Saturday, October 24, 2015

Do what you love

Do what you love and the money will follow.

It didn't get to be an adage because it wasn't true. I have been lucky enough to have done what I have loved in my life and money has followed. I got into journalism on the lowest rung in a weekly newspaper, as a data entry person. I worked my way up the ladder and left my journalism career as a Lifestyles Editor. (Of course, "money" in journalism is an objective thing!) I used to pursue a hobby called Letterboxing. This lovely pursuit brought me income when I started selling my hand-carved stamps as a side business, then teaching summer camps, adult education workshops and after-school programs on the activity. Handmade paper was much the same. I loved it and it grew into a larger business than I could have imagined, from teaching it to selling at craft shows to a busy online business. I remember once thinking I would be thrilled if I could make $250 in one month. During my busiest time, I was making enough in one week to pay my mortgage.

But … I have had an interesting creative journey over the last year. I am still digesting it and figuring things out, but here is a peek into my head and heart of my latest path in doing what I love and hoping the money will follow. As I said, my handmade paper business has grown beyond my wildest dreams. I have had incredible sales in my Etsy shop every year since 2008, almost doubling my sales every year. There were days during my busy season that I sold 15 to 20 items out of my shop for days in a row. (I think my record day was somewhere around 26 sales in one day!) I not only couldn't keep up with custom orders, I couldn't replace the inventory that sold. The amount that I was selling locally also suddenly accelerated, and I would spend a few hours on one order then hop over to another one, then onto a third. There have been times in my life when this has been exhilarating but over the last year it was not only tiring but also a little monotonous. I realized something had to change when I got excited over orders that were in any way different from the usual ones I made. I felt like I was a machine on an assembly line. Though I was very successful on paper (no pun intended - ha!), I was less and less satisfied. I was also making many custom orders for brides, which is stressful because of the expectations they have for their wedding day. Time and time again I would get an email from a bride who had just stumbled upon my shop, was so excited to have found me, and needed a large order in just a week or two. And I always squeezed them in by working a longer day, a longer weekend. I think at one point I had a four-month wait for new orders. The assembly line was feeling like a gerbil's treadmill.

Then two things happened. I had a solo art show of my work in the spring and I went on a really long vacation over the summer. Both of these events forced me to step away from my business and get a little perspective. I came back from the vacation and stopped taking custom orders in order to have more fun. I began to take stay-cations and short adventures close to home, which opened me creatively. (Here's some pictures from an overnight road trip to Watkins Glenn, a park I have wanted to visit for a long time, just a few hours from my home. We saw friends and had lunch in the adorable town of Ithaca, NY. A year ago, I never would have stepped away from the production line to have this adventure.)

With these adventures, I have been feeling more motivated and creative and have had more time to explore art that I wanted to make instead of what I had to make. I found my energy rising again and new motivation growing for things that had been on the back burner, like my other artistic business, Petal People, the pressed flower art that I sell as framed original artwork but also printed on cards. Over the last year, I have been having stores contact me and ask if I wholesale my cards. Time and time again, I have said no. But in my new frame of my mind, I have wondered if perhaps these opportunities are a higher power telling me to do what I love and let the money follow. Because I would have a bulk quantity of my one-of-a-kind designs printed onto cards, it would free me up creatively to pursue other interests instead of making each and every item - one at a time - by hand, over and over again.

I am at the very beginning and not sure where this is going. But today I am not going to worry about it. I am going for a hike with the one I love to enjoy the last of the fall foliage. So at the very least, I'm doing what I love.

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