You spent your 20s working toward building 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 just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
How do you honor your passion, cultivate a meaningful career, and make a living? Anyone with creative aspirations knows firsthand it's a serious challenge to reconcile the aforementioned ambitions. But it's even more rewarding than it is challenging once you do. And Mara Kapsis is living proof that's possible. When she was studying textile design in university, she realized how much hands-on creative work inspired her. So she dabbled in designing and crafting home goods, worked as an assistant, and picked up freelance opportunities along the way.
Then she discovered a career path she didn't even realize existed: a paint color designer for cars. So we sat down with Kapsis and picked her brain about how she navigated the uncertain territory of fusing passion with a more structured yet just as creative career trajectory. If you're thinking about a career change or simply want some inspiration, read on below.
Tell us about your first career path.
My career path seems to have traveled in loops. While studying textile design in Australia, I was involved in a collaborative project with the Chevrolet design studio. The project lead to a 12-month internship with the color and trim team. Automotive color and trim design was not something I was aware of as a career option, and that opportunity really opened my eyes to this unique industry. Following my internship, I was fortunate enough to stay on as a Chevrolet designer while finishing school.
How did you make the transition from art to car design?
After some time, I found myself feeling drawn back to more hands-on creative work. Following much contemplation, I chose to pursue my own small business. I was designing and making home goods with the amazing support of my Mom, who would sew up my products, and my sisters were also roped into manning market stalls where I would sell my wares. They all provided the necessary pep talk as I tried to find my way. During this time I also assisted a florist in event installations, took on freelance graphic design work, did some set design with a local theatre company, and worked in retail. It was a time of exploration, to say the least!
Tell us about your current career path/business.
Then came my second crossroads. This time I yearned for the stability and collaboration of the design studio environment. I began looking for roles back in automotive, and one thing led to another. I applied for a position at the Chevrolet headquarters in Detroit. Within two months I found myself packed up and starting fresh here in the U.S. where I am once again part of the Chevrolet color and trim design team.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers and why?
At each step, there is a level of reinvention, and it’s sometimes the small things that can be most challenging—being patient while I am learning new skills, allowing myself that exploration, and being okay with letting go when things don’t go as planned.
What triggered your need to change this time around?
I felt like I understood how I could shift my approach to automotive design to feel more fulfilled in that path. Working on my small business, I became more connected to the face of the customer. I reconnected with materials and felt more grounded in my working practices. I was excited to take that customer-focused approach back to Chevrolet.
Why is your career path suitable to your personality?
At the heart of all the branches of my career, I came to realize that I simply want to make beautiful things… to create beautiful spaces for people. At Chevrolet, we have a wonderful opportunity to bring that intent into the lives of our customers through their vehicle. For example, I am really proud of the design in the new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, one of the newest Chevy vehicles that I was able to be a part of.
We designed a wonderful range of interiors that speak to different personalities. From the black denim-inspired fabric to a fresh gray and expressive tan-hued leather-appointed interior, there is truly something for everyone. Customers spend so much time in their vehicle, it’s an honor to design beautiful, practical spaces for them to enjoy.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in making big changes in your career life?
To be open to opportunities and clear in my intention. For me, that means I can approach the color and trim design for a vehicle such as the Equinox just as thoughtfully as I would a hand-printed tablecloth.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
I think I moved past fear by putting other things in front of it. Prioritizing my passion for color and trim design, the respect I have for the other designers I am fortunate enough to collaborate with, and the desire to work together to ultimately make our customers lives easier and more beautiful. Fear is still there; it’s just at the back of the line.
What are some mistakes you made along the way?
On one hand, I’ve made the mistake of not asking for help when I desperately needed it, and on the other hand, not owning or acknowledging my creative contribution. At Chevrolet, I get to work with amazingly creative people from a diverse range of fields. There are literally thousands of people that work together to bring world-class products to our customers. It is that team effort and collaboration that makes a project truly successful. Knowing that the help of others will only lead to progress and also being confident that all of our personal perspectives and expertise are valid and necessary.
What do you love most about your career and why?
I love that I get to step into different worlds. I get to put myself into the shoes of our customer, explore what that means and design colors and materials to enhance the everyday. I love simply exploring beautiful textures and finishes, sometimes looking in unexpected places.
In the Equinox, we took the concept of comfort and durability that we know in the jeans we wear and turned that inspiration into a seat trim with our black, denim-inspired interior. I love the emotion that comes with thoughtful design and how we can pass that onto our customers.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
No regrets. I have continued to learn and grow with each loop. I just wish I could wiggle my nose (like Samantha on Bewitched) and be with my family in Australia for lunch on Sundays.
Want more amazing career stories? Read more features from our Second Life series.