We had the good fortune of connecting with Jenny Santos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jenny, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
There’s a lot of misconception about what success looks like and how it is you get there. I come from an Asian American family where most of my cousins are doctors and engineers. Growing up, I’ve been reminded time and again that the golden ticket to success is a secure job, at a big name company. If I follow this path, I too can be successful, just like them. But I don’t believe that’s the only way. I strongly disagree with advise like “keep your head down and work your way up”, because climbing someone else’s ladder is not the path I want to take. I chose to pursue a career that fits me rather than fitting into a career. Statistics say we spent about 1/3rd of our waking lives working. For myself, I could not give 1/3rd of my time to keeping my head down. Traditional career paths do work for some, but if that same career that’s deemed “the way to success” also becomes “soul sucking”, that’s when it becomes a problem. I believe your working hours should be spent in a career that fosters joy in your life.
I’ve worked many jobs in different fields, from tour guiding in the rainforests of Alaska, to working behind a desk as a financial advisor here in San Diego. Feeling stagnant in my past career positions, I’ve chosen to start my own small business as a henna artist. I think a big fear that deters most people from pursuing an unconventional, or creative career, is the idea of having an inconsistent income. I continue to strive towards financial stability but I’m finding that it can be just as or even more lucrative than some of my past conventional job positions. Owning a small business offers me the ability to make a decent living, while spending my time on something that I truly enjoy. Success is something that you define, it is not a job status but a measure of self-fulfillment.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I first took a job as a henna artist back in 2018, as an employee for someone else’s company. After a few months I developed a vision of having my own business, featuring my designs, under my own management. I took a leap of faith and packed a small wagon with nothing but a stool, a chair, a handwritten sign, and my henna supplies. I spread out my Lion King blanket on the ground next to some other vendors and set up shop to see if anyone would be interested in my art. The first day I made just $35 after a full day of work, yet I was stoked because people showed interest in getting my art on their body. I did a few pop ups here and there throughout the years, but nothing consistent. It wasn’t until just 5 months ago in September 2021, that I decided to fully take my henna business full time.
One of the biggest challenges for me was steering clear off what was instilled in me as the “right” path and battling with self-doubt and the fear of failure. But I left my corporate job, leaving the conventional career path that my family was proud that I had taken. I had to overcome the negative thoughts that I wasn’t good enough to make it. I had to believe in the value my work and that I could pave my own path to success. The biggest thing that was in my way was myself, and I’ve finally broken through that barrier. I’ve learned many lessons along the way in my development as an artist. I learned to move past doubt and replace it with action. I’ve learned to let go of the opportunity cost of a financially safe career, in exchange for the opportunity of unlimited personal and professional growth. I’ve learned how to make a unique skill into a service that allows me to positively impact the community and express myself through my art.
Though currently my small business is focused on henna tattoos, it serves as a stepping stone to my bigger aspirations to become a muralist and tattoo artist. I am most excited about taking my art to the next step and continuing to develop my body of work. I’m excited for the connections I’ll make in the creative community and the endless opportunities that lay ahead. No matter if it’s through a small hand henna or a 100 foot mural, I want to be able to bring inspiration to those who see my work and bring more beauty into the world.
Something that sets me apart from other’s is my life style and how versatile I am. My art doesn’t just stop at henna, I am also a painter and an illustrator. I’m not only an artist, but I’m fully licensed in the financial field and I’m a trained backcountry guide. I’ve traveled to many parts of the world and have endless stories to tell. When I’m not working you can probably find me spearfishing, skateboarding, or rock climbing. I do all I can to live life fully.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is a tricky question for me to answer, because my version of a great time may also be someone’s absolute nightmare. I’m an adventurous person and I love immersing myself with the natural world. That being said, top of my lists of things to do would include outdoor rock climbing, snorkeling, night diving, and hiking. If the water was clear I would take them spear fishing. If the tide was low I’d take them clamming. If there had been a recent rain, I’d take them out east to hike the waterfalls.
Speaking more specifically, I’d take them to Torrey Pines, La Jolla Cove, and the Cabrillo National Monument. We’d take a walk in Balboa Park, Liberty Station, and maybe visit the new One Paseo. Bike Highway 1 and Silver Strand. Grab açaí bowls from Juice Wave and almond croissants from Darshan Bakery. Eat asian food in convoy and burritos from all over!! Hard Kombucha from Bootstrap and video games and drinks at Coin-Op. Peruse the farmer’s markets and get fresh fish from the docks. People watch at the water front and catch the fireworks from the hillside over looking Sea World. And if my friend wasn’t too exhausted from over activity, maybe fit in a sunrise on the mountain and a sunset on the beach. 🙂
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to my friends and family who have continuously encouraged me to pursue art, when for so many years I ignored the urge to create. To all my friends who saw the potential in my work, especially in times when my vision wavered. To my dad who bought me my first sketchbook. To my friend, Emanuel Pantaleon, who consistently encouraged me to return to the art scene, even when I would throw a million excuses at him why not too. To my mom who is a big part of my small business and is always there when I need her. I’m so thankful to have such a large support system, with so many people cheering me on along the way. Thank you to everyone who supports me, I cannot do it without you guys!