One of the gifts of working on this website is that it connects me to some very exceptional and often inspiring people.In this interview,meet Lainie Liberti,a successful former California new media entrepreneur,who quit her middle-class lifestyle and went on the road with her son Miro a year and a half ago.After experiencing burnout from her rat race career,Lainie and Miro are now living a completely new life on the road that includes “radical unschooling” and volunteering.Over the past 18 months this mother-son duo have learned so much and have gained plenty of new insights already.Read Lainie’s one-of-a-kind story,submitted to us from her current location in Medellin,Colombia.
1.Please tell us about yourself and your background.
Well,first off,that’s sort of a loaded question.I can start by telling you a little about my professional background,which is what most of us identify with.In fact I did until two years ago,but we will get to that a little bit later.
I am currently 44 years old.I spent roughly the last 20 years working in a creative capacity of some sort.After college and traveling through Europe for a year,I returned to the States with less of a direction and but knew that I needed to figure out how to make a living in a creative capacity.I worked as an artist assistant and waited on tables as I continued to create my own art.I was young and idealistic and was inspired by the conceptual art movement of the 1960s and 1970s which were much more focused on the idea rather than the object.I pursued performance art as an expression and became very active in the Los Angeles art community in the early 90’s and even made a name for myself as a performance artist.
Lainie & Miro working on an art project together in Antigua,Guatemala
In 1991,I found myself waiting on tables in West Hollywood,next door to a tiny start up called BoxTop,who created these things called “web-sites”.I was so intrigued by what they were doing,that I actually bought my first computer,an Apple Centris 660AV.(Can’t believe I still remember that).I managed to talk myself into the art department as the company’s first intern.I worked for about 6 months for free,learning everything I could about (early) web design.With my fine art background,design came easy to me and with my new computer at home,I was able to teach myself photoshop at night,and learn web techniques by day.This was when the web was young and excitement drove progress,parallel to my personal development.
I worked for BoxTop for many years,moving through the ranks.After my position as an intern,I was made a Jr.Designer,then promoted to a Senior Designer then finally an Art Director.After being acquired and folded into the iXL brand,the Los Angeles office grew as well and became a well respected new media ad and design agency,with over a hundred offices worldwide.During my eight or so years there,I worked on many high profile client projects ranging from top consumer brands (Doritos,Hottopic & Guess? to music label’s most notorious artist Marilyn Manson) and even contributed to the design of a famous energy company who’s best known for fraud and scandal (Enron).
After eight years of with working with consumer brands,I took on a new direction,still within new media,but now focusing on original content.I became the Executive Art Director at a new start up backed by 35 million dollar investments called DEN (Digital Entertainment Network).I was in charge of managing an art department of 35 artists and launching a new,online network of original content programming geared for the Gen Y generation…and yes,if you were wondering,these were the “dot com” hay-day,the days of six-figure salaries,enormous expense accounts and no less than fifteen hour work days.
It was 1998,and along with the job offer to head DEN’s creative team,I found myself newly single and pregnant with my son,Miro.I took the job but I had an intuitive insight that helped me cut through the madness of those days,that swept away many.Miro’s presence gave me perspective,knowing all that really mattered was the beautiful child that I was blessed to have growing inside of me.He wasn’t born yet,but he alone,kept me grounded.
In April of 1999,Miro was born,I had imposed boundaries of how much work I could do taking care of a brand new baby by myself and running a demanding art department,but somehow I managed.It was understood that I could only work ten hours a day and somehow my sanity remained in tact.Unlike many of my colleagues,my entire identity was not wrapped up in my work and my life’s purpose was realigning.So when the industry started to show signs of crashing at the end of that year,I was not as devastated as many around me.In just over one year from Miro’s birth,(mid 2000) DEN was forced to shut it’s doors and roughly the 350 people it once employed were now out of work.
Lainie & Miro on the beach in Puerto Viejo,Costa Rica
And the bubble began to burst…
My years of experience made me very valuable at the time,and almost immediately I was snatched up by an e-learning company that thought it was immune to the impending full-on dot com crash.The start-up was called SpongeLab,founded by the same folks who brought us the TV show “Survivor”.This company seemed to stand outside the collapsing market because of it’s private angle seed funds and the revenue model,with built-in shared revenue streams with our content partners,top tier private art colleges throughout the United States.It seemed fool proof,and for the next year I was able to work designing on art educational experiences and focus on building an online community surrounding our e-learning brand.
However,it was not fool proof.The financial market completely crashed in 2001 and Spongelab too,went away.But what stayed with me,was a profound business experience that ended up changing my professional life.At Spongelab,I had the opportunity to work with one of the top branding agencies in Southern California as they worked with our team to help us define and build our brand.As the Creative Director,and a brand stake-holder,I participated in the branding exercises and helped review the documentation.I had been exposed to the concept of branding from my earlier years working in client services,where the projects we designed always had to be consistent with our clients’ brand position.Our creative ideas were either accepted or rejected solely based on the brand messaging and it was then,I was exposed to the concept.
Lainie & Miro deep in Actun Tunichil Muknal,a Mayan sacred cave in Belize