“Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions,” the saying goes. Diane Kappa found that realizing one dream opened the door for her to achieve a second dream. She seized the opportunity and found success in a career-changing move.
Dennis: Oftentimes in our lives, we have more than one dream. And the question is, can we accomplish all of those dreams or not? And, once in a while, things converge that makes those dreams happen at the same time. And that's what our conversation is about today with Diane Kappa. Diane, glad to have you here with me today.
Diane: Thank you.
Dennis: And Diane, you experienced something very similar; you had a couple of dreams that seemed to come together about the same time.
Diane: Yeah, I call it my “two-part dream.” The first part was to live in Europe and the second part was to be my own boss. And, well, doing a big move like moving to Europe, obviously, I wasn't going to have a job when I got there, so being my own boss came hand in hand with moving.
Dennis: It kind of forced it upon you, really.
Diane: Yeah. And the way my dream started was I travelled a lot in college and my husband, he did Peace Corps so we both kind of had a travel bug already in us. And we travelled a lot together. And then at some point, I want to say it was probably in 2004, we started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we lived somewhere long enough to not feel like tourists? To be able to immerse ourselves in the culture, make friends and really kind of have a day to day experience rather than being in a city for two weeks, seeing everything that we could and then leaving.”
Diane: So that's kind of how that dream surfaced.
Dennis: So, Steve, as I recall got the job that then took you all to Hungary, right?
Diane: No, not at all.
Dennis: Oh, is that right? Okay.
Diane: Yeah. So in 2004, we both sort of started thinking and talking like, we sort of daydreamed I guess, like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we can move to Europe?” And then in 2006, my mom passed away and that was a real pivotal point in my life where I would say all of my decision-making.
Diane: She died quite young. She was 54. And after her passing, I thought… I remember hearing my parents always plan for retirement like, “When we retire, we're going to travel. When we retire, we're going to do this.” And then I thought to myself, “Why not do it now?” You know, you don't know if you're going to have the energy, the time, the finances to be able to do those things that you keep planning for 25 years from now. So anyway, so that happened and after a lot of planning, Steve and I had quit our jobs in August of 2008, got on a plane in September and landed in Budapest, September 11th, 2008 with no jobs.[laughs]
Dennis: With no jobs? I didn’t realize.
Diane: We, for four days I think, rented in a bed and breakfast and after that, we had no idea what we're going to do. [Laughs]
Dennis: That's a bold move!
Diane: Well, you know, so that’s sort of the simple story but what people don't know or realize is that we really planned. We met with a financial advisor and said, okay, we want to be able to move to Europe… quit our jobs, move to Europe, live without jobs for three months because we thought, you know, we may not find jobs and it might take quite a while.
Diane: And then let's assume that we fail [laughs] we have to move back to Seattle and look for jobs again because we've just quit our jobs. So we wanted to have enough finances to be able to support all that and not be too stressed out over having to take the first job that came along or just, you know, the stress of not having enough money to live. So yeah, so we had met with a financial advisor years before we moved and we had made changes in our life to save money, save money, save money. And then when we decided to move, we sold everything but our house. Which we tried to sell that too, but it was 2008 so housing market wasn't… it was just starting to decline.
Diane: So yeah, so we moved, packed up what we had and we moved to Budapest and started our life there.
Dennis: So you had this dream for some time, obviously. You’ve talked about it and then you spent several years, it sounds like, planning and saving and planning out what was going to happen. So you had a safety net. So you had a buffer of time. You could live for three months without having to worry about income and so forth. And should you not find something in that time period, be able then to pick up and fly back home. You know, so not be stranded in Europe, you know, without any source of income or any way to get home or whatever.
Diane: And Seattle's an expensive city. And so the idea of what if we did have to come back and neither of us had jobs. And you know, the idea of moving back to Seattle without jobs was a little stressful, so that's where I kept saying, “Let’s just have enough money to like [laughs] to hold us here if we're going to have to go out and search for jobs all over again.”
Dennis: Yeah, there you go. Sometimes, fear is a great motivator in a positive way.
Dennis: So what made you believe that this was going to work out when you headed to Hungary?
Diane: I mean if it didn't work out, then we tried and we would make other plans. Or you know, what if we didn't like it? What if we lived there for six months and we hated it and then we wanted to come back and we never wanted to travel again? I mean, you don't know till you try. And so, I don't know if we really believed that it would work or didn't believe that it would work; we just kind of took the leap and kind of went with it. And we had always told ourselves that we were going to be gone for about three to five years.
Diane: And we already knew that... because Steve was in the Peace Corps, so he kind of already knew that you know, we should maybe not come back to the States for one year, because it takes about a year to kind of like acclimate. We're going to have some frustrating times, we're going to wanna pack up and move because we're frustrated with the postal system or [laughs] getting visas or you know, health care, all those necessities that you need. And I guess because we're realistic about that, things really worked out great. [laughs]
Dennis: Well it sounds like to me you went in with… given Steve’s experience in Peace Corps having lived abroad for a number of years and some other countries, you had that experience in your portfolio, if you will, of what it's going to take to live there and things you had to solve, like you mentioned, health care or figuring out the postal system and housing and so forth. But you had this positive attitude that said, “Let’s give it a year. Let’s give it a shot. It may be frustrating at times.” But did it not frustrate you?
Diane: Oh, yeah! I remember there was one day, Steve said, “Okay, you’ve been in bed. It's one o'clock. Are you going to stay in bed all day?” And I said, “I am. I'm going to stay in bed all day.”
“And tomorrow, I will get out of bed and just try all over again.” And I think it was probably we were a month in and like buying bread was just such a challenge! Because you know, we don't know the language we just started language lessons, which, as you know, Hungarian is not an easy language.
Dennis: No, it's not!
Diane: “Thank you” does not sound anything like “thank you.”
Diane: And then you know, dealing with those day to day frustrations. There was just one day where I was just like, “No, I'm going to lay in bed all day and pout. And tomorrow I'll get out of bed and I will go buy bread and the things will be better. But today, I'm just taking a day off.” He said, “Okay.” [Both laugh] So, it wasn’t always rosy.
Dennis: But you stayed longer than a year, too, right?
Diane: Yeah, just under four.
Dennis: Under four years.
Diane: Yeah. And Steve found a job within a month. And then this is where the second part of my dream comes in: I started, I don't know if it was that… that, as you said, that bold move of moving overseas, but somehow things that always scared me or were roadblocks didn't seem to be roadblocks anymore. Like, for example, there was an art agent in New York who, I don't know, ten or fifteen years, every time I would go to this trade show, I would see his booth. And it was like, you know, the biggest booth, there was always a swarm of people around, the artwork on the walls was fantastic. And I always thought, “I wanna work for him.”
And I worked for three other reps in the middle of, you know, seeing his booth and really wanting to work for him and then finally getting up the courage to call him and say, “Hey, will you take a look at my portfolio?” And that happened while we we're living in Hungary. Because I thought, “Well, what have I got to lose?” I mean, I just moved to a foreign country and I don't even speak the language.”
Diane: What's holding me back from asking this guy who I think is like, you know, his artists are amazing. The worst thing he can say is ‘no’.
Dennis: So why were there obstacles before? What were the obstacles that were holding you back?
Diane: Well, “I'm not good enough. I don't have the talent…” you know, all those inner negative voices that I think everybody has.
Diane: Some people are better at quieting them than others. But you know, just that he was so… I put him up on this pedestal and I just thought his agency was so cool, that there would be no way that they’d be wanting to work with me.
Diane: I reached out and within twenty four hours, he's like, “Yeah, love your work! Let’s talk.” [Laughs]
Diane: Yeah, and so that was sort of the beginning of working for him. And now I license my art, so I got a bunch of other clients as well. And I still work for him. He's my number one client. We've become very good friends and when he listens to this, he'll probably laugh to know that I was like admiring him from a distance. [Both laugh]
Dennis: I wanna talk about your work just a little bit. You're a surface designer, correct?
Dennis: Describe what that is, please.
Diane: So I design print and pattern for anything from stationery products, wallpaper, carpets, dishes, clothing. Anything that you see pattern on, I draw. And then I work with the manufacturer in producing it.
Dennis: Okay, that's cool. So you're in Hungary now and you’ve finally got time, you had nothing to lose, you reached out to this gentleman in New York, he loved your portfolio – so that launched you into doing your service design work full time then?
Diane: Yeah, I mean my background; I worked for Nordstrom’s for eleven years doing textile design. So I had a lot of time knowledge and training through college and then working at Nordstrom’s, I learned a ton there. So I already had the knowledge, it was just a matter of, I guess, building up the courage and then taking a leap of trying it. And yeah, so it's all… sometimes I have to pinch myself. I can't believe that I do what I do because I can't imagine doing anything else.
Dennis: Oh, that's lovely. I'm curious though, you said buying bread was a struggle in Hungary. How hard was it to find the materials you needed to do your drawing and painting and so forth?
Diane: You know, it was hard but you know and it was also hard to cook [both laugh] because you can’t find the spices you're used to or the utensil that you used all the time. [Both laugh] You know, little things like that. And you don't know how to ask like, “Where do you a sell garlic press?” [Laughs]
Dennis: [Laughs] Right!
Diane: So, in some ways, it was the perfect place for me to start my business because I had all these big ideas of things I wanted to create and I wanted all these tools (because working at Nordstrom, I had access to all kinds of things.) And so I mean, really, all you need is a pencil and paper. And a computer essentially. And then eventually when I made trips home, I brought back paints and brushes that were better quality than what I could find in Hungary.
Dennis: Okay. But you started with the tools you have available: pencil and paper.
Diane: Yeah, I mean that's really… you don't need a fancy anything, really. I mean, you need a good computer, especially if your clients are living in a different country. And a scanner. Other than that, I made do with what I had and you know. And then in that process, you also learn how to use other tools that maybe you wouldn’t have thought to try. Don't ask me what because I won’t be able to think of one right now, but. [Both laugh]
Dennis: That's great. In this process, so moving abroad and starting out on your own with your own company happened about at the same within a couple of months of each other and everything going on. What were some of the obstacles you encountered? What was the hardest part of moving forward? Besides language issues in Hungary, for example.
Diane: Well business-wise, I think things took so much slower than I wanted. You know, I wanted everything now. And even I think this year is finally a time, is the first time where I'm like, “Okay, things are actually moving a little too fast. [laughs] can you slow it down just a bit?” So I think just things going slower than I had wanted. I think that was really the biggest challenge because even though all my clients were overseas, you know, I’d have conference calls you know, at nine o'clock at night but nobody seemed to mind because we have Skype.
Diane: And as long as I was accessible during their work hours which I always made sure that I was because I didn't want them to ever think, “Well, what's the time in Hungary?” I just wanted them to call me because I didn’t want that to be an obstacle for them. Did I answer your question?
Dennis: No, that's it, I mean you're dealing with different set of issues in a foreign land and you're trying to do business primarily based in the US, your clients are in the US as I recall. And you know, how do you deal with these types of issues and challenges. And just curious on how you overcame those. So yeah, that's cool. Any surprises along the way? Anything that surprised you that you’ve encountered?
Diane: I thought it would be more of an issue that I was living in a different country -- and it wasn't. Actually, the first couple of clients I had, I never met them face to face until years later. So I thought that was going to be a challenge but with you know, Federal Express, UPS and scanning end email, it's amazing how easy it is to work from anywhere in the world.
Dennis: Right. How about any surprises about running your own company compared to having worked at Nordstrom’s before?
Diane: I don't know. I guess good surprises in the sense that I love all my clients. I mean, that's probably the number one benefit of having my own business is I won’t take on a project that either doesn't interest me or if I don't feel like I have some kind of connection with the person or company. So everything that I've taken on, I feel passionate about and I like the people that I'm working with. So I think that's why I totally love what I'm doing because all the people I work with (and I have a number of clients, they're fantastic) so maybe that's part of the surprise to me…
Diane: Yeah, I've got great people that I'm working with, so there's no drama in my business life. [laughs]
Dennis: That's unusual. That's great. [laughs]
Dennis: That's cool. Again, you had two dreams they came together at the same time: living abroad and starting your own company. What advice do you have for other people that are wanting to pursue their dreams or their goals?
Diane: I have three bits of advice. Daydream a lot. I daydream often. I don't know, maybe all creative people do but I really daydream a lot. [laughs] I daydream about things that are maybe not achievable -- at least not at this time in my life.
Diane: Plan. Plan, plan, plan and then be really flexible when your plan doesn't go as planned.
Dennis: Okay. All right.
Diane: And then I heard this quote one time and I just love this: “Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions.” And I truly believe that.
Dennis: That's a great a bit of advice.
Diane: So don't push your dreams to “someday” or “maybe in five years.” Why not today?
Dennis: Excellent! Diane, this has been lovely. Thank you.
Diane: Thank you!
Dennis: Check out her designs at www.dianekappa.com. And for Xpelli, I'm Dennis Hodges. Dream. Believe Do.
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