#wcw Hope Meng
Netflix should make a series about Hope Meng’s life so far. One season would be all about what she’s doing now, as a San Francisco-based graphic designer, wife, and mother of two. Another season would focus on the Sewing Lounge she started in San Francisco, the publications that came out of it, and her national book tour – which she somehow managed to do while in school, earning her second undergraduate degree. There would have to be a season about her early years as a competitive swimmer and subsequent years as a professional belly dancer. And we can think of all kinds of sponsors for the season where she and her husband travel the world – 6 continents and 21 countries in 415 days.
Because there is so much to her story, we asked Hope for an overview of all her careers and big steps before getting to some specific questions.
On her early years: “I swam competitively from age 8 to 18. My mom never learned how to swim and I think she wanted different for me and sort of overcorrected. ;) Like a good child of immigrants, I went to Cal and got a degree in Econ with the intention of working in public policy but spent a semester in DC and was like, HELL NO. So after college, I took the best-paying consulting job I was offered. It was horrible and patriarchal and I was a fish out of water there.
Then came the first dot-com boom: “My next job was for a startup, where I worked as a producer doing light design and HTML stuff for their clients. I think that's where I started to realize that design could be a path for me. This is also the time I was a professional belly dancer (I had started classes at the end of college) and I even ended up dancing at a World International Dance Festival in Beijing with my troupe. After the startup went under, I started taking night classes in graphic design at UC Berkeley extension and CCA. I realized that I would have to go back to school FT if I was serious about pursuing design as a career, which I was.”
But going back to school wasn’t enough. “At the same time, I also started the sewing lounge with two of my best friends. We happened to hit the timing just right. The craft movement was just gaining traction, Etsy had just launched, etc. Our focus was on making sewing accessible for young, hip people – not too stuffy, forget all the rules, just get in there and do it. We ended up getting signed to write and illustrate two books on refashioning and did a nationwide book tour. I was going to school full time, running the sewing lounge, writing and illustrating our books, and planning a wedding all at the same time. It was a lot and I supremely burned out by the end. Ultimately the sewing lounge was not what any of us wanted to do for our careers and so we attempted to sell it and even went into escrow with a buyer but then the bottom fell out of the economy (this was 2008).”
At this point in her story she is newly married and has just received her second degree (in graphic design): “At the end of 2008 my husband and I quit our jobs and traveled the world for 13 months. When we came back, I was newly pregnant with my first child and I started freelancing, slowly building up my portfolio and client list.”
And since then? “My primary focus during this past 10 years has really been on being a mom. I have been working this whole time, and I am very proud of a lot of the work I've done, but it has been more of a ‘keep my feet in the water’ type of situation, rather than ‘let's dive into this career.’ Now my kids are 8 and 5 and I am remembering that drive and ambition I had in my 20s and 30s and ALSO thinking ahead to what kind of impact I want to make with my work. So this is where I am at now. I did get a little beat up along the way and now I am working with a business/life coach on...well, so much stuff. Mindset, visioning, learning how to dream again, etc. :) I am at the beginning of a couple of big pushes I want to make on my career, and I am still in the midst of working through it all. Sometimes it feels really hard, but I am strangely comfortable with the amount of time it is taking. I guess I trust that I am going to come out the other end clearer, stronger, and more inspired.
Obviously, we had some questions.
You have made some pretty serious career and life changes since college: going back to school for a second degree and traveling the world for more than a year. How did you make that happen financially, and what advice would you give to people who might want to do either or both?
I'm so glad you asked this, and I want to be fully transparent because it has helped normalize my own experience when I hear other creatives speak about similar $ situations. Frankly, a lot of these moves were possible because my husband made good financial decisions early on in his life. For instance, he bought a condo in the Mission in the 90s (which we lived in up until 5 years ago). The super low mortgage meant that I had minimal living expenses when I went back to school for my graphic design degree (which I paid for with loans, grants, and scholarship). It also allowed us to save for the year-long trip (and to be clear, that trip was far from luxurious. We were on a backpacker's budget and did our share of sleeping on the floor in airports. But still, I know that is a huge chunk of money to spend, one that would not have been possible without a low mortgage). So, I don't really feel qualified to give financial advice on this. I just got lucky. I have heard other creatives admit that they were supported by partners when they embarked on a huge personal project (for example) that launched their careers and I always appreciate the transparency.
We have a ton of coaches in the WC community. Many of them are vocal about what they can do for other people, but we don't hear a whole lot from people who are being coached. Can you describe the type of work you do with the coach?
I'm very happy to share my coaching experience with anyone who is curious, because it has been transformative for me! I think for many years, I was letting my career sort of happen to me, rather than driving it. So my work with the coach has really helped me look within and dream about what I want; i.e. think about the impact I want to make with my work. I am basically mid-career and planning for the time I have left to accomplish the things I want do. And the coach is really helping me with a lot of mindset stuff. I had been in talk therapy for years, but I always felt I needed something a little more forward-thinking and action-driven. Finally, coaching has provided me everyday tools (productivity, mindset, and otherwise) that are a framework for me to stay focused and motivated and healthy as I try to accomplish some ambitious goals. I am still in the midst of a lot of this work, as I only started working with the coach in March. I feel as if I am in a deep hibernation mode – planning and scheming, about to wake up and update the world on what I've been up to!
How can the Women Catalysts community help you?
As part of my work with the coach, I am refocusing my design business on branding for entrepreneurs who are making waves in their industries. This is what I LOVE about my work: learning about the cool and amazing things that people are doing, and then helping them interpret their mission and values into a visual strategy. It is incredibly gratifying work! I joined Women Catalysts to widen my network of potential clients, but also because learning about other women doing inspiring work keeps me going!