and healed from, the worst thing you survived and got better. If you knew that what you will do in your life will ease that same suffering for other people who are experiencing that same painful experience; if you knew your life would heal them, how many of you would feel good about that?
The place where you will find the clearest track of your passion, is where those two things meet. Think about how you can apply the things you love to do (like photography or teaching) to something in the world that is hurting the way you once were hurt… I guarantee you this, if you put those two things together… there are so many people who are looking for that kind of help and so many ways to exercise your passion, that if you combine joy and healing and put them together you will find the track to something that may not even exist yet.”
Through her joy of designing and her physical suffering Olga found her track, and in the process created something which didn’t exist before now. That’s a mighty leap.
To get your family tree in time to put it under your Christmas tree, place your order by Wednesday 23 November, and show your kin some love.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
Professional tennis player (still do). My (strict) parents wouldn’t let me pursue it as a professional career. As immigrants they wanted me to go to university.
What did/do you study?
Graphic Design at RMIT. Over the past five years I have studied an entrepreneurial business course, joint venture agreements at NSW University, online marketing (NYC) ongoing and various social media courses, including Of Kin’s. Can never stop learning.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
I’m not sure about leaps, but I have had my fair share of companies retrenching staff. My first job out of university I was retrenched after the company dissolved right before Christmas (harsh). I ended up freelancing by chance really. Finding design work between Christmas and March is tough, as it’s the quiet time for most studios. I ended up full-time again only to be made redundant after the company was bought by an American firm who retrenched the entire company of 60 including the four partners. So it was back to freelancing.
I thought it would be a good time to try a few studios and sectors out to figure out what I wanted to specialise in and see if the companies that I had put on a pedestal were where I really wanted to work. I was disappointed with the false sense of what some of those places were about.
I ended up freelancing for 16 years, I’m not sure it was a leap. It felt more like I fell into freelancing and the daily hustle, yet I loved it.
Fast forward to 2010, I had a serious life threatening accident that almost left me a quadriplegic (7 days off to be exact). After spending just over 12 months in bed recovering I decided that freelancing was not going to work with where my mind and body were at. This was when I had to make the tough decision to go back to full-time work only to have my role made redundant with budget cuts. There was that word again!
I thought the universe was trying to tell me something. So I focused my efforts on the pending launch of my side business, The Family Tree Co. But, after a monumental cock up with a developer that didn’t know what he was doing, I was forced to take on another full-time role. Reality hit when the bills were coming in to pay for the damage that the old developer had created. The mess set me back 12 months (mid-Oct) and lots of money to fix the website and with zero support I am in a full-time role, which I do love being in interiors.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I’m still working full-time and working on The Family Tree Co. The Family Tree Co. gives me the opportunity to explore which I love. I feel like a university student again where you have endless hours to explore, make mistakes and push the boundaries.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
Can I say, Steffi Graff? (Total idol.)
My sister who is my sounding board 100%. It helps that she is a clinical psychologist as well. I get the professional take on situations and people. She’s also my best friend.
I never really had any key influencers in my life. I’ve always looked up to successful people. From a global perspective, I admire people like:
Sophia Amoruso – the total #girlboss who built a $250 million business from scratch and minimal resources.
Jenna Lyons – for her unique style, fresh approach to colour, texture and design and how she turned a catalogue business around.
Patricia Urquiola – for her insane creativity and crazy volume of work.
Anya Hindmarch – for building this incredible brand that started with digital prints on bags to a full fashion label.
Karl Lagerfeld – for always being relevant, and I envy his ability to reinvent Chanel every season with a new story and still stay faithful to the brand values and know the customer, a total genius at 83 and still killing it.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
I’ve always been a saver and a creature of habit while freelancing so I’ve always had cash reserves for a rainy day.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
My defining moment was more about the mounting costs with the developer fallout. It made me stay in the full-time game. I do love my job but, with zero support, I’m more into security and I need it before I make any significant leaps to focus on the business, as I want this to work and be a space where I can explore, design, create and evolve.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
While I was freelancing I knew I had heaps of connections and felt confident with my design skills, experience and knowledge so I never felt scared in that respect. I knew I would always fall on my feet with hard work and do my best to keep relevant and specialise in key areas in order to be sought out for projects.
How did you fund your leap?
I’m currently working to support my side project.
What other leaps have you made in the past?
I think freelancing is a pretty big leap. It’s always a state of being where you need to be on top of so many things, and be disciplined as your own boss. Excellent groundwork for a side business.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I had a stationery range called Library+ with two other business partners. What didn’t work was that we were three graphic designers (mistake number one) so we all had the same skill set to offer. We all had different ideas of what the business was, and we were all at various stages in our lives from a personal and financial level, and this was the driving force to dissolve the business.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
It may sound harsh, but losing my eyesight. With the accident, I get some blindness on and off and to lose my eyesight as a designer would be catastrophic as I need my vision to design. I am trying to take better care of myself now that the website is live.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
I would say 10, so awesome now that I have a live website! I’m excited about meeting new and inspiring people.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Starting a side business on my own is a win-win. Having a website that I can play with, learn, test and measure against, and create a community with, is pretty exciting.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Finances, time, weekends are rare, but I love working on my business and having the ability to explore, create and test a platform that I built for myself. The long hours and missing out on regular weekends is tough, but I am trying to balance that out now that I have some more control back.
What might be your next leap?
I am working on extending the product range, and looking forward to collaborating with some creatives who I admire and also developing another range that is an extension of The Family Tree Co., watch this space.
What are your favorite words to live by?
“The only obstacle in life is yourself.”
Something I tell my inner self when the cards are stacked against me.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I respect people that have taken a leap and created an amazing community.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Give it a go. You don’t want to live with regrets. If it fails, so what? At least you tried.
Right now I’m:
Excited that I have a website that works! Sleeping in on the weekends (that extra one hour makes all the difference). Loving shooting my images for social media and messing about with my new lighting kit and trying to remember what Brooke Holm taught me in her photography masterclass. Along with meeting new people along the way.
Hearing: Classical music to work to, the hum of a busy cafe, audiobooks (multitasking at its best) and endless podcasts, I can’t get enough of them.
Eating: Clean, on a strict eating program.
Drinking: Loads of water, herbal teas and black coffee. No alcohol. I’ve been off alcohol since December 2015.
Reading: Anything and everything. Headlines. Endless interiors magazines. Fast Company Inc. The Strays (Emily Bitto). #Girlboss (for about the 10th time). Kinfolk. Cereal. Féte/Life. Vogue Living (now that Neil Whitiker is the editor). Monocle. Cereal Travel books (I have them all). Anything business related and beauty blogs for layout inspiration.
Loving: My sister. Other people’s dogs. Pinterest. Hérmes ANYTHING. Anything Monogram. Stationery. Natural fibres, Apparatus Studio, Instagram, Daylight Savings, Bloomberg TV, Gucci colours, Hay, COS, mangoes and that warmer weather is just around the corner with long lingering nights.
Olga’s resilience to keep getting back up over and over when life has knocked her down is a reminder that we are never done in creating our life, and that our suffering can be the start of something beautiful for the world.
p.s. Don’t forget, to have your family tree in time for Christmas, order by 23 November!