The Innocent Phase
Ever since I was 4 or 5, I’ve loved to create. Drawing famous people, sketching superheroes, painting landscapes - you name it. To hone my passion for putting things on paper, I practiced daily and took up art classes throughout grade school. If you're lucky, you'll get to see some of that artwork someday.
In ‘93, we moved from Chicago to Charlotte (NC) as my folks wanted better jobs and safer neighborhoods. The move broke my heart, but I bounced back quickly by making friends and playing video games. Shout out to Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Shinobi, and Sonic!
Drawing was just an outlet at first until people started paying me to do portraits of them. 😳 At age 12, I was picking and selling pecans in $2 baggies: my first hustle. By 13, I was mowing lawns for $20 a yard: my second hustle. At 14, I landed my first legit job as a restaurant cashier. No more pecan-slinging and lawnmowing, but I still drew though!
As high school was ending, graphic design became my college major. I needed a career backup related to visual arts in case I never became a comic book artist. Update: I didn't. After applying for a grant and some financial aid, I enrolled at a local college. Eighteen months later, in 2003, I graduated with an Associate Degree in Graphic Design, plus I made the Dean’s List of Excellence. Yeah, I'm an over-achiever, don't hate.
The Wild Phase
Finishing college was cool, but I had $20K in student debt to pay back. 😳 Damn. Then came the bright idea to move out on my own and buy a new car without any savings and juggling jobs. Double-damn. Fortunately, I soon found employment as a graphic designer. I landed my own apartment, a set of new wheels, a nice job in my chosen field, and a steady paycheck earning more than I ever had before. Things were great. For a time...
By 2008, I’d outgrown my design job and was hunting for another. I sent my resumé everywhere, but no one would bite. Assuming employers just weren’t that interested in me, one morning, I woke up with an epiphany.
"Maybe no one wants me because it's time for me to go at it alone! Maybe it's time to start my own firm and hire myself? If my boss did it, why can't I?"
Then came another series of bright ideas: buy a house, get a newer car while I’m at it, and tell my job “peace out!” with a two-week notice and no backup job nor financial runway. So I did exactly those things. In that order. Oh, and this was all during the recession of 2008, mind you. Boy, was I tap-dancing on a razor blade.
The Freelancing Phase
By then, I'd racked up some serious debt, but I could only go forward; I couldn’t retreat. Too proud. And naive. So I dove headfirst into freelance graphic design, passing out flyers and business cards, taking on any project I could, crushing 80 hours a week, while holding down a part-time job as a meal delivery driver.
A couple of months later, I was fully in the freelance circuit, working remotely from my Charlotte home office. By 2013, I’d created logos and websites for well over 100 clients across Australia, Europe, Africa, and North America.
The next thing I know, I’m being offered company shares plus monthly retainers by two tech startups in exchange for my exclusivity, time, and IP. Over the next few years, my branding efforts helped both companies raise over $2M in investment capital while I earned a six-figure salary: a peak of my professional life thus far.
One of these two startups sailed, but I was let go during downsizing, so I cashed out. The other startup failed around the same time, my stock dissolved, and just like that, they were both gone, and I was on the outs.
Then came another series of bright ideas: sell my current home, buy a bigger one, and sell my car to lease two new ones for my wife and me.
Side note: I lean forward into a struggle by doubling up like I’m playing Texas Hold ‘Em with a bad hand and the poker face of a sphinx. I make dumb-ass decisions during big transitions because if I fall, I may as well enjoy the flight.
The Current Phase
After a few more hits and misses, I’m now taking all that I learned over the past couple of decades and sharing it with other brands and solopreneurs. At Bulletproof Hustle, I coach, consult, and create content to help high-achievers turn their stories into businesses. Plus, I'm podcasting weekly with bite-sized motivational musings via the Bulletproof Hustle podcast available everywhere podcasts are. My wife and I also started a cruelty-free personal care line called LETELLIER to help people use better skincare.
Look, entrepreneurship is hard AF. It’s not all Boats N' Hoes, gold, and rainbows. You put it all on the line to create your own destiny without any guarantees. This life isn’t for everyone. You lose money. You work insane hours. You sacrifice relationships and time you can’t get back. You have to be a little crazy to bet on yourself with all your imperfections and flaws.
I’ve made many mistakes in life. I don’t know it all, and I don’t have it all together. And though I continue to fail, if I get up, tend to my lumps and bruises, and get back into the arena - that it’s own success. I’m no luckier than you; I’m no smarter than you. I’m just a guy who fails forward. If I’ve seen more success than you, it’s because I’ve failed more than you. And I’m still here. Sharing my experiences and insights with you.
Glad to have you here,
Darnell with Bulletproof Hustle
“Darnell is a great brand strategist to work with, he has offered us the best of his knowledge and I believe his work will positively impact our business. Would highly recommend him!”
- Rony Hage | Founder of Doodeo
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