What a year of financial instability (and blogging) have taught me about opening a business
I’m no good with money.
There, I said it. My dirty little not-so-secret.
I’ve spent the better part of my adult life trying desperately to acquire bits of money, only to watch them float away just as quickly. The starving-artist mentality taken to all new extremes. The root of this problem of mine? Well it’s deep, to be sure, but the cliff notes version goes something like this; I possess an inability to reconcile my bleeding heart, heal the world, material things don’t matter mentality with my equally present appreciation of beautiful things. Because ugh, as much as I hate to admit this, things DO matter to me.
This past year I quit my lucrative job in administration at a middle school in Philadelphia, said goodbye to my health benefits and 401K, packed up all of my possessions and returned to Washington, DC with no real plans to make money, just a ten-year-old dream to open my own business. Oh, and a blog I’d started – a New Year’s resolution to do something creative everyday.
In the eight months that followed, I slept on my mother’s couch, sub-let my best friend’s basement apartment, moved into an incredibly overpriced (and out of my budget) studio of my own, secured multiple part time jobs, none of which amounted to pay that covered my bills, and ultimately fell into a deep despair.
This isn’t a ploy to make you feel sorry for me. Promise.
Rather, this is an attempt to shine some light on a way of being that doesn’t get much merit in our society – a way of life that involves being and doing good outside of the traditional capitalistic sense. Not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to make money. Just saying, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to, either. And that’s where we need a perspective shift in this culture.
I am well aware I had every opportunity to take the reasonable road – stick it out in a job I could tolerate, if not love, stay in a city I could tolerate, if not love, change my spending habits so I could save, save, save, and so on.
Except, I couldn’t. This need to be creative, forge my own path – it has always been my blessing as well as my curse. Too many years away from dancing, creating, contributing to the artistic world and I become restless, listless, hopeless.
And I have a great business plan.
I do. For as little credit as I give myself, for as much as I am my worst critic, even in those times I can admit that I have something special. A business model that doesn’t yet exist, really, and for which there is a great need amongst the creative community.
My business is an endeavor meant to fuel the creative economy, and meant to function as an organization that pays artists a fair price for their work, and gives them the recognition they deserve for their contributions. We’re not just talking art in the traditional sense, the hanging on a wall ready to be purchased by a gallery-goer kind. Although, we will have that, too. We’re talking about passionate, invested folk creating a meal, making a movie, designing websites, teaching classes, putting on performances… And the list goes on.
I know what you’re thinking, I think: A financially unstable director of an arts organization meant to pay artists well may seem like a complete contradiction. I have thought so too. So much so, I almost lost complete faith in my ability to open this business. But then, it occurred to me just how well suited I am for the challenge.
So here are nine things (in no particular order) my year of financial instability have taught me about opening my business, each accompanied by a corresponding blog entry from my year of The Daily Creative Project:
1. Hey. Be Nice
When you feel yourself to have hit bottom (or at least close to), it becomes an incredible vantage point for finding grace. A moment to appreciate the troubles of others. The suffering that others may face. Even when – especially when – they resist letting that vulnerability be seen. Being able to meet people where they are is a huge part of running a business, I am coming to learn.
2. Find Yourself a Virtue
Patience; man I have none. Or thought I didn’t. But ten years – dreaming this dream for ten years – that’s some patience if I’ve ever seen any. So, the fact that my business hasn’t now been built in a day? I’d say, that’s OK. By starting slowly, having lots and lots of conversations, asking advice from those I trust and admire, testing out the waters with snippets of what we intend to do, building an audience and cheerleader base, we’re getting all of our ducks in a row for just that very day when everything does become aligned to open our doors.
I believe as wholeheartedly in my mission now, as I ever have. I believe in myself. I believe in other dreamers and creative folks and the good in people. I believe, at the end of the day, my business will help and do good and be good for lots of other people, not just myself. My faith may look very different from yours, but it comes from the same place of wonder and inexplicable strength that makes things just seem, well, possible.
4. Ingenuity All the Way
I haven’t had the capital to invest in my current endeavors. I don’t have an eager philanthropist busting at the seams to support my work. When you can’t take the easy (or at least accessible) road, it forces you to find creative ways around roadblocks. Got an idea? How can you make it happen on a smaller scale, as a partnership, in pieces? Our event series, Reel Talk, began in the living room of dear friends, with a handful of people – all friends or relatives, and a dream to turn this vision of ours into something. Turns out, people who are already in your corner are the best customers. They were eager and engaged and supportive. And three months later, we were partnering with a real estate firm to hold the event in their beautiful offices, with advanced tickets purchased by complete strangers. It sometimes takes a perspective shift, but the outcome can be more rewarding than you ever expected.
5. Become the Rubber Band
Resilience. The ability to snap back. If you haven’t hit low, if you haven’t tested your limits, how will you ever know what you’re capable of?
6. Keep Your Head in the Clouds
The only way to make this crazy thing a reality is to keep on dreaming. People may tell you to stop. To get your priorities straight. You may even tell yourself that. But if you wake up day after day with the same dream, you owe it to yourself to give it everything you’ve got. And to know that, while you may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel (apologies for all my terribly cliche idioms I’ve got going on in here – don’t know what’s come over me), the light, it’s there. And you’ll see it soon enough. Just as long as you don’t. give. up. This of course comes with a hearty dose of reality and sacrifice along the way – a deep willingness to do whatever necessary. And may mean you have to make some deviations along the way. But oh how sweet the sunshine will feel when you come out the other side and can say ‘I. Did. This.’
7. A Slice of Humble Pie
Take advice from others. Admit defeat. Ask for help when you need it. Cause hey, we all need it, once in awhile. And yes, even us perfectionists fail (or ahem, encounter obstacles) once in awhile.
8. Put Your Best Assets Forward
Like to doodle? Good at taking photos, or talking to people? Those seemingly dissimilar or unnecessary talents will become the lifeline on which you walk through this process. They are also, hopefully, the very reason(s) you are starting this endeavor in the first place. They are the things that make you happiest. And therefore in turn, will make you successful-ist.
Me? I love to design interior spaces. (And dance. And connect with other inspiring artists to make even more inspiring work. And plan events. And work with young people. And. Oh, well, you get the picture.)
9. Find Your Happy Place
If at the end of the day, even in despair, you find yourself happier, somewhere deep down, than you were at the height of your non-dreamer life, you know you’ve done it. You know you’ve followed your heart to the place you are meant to be. I’ve shamed myself into thinking for so long that my way isn’t the ‘right’ way. And in this society, it’s not. But I have to, have to, believe that my way will be MY right way. Just as soon as I let go of this guilt I’ve built up around myself.
Bonus post: Pharrell Williams will make you Happy.
*Now, I just want to make clear that I am in no way implying that being in debt and relinquishing all responsibility are the way to go here. Just the opposite. I believe I will finally be able to find peace and the ability to manage my finances, a business, etc. when I accept who I am and find ways to work WITH my abilities, instead of in direct opposition to them.
There, I said it. I have a hunch there are a lot of us out there. And I think we can help each other, and our society, by unashamedly, loudly, intensely, shouting it from the rooftops. (And then making big things happen. With a dose of compassion. A dash of ingenuity. And a whole lot of heART.)
Here’s to another day of creativity…