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Fermin Mata Jr.


Oakland, CA

We were united in our resolve that happiness and pursuing what we love together is more important than any job.

My wife Lauren and I have always considered “leaning in” to be a team decision. This thread started early in our relationship, and has weaved through countless experiences over the past several years.

Lauren’s career began with a bachelors degree in music industry. After graduating, she set out on a career that combined her love of creativity with business practicality. She split her 12-hour days between working at a coffee shop and interning at a small Bay Area record label; after that, she left for a position at a successful music merchandise company. This is where we first met.

After a short courtship, we were engaged. Within weeks of our engagement, Lauren and 30 other employees were laid off. It was a shocking and demoralizing blow during a time that was supposed to be a very happy one in our lives. We attributed her job loss to forces outside our control, but it was hard for Lauren not to feel rejected. All of the pride of securing her first “real” job turned to pessimism about the future. Lauren was keenly aware that obtaining experience was key to future employment. Losing the opportunity to gain this experience from the onset was depressing. But I saw the situation differently; it was easy for me to be positive about Lauren’s future because I was her biggest fan. I believed with her character and her intelligence, success would always be around the corner.

So we leaned in and got married. Career opportunities continued to diminish as we experienced a huge economic down cycle. Even still, Lauren was able to easily find temporary work. I saw this as further proof that the only thing slowing her down was the unfortunate timing of a budding career under highly unusual circumstances.

By 2008, Lauren had a regular temp job and was taking art classes to reconnect with the creativity she once enjoyed as a youth. I was in a grueling position at a company where rounds of layoffs left me short handed. The CEO requested that I move to Los Angeles to manage a team. Since Lauren’s career was still in flux, we decided to take the opportunity and we were excited to have a new beginning. In fact, after I told my boss that my wife was looking for work and mentioned her various talents, she was soon teaming up with me on creative projects. She quickly learned the company’s processes as well as the software and became the manager of the entire licensing catalog of creative assets. Despite our work success, we were homesick for the people and life we had in the Bay Area. So we leaned in again and returned to Oakland.

Upon our return, we moved into a converted garage in my mother-law’s house. With no jobs and a little money saved up, we began a new chapter. Lauren got a job as a museum technician and assistant to the owner at a prominent Oakland bike shop. I decided to start my own business. Slowly we made headway. I was able to leverage my relationships, skills and experience to get my business off the ground and Lauren secured a position at a successful boutique home décor company in Sausalito, California.

We now reside in the live/work loft where I run my own business. Lauren has been creative services manager, color specialist and producer at Serena & Lily for two and a half years. We are both happy with the recent turn of events.

Throughout all of this, however, we have been united in our resolve that happiness and pursuing what we love together is more important than any job. For us, that is the ultimate way to lean in.