Frankie Ratford

Depending on the day you ask me, will depend how much I think I’ve sacrificed. Right now, I’m writing this from a small surf town called Pacifico, on the east coast on Siargao Island in the Philippines. I’m sitting on a large bamboo platform, eating my $6 breakfast and doing some work, looking through the palm trees and watching people surf metres in front of me. Sounds amazing right? It’s also Valentine’s Day today, and I’m alone, again, in a foreign country. I have a nasty cough and the WiFi sucks.

I just read an amazing book called the Multi Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon. She says “We aspire to lifestyles of successful people, but there’s little transparency around what those lifestyles demand or where they come from. We see people getting paid to travel the world but what sacrifices are being made, what is day-to-day like? We are being tricked into thinking other people’s successes are easy to come by and we can feel deflated instead of doing important things to further our own success”. I think this is what Instagram doesn’t show; sacrifice.

The honest truth of my job is it’s incredibly exhausting, everyone is new and you’re constantly ‘on’. Not in a fake way, but in an excited way when you meet new people from very different backgrounds with a shared love of design. You’re surrounded by people, tons of people every day, but it can be very lonely. Dating is hard too when you’re on the move for six years. Business wise, I’m constantly stressing about cash flow, managing all my remote staff, a never ending to-do list, and then on top of that, where am I going to sleep tonight? What time zones are my meetings today? Where will I shower/eat/work? It’s relentless and on a bad day, I’m exhausted. On a good day, I’m exhilarated.

TDK turns 10 in November this year, 10 years! To me that’s completely insane. I basically have a 10 year old that needs feeding every day. I spent four years pouring all my energy into TDK before I got paid at all, and I finally stopped working for other people in year 5. In year 6 I lived in a 1974 RV and drove it the length of the USA and back with a broken shower – using saucepans of water to wash my hair every day. In year 5 Yve and I hitch hiked around NZ for the road trip as I couldn’t afford to rent a van, sleeping in bivvy bags on the beach each night, one night we even slept in someone’s garden we met at the pub. I woke up sober in a flower bed! In year 3 in a desperate attempt to fund TDK and my first work road trip (the Australian leg), I started flying to work. I would teach in Brisbane each Wednesday and Thursday, sleep in a cheap hostel, having people vomit by my bag or have sex in the bunk above, just to save the money I would have spent on a hotel and pour it into TDK instead. I drove from Brisbane to Perth around the coast and back again over a ten month period; giving lecturers, running workshops, hosting exhibitions, meeting as many people in the design industry as possible and documenting it all for graduates to use to get a job. I did over 80 free lectures that year, and I remember one lecturer asking me – it’s awesome you want to help students, but what are *you* getting from this? Life, that’s what I’m getting. I’m living 100% on my own terms and I feel incredibly passionate about the design industry, both here in Australia and overseas. I like to pretend I have $5m in my bank account and make decisions based on my heart and my time, rather than on money.

However, for the last 6 years it has been a full time thing, and I don’t mean 40 hours a week, or even 50. I mean 24/7. I once sat next to Baz Luhrmann and his assistant at a wedding (unfortunately Leo wasn’t there) and his assistant was telling me about his job, he lives and works for him 24 hours a day. I remember finding that completely insane, he hadn’t had a day off in years, and wasn’t living his own life but helping support someone else’s. But I guess with my 6 year road trip that’s what it was like for me too. You can’t shut your laptop and magically you’re at home. You’re in Seoul having dinner with the lecturers after spending 8 hours with 200 of their students teaching a workshop in a foreign language, or at a conference in Dubai on boat at 4am on a Tuesday with the other speakers when really you just want to be in bed. There was no work life balance because I didn’t have a real life, so I think my biggest sacrifice has been my time. I’m 35 years old, recently single and as my mum keeps reminding me, the clock is ticking (although I did have dinner with a hot French architect last night so it’s not all bad). I’m really interested in lifestyle design, but maybe I did it too well – all highlights and no normality. Right now, I’m craving normal; home, exercise buddies, neighbours, co-workers that I actually sit next to and people to come home to. And yes, I want kids. 

I saw this the other day: “If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has not fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling and action that you experience.” Sacrifice implies you’re missing out on something else, and on bad days sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, pouring so much energy into this. But ‘this’ is my life, and the more I embrace “Frankie”, the more epic shit I get away with. The grass isn’t always greener, it’s just yours. And mine has palm trees on it.

Frankie Ratford
The Design Kids

Frankie’s name has been photoshopped into ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ more than once. She’s fascinated with the intersection between design, travel and business, and likes to do five things at the same time. She’s lived in 13 cities, in 25+ houses and is currently road tripping around the world for six years, right now in Asia and South America building the TDK empire (lols). She started The Design Kids in 2009 and launched with a market stall in the front yard with some mates and a DJ. In 2018, she launched a Design Studio Coaching arm to her company . She is a sunny Sagittarius who splits her time between her [60’s shack in rural Tasmania] and catching planes to far away (warmer) places.

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