You spent your 20s working toward your dream career, but now that you're in your 30s, what do you do when you've, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you're now ready to commit to something you're passionate about, whether it's a job, a city, or a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we created the series Second Life, which shares the stories of women who overcame their doubts and fears and made the biggest (and best) changes of their lives.
Career paths don't follow the linear trajectories they once did—and Christiana Coop's résumé is proof of that. The lawyer-turned-tastemaker is now at the helm of wildly popular home décor brand Hygge & West alongside co-founder Aimee Lagos. Although she always had a passion for interior design, she didn't consider a career in home décor until she realized her work at the firm wasn't as fulfilling as she'd originally envisioned.
"With my law career, I got to a point where I realized the only two things motivating me were fear and money. That's no way live," the entrepreneur told MyDomaine. "Every day after this realization, I told myself it would be a waste of time if I continued along at my law firm," she explained. "At that point, I really opened myself up to any and all new opportunities, and shortly after that, I was able to make the switch."
In this installment of Second Life, the co-founder of Hygge & West shares her best career advice, including the mistakes she's made along the way that ended up contributing to her success, how she deals with self-doubt, and why she has absolutely no regrets when she reflects on her previous career as a lawyer.
Tell us about your first career path.
I studied natural science management in undergrad and then went to law school thinking I'd pursue a career in environmental law. Unfortunately, I knew absolutely nothing about the actual practice of law. The only thought I'd really put into this career was picturing myself carrying a chic briefcase and helping save the planet. I honestly didn't even realize that a lot of careers in environmental law meant representing corporations and doing "black hat" work that might actually not benefit the environment.
My first summer internship was at a state environmental agency, and I was miserable there. I'm not sure if I was just extremely nervous and scared that I wasn't doing the work correctly, or if it was actually not interesting to me, but I completely fell off track after that and ended up working for a corporate law firm upon graduation. I hoped that this would be a quick way to repay my school loans but stayed there for five years because I couldn't really figure a way out.
How did you make the transition from a lawyer to a home décor maven?
I was at the end of my rope at my law firm and decided to throw caution to the wind. Aimee was looking for wallpaper to make a headboard, and we stumbled upon Ferm Living in Denmark. When she emailed them to inquire about purchasing some, they told her to check back as they were working to find a U.S. distributor. So we thought, how hard could it be to distribute wallpaper? (Spoiler: it was harder than we thought.) We emailed them a proposal letter. I'd realized I had a passion for interior design years before, so when they agreed to our proposal, it was a no-brainer. I felt like the stars had aligned.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
I'm now the co-owner of Hygge & West along with Aimee. My side of our business focuses on social media and customer service, but we both wear so many hats. Ultimately, I'd love to focus more extensively on product innovation and spend a lot more time thinking about and imagining how people will design spaces with our product. I'd also be very happy just looking at home décor images all day on Instagram—how do I make that a career?
What have been the biggest challenges in your careers? Why?
I think it's about projecting myself with confidence. See how I said, "I think?" I've recently read somewhere to stop prefacing thoughts with "I think" or they won't be taken as seriously. Certainly, as a lawyer, I was never able to master sharing my opinions or conclusions with enough certainty that people would take me as seriously as my peers that were able to project total confidence. Much less so now, but I still find myself not always expressing my thoughts or vision with enough strength. Also, we recently were on a panel with an interior designer who was really adamant about staying 100% true to your unique aesthetic, and I thought that was a great reminder for our company.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
It's collaborative and creative. I don't have a boss telling me what to do or what I did wrong. I get to interact with so many different kinds of talented and creative people and am always learning new things. I LOVE colors, patterns, and interior spaces, which I get to look at all day long. I get to laugh with my best friend every day. I can work in my pajamas if I feel like it.
What's the most important thing you have learned from making a big change in your career?
To be happy, you have to take risks.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
I just got to a place where I was desperate enough to do it. Feeling fear was the better alternative.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
We originally launched our company by selling not only wallpaper, but also custom dessert plates, t-shirts, candles, jewelry, knit goods, and more. Then the economy tanked, and we had to tighten up our budget to hang in there. We realized there was a niche in the modern wallpaper market being sold direct to consumer, so decided to put all our energy and time into one core product rather than trying to be a more general shopping destination. This definitely ended up being the key to our growth and success.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
So many things! But one is that I'm in complete control of it. For example, just recently, we realized we want to be able to check out completely from our work. To really refresh, take a break, and come back to it with new eyes. For 10 years, we've never actually been able to just step away from it completely. And we both just decided, yes, let's hire someone who will make that possible for us.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
I don't have any big regrets. I suppose I wish I saved more money prior to the transition, but retail therapy seemed to get me through some really rough times as a lawyer, so who's to say? I'm so happy and feel so fortunate and thankful for where my career is now. I can't imagine doing anything else.
For more inspiring stories from successful women who made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.