by: Joanna Eaton
Remember that saying our parents would go on about, “you’ll never work a day in your life if you do what you love”? It always felt somewhat unreachable, especially when the people saying so tended to come home from work every day looking more and more drained each year. Also, as a creative person, I grew up hearing the phrase “starving artist” and how I should be “realistic” in choosing a career path, and although my parents have always been supportive when it came to following my interests, looking at making money in unconventional and atypical ways was uncharted territory; even so, I was eager to explore.
As early as the third grade, I was quietly purchasing “inventory,” consisting mainly of cute erasers and pencils from the school store and selling them at a marked up price during free time in my class. My classmate, Patrick, helped me by telling our other classmates they could buy off of me. It turned out that selling in class isn’t allowed, our teacher put a stop to it within a couple days. That thrill of how easy it was to get inventory and flip it so fast remained. This is the first time I really fanned my entrepreneurial flame.
Navigating Through the Working World
My real journey into the working world began in the backroom of Target while I was in college. This provided plenty of lessons in time management as well as patience. Once college was over I took on a night crew stocker position down the road at Costco while doing mornings at Target. After a while I dropped Target when I was able to secure the coveted morning stocking shift at Costco. After doing really well with that for a while I had the opportunity to move into the deli, which was a pay raise but came with a fairly irregular schedule and a lot more responsibility. There were a lot of hard, stinky nights that I pushed through, wondering when I might figure something else out. I wasn’t meant to be cleaning hot chicken ovens and being scolded by managers for running out of stock in the hot case for 2 minutes while my back screams for a break and my mouth for a sip of water.
After 3 years of hard work at Costco, it was time to leave. During my last year there I had increasing back problems, my arms had burn scars and my face had been burned by oven steam. It was time to get a job that respected my mind & body. Costco is definitely a good opportunity on paper as I was able to save & invest a lot of money as well as have access to really great insurance coverage, but they really make you put a lot of yourself into work to get it!
Armed with my savings and determination to find a better way, I gave over two weeks’ notice and l left Costco without anything lined up, despite what I told everyone there. Even though making that decision felt risky to me, I knew I had been really good about saving that money and would be okay if I didn’t find anything for a while. I used my savings to live on and continue paying bills while looking for anything but retail. I landed interviews for everything from Delta airlines flight attendant to a marketing associate for a direct marketing/ pyramid scheme selling Xfinity. I took the marketing role without knowing what kind of business they really were. I bought the nice businesswear required and worked long hours in a cult-like brainwashing environment. I was made to feel like I had the power to do well in this job, but that I was never working hard enough; if you didn’t have sleepless nights, came in early and stayed late, you didn’t really ‘want’ to be successful there.
Once I figured out what was going on I arranged a meeting to tell them I was quitting and another person working there was quitting the same day as me. He showed me the “Devil Corp” documentary on YouTube with the word “Juice” (a common thing said there) as the thumbnail. It outlined the inner workings of the shady business we were in and I was so glad that I didn’t waste any more time there. I tried out a couple positions in different fields including being a LifeTouch photographer, but nothing could get me to shake the feeling that “this job isn’t going to take me anywhere”.
Taking a Chance and Trusting Yourself
After some time with no work again I saw my boyfriend’s workplace was hiring in the embroidery department. I didn’t know anything about embroidery, I don’t really even use sewing machines, but I know I am a fast learner! Other than that, I had helped them out here and there when they needed an extra set of hands, so I already had a good rapport with them.
When I was looking at the job posting, I’ll admit I was in the local bar with my man. With a bit of liquid courage and his permission to potentially be his co-worker, I literally said “fuck it” and submitted my Indeed application to them. One follow-up email later, I landed an interview and they were willing to take a chance on me.
I started soon after and they had me learning embroidery under the 2 other girls there. Other than that, they had me also doing merch order fulfillment for a popular crime podcast. Not only did I catch them up on orders, I reorganized and did stock inventory, which they had never done before.
Just as I was almost comfortable with the embroidery machine, COVID-19 struck. With us being a 5 minute walk away and most other employees working from home or not coming in, my boyfriend and I decided to keep going to work. We knew the business was likely not to survive if we didn’t keep showing up and we needed to keep earning regular income. I was pretty nervous though; with only a couple months under my belt, I was the only person in the building that could run the embroidery machine. Without being prompted, I repeatedly used my own free time to learn and understand the inner workings of embroidery and how I could improve. If you’re familiar, the original Pokemon theme song was 100 percent the mood during this time!
With fairly limited resources concerning commercial machines like ours, I had to do a substantial amount of experimenting and research. After lots of practice, I had a great handle on the machine, and I began to turn my attention to digitizing. This is the process of getting an art file ready for production in a way that the embroidery machine understands. Being able to learn this side of embroidery helps to give us better control of the process and a more precise outcome for each job. After a surprisingly large learning curve in the program, I started having a lot of success with it. My boss armed me with a work computer and was open to ordering new types of supplies in order to evolve the end-quality of our work. Many happy customers later, I officially became the embroidery manager. Once things calmed down a bit with covid, one of the girls came back to our section being reorganized(which she had admittedly expected would happen) and a massive workload that has only grown in size since.
Now we have an additional embroidery machine, on track to hire more people for embroidery and get another machine. Our boss is even going to be adding onto our building to expand, so there’s lots of excitement coming within the next couple months. To think, just over a year ago, we were uncertain if the business would survive!
Mastering my Destiny
We ended up moving out of our small apartment that was a 5-minute walk to work, to now having a house with a 40-minute commute. This puts a bit of a strain on our personal time as we yearn to find a way to have passive income from our property somehow. Even a side business of my own with extra cash flow would be really incredible, something I could run at home and see where it goes!
Other than day dreaming about setting up my own business, I’ve always been interested in creating identities for other businesses! I have a friend who makes her own all-natural salve/ moisturizer; I told her years ago if she decided to start selling it (because this shit is amazing) I would make her logo and help her with content, etc for free. Recently she finally took me up on it and it was a really fun process! Working together to create her logo for (@bee_._natural) and producing content made me realize it was something I wanted to do more of, and maybe while this might not be a sole business model for me, I could give back to brands I am inspired by and want to support. Ideally I would like to do this a couple times a year to design a logo that becomes a symbol of their own hard work & progress. To be part of that startup’s origin story as they hone in on their branding and connect with their market is so exciting!
As I grow older and expose myself to different environments, podcasts and people from different walks of life, I find myself intuitively leaning into the activities and opportunities that feel right. When I say “feel right”, I’m talking about that good-ole gut feeling. Despite the popular phrase “go with your gut,” I feel like I never “really” got it until recently. I always let logic and ideals lead me and trusted in what people said, only to be left disappointed or drained from activities and opportunities. For instance, I have always LOVED taking photographs. I started with film as a little girl that we’d take to the store to develop and moved to digital once I could sometime in middle school. Friends and family definitely identified me as a photographer and always asked for me to take photos for them and I would–of literally anything they asked.
Being a natural-born people pleaser, I always said yes, even if I didn’t feel like it. Eventually I raised my prices to make sure I was being properly compensated and noticed a drop in people coming to me for my high-value, yet affordable services. Even so, there would be people coming to me to do portraits, which is arguably one of the things I like to capture the least. Once I realized the anxiety they brought me and that it wasn’t even about the money, I slowly began saying no to them. This helped me preserve my joy for photography and freed up my time to practice with product photography, which it turns out I enjoy a lot more.
Don’t Quit Your Daydreams
Being an artist, continuing to explore new mediums is essential for me to feel challenged and find inspiration for other projects! Just like how I excitedly dove into the embroidery and garment decoration industry at my current job, I am ready for another challenge! This time, a few months from now, I will be receiving a shipment with a laser cutting machine! With this tech, my goal is to learn the machine and art file program in time to make Christmas presents for my family. That’s a small window of about 1-2 months time to learn the basics. To accelerate myself toward that goal, I am currently taking initiative to look up everything I can, as well as gathering/ preparing product materials to hit the ground running come September! I haven’t quite settled on a name, but I simmered down my list to 5 cool possibilities, so there will be an update soon once I settle on the best one! It should be something that sets the tone for what kind of business I want it to evolve into without boxing me into just one area of customization, as I will be a one-stop shop for businesses in the future!
To bring it back to the reason for writing this article in the first place, you CAN do what you love, but it will require work. Whether or not the work is worth it for you is for you to decide! I cannot tell you how many people I witnessed say they don’t want a 9-5 and they want to work for themselves, but never take the steps toward that goal. It’s like they are just pacing at the line between being taken care of with regular schedules and guaranteed paychecks and the other side where they have to be the Jack (or Jill) of all trades, having a schedule that ebbs and flows with your actions within the business.
The truth is, if you’re REALLY going for it and want to be productive, you might not even need to do everything yourself! Websites like Fiverr and UpWork are great places to hire talented people with different backgrounds to do one-off or repetitive tasks for you and open up your time for the things you need to do yourself. So when it comes to mastering your path, you can remember you still aren’t alone; there is an incredible amount of resources available to those trying to find and improve your niche! They will come in the form of books, blogs like this one, podcasts, free webinars, online classes; there are so many!
I hope these experiences can help spur motivation and summon some creative thinking as you explore the potential to monetize on the things that come naturally to you. I am eager to write additional articles that will help prepare you and propel you forward, mind, body and spirit!