Most days when Cara Chace came home from school she would find the nearest desk and “just write and write and write and write.”
She’s loved writing, reading, and creating as long as she can remember.
So much so that in high school when her dad asked, “What are you going to do with your life?” she responded, “I want to write. I want to be a writer.”
But he responded with “How are you ever going to make a living at that?”
And that was that. Cara was also practical and highly analytical, and the “starving artist” idea was everywhere at the time. She thought: “Okay, well, I don't want to starve, so what am I going to do?”
She decided to follow “The Plan”:
Get good grades. Go to college. Jump through all the GPA hoops and the career hoops and the money making hoops.
I did all of that.
And I was miserable.
“Something is missing – but you’re not sure what it is.”
Cara majored in anthropology in college because people have always fascinated her, but halfway through she snapped back to “reality” and thought, “How am I going to pay off my student loans?” When a U.S. Customs Special Agent came to her international relations class to speak about her job, Cara was interested – especially when she heard about how the agent’s days all seemed different. Cara got bored easily and loved the idea of doing something that varied.
“I needed something that made me feel good – where I could let my creative juices flow.”
After class she walked right up to the agent and asked, “What internships do you have?”
The agent told Cara to send in her resume and a week later she was hired as one of 40 interns from around the country. After the internship Cara was recruited to be a full-time Special Agent.
The job was interesting – at first. But eventually, something felt off for Cara.
A few years into the job, I started feeling unfulfilled, like that general feeling of anxiety where something is not quite right – something is missing – but you’re not sure what it is.
She was also one of only a few women in her department at the time, and felt an invisible pressure to work harder and “prove” herself. She often felt like she couldn’t fully be herself.
I remember getting made fun of because I wore lipstick.
That’s when she started her first business – a side business, as a personal shopper.
I was really good at helping other women with their wardrobes – putting outfits
together, and being creative with their wardrobe and body and helping them feel good.
I needed something that made me feel good – where I could let my creative juices flow and help somebody else at the same time.
She loved creating for herself, especially because working for the government made her feel like she had “zero control over my life.”
What, I ask her, finally led to her deciding to quit her job as a special agent?
When my doctor looked me in the eye and said, ‘Your job is killing you.’
“I'm never scared to make really big decisions but I always make smart decisions.”
Cara was struggling with a host of physical health issues from seven years at her job – from compressed disks in her back (from sitting in cars for 36 hours at a time) to anxiety and inflammation.
My body was just done.
So was her heart. She was worn out.
How long, then, I ask, was it after that doctor’s appointment that she gave her notice?
“My body was just done.”
Three years? I repeat, just to be sure.
Yes, she assures me. Three years.
The moment the doctor told her the job was killing her was the moment she decided to quit, but, analytical as always, Cara takes her time.
I'm never scared to make really big decisions, but I always make smart decisions.
She wanted to have time to figure out how to make the transition, especially financially. She and her husband grew up in San Diego and were still living there – and she wanted to make sure she could afford to live before quitting her job.
She also had no idea what else she would do – this was all she’d known, and she had no idea how her skills as a Special Agent could translate to a “normal” career.
She spent the next three years surviving and planning.
What helped her survive three more years in a job she knew she wanted to leave?
Cara had hired a business coach to see if she could make her personal shopping business a viable income; what he could see was her stress. He encouraged her to take every Saturday morning – her one day off a week – and walk on the beach.
So every Saturday morning she made a cup of coffee and walked on the beach, doing nothing but sip from her mug and bend down to inspect any jagged bits of beauty peeking out of the sand. She walked and “hunted for treasures” until her coffee was gone.
I notice a huge shining seashell in her office and when I ask her about it she tells me it’s one of the treasures she kept: “I saw just the tip of it coming out of the sand and I pulled the thing out.”
Those walks became more than just survival for her – they introduced her to a whole new world of self-care she’d never known before: “That was the very first self-care grounding technique I had ever learned.” It was the beginning of a new life.
And eventually, it was time to actually start it.
“Bands are always looking for free help.”
Three years after that doctor’s appointment, Cara and her husband left California for Oregon. They knew a lower cost of living would give Cara the room she needed to quit her job; they also wanted to start a family.
The move was the final piece to her quitting-her-job puzzle.
She quit her job, got pregnant, and took some time to figure out what to do next.
She thought about real estate and private investigation, but the closer she got to those paths she realized she’d just spent 10 years doing things that vaguely interested her – this time she wanted to see what might happen if she moved toward something that lit her up.
And that’s how she started running social media for one of her favorite metal bands, Megadeth.
It started with the band’s online fan club she’d joined. Cara engaged with it on social media because she loved the band, but soon, due to her strong analytical mind, she couldn’t help but notice the band could be doing more with social media to deepen relationships with fans.
Through interacting frequently on the various channels she got to know the band’s website manager and shared her ideas of how they could improve. She volunteered to help – like managing their Facebook page, and the website manager eventually took her up on the offer.
She was sharp and fast and present and, as she says, “bands are always looking for free help.”
So while pregnant in 2012, Cara started volunteering as Megadeth’s social media manager.
When she had her baby and needed to make an income again, she told them she’d have to move on unless they were willing to pay her.
She spent the next few years caring for her daughter and sitting in front of three computer monitors. “It was like people who watch the stock exchange.” But she was watching tweets.
Cara went on to manage a total of 17 social media accounts and 13 million fans.
But when Megadeth got a new management company, they cut her pay in half, saying “we can have an intern tweet for free.” So she quit.
She got a new job fairly quickly at a social media marketing agency in town, “which really confirmed that I do not want to work for anybody else again, ever.”
After six months there was a “very much mutual parting of ways.” But, as Cara remembers, “the thought of going out and finding another job made me want to vomit.”
What was she going to do?
Before she could come up with an answer, she got a call from Megadeth’s former tour manager who had worked with her on tour and on album promotions and wanted to know: “Do you build websites?”
“Yes, I do,” Cara responded immediately.
But, as she remembers, “I had never built a website before.”
“I do not want to work for anybody else again, ever.”
“Oh, yeah, you can make money being creative.”
And that’s how Cara’s next business started.
She very quickly figured out how to build a website and the former tour manager hired her to manage all the digital marketing for a project backed by the drummer for Iron Maiden.
That first client helped her go from unemployed to being a full-time creator – just like that.
Even though Megadeth’s new management company didn’t see the value in paying for digital marketing at that time, the other people and musicians she worked with absolutely did, and they loved her work.
And, because of what she saw in the music industry, she finally felt confident enough to pursue her own creative business full-time:
With Megadeth, that was the first time I really saw how creativity could lead to income. It's a band, yes, but every band is also a business. And if you don't run it like a business, it's not going to last very long. But at its core, it's music.
So I saw all of the business, branding, and marketing, but also that talent and creativity drove this engine. That was the first time I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you can make money being creative.’
And now she was making money being creative. How, I ask, did she feel when she brought in full-time income from that first client?
Absolutely invincible. Like I can do anything.
That one client launched her business and it was immediately sustainable, something she says she was able to do because of both the relationships she’d built working in the music industry and a deep desperation to make this work: “We were not in the position of me being able to not be profitable.” It also still made her nauseous to think about ever going back to work for someone else.
There's something magical that happens when you have no other choice.
“I want to actually enjoy what I do, right?”
Cara ran her successful digital marketing agency for years and loved the freedom it gave her to spend time with her family and take real vacations.
They booked a family beach vacation off the Oregon coast in June of 2017, and Cara told all her clients she’d be out of the office.
But one client – one that provided 70% of her income – kept texting her.
She remembers getting tons of texts on the beach asking her to do things that weren’t even part of her contract. Their expectations were beyond the scope of work and beyond the boundaries she’d set.
On that beach, she knew she needed to fire her biggest client.
She said goodbye to that client – and 70% of her income.
She never wanted to be in that position again and started to wonder how she could diversify her business.
The same beach trip that led her to fire that client also held clues to her next step.
She didn’t take a laptop with her on that trip because she wanted to completely unplug, and she didn’t go on social media at all that week. She didn’t do anything on the internet that week…
Except for Pinterest: “I was on Pinterest for myself because I wanted to be.”
After a lot of research, learning (and noticing that 80% of her own traffic was coming from Pinterest), Cara started focusing on that platform.
I enjoy being on Pinterest, whereas I don't particularly enjoy being on other social media platforms. So, it was definitely like a, ‘I want to actually enjoy what I do, right?’
Within six months – using the same dedication, analytical skills, and creativity she used in the music industry (and as a Special Agent) – Cara made up the income she’d lost from that client by creating a Pinterest course and then, when she couldn’t find any other Pinterest memberships in existence, the first Pinterest marketing membership.
But what she remembers most is how freeing it felt to let go of trying to do all things digital marketing and focus on what she actually enjoyed. Maybe she didn’t have to be “everywhere” and do “everything” on the internet?
“I didn't even know what Pinterest was!”
Focusing on just a few things instead of all the things took Cara’s business to a new place, giving her even more freedom and the ability to be less reliant on just one or two clients. She also began to connect with a wider audience.
One of Cara’s greatest successes with Pinterest, and one of the things she teaches, was turning her most pinned article into an email opt-in: “Email is the bridge from your business and social media.” After spending so much time building audiences for bands, using Pinterest and email together was the first time Cara started building an audience for herself.
I ask her how she thinks about the relationship between social media and email:
Social media is like you're screaming into a room and you hope the people you want to talk to have the lights on and happen to see you in any given moment – if the algorithm deems you worthy.
There's a lot of things you can do to do social media well, but at the end of the day, there's only so much you have control over when it comes to serving your community and speaking to your audience on social.
With email, I mean, yes, you're hoping you don't get sent to spam. There's a few things that can get in the way, but on the whole, it's more effective at reaching your audience than any other marketing really is.
And unlike social media – where it’s often about quantity of followers over quality – Cara cleans out her list two or three times a year: “I keep my list really tight and small.”
That kind of quality keeps emails out of spam, and builds relationships with the people on the other end.
Because what Cara always understood about the internet by engaging as a fan first was that building an audience should be about treating them like the valued members of your creative life that they are – going above and beyond to surprise and delight them.
“I was SO lost at the beginning of my journey with my online business.”
One member of Cara’s audience, Alison Sloane, who helps people with anxiety, said Cara sent her a personalized welcome video, “which was really touching.”
Another, Deborah Scalone, who owns a Moroccan beauty products small business said, “This past September I joined Cara’s ‘Pinterest Cleanup Party.' It was so fun and there were prizes to be won.”
And while Cara might not be writing songs or playing guitar, the creative engine of her business is her level of care and analysis – with that she’s helped creatives like visual artist Kristen Becker share her custom drawings, and helped Jennifer Dawn, who started her business several years ago while she was chronically ill, find a path toward becoming a creator. Cara, she says, “provided support, guidance, and motivation like you would not believe.”
And just like the coach who first taught Cara what self-care was, Cara has helped creatives discover new things, like productivity blogger Mina White who said, “I was SO lost at the beginning of my journey with my online business. I didn't even know what Pinterest was!”
“I can't imagine going back to a job where I have to ask somebody permission to take care of myself.”
Today, Cara is grateful for the people she gets to interact with every day, and feels successful in the fact that she “owns herself” now.
Being able to do what I want when I want. I can't imagine going back to a job where I have to ask somebody permission to take care of myself.
Her dream come true is in the little moments:
Every time I'm able to say, “You know what I'm playing hooky today,” there's that like, warm, fuzzy feeling of, “I have created this for myself and I can do this.”
It's day-to-day life, where you can stop and appreciate those moments of being able to prioritize what's important to you.
“Right,” I say, “ instead of not being able to leave a car for 36 hours.”
“Yes,” she responds. “Exactly.”
She even recently created a special meditation corner in her office, complete with fuzzy pillows and a bookshelf filled with all the books she’s since read to help her prioritize self-care and grow as a creator.
She’s also learned to embrace her analytical and creative sides, and has thrown away all those old stories about who she can be and how she can make a living.
My analytical brain helps me make smart decisions and free up time so that I can be more creative.
She’s also started writing again.
I have an accountability partner that I give my word count to every week. In fact, I woke up early this morning and wrote. It is very infant, like just-putting-words-on-a-page stage.
But I'm doing it.
Special thanks to graphic designer Sibyl Smith, business and mindset coach Angela Harris, and Monique Peters of Annie & Oak Farmhouse Sinks for contributing to background research for this story and sharing insight on how Cara has impacted their lives as creators.