I quit working for corporate America and I feel the happiest I’ve felt in my life.



Christina Huapaya-Keller

Entrepreneur / Owner of OC Plant Collective and JD Building & Design

I was 16 when I started to work and I went to retail, like Windsor Fashions and Wild Pair Shoes at The Block, Pier1 Imports, and then I went to Best Buy. But to be honest, I didn’t have a clear driven path. I’m like the Jill of all trades, master of none. My parents really wanted college; my stepdad is from Peru and he came here with nothing and it was all about the American Dream. My mom, too, from Tijuana, Mexico, same thing. I’m the black sheep and I was like, “No, I hate school, I just want to do auto shop, photography, yearbook.” I didn’t get along with my parents very well growing up and I wanted to get the heck out of the house – how do I do that, how can I afford this? Most places you work at, you get a discount on whatever the product is, right? I was like, “Well, apartments. If you work at an apartment community, you must get a discount.” I looked into it and they get like 20% off their rent, and if I get a roommate then that’s even cheaper. So at 18, 19, I was out. I started doing property management and I actually really liked it. I liked it because I like looking at people’s homes and going into their homes and I like architecture and I love historic homes.


I always want more, I want to grow and move up in the world and I always thought I’ll work my way up the ladder, I don’t need to go to a four-year university or college, it’s not for me. I’m not studious like that and it would just run me into the ground. I want to do what fills me and makes me happy. But with property management, you’re always working on the weekends and I was always missing family functions and events. I got really burned out on that. I wanted to become an assistant manager or manager because I knew that they would have more flexibility as far as weekends.


I was really good at property management. I was that person they would go to if a property was struggling with their occupancy: they would be like 80% and you always want to be 95%. I would come in and I’d be that lease-up agent that they would go to. I was really good at that and I was proud of being good at that. I was always on the top list and I had 100% shop scores, so I was proud, like “I did accomplish something in life, mom and dad!” But I always want more.


I wanted to get my real estate license, I thought that would be the next step. But honestly, I procrastinated so hard because studying, reading, mind-numbing uninteresting laws and rules and regulations… it took me five years to get my real estate license. Five years! My dad paid for everything and I felt like I owed it to him because he paid for the courses.


I went to go work for a realtor who does mid-century homes. She basically has that niche, that’s her market. She was promising me, “Come work with me, I’ll teach you, you’ll learn, you’ll grow and eventually you’ll be flying on your own,” and it’s just not like that. She just ended up using me as her personal assistant and her personal errand runner. She’s making really good money. She was killing it, and I get it because I’m a control freak, too, and when you work and you build something, it’s hard to delegate and let other people touch what you’ve worked so hard for. I understand, but at the same time I was not destined to be her personal assistant.


I did still have the dream and the desire to be a real estate agent and be free and do my own thing… and make tons of money like everyone thinks is going to happen. But it really is one of those things where if you’re not hitting the pavement and knocking on doors… you have to be able to go without an income for a year almost because sometimes people don’t make their first sale for like a year. I used to think I was a go-getter in that sense but also there were certain things I didn’t want to do, like I didn’t want to knock on doors. I got so close; there were several times I would work with investors and they would want to put a deposit down on a house for one of those fix and flip type deals but then they’d be like, “Nope, sorry, I’m over it, that’s not a good enough deal for me,” so with investors it’s volatile. They’ll just be like yes, no, yes, no or they’ll just drag you along, so I got discouraged and left.


It’s been very up and down, but I’ve consistently stuck with property management for the most part. I’ve worked for like six property management companies, major ones, too. EDR, Western National Group, Sares Regis, Equity Residential, and what was Mesa before but they’re not around anymore. But it was always my goal to become a property manager.


Then I went to vacation rentals. That’s what I most recently did, so that’s where I’m at. I did that for two years and then I quit. I was a property manager, finally. It was the place that I felt the most comfortable at, the most looked after and cared for, more than any other company I’ve ever worked for. It’s a smaller business; he’s not like Irvine Company. He has ten vacation rentals and he’s got commercial properties. But the owner… he’s old. He’s in his late 70s, early 80s and he’s almost losing it a little bit. We’d have full blown conversations and then two days later he’d repeat the same thing and I’d be like “We just talked about this and you said X,” and he’s like “No, no, no, no. I did not say that.” And he’s super cheap. I know there’s a budget, but he would rather spend money on something that has zero relevance to our clients than what the clients were directly asking him for. I really enjoyed a lot about that company and saw myself being there long-term. And it was fine at first, but he’s getting old. It’s a family business … the family dynamic’s rough.


I think I realized I have an issue working for The Man. Or The Woman. And maybe that’s my problem… why am I just not content being here doing the same thing, day in and day out? I feel like in property management, I was so good at leasing that they never wanted to promote me because I was keeping the properties full and I was making them money. That’s not my goal, I want to move up. I’m a hard worker and I know that. I learned that from my parents because if I wasn’t going to go to college, I better work hard to get to somewhere in life.

 

I was at the swap meet one day and I found this cute little plant stand. I have two of the original succulents and cacti that I got when I first started my plants, they’ve been around for nine years. I was able to keep them alive and it was so rewarding and I loved it. It was nothing that I had ever done before. And it exploded from there, I started collecting more and more plants. It started with succulents and cacti and then it progressed. I wasn’t good at it at first; I was ok with succulents and cacti but when I started house plants, I killed so many plants. But for some reason, I was like, “No… I’m not going to let that happen again.” That’s a global green pothos – I’m going to find out where that plant originally grew, what environment it likes, and I’m going to take care of it. I feel so good that I’ve learned about the care of every single plant. Even that string of hearts, the one that’s long and dangly, I killed hundreds of those. I could not figure it out for the life of me. But I did figure it out and it’s a passion. And now I’m really good at it. People don’t have green thumb sometimes and they’re like, “I kill everything I touch,” nope, that’s not me! It’s something I found that fuels my soul. In the pandemic, I was still working actually but from home because I could and it was easy. The vacation rentals took a dive because people stopped travelling but that’s when the plant stuff picked up tremendously and I was selling a lot of plants.


I went through changes with the name, what would I call myself? Perfectly Plantastic? That’s so cheesy. I want something more official, that sounds like a place people will go to. I settled on OC Plant Collective. People know me and people recognize it. I wanted my name to work in the sense of people know who I am now, but I wanted so badly to scale this business. My dream, my end goal, is to create a space that’s outdoor/indoor, has plants everywhere and you can shop for plants but you can also create your own DIY terrariums and propagate and take cuttings and also a space for animals because I’m a huge animal lover. My whole life I’ve been rescuing dogs. I have four of them. I started with two and animals are just so deep within me. I’ve rescued all my doggies and I love them so much, so I also want a place that’s like an animal sanctuary. I want somehow to incorporate this beautiful thing where people can go, and even if it’s just a therapeutic place for people to go or if there’s homeless animals I can bring in and foster out and find homes for, I want to do that.


And there’s one final piece to that: I changed my nutrition and I went to clean eating but it didn’t really help my endometriosis; the pain was still really bad. It wasn’t until I changed my water, that was the missing puzzle piece for me. It’s molecular hydrogen water and not a lot of people know about it. It’s all eastern medicine. It’s from Japan and there’s like 1% exposure in the U.S. I’m the crazy water girl now! People laugh at me and they roll their eyes at me… I’m super passionate about it and I know I come off strong because people are like, “Water’s water” and I’m like, “It’s not, I promise you.” On PubMed there’s a lot of information about it. So that’s something else I’ve tried to start as far as a business goes, too.


If someone is struggling with their health or they have a health issue, and they want knowledge… I want to help. I think there’s a lot we don’t know about our nutrition. And I’m not saying Western medicine is bad, I’m all for it because I’ve been in the hospital many times. If I need it, if my limb is falling off, please sew me back together! I’m not going to deny Western medicine. But it seriously has improved my heath so I’m super passionate. I try to share the water with people who have reached out to me, I try not to be pushy or anything. There was one person that had gout really bad. I don’t know what gout’s like, I just know that it’s painful, so I tried to do a little bit more research to understand what gout was and I think it’s a painful inflammation in your feet. This guy was like, “I want to try your water.” I’ll always do it for free, I’ll just share and so he tried four gallons and he was like, “My gout stopped hurting me [snap] like that.” Some people are like, “No, that’s just a placebo,” but I’ve met too many people now in the… I don’t want to say “water community” because then people are like, “It’s a cult!” If that’s what it is then that’s what it is! Firsthand, I’ve tried it myself and I know how it’s helped me. I used to have food allergies, I used to have asthma, and I don’t have those any more. So if it’s a placebo, great, I’m on the placebo bandwagon!


We don’t sell the water, we sell the system. There are some people who refuse to pay for the machine because they can’t wrap their head around paying $5,000 for a machine. Even though you’re replacing all of your single-use plastic and this machine had seven different types of water and over 100 uses. There’s technology behind it, they basically just mimic natural springs. There are seven places in the world, like Lourdes, France, where they talk about “miracle water”… it’s not, it’s just that it comes from a natural spring in the earth and it’s electrically charged and it produces hydrogen molecules. That’s what the machine does. It has eight platinum titanium plates that send an electrical charge through the water so it restructures it and makes the hydrogen, and that basically gives your body the best chance by putting it into homeostasis so you are now not so acidic, you’re more alkaline, and your body can heal itself better and quicker. It took Enagic, the company, until 15 years ago to get it into the U.S. We only have a 1.5% exposure rate in the U.S. so people don’t really know about it. And every time we talk about it, we get totally smashed. Like, “You’re a scam, you’re multilevel marketing, Ponzi…” No, I do my research. I’ve never been sucked into something that’s not legitimate. I’m not ignorant. It’s helped a lot of people. So that goes into my whole thing: I want the plants, the animals, and the water.

 

Jared, my husband, was in construction and he worked for a general contractor, and it was always his goal to have his own business and be his own general contractor, and he did that. We finally started his business, I’m 50-50 with him in this business. It’s overwhelming, and I was still working. We’re by the seat of our pants trying to figure it out. We’re an S corp and I didn’t have any education on that stuff. I was like, “Ok, we’re going to start a business,” but didn’t realize that what he does is massive liability and the insurance policies we have to carry… all the stuff I never learned. I would have had to go to college and take courses on business to know any of it. But also I think there should be some small education in high school. There was an econ class once and I think I vaguely remember… but it wasn’t about this. It wasn’t about starting a business and what that entails and what it takes.


I told him, “You’re a general contractor, you have the ability to sub everything out. You don’t have to do all the physical work.” But he was still doing all the physical work and running three jobs at one time and the clients are very demanding. It’s been a little challenging working with clients lately. He’s being micromanaged by his clients they’re breathing down the subcontractors’ necks and they can’t get their jobs done because they’re sitting there chatting with them all day.


I did get diagnosed with severe anxiety and PTSD just from some personal things that I had gone through. I had another back injury and it was worse this time, I landed in the hospital and had to have back surgery. Simultaneously I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I was in a lot of pain and the back surgery didn’t really help me and I gained a lot of weight, and I was like, “How am I so unhealthy?” How do I have this inflammatory disease there’s no cure for, I’m having issues trying for children for four years now, how did I get here? What did I do to myself that put me here?


I took six months of disability and I worked on myself a lot. I did physical therapy for six months straight for my back because I cannot be in pain for the rest of my life. Finally, I started to feel better. Also I did a real dark, deep dive into my nutrition and that took a long time but we eat very clean now. I have an issue with sugar and that plays into inflammatory stuff and my weight and hormones and all that. I had to do a lot of research so now I know what I’m putting in my body. I lost 20 pounds, my back is much better and I don’t live in pain every day. When it came time to decide about going back to work, I was starting to get that anxiety and PTSD, and every part of my being was like, “I don’t want to go back to work for corporate America.” But it’s terrifying to lose that income and just rely on Jared’s business. We were doing so well, but I come from a place where I’ve struggled my whole life. I quit working for corporate America and I feel the happiest I’ve felt in my life, to be honest! It feels very free.


I do help out with Jared’s business a lot. He does not do admin, so all the checks and the bookkeeping and the accounting and the depositing, I try to step in when I see that he’s starting to get a little overwhelmed. I jump in and order things. The fact that I’ve worked in property management and real estate helps because there is that part of it, there is a construction side of things in turning over the apartments quickly and getting vendors out there.


I took interior design classes at Orange Coast College for a few semesters. I know what looks good in my head and I actually helped design a lot of these homes that Jared’s working on and I’m really proud of that. I thought it looked good and people gave good feedback. I can see the vision, I know what would be great for certain homes. So I get to do that now, too. He’ll add that on as a service for people, and I’m not really a designer, but I have photos to prove that I am capable of doing it and people won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a designer. It’s not my passion, I just like doing it here and there. My passion is the plants, animals, and water. That’s what I’m working towards.


You have to get joy from what you’re doing because if you don’t get joy, then what’s the point? I still do real estate on the side when the opportunity arises, so when someone is looking for a place and they’re like, “Help me find a home,” yes, I will help you find a home. I think I’m happiest now just doing everything that I enjoy, even real estate and property management: I enjoy it in small little doses. Our next step is as far as business goes, he wants to diversify our company, we want to do restoration work.


I don’t think I could ever go back to work for corporate America. I remember the heart palpitations at the thought of having to go back. I’ve come too far to go back to this really icky place where you work so hard and you make everyone else wealthy but you’re not making yourself wealthy.