Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2013, a year for thinking...

I know I haven't been blogging much this year, and when I have the posts have tended to be short on pictures, long-winded and self-obsessed, centering around the topic of What's Next for Laura?  This post is another of those.  I find myself still wrestling with a decision, and I will, with many words, spell it out for you.  And for myself, because it can be helpful to do so.

I have been sewing a lot. And enjoying it a lot.  But my enjoyment is tinged with guilt.  I get to play all day, while Nate works hard to support our family.  I've been thinking a lot this year about what my next chapter will be, now that both boys are in school.  I feel like it's time for me to contribute something more to our family.  I'm starting to feel like it's really inequitable for me to stay home while Nate works.  It was different when the kids were little.  I felt like my stay-at-home position had more purpose then.  Now the boys are in school and I am still at home.  I keep myself very busy.  I do a little house work and a lot of creating.  I sew, I embroider, I decorate the apartment.  Maybe I would feel better about staying home if I really spent my time on things that benefited the whole family.  If I cleaned a lot, or cooked elaborate, nutritious dinners, or kept on top of laundry or paperwork.  But I don't do that.  I do the bare minimum each day, and spend the bulk of my time on stuff I want to do.  Nate and I probably split domestic duties 50/50, and yet he is here for far fewer hours a week than I am.

As I kid I loved to make stuff.  I remember clearly the collage kit my parents bought for me, and how I treasured every feather, every pouch of glitter, every piece of alphabet pasta within.  I remember making crafts at every birthday party (thanks, Mom), and trying my hand at clay sculptures both at school and at home.  In high school, I made zines.  The writing was part of my creative outlet, but the collages that covered the pages were always my favorite bit, the part I felt proudest of.  When I went to college, creativity took a backseat to school.  My grandma taught me to knit, but it didn't stick.  I soon forgot how to do it, and my life was full with class and friends.  Then, suddenly, I was a young mother.  My focus was completely on getting through each day with my baby alive and preferably happy.

It wasn't until S was maybe 3 years old that I started to make things again.  I started making little collages and putting them on cards.  I was doing a little painting and decoupaging of various wooden objects.  When we moved to Bloomington in 2006, I had more space to store supplies and more room to work.  An oversized desk in the corner became my creative space, and I spent many happy hours there while my little ones napped.  I started repainting and decoupaging child-sized chairs, and making magnets and assemblage pieces to sell in an etsy shop.  I taught myself to embroider around the same time.

A couple of years later we moved again and had even more space.  I had a whole room (!!!) that was designated as my creative space.  Oh, how I loved that room.  And I began spending more and more time there.  As the boys were getting older and more independent, better at entertaining themselves, entering kindergarten and pre-school, I spent every moment I could steal in that room.  Working on more chairs, freezer paper stenciled shirts for the boys, ever more ambitious embroidery projects, and finally, teaching myself to quilt.

I include this history of my creative process here to say that creating beautiful things with my hands has always been part of my life.  While I gave it up for a few years during college and early motherhood, it came back in a big way.  Today it's more important to me than ever before.  Having the opportunity to stay home with the boys and let my creativity grow and bloom has made me feel confident that I have a gift.  Actually, the internet is partially responsible for that as well, because posting pictures of my creations online has resulted in such positive feedback.  Without that I might have thought I was just playing around, just passing the time with silly crafts.  But that's not how I think of myself now.  I believe I have an eye for color and design.  I believe I have the patience and dexterity to make things others cannot.  Heck, if I get carried away I might even say I believe I have some talent in these areas.  And I have this sense that I *NEED* to create, that it's part of who I am, and that to stop making things or to drastically cut back on my making time would be a devastating loss. 

But then, a conversation with a hard-working and stressed out husband can change my perception in an instant.  If I went to work, it could ease our financial strain in a significant way.  All these things I love to do, when I do them just for myself, they are hobbies.  And most adults do not get to spend all day at home enjoying their hobbies.

So now the decision, do I go to work, like a traditional job, and keep my hobbies strictly as hobbies?  Or do I try to cobble some kind of career around these things I love to do?

(Quick sidenote, for anyone wondering: The onesie thing was making a bit of money.  But I hate doing it so much that I decided I must stop.  I am still trying to print and sell the rest of the stock I had on hand.  Once that is gone I will be done with the onesie shop for good).

(Sidenote 2, I still love the idea of opening a quilt shop, but I don't feel like it is possible, realistically.  Where would the money come from? That is the big problem.  No one will give a loan to an apartment-renting first-time business-owner applicant.  I thought about Kickstarter, but who would contribute to that campaign?  Basically quilters in the Chicago-land area, right?  I don't know that there are enough of them to make it happen.  Plus, it seems weird to say, Hey, give me money to open this shop, then come shop at my shop and give me your money again!  I don't know, it's not 100% off the list of possibilities, but my hopes are pretty low at this point).

As I try to think this through, here are the points that come to mind, presented in a pros/cons fashion:

Taking the Creative Path: Trying to somehow form a career out of the things I make

-creatively fulfilling
-flexible hours, making it easy to pick up the kids from school, have summers off to spend with them, etc
-use my gifts and talents on a regular basis
-opportunity to challenge myself and grow creatively

-pressure to make more than I have time to make
-pressure to take commissioned work and possibly compromise my creative voice
-possibility that it simply won't be fun anymore if it becomes work
-path is unmarked, I would have to forge my own, which is a lot of effort in and of itself, on top of the efforts of constantly producing good work. I honestly don't even know what it would look like! I just have a vague idea that it is possible to make a living from one's art (ART, oh, there's THAT word)
-need to hone my focus and make one or two of the same things, not have my hand in multiple creative disciples as I currently enjoy
-trying to make a name for myself in an already crowded market


Getting a Traditional Job: Hobbies in my spare time

For anyone curious, there is a job I am leaning toward.  It is Physical Therapy Assistant.  This was chosen for its reasonable length of training time (2 years), its respectable salary, its current growth as a portion of the job market, and its good fit with my personality.  I think it's a good choice because I'm good with people, compassionate, and organized.  I like the idea of helping people improve their lives in such a tangible way.

-help people
-interact with people more than I do now (I am a borderline extrovert, so sometimes I wonder if being at home alone all day is really good for me)
-earn a salary and feel like I'm contributing something important to my family
-any chance I get to sew or create will be guilt-free and low-pressure

-significantly less time to create
-possibly almost no time to create
-possibility that I won't end up liking it
-childcare logistics, after school and during summers.  Potentially harder to schedule things like family vacations.
-possibly feeling like I am wasting my gifts and talents

So there are my pros and cons all spelled out.  I may have missed some.  I think I can sum up each side pretty concisely.

Thinking about staying home and making stuff makes me feel excited.  Thinking about branding myself, promoting the s*** out of myself, deciding what to make and how to make it profitable makes me feel exhausted and a little yucky.

Thinking about helping people as a physical therapy assistant makes me feel good.  Thinking about having next to no time at my sewing machine or with an embroidery hoop in my hand makes me feel tremendously sad.

I guess those feelings are the crux of this decision I need to make.  There is also a lot of fear swirling around in there... Fear that I'll make the wrong choice, fear that whatever I choose will be too hard, fear that I won't be good enough... after 10 years of staying at home, it's scary to make a change.  Meanwhile, life is going by at a rapid pace and it's hard to find time to even think about these things, let alone take the steps necessary to make them happen.  I might have to set myself some deadlines, otherwise I could go on mulling things over until the boys are leaving for college and I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.

If you made it this far, wow, and thank you.  I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts on the matter, if you have any.  Maybe you had to make a similar choice and were happy or unhappy with the path you took?  Maybe you have some sage wisdom because you've been on this earth longer than I have.  I'm interested, so leave me a comment if you have thoughts.

Thanks for reading, friends.  xoxoxo


Miss Sews-it-all said...

That is certainly a lot to think about. In my experience, trying to turn your most-loved hobby into a career has the possibility of taking the joy out of the hobby. When I had to sew as part of my job, that is the only sewing I did - for work. Now that I no longer have to sew for work (I just read about it all day on the internet), I find that I can enjoy sewing again. It's not the same for everyone, and you may find that you do enjoy making stuff for work, but it is something to think about.

PoldaPop said...

I may be stating the obvious, but have you ever thought about part-time? Devon and I have decided that one of us has to only work part-time, as even the thought of both of us working full-time is exhausting. One full-time, one part-time makes our life doable. And I've found that sewing part-time for work and part-time for fun keeps the joy in there. If you worked 3-4 days a week at a real job, you would still have 1-2 days to do household stuff and stay sane (aka create). I've found that I can clean like a demon if it means that I get to create at the end of it.

Anonymous said...

Laura- I have worked and teamed with OT's and PT's for over 35 years in the school systems, and many of them are contractual, which means they take on the caseload for the school year under a physical or occupational therapist. Some work two days at the schools, and one day in a nursing home, or whatever. There are many such therapy team businesses like this out there, and while the speech/language therapists are typically full time- ( I have been part time for over 20 years by choice) , the OT and PT are not. They are always in demand, which means you could be a little picky with your schedule. You could decide to have summers off.
Food for thought from the therapy circles. I like how my family "turned out", so part time was right for me.
Barb Hughes

Sarah Hedman said...

Oh my goodness, this is EXACTLY how I feel about myself. I still have a little guy at home so I am not in the exact same spot yet, but I have already started this same thought process when thinking about my life two years from now when everyone is in school full-time. In other words, I don't have a lot of advice because I have just started thinking about this myself, but I will say that as soon as I HAVE to sew because someone ordered a dozen bibs or three stuffed animals, I HATE it. It totally ruins it for me. Which stinks. Because, like you, I feel that I was made to create things and that is where the bulk of my gifts and talents lie. I also will say that I think your heart is in the right place. You are a devoted and caring mom and wife and if you continue to make decisions using your heart, I don't think you will go wrong. Sometimes there is more than one right answer. And I think as long as you're moving forward and trying things with a heart that is in the right place, you will find where you are supposed to be. Don't stress out about not getting it right the first time either. Good luck to you, my sweet and talented friend! It was wonderful seeing you yesterday. Maybe Abe and I could come out to OP during the day sometime to visit with you. i would love to see your place and see some of your quilts in person. :)