In the midst of new development, I’ve been doing a lot of introspective thinking about what I can offer that is of value. What are my processes in business or in creating that may be of use to others? In all of my experience working for many years, one very basic urge has been prevalent throughout: Do what you love. I know this sounds juvenile, so in adult terms it can also translate to “Follow your heart” or “Do what inspires you.” Over the past several years, I’ve been reading, researching, and observing the business practices and stories of many emerging small companies. I read their very positive and sunny stories, the one sentence of struggle amidst perfect photos and straight, shiny teeth. To plainly put it, that’s not my story.
I’ve wanted a business since I was 19 years old. What I got instead was a steady stream of jobs working for small businesses, large corporations, freelance work with fulfilling and not fulfilling work, awesome opportunities from word of mouth, and everything in between. I’ve worked for so many people that I’ve lost count. This is not a complaint, this is time I’ve invested in observing and gaining indispensable knowledge and skills. What I can share with you is what I’ve learned, wrapped up in a bundle of brutal honesty. It’ll be okay, the computer screen between us will offer a little cushion.
When I was going to school in NY (2005-2008), I was skipping around from idea to idea, in search of THE ONE. That elusive, all consuming profession that would encompass all of my talent, passions, and life interests. It would combine my love and skill in creating textiles, my vegan and environment-loving activist background, and be something artistic yet desirable and profitable. Forgive me, I was in my 20’s and highly idealistic…but seriously, who doesn’t want all of that?! Once I graduated, I started biking everywhere as a means of exercise and advocacy. I started gardening on my rooftop, learning about the give and take of plant life, and how to make the soil sustainable given it’s environmental conditions. I eventually moved over to a community garden where I had a very impressive (and jealousy-making) plot my first season there. I felt like my interests in life were spread out and random, and I couldn’t figure out how to balance all of my interests or see the connection between them all. A few years after I had graduated, I met up with a former professor at her studio. I mentioned all of the things I was doing in my spare time and had a bit of shame that I wasn’t weaving or creating textiles. She told me that what I was doing was wonderful and that everything is connected and will eventually make sense. That the time I was spending on these interests was not time wasted.
Fast forward to about two years ago. I’d been using my loom somewhat regularly, maybe a project every four months. Always making something for someone else. I’d been working in corporate America for what seemed like forever in a job that never truly utilized my potential. So I ended up entertaining my left brain with admin work, so much so that I’d become quite good at it and my creative work began to decrescendo into silence. It doesn’t take long to feel stifled in that kind of environment. To cope, I’d leave my creative brain with my projects at home, where I’d work at nights and weekends on a plethora of ideas. At some point at work, my left brain took the reigns and started to chime in and point out little inefficiencies. Once creative observations turned into logical data input of people wasting time and resources. Soon I was making notes of all the minute interruptions in productivity due to poor time management that would result in a higher bottom line. The loss of personal satisfaction and achievement, the lessened value of what I have to offer were blatantly apparent. Along with those thoughts were a beautiful bouquet of resentment, anger, and frustration. So, I decided it wasn’t enough to only be creative at home, it was time for a change.
On one particular job interview, I was asked why I was looking for work elsewhere. Amidst my answer was a mention of a lack of efficiency and how I try to find solutions where I see fit. I said that if I weren’t in this industry, I would probably have been an efficiency expert. My interviewer laughed and thought that was “cute,” but I was dead serious and on top of that, had finally realized why working for others always gets under my skin. I realized what I had been burying deep down for years: I absolutely will not be able to work for anyone ever again. As someone with my history, that statement is terrifying. I’ve always thought my challenge was a matter of finding the right opportunity that would recognize my ability to lead, and freely allow me to thrive and create in that role. It became clear that I would be the only one to give myself the opportunity I desired.
I started reading about how to manage people, and why many managers lose their talent. It deeply resonated with me. Before long, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about how to have a thriving business, how to use time efficiently, and how to appreciate employees. From there, a neighbor gave me his copy of Rework, which dissects typical work environments and the inefficiencies in corporate business practices. I purchased The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau while on vacation which was a life force for me and I read it twice within the week. It was after reading this that I really started brainstorming. What can I do with the knowledge I have of textiles, veganism, sustainability, good and bad business practices I’ve observed and how can I learn and grow in business from this knowledge? I will say that my business beginning wasn’t bright and shiny but felt a bit like crawling out of the center of Mordor, lava and all. Not many people talk about building something as a response to being frustrated and angry, but I was deeply entrenched in that. I will mention that while the idea of leaving a job is awesome, my left brain absolutely objected until this point. I had set financial goals in place, and a plan for side business that was a dependable source of supplemental income lest I need to depend on it. So while I’ve taken a risk, it has been calculated by a portion of my personality that is of Germanic origin. Just so we’re clear!
After diving into a few entrepreneurial-minded resources, I decided to make a personal list of things that would improve my quality of life if I were working for myself. Small things, somewhat benign and meaningless things that when added up meant the difference between a happy, productive day and leaving feeling unsuccessful and underutilized. Something as small as listening to music I enjoyed would make my work more productive and efficient. Other things included doing what I love, having the ability to concentrate, feeling accomplished, having my opinion valued, setting my own hours, and doing what inspires me…all of these things set the tone for my personal success. I know they sound simple, but if you pick one and really focus on it, think about what you love doing and how that contrasts with your daily life. Is there a way to do more of what you want in your current situation? Are you able to concentrate? Do you feel accomplished at the end of the day? What would change that? Are you inspired? If not, what steps do you need to take to get there? These very “simple” questions can unearth some deep-seated beliefs about our own happiness and if we listen, they could hold the key to improving our lives.
“And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.” – Khalil Gibran
While working for myself, I’ve given in to following whichever task I feel compelled to do at the moment. I had a few years after graduating where I didn’t weave due to being mentally and creatively exhausted. When I did begin to get my feet wet again, I decided to weave when I felt the urge. This soon became a mantra and priority since the urge happened so rarely. If I felt inspired to focus on textiles, I cancelled all other plans and went to work, sometimes until very late at night. The desire to weave regularly was a very slow progression that was encouraged by my willingness and discipline to fulfill the need. Now that I make my own schedule, I am acutely aware of all the things I need to focus on, so when I’m so inspired to weave, I focus on that until I’m finished or feel satisfied. Then I move on to something else. It’s the simple act of respecting the inspiration that keeps me motivated to work long hours. My activities are constantly changing, so I’m leading the process instead of taking a back seat. I try to keep set goals, but find that I naturally gravitate to what needs to be done and am able to finish them before whatever deadline I’ve decided on. There really is nothing worse than forcing yourself to work on something when your heart and mind are not in it. I know this might sound scatter-brained, but I find the typical day focuses on development, weaving, ideas/concepts for social media, and admin tasks. Just one by one when I want to work on them. Simple, efficient, and highly satisfying. There definitely is ample time to daydream and be creative if I allow it to happen. There’s also time to read about business strategy and things that I previously thought I’d have no interest in (I was wrong). Most days include a long walk to clear my head and get me away from technology. It’s pretty simple, but once I listened to myself and followed my motivations, it’s amazing how productive I’ve become and how happy I am to work 12 hour days (not everyday though!). Pretty soon, that deafening silence of creativity in my daily life began to grow and crescendo into the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard…the sound of freedom.