Going through change isn´t easy. But it is rewarding in the end. Ulrika Johnson from Sweden knows this. Her change took her from a small town in southern Sweden to the world city New York.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself in the arm. I´m a shy small-town girl from Sweden who today work as a designer in New York. How did that happen?” Ulrika says with a big smile.”
Yeah, how did that happen? This is what I want to find out today when I meet her at a rooftop bar in Manhattan. For me New York is still a place you dream about and for Ulrika Johnson, 34, this is daily life. I am eager to find out what brought her here, how her journey looked like and how she managed to reach her dream by taking a chance on herself.
Let us rewind for a bit to the year of 2011 and the university city of Lund in southern Sweden. Ulrika Johnson was the small town girl from Höör that studied to become a lawyer. A girl that, like many others, made her career choice based on what she thought was reasonable and right. After graduating law school she landed a job as a legal associate at a business law firm in Lund. But she was soon to be aware of a longing after something else. Three years into her professional career she decided that she wanted to study abroad.
“The truth is that I already then knew that I didn’t want to become a lawyer, but didn’t have the courage to completely give up the investment and all the hard work that law school had meant. I decided to give it some more time, and hoped that the passion would develop”, she explains.
She dreamt about New York, and although she had never been there she felt that this was the only place she could imagine to go to. And so it happened that she packed her bags and took a flight overseas to the Big Apple. In New York she studied a master in law, international business and trade law, partied with her friends and lived a great 20 something life.
In February 2012 she met her future husband David at a networking event. But they only dated a few months before Ulrika had to go back to Sweden again. She had finished her studies in New York and gotten herself a job as a corporate counsel at Systembolaget. But the further she got into her law career the more she became aware of her longing for something else, something more creative.
”My favorite subject in school was always art, and I spent most of my spare time doing crafts and painting. Still, it wasn’t before I became a lawyer that I realized how strong my passion was”.
While pursuing her career as a lawyer during daytime hours Ulrika’s will to explore her creative side lead her into various side projects. From illustrating children’s books to painting. Slowly and steadily her dream started to feel more and more real.
During the three years that Ulrika worked at Systembolaget she and David had a long distance relationship. But in November 2014 David flew to Stockholm and surprised her with a proposal. And Ulrika decided that it was time to go back to the Big Apple.
David and Ulrika got married in 2015 and she got a temporary job at the Consulate General of Sweden as the interim head of commercial affairs. Here she worked for 8 months before she was ready to take the big leap. After having checked around for different design schools she finally chose to take a three months course in graphic design.
This is the most intense thing I´ve done in my entire life. The course was all about learning by doing with short theory blocks and a high tempo. In the beginning I didn´t get very positive feedback. At some point I was more or less ready to give up.
But Ulrika didn´t give up. She kept going and bit by bit the feedback started to be more and more positive.
“I remember how proud I was when I finally felt that turning point.”
Today Ulrika is working as a graphic designer at a Fashion Accessory Company in New York, but her dream is to start her own business at some point.
“I would like to design stationery products. I write a lot of letters and cards myself. It is such a nice way of communicating with people.”
Ulrika is one of many that dream about doing different things with their lives. And she is the first to admit that it is not an easy process.
Am I 100 percent sure that I´m doing the right thing? No, I´m not. Would I do it all over again if I could. Definitely!
She describes the feeling of leaving everything that is secure and take a whole new path as being thrown into a boat without oars. But in the same time she encourages everyone who wants to go for their dream to dare.
But when is the right moment to turn the dream into reality?
“It is important to note that not everyone have to follow their dreams. Some people just like it as a dream, and that´s fine. I don´t know if you ever know for sure if it is the right thing to turn your dream into reality and this is also something you have to be ok with” she says.
Ulrikas tips on how you can find out if you should go for your dream or not
Ask yourself two important questions:
1. What will happen if I don´t give my dream a real try? Will I regret it and forever ask myself what could have happened if I would have found the courage to take the leap?
2. Can I handle defeat, and accept that it may not turn out as I thought it would? Can I live with the possible fact that my dream maybe wasn´t so dreamlike after all?
If you can say yes to these two questions you are already on your way.
“Like Ella Fitzgerald once said ´Just don´t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration I don´t think you can go wrong´” Ulrika says.
And who can argue with this?
Se more of Ulrikas work on ulrikajohnson.com