Have you ever been invited out on a weeknight and felt the temptation to cancel last minute? Excuses are always easy to come by— “I worked hard this week,” “I don’t have anything to wear,” “I shouldn’t go out to dinner again so soon.” But instead of giving in to the temptation, you go out and have a great time. 

I had an experience like this seven years ago when I was asked to become the interim design director for Cambria Hotels. The position required me to travel the country and Canada implementing a new Cambria prototype JAI designed, as well as approving designs for Cambria Hotels from other firms. 

There were a lot of reasons to say no: JAI already had a steady flow of projects, I had never been responsible for approving designs from other firms, and the thought of presenting designs to the executive board was intimidating. Not to mention I had an elementary school-aged daughter at home who I would be leaving every time I boarded a flight. 

Against all instinct, I said yes. 

A Season of Growth: How it Started

Before taking the interim design director role, JAI had been working closely with the brand on our first Cambria Hotel in Washington DC as they were in the early stages of rebranding. Because of our success in Washington DC, we were asked to design the new Cambria Hotel prototype. Typically the design of a brand new prototype is awarded to the larger, internationally renowned design firms, so this was an honor and privilege. 

While working closely with the Cambria team, my client (and mentor) Tim O, suggested I ask the brand if I could act as their interim design director and review the projects currently coming in from other firms for other locations. A week later I found myself traveling all around the US and Canada with the executive team presenting the new direction of the brand. 

Finding My Stride in Brand Direction

I donned the hat of Cambria’s design director while the brand didn’t have one, part of which included working on a design to roll out in locations across the country. I was able to defer to my very first job out of college designing Extended Stay America prototypes when I was a young designer.

However, there were some significant differences between my Extended Stay America experience and the needs of Cambria— mainly in scale and level of the design. Extended Stay America was an economic brand with a fairly simple design and very limited public areas. Cambria Hotels was looking to stand out among competitors with experience-based hotels.

Advancements in furniture, design, and client expectations have elevated modern hotels’ needs. We must now design for a guest who wants options and experiences, not just a bed to sleep in. For Cambria, we had to create a memorable—yet replicable—experience that could be produced in multiple national locations.

The real challenge came with trying to keep everyone updated with the evolving design while reviewing design package submittals from other firms. Meanwhile, I was working on signage and logos with the marketing team and bringing decisions back to the executive board for approval— it was an incredibly exciting, hectic experience. 

Finally, after 18 months, and an immense amount of feedback and presentations, we had a model room built at headquarters. Cambria finalized renderings and animations. The brand had evolved, and the national prototype was ready to be implemented. 

“I had the opportunity to partner with JACKI ARENA INTERIORS on a major transformation of the Cambria Hotels & Suites brand in 2014 and 2015. We sought out an interior design partner who had the ability to translate forward thinking customer research balanced with developer quality and ID costs. JAI stepped up to the challenge and became our designer of choice. Jacki and her team were deeply involved every step of the way both strategically and tactically. It is without hesitation that I recommend JAI for complex brand initiatives as well as individual hotel projects. ”

–Michael Murphy, Pilot Hospitality

3 Reasons to Take on Challenges that Scare You

I don’t know many people that run toward the very thing that makes them feel out of their comfort zone. I wouldn’t even categorize myself as one of those people. However, over the years, I’ve gotten better at identifying key moments where I could take a chance and overcome something intimidating, and I’ve never regretted it. Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t back down from a challenge, even when it scares you: 

You Learn by Doing

The best teacher is personal experience. I could have spent years in school taking courses about brand direction and prototype development, but that would only get me so far. It wasn’t until I was thrust into a role directing the Cambria Hotels brand that I was able to fully appreciate how brand direction works, and what’s required of the position. 

A part of learning that we tend to be uncomfortable with, however, is failure. If you take a chance on something new and intimidating, there’s a very real possibility you could fail. But you’ll never come out empty-handed. That failure will teach and prepare you for the next challenge ahead. 

If there’s something that you want to learn but have been putting off because you’ve been waiting for “the right time,” take some advice from Nike and just do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission or the right set of circumstances to try out a new design style, start a podcast, or chase your dream. When you reduce it down to the core, internal fears are usually what keep us from trying new things.

New Experiences Bring New Relationships

Managing the Cambria Hotels brand for over one year was hectic and often challenging. But the easiest part was always the people. It was invigorating to be a part of a strong, talented, professional team that communicated well, supported each other, and felt free to critique each other’s ideas.

Had I never taken on the job, I would have never met these individuals or learned from them. Additionally, the Cambria brand has introduced JAI to some incredible clients and opportunities in the years since, and I am extremely grateful. 

Outside of networking, meeting new people and sharing experiences with them builds your perspective and makes you a more well-rounded and understanding person overall. My commitment to Cambria Hotels lasted a season, but the relationships and their impact extend to this day and beyond. 

To Overcome Fear Itself

Everytime I stretch myself, I grow significantly. With every challenge I take on, I get better under pressure. I become more comfortable with the uncomfortable. It helps that my very first solo hotel was one of the scariest, so I just learned to keep pushing through my fears and insecurities and go for it. 

Now, every time an opportunity comes my way that seems intimidating, I remember the past rewards and reassure myself that the task is always worth it. The fear always overshadows the actual difficulty or discomfort of a new experience. 

For JAI, a greater knowledge of the overall process of creating a brand has helped JAI go deeper into the story of our designs. We have a greater appreciation for brand reviewers that have to check the boxes to make sure we stay in line with each brand’s standards. 

You have to continue to move in order to grow. Growth isn’t always measured in size, but in experience, in confidence, in skills, in relationships, in opportunities. You may make mistakes. But you will learn and you will grow.