HuffPost BlackVoices' "Second Act" series explores the impact of the nation's financial turmoil on the lives and career choices of African-American entrepreneurs. We've asked them to share how they've made the leap from a dead-end job or unemployment to self-employed business owner, or how they've reinvented their existing business in light of financial hardship. Got a story to share? Comment below!
Tricia Messeroux Curwen
ACT ONE: Advertising
From the outside looking in, Tricia Messeroux was living the life as an advertising account director. Her passport boasted travels to New Zealand, South Africa and China, and her resume spoke of multimillion dollar accounts, including General Mills and Kraft Nabisco.
"I count my blessings, and I appreciate the companies that I've worked with," she says. "They've given me the opportunity to work with some amazing people and [travel to] some amazing places."
The not-so-fun part? The hours. "You would think you work nine to five, but you end up working eight to eleven at night and sometimes two, three in the morning," Messeroux says. At one point, she describes living out of a suitcase due to her job's frequent travel demands.
Newly married, Messeroux says she was forced to miss weddings and often had to send her husband off alone to special events. "People would say 'Hey, where's Tricia?' and he would show people his cell phone," she jokes.
Time away from her husband was one thing, but having her first daughter, Skylar, was the real breaking point, inspiring Messeroux's decision to leave the corporate world. "There was a time that I was shooting in China, and Skylar was only eight months old," she says. "I was there for two weeks, something happened, and we ended up having to stay for another two weeks. I was devastated. I think I cried every single day."
Thirteen years into her career, Messeroux says her daughter helped her realize that she needed to change her lifestyle. The other challenge she faced was the less-than-creative job description that came with her title of account director. "I was more of the business person, which stifled me a little bit because I wanted only to be on the creative side," she says, describing her affinity for the work she saw being done by the photographers and designers her company hired.
"Building brands for people like General Mills and Kraft Nabisco, I turned around and said, 'Hey, why don't I do that for myself?' I'm good at doing it for these big giant companies, I need to do that for my own company," Messeroux says.
ACT TWO: Photography
Finding the right opportunity to let go of the security of the corporate world (and the comfy six-figure salary she was earning) wasn't easy for Messeroux, who had moved up to managing director and senior vice president. "The economy is down and people are downsizing, and the first thing that usually gets cut is marketing and advertising," she says.
Messeroux wasn't terminated but rather eased into her escape, first freelancing for colleagues who'd left the agency to start their own businesses, then by embarking on a photography project that would eventually become her primary focus, Toddlewood.
"When Skylar turned three years old, I got a camera and started shooting ... and she started having this really big personality," Messeroux says. "I started thinking about a project that included her and, on the train across from me, I saw an ad for Madame Tussauds' Wax Museum. Looking at that and thinking about how this brilliant idea came about of making celebrities out of wax, I thought, 'Let me make celebrities out of kids!" she explains.
To get the ball rolling, Messeroux called in a couple of favors from friends -- people, she says, who were also frustrated in their own work environments. Her first team consisted of a fashion stylist who worked full time in banking, a seamstress who handled financial aid at a local college during the day and a make-up artist who worked full time as a nurse. Their first subject was a little girl whom they turned into Marilyn Monroe.
"I'd been doing photography for a while, but I started Toddlewood as a project in 2008, where I transform kids to look like iconic celebrities and people who have made a difference in the world of entertainment," Messeroux says. "From that, I've been doing gallery exhibits so people can actually see my work and start building a buzz about what Toddlewood is."
Beyond photo exhibitions, Messeroux published a coffee table book and 2012 calendars and is working on a T-shirt line. "I want my own company and I want my own brand. And I have two little girls who I always tell, 'If you have a dream, you have to accomplish it,' and I can't keep telling them to do that type of thing if I'm not doing it myself," she says.
Her youngest daughter, Sunday, is too small to pose for the cameras yet, but Skylar, now 6, has starred in many a Toddlewood shoot, including as Diana Ross and as a backup dancer in Beyonce's "Single Ladies."
Check out more of T. Mezz's transformations and see what she's currently casting at Toddlewood.com.
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