What do you want to be when you grow up? How did you answer that question as a little kid, as a middle schooler, teenager, even a college student? The question can be anxiety inducing when you’re multi-passionate or when you haven’t quick figured out what your true purpose is. It can be an even worse question when you’re already on one path and realize, maybe this isn’t my thing?
Shea McGee is part of the husband and wife team behind Studio McGee, an interior design firm known across the country for a bright and clean aesthetic. I could get lost in their Instagram feed for days… And I have. And it’s served as inspiration for the interior of my own home.
But Shea didn’t start in interior design. In fact, she earned a degree in a completely different field before realizing that what she really wanted to do was design. So she changed her path and created the life and business she knew she was meant for.
We’re talking about that question: What do you want to be when you grow up? And how to make strategic, measured changes to pivot the degree or experience you have, into the purpose you know you’re meant to serve.
Fearing What She Wanted Most
When Shea McGee graduated with a PR degree, she went straight to work as the “PR girl” at an ad agency. It didn’t take many working days to discover that it really wasn’t the career she wanted for herself. Although she appreciated some of the aspects of the job, like the opportunity to write and be creative in that way, she knew she was meant for something else.
Shea had a side hustle creating headbands and used her PR skills to get them featured on morning network television and popular blogs (Daily Candy, remember that?) When the economy took a hit and she wasn’t seeing much work at her day job, she started spending a lot of time on design blogs. She couldn’t get enough of the interior design content.
That’s when the wheels started turning for Shea — Maybe she could start a business in design?
“But I can’t draw. I’m not a good artist. I was terrified to go to design school thinking that I would be bad at it,” Shea shared candidly, “I think I wanted to be a designer so badly that I was so scared to even try because what if this thing that I wanted didn’t work out because I was actually kind of bad at it?” Wow, can you relate to those feelings? I know I can.
Testing the Design Waters
Shea’s husband encouraged her to test the waters of design and take a few courses at a community college. She said this is what gave her the confidence to use the correct terminology and start working with clients on a small scale.
At first it was a room at a time or simply styling bookshelves. Shea started sharing her work on Instagram, something no other designer was really doing at the time. She saw the strategies that worked for fashion and beauty bloggers and modeled her posts after them.
When her following grew and she started to get design-related questions on Instagram, she went against a sticking point in the design world and engaged with her following providing answers to some questions that clients would typically pay for. This helped her establish a loyal and dedicated following, and in turn, grew her client base.
When Shea and her husband launched Studio McGee, they wore all the hats. Now Shea is the Chief Creative Officer and managing a team of over 70 employees. Her day-to-day looks much different now.
She used to be the person visiting the sites, measuring rooms, sourcing materials and furniture, building the design boards (or at the very least, leaning over the shoulders of her designers to work through direction). Now, she has meetings with her designers a few times a week to set the overall tone and direction for a client’s space. Her team takes the day-to-day work from there, but Shea is there through every part of the process.
“I learned that I don’t need to be answering the day to day emails, but I can get the same results, beautiful projects, if I’m involved in the intricacies of actually developing the design, but someone else can run with the day-to-day,” Shea explained.
Launching McGee and Co
The initial vision for Studio McGee was growing and scaling to multiple offices across the country, but that’s changed. Shea would rather work with a select few clients and lean into those projects while scaling their newest endeavor, McGee and Co.
McGee and Co is their product shop that offers designer pieces that still feel approachable and accessible to those who don’t want to or can’t hire a designer, but want similar touches in their home.
Shea and her husband are focusing a lot of their efforts on growing McGee and Co because this part of their business doesn’t spread them as thin.
Her Battle with Imposter Syndrome
From a PR degree to a booming design business without a degree (AKA a traditional form of proof that we can do something) to really back it up… I asked Shea if this ever leads to Imposter Syndrome feelings. “Growing a business, you feel like an imposter in every area!” Shea laughed.
“Before you can afford to hire an HR person, you have to be the HR person. Before you can afford to hire a marketing director, you have to be the marketing director,” you just have to figure out a ton of things that you don’t really know how to do.
“It’s made us more careful. Because we lack professional experience in a certain area, we really research things so we can get them right. And we’re not afraid to feel like things didn’t go as we planned and reevaluate what we’re doing,” Shea continued. Although she has felt like an imposter in her role and her business, she likes that she developed the skill of failing and going back to the drawing board.
More from this Episode
I asked Shea what she would do or say if her children didn’t want to get a degree? I love the discussion that came out of this question, so press play on the episode above to hear the full answer. It might surprise you! Plus, Shea and I talk about hearing feedback and criticism from clients and she gives her advice for anyone feeling stuck in their four year degree when it’s not their passion.