A Full Time Freelance Designer On Leaving New York & Her Day Job

Alex Labriola is the owner of an Amsterdam based design and illustration studio called Al Stampa. Alex brought to life the Mother Untitled brand with her playful sensibility and gorgeous eye. I've been totally impressed (and envious) of Alex's instinctual move across the pond and the commitment to realizing a dream.  Though Alex isn't a mother yet, the decision to leave corporate life to make room in her life for herself and her ambition is applicable to all modern women. Here, Alex shares her path to leaving her day job, to invest her time in building her business and what she has learned along the way. 

Alex labriola

I remember my Mom’s words to me last year when I was in a funk about my day job as a Creative Director at a large corporation: “If not now, when?”  

She was referring to making my dream of running my own design business, Al Stampa, a reality.  Al Stampa is a design studio that specializes in branding, illustration and letterpress, but I never had the time to build it into a full-time business. And frankly, living in NYC, I was just too afraid. I was focusing so intensely on the things that could go wrong that I was ignoring all the things in my life that were not feeling right.  It wasn’t until I moved to Amsterdam, husband and kitty in tow, with some favorite books and art supplies, that I let go of all the "what ifs" and started to embrace all of the “I cans.” Packing up our life into boxes, was the first step in embracing change and having faith in our choices to enhance our future.

I learned some key lessons through this process that continue to help me build my business and keep my mind clear…

1   Life isn’t meant to be scary…  I used to think that becoming an adult, and all that comes with it, was a bunch of ankle weights put on every year you blew out birthday candles. Once I decided to DO what I always dreamed, a confidence started to wash over me that helped me prepare for everything else that was to come.  It seems simple, and idealistic, but I feel that a fulfilled life feeds the excitement we so often lose sight of in terms of living life. 

2   If you build it, they will come…  Great movie… but seriously if you do what you love success will come. You will not put the amount of work in that yields success if you do not love what you do. The “freelancer life” is glorified a bit. A free schedule, with a home office - but those things are only thin, pretty layers to the complicated life of a small business owner.  You have to be prepared to get your hands dirty, become a little accountant, let the hours swim by, and Work. Really. Hard.  Only then will it really pay off.

3      Train your anxiety beast. Raised as an Italian-catholic gal, I have an entire compartment in my brain dedicated to guilt and anxiety.  It may be because we aren’t allowed to nap when we’re young :) but I think it’s because of the pasta… just kidding. Pasta rules.  Layers of anxiety started to shed naturally as I devoted myself to Al Stampa… Anxieties about starting a family, buying a home, networking with strangers, not being good enough.  Things I thought were unrelated to each other had rippling effects that changed my outlook on life in a matter of a few months.  I wake up each day energized for what’s ahead, and I can have a lazy Sunday without feeling guilty for indulging.  

4   Comparisons are for the weak… and they make us weaker.  Growing up, my dad always said to me “we determine our own self-worth”. Someone out there will always have more, or appear to have it easier.  I promise you this though ... no one’s life is perfect. If you think you’re only worthy of a harsh comparison to everyone else in the world, that is a recipe for disaster personally and in your business.  Confidence breeds success, so I’d say focus more on loving yourself!

5   Have patience. I’m not rushing to the finish line anymore because I have fully accepted that this is the path I’m meant to be on, and life is long.  This idea eases hardships, lack of confidence, and pure exhaustion. Take the time to build what you want, take the time to be with your family and eat a good dinner every night.  And always look to inspire yourself so you’re not always pumping out uninformed work.

While I don’t believe in a perfect life scenario, I do believe in the power we have, especially as women, to lay the groundwork for the type of life we want.  I don’t expect to be able to do everything, but I believe I can do most things if I’m happy and fulfilled, with a deeper trust in myself.  That in and of itself will tremendously improve my life and relationships.