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Life and Work with Chelsey Finigan

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsey Finigan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Chelsey. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
They say all great changes are preceded by chaos. I don’t know who “they” are… but I’d like to buy them a drink.

I can’t that I always knew I would start my own business. I certainly thought about it, but I thought about a lot of things. I was born with a motor that ran too fast (or so they told me.) I wanted to do everything, learn everything, see everything. A great example would be my 4th-grade project that asked, ‘What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?’ My answer? I want to be an artist/marine biologist/Power Ranger/scuba diver/Botanist. It sounded like a solid plan?

I was a city kid, born in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Life went fast, and so did I. My brain buzzed like an imagination super-highway and I just had a thing for finding meaning in the most meaningless of things. Creativity was something that just felt imbedded in my identity, and at times I felt it was the only way to channel my energy. My parents were great about this and never tried to subdue it, even letting me claim a small room in the top floor of our old house to do whatever I wanted with. This room became my first real canvas, literally, and I covered the walls in drawings. I never knew that 20 years later I would end up doing it for an actual living. I think if it were now as opposed to then, I would’ve been diagnosed with a rip-roaring case of ADHD. But it was the 90s and instead I was a kid who asked too many questions and just needed to quiet down and figure it out. By some miracle, I graduated high school and was awarded a grant to college based on my journalism background (which was basically just talking… on paper. I was good at talking.) I began to realize even in Journalism that your topics are most usually dictated to you. “You mean I can’t research and write what I want?” …“No, you have to follow the curriculum.” It was around that time I quickly gathered that I was all set with “curriculum”, & I left college.

I had all this energy and needed to put it somewhere, so naturally, I just drowned myself in work. And just like any other high, it would fade. Because for me, it was always a different kind of drive. I couldn’t mentally stay in any game that I wasn’t genuinely passionate about, be it work or otherwise. I started to feel more and more like I was selling my soul to the devil in exchange for a commission check and losing myself in the process. I always questioned defaults and offered new methods of approach. I saw everything as a project with multiple viewpoints. I felt that if you have a group of like-minded individuals running the same show all of the time, where is there room left for different ideas? I was told by my boss that I was a hard worker and that people liked me, but I just wasn’t corporate enough. At the time, that stung… and now, it’s the number one reason I chose to do what I did. I went rogue. My not-corporate-enough-self decided that maybe not being “corporate enough” was actually my ticket out of this machine.

At this point, I had been a freelance artist for a few years now, primarily working with the Revere Hotel Boston Common. I worked on large scale chalk murals for clients with events in the Tea Gallery (an entire floor of the hotel turned into one giant chalkboard) and I loved it. My client base was solid and I was booking out up to a year in advance. Having never advertised, I was still getting calls to take on a whole range of different projects. And I would take them. And I nailed them. Every single time. I made enough to cover my expenses, my work was well received, and above all: I was creating again. My entire life I had made decisions based on impulse, near 99.9% of the time, and now I suddenly felt the need to be cautious. I was starting to feel the pressure of balancing my two careers, and it was becoming more and more difficult to give 100% to both. I was at a fork in the road and needed to make a choice… and quick.

And that’s how Regina George died.

Just kidding. It would be cool if the next part of my story was all like SO THEN I WENT AND DID IT AND EVERYTHING WAS SO GREAT But that would be too easy.

I spent a lot of time fearing for things that never happened, and not enough time on the things that would. After 10 years of friendship and just shy of our two-year wedding anniversary, my husband and I made a heartbreaking call to end our marriage. It was the first time in my life that the world stood still. I had never felt grief like I did when it hit me that I would be losing my best friend.

The next year would take its title to be one of the most pivotal, heartbreaking, exciting, devastating, enlightening and chaotic chapters that I never saw coming. And I wouldn’t dare regret living it… because without the chaos, I don’t think the ‘great change’ would have followed. If I were to truly sit down and regale you with the tale of it, well, we would be here all day and we would probably need several cocktails afterward… and as much as I love cocktails, we all have places to be and just ain’t nobody got time for that. The baseline of it all is that I spent almost ten years running, thinking I was getting somewhere, and the whole time, I was going in the wrong direction. My identity was so wrapped up in my relationship with my ex-husband, when we separated, I found myself not really even knowing who the hell I was. It sounds cliché, but I can’t think of a clearer way to say it.

After a shock, everything becomes less intimidating. It’s like your tolerance goes up and you’re less likely to flinch at everything. I made the choice to begin ruthlessly editing my life, cutting anything that I held on to out of fear. I don’t know why coming out of such a dark place can seem so illuminating, but it it was. I knew my last step was to pull the trigger on my business. I got my own place (all 500 square feet of it.. my own) & drafted my Separation Agreement, which really said nothing except for WE WILL SHARE THE DOG. And we did. Rags was the rescue we adopted a year into our marriage. Looking back, I didn’t know that this dog would become who he was to me. I can say that things can get dark after a divorce, and I can say that Rags kept the light on for me (and still does.) I truly believe that humans do not deserve dogs, myself included. The love that they bring to our lives is something that you could never understand until you find yourself being loved by a dog. Sure, he’s probably using me for food.. but I’m okay with it, and will be forever.

Weeks blended together and months became a year. I don’t remember the day I quote “Lost my mind” and went for it, but it was a feeling I could never forget. I suddenly found the courage to look at myself in the mirror and surprisingly, I recognized who I saw. I quit my job. I got to work. I never looked back. It was about that same time Tim came into the picture, and to this day I know there was a reason behind that. The final step was letting go of the fear of the unknown, so I did just that. It felt different this time, and I can only assume it was because for the first time I knew that my worth wasn’t being measured by how “corporate” I was– To Tim, my worth wasn’t a scaled figure. He never scoffed at my ideas or tried to subdue my thoughts. He let me run with them and even better: He ran with me. You don’t know how precious the support of a good partner is until you have one. I couldn’t imagine living this out with anyone else by my side or without him at all.

We’re all capable of amazing things, it’s just not always easy to pinpoint them. I founded Chelsey Finigan Creative because I wanted to bring life to the ideas of the people that care enough to dream them. I wanted to question things for the people that don’t look in that direction. Our brains, like everything else about us, are different. You have this wildly broad spectrum of brilliance and I do not believe that everyone is given the chance to throw theirs into the mix on projects where I believe would see benefit from a little ‘disruption’. You may be wildly ambitious and successful and can run a business in your sleep, but sometimes a beautifully functioning, yet black & white brain doesn’t quite compute color.. and that’s where I come in. I add the color. I disrupt, I question, and I engineer. I’m not an accountant. I am not an organizer. I am a creative. Imagination doesn’t end at seven years old, and brilliance should never be hidden. I’m on a mission to show that to anyone daring enough to implement this into their projects, and so far.. I haven’t left anyone in the black & white.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
A smooth road doesn’t exist. I’m 99.9% confident in that statement. But also know, that anything worth anything in this life will not be lying at the end of a smooth road. But the satisfaction you’ll get when you make it past the obstacles; Now, that’s worth everything.

To this day, my most significant struggle in all of this was keeping my business afloat while my life was crumbling behind the scenes. When you go solo, there isn’t anyone to cover for you. I will admit that during my divorce I was a train wreck.

I had just barely taken off when my first husband and I made the decision to end our marriage. It was hands down the most crippling sadness I had ever felt in my life. Here, I was so involved with running my new project, not even seeing what was happening on the outside and WHAM. My first husband was my best friend, and I was his. We had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed our twenties, but never caught on that we were going in different directions. Marriage was almost an assumed thing, so we did it. We never stopped to think if it were the right decision for us. We just did what we thought we were supposed to do. And the end? We never saw it coming. So naturally, I never thought to hold off on building my business and just went for it. I had crested the wave of one dream, meanwhile, the other was shattered to pieces.

I wanted to quit. I almost did, but I remembered that when the dust cleared at the end of it all, I still had to live with myself. I couldn’t throw it all away. I kept a picture of my dog in my work bag, as a constant reminder that someone was relying on me. It’s completely insane, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, I did my job. I cried (a lot) and ate a lot of snacks. I possibly consumed a fair number of cocktails to go along with those snacks. But I reeled it in, and I am proud that I made it through. I looked a little crazy at times, and probably scared a few people, but I did it.

My Dad says, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” If that’s not the most fantastic definition for all of this, I don’t know what is. And if you find yourself in the same boat, remind yourself of the end game. It’s been three years since then. There are chapters to this journey. Take them in stride, know your own strength, learn from your past, and never look back in anger. Be ready for the next page.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I’m a freelance, broad-spectrum Creative Director working under my own agency, Chelsey Finigan Creative.

My primary focus is on design, marketing, & and concept-based artwork. I’m best known for my large scale installs on the blackboard walls of the 6th floor located at the Revere Hotel Boston Common. I work alongside their incoming event clients to design & develop highly customized chalk artwork to bring their events to life. It’s such a niche market and I’m grateful to be in the epicenter of it with The Revere. They put me on the map and it’s a place I hold very close to my heart (especially you, Jack Besozzi.)

I also have a love for real estate and hold my license for Massachusetts, but I just never wanted to be an agent. I will jump at any chance to pull the two worlds together by bringing a creative spin to boutique projects. I recently hit the jackpot having been given a chance to work with the team for The Pioneer Everett. The project is incredible and the branding (crafted by Proverb) is brilliant. I am really looking forward to watching it come to life in 2019.

Because my ideas are constantly running and my passion for creative problem solving is so strong, I never wanted to limit myself to one realm. There are people that will tell you that you shouldn’t keep such an open field and should really tune into one area of expertise, but there are also people out there that put ketchup on prime rib and think the world is flat so I’m going to have to stay true to my own process and trust it as it has yet to steer me wrong. I won’t take a project that isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I do keep a network of other creatives & specialty tradespeople on deck to call on and collaborate with when I get thrown curve balls from clients. I trust my own brain, but there’s nothing like a solid meeting of the minds to really kick a project into high gear. People are brilliant, and I love nothing more than a big, collaborative brilliant idea coming to life through multiple sets of perspective. My favorite co-collaborator is the ChalkBos herself, Joan Aylward. She’s brought such a dynamic to my life in not only a sense of mentorship, but friendship as well.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
My advice. I wish I had more of it. I’m still in search of it. (No, really.. does anyone have any?)

I would think the one all-encompassing rule I would want to pass on is that “You can do anything, but not everything.” You will learn everything you need to learn because you want to and you will. You will finish that proposal because it’s what is keeping you from your next deal. You will figure out how to do your taxes because if you don’t…. the IRS will come for you and haunt your dreams. BUT you will not be able to do it all in one day. So, schedule yourself, prioritize, and give yourself a cutoff and go to sleep.

You’ll come up with this beautiful idea, and then all of these ugly thoughts start to steamroll it. You have to be able to decipher the difference between reality and our predisposed nature to fear for the worst. We’re human beings and you can be the most confident individual on the planet, but every single one of us hits the pillow at the end of a long day and will let the most defeating thoughts begin to dance in circles around our brains. Nothing positive comes to visit you when you’re tired. It’s not like “Hey, I just started my own business and I’m going to sleep great because I’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about for the rest of my life!” It’s more along the lines of, “I AM GOING TO FAIL. FAIL, FAIL,” because that’s how the human brain works under pressure. But it’s all a trick of the mind, and once you can figure that out you’re more likely to know the difference. Learn to identify self-doubt and check in with yourself. If it’s 1 am and you’re defeated, it’s because you’re tired. And if it’s really because you’re defeated and can’t solve your problem, ain’t nobody solving anything at 1 am. Staying up all night isn’t going to do anything except for drive you into a state of self-doubt, produce half-hearted work, and send you on a binge eating chip fest that you will not benefit from in the morning. Breathe, because nobody is going to die.

Realize early on that you know nothing. Find yourself a powerhouse mentor and don’t be afraid to lean on them. I was lucky enough to befriend veteran Boston photographer, Jess McDougall. who has been a huge contributor to my journey. A well-seasoned solopreneur (and a successful one at that), her guidance has proven to be one of the most integral parts in me being able to make this work.

Additionally: FEAR NOTHING. (except for the IRS…) Get a good accountant… and an even better therapist (What up, B!), because your friends have no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t wax your own eyebrows. Potential clients do not trust you if you’re strolling around with crazy brows. Google Keep is the best thing ever. Get a wall calendar. Store snackbars in your bag, because you won’t eat. And for the love of God.. get an external hard drive and BACK. IT. UP.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jess McDougall Creative, Joan Aylward (@ChalkBos)

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