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To quit or not to quit your day job

January 24, 2018

When, if ever, is it time to make the jump to be fully self-employed? Am I ready to put that much confidence in what I do? What if I fail? Unlike the classic aspiring artist/entrepreneur, these were not questions that I began with asking myself. These questions and doubts came later on. 

It started at eight-years-old when I lived with my family on main street in a small town in Wisconsin. I watched my older siblings who all had jobs and were making money, and I wanted to do the same. I knew that not many people were going to want to hire an eight-year-old -- let alone were my parents going to allow for me to do any odd jobs when I should be doing school. I started brainstorming while sitting at the dining room table with the rest of my family. What was something that I was good at that others would be willing to pay money for? What could I create that would not otherwise be easily accessible? It hit me suddenly, homemade bread, of course! My mom had taught me to grind whole wheat grains and to make bread from scratch and I already knew that a lot of our neighbors loved it. Quite often, they would request it with "subtle" hints. 

And so with that idea, I had help from my mom putting together flyers which we then went and delivered to shops and homes around town. I gradually grew a regular base of customers which led to recruiting two of my siblings on baking day. This was my first taste of business. From there I was always thinking up new ideas. I started selling hand-painted cards at a shop across the street. I remember being asked to print up a list of inventory by the shop owner, I promised to get it to her by the end of a day. The only problem was, I had no idea what she was talking about. I quickly learned from my dad what she meant, and followed through on my promise. I went from opening an online Etsy shop (or two), getting paid to do yard work and gardening, to serving breakfasts at the weekly farmer's market with my family. 

When people ask me how I got into pottery, I realize that it just happened. I don't have any profound story of how or why. Similarly to anything else I had ever done, I was interested in it and begun researching how I could do it myself. I watched videos for how I could dig up clay and separate the dirt from it. Proceeding from there I built my own kiln in the ground for pit firing. After tedious hours of work, and a week of waiting for my hand molded pieces to dry, I was frustrated when everything broke during the firing process. For me, I could see no other option than to keep trying until I had success. It meant looking into different methods, lots of experimentation, eventually getting my own wheel and renting kiln space. As people began asking if they could buy pieces from me, it became clear that this could be a way for me to afford teaching myself. As long as people were willing to buy, then I could devote the time and money to truly mastering the craft. A mistaken way of thinking, quite possibly. 

A question that actually never confronted me was "am I ready for this?" Was I ready to display my work to the world claiming my title as an "artist?" Was I ready for my very first custom order? Was I ready when approached for making 100 mugs for a retreat? Was I ready to claim this as my only source of income and have that much confidence in the product that I was making? The only option in my case was that I had to make this work and there was no other way around it. Looking back today, though, the answer to each of these questions would be absolutely not and no way! There are a million different of routes that I could have taken (and maybe should have) -- but the question is would I be where I am today if I did not have this confidence and demand for what I was doing? 

Perhaps it is in the most concentrated and difficult times, where you literally have no other option than to make things work, that you do your most growing and learning. Maybe down the road, the struggle of trial and error that you encountered because you said, yes, I am ready, will be what you look back on as playing a major role in the creation of the masterful artist that you have now become. This is after all, what "starving artist" refers to isn't it?

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