What losing my creativity taught me.
PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME how I got started, and I have trouble answering that question because I've made things with my hands for as long as I can remember. I just felt the need to create in my gut, and still do. I was the kid who couldn't just sit and watch TV. I had to have a tray with beads and wire-wrap them into necklaces for hours. I went though a phase with FIMO clay, spending the weekends teaching myself how to manipulate and shape the clay into beads and light switch covers and hair barrettes. I was a painter, a potter, a screen-printer, a gift-wrap-paper-stamper and pretty much everything in between. I was DIY before it was called DIY. Before Pinterest and Etsy. Those things didn't exist then and making things was just what I did. But for me, it always came back to jewelry. Gemstones and beads and metal and wire were my first love and my complete obsession.
But there was a period of time in my life when I stopped. I don't know why. It might have been that I thought I was supposed to stop those kid things and do adult things instead. I got a bit lost.
After graduating from university in the early 2000's, I spent most of the rest of my 20's alternating between traveling through Latin America and working short government contracts to make money so I could travel more. I couldn't find a job that kept my interest for very long or that felt fulfilling. It felt like something was missing and I was unsettled and unhappy from trying to fit myself into office jobs in a government town that just weren't for me. I had taken some classes here and there, but wasn't consistently creating. The periods of traveling were amazing and inspiring and awesome. But I also knew that for me, it wasn't a forever thing. I didn't want to move around every few months forever. I loved my family and knew I wanted to be close to them geographically. I couldn't reconcile the reality of needing money to make that happen and feeling like I lived in the least inspiring place on earth.
In 2009 I was at a turning point. I was deeply unhappy and had been making some bad choices. I had to reassess the direction my life was headed. I was beginning to realize that if I didn't feed this little creative beast inside me, it was going to consume me. I was about to be let go from the job I was in and I decided to go back to school for graphic design.
For some reason at that time I had saved up a bit of money, and it was around the time of the local annual gem and mineral show. I took those small savings and bought some gorgeous gemstone beads. I made some necklaces, earrings and bracelets and opened an Etsy shop (which still exists). I also started vending at the Ottawa farmer's market. I remember those initial days of making a few sales here and there, and the sheer disbelief that people actually wanted to give me money for what I made. It honestly blew my mind. And it was addictive. It was so amazing to me that something that came so naturally to me and felt so honest and true to myself could also be the thing that could help pay my bills. I was beginning to realize that the unsettled feeling I had felt for so long had less to do with where I was geographically and more to do with the fact that I had been on a self-imposed creative hiatus.
I continued running and growing the business while I was at school full-time. It was an intense time, trying to juggle the workload of a demanding creative program and my business. There were times where I couldn't do both, and the business suffered or got put on the back burner. But I felt better than I had in a long time. I was making it through school, developing skills and relationships, but with a growing feeling of dread that I would have to let go of my beloved little business to work for other people in the graphic design field.
I hadn't yet fully learned a key thing about life: there are actually zero rules about how to live it. And I hadn't yet fully learned a key thing about myself: I work best for myself, by my own rules and for my own ends. I was an entrepreneur in my bones, a maker in my soul and a lover of the game of business and beauty, and where those two things could meet and be profitable.
I decided that I would give the business a go full time, and against most people's advice, do freelance graphic design with a few select clients that I had gathered instead of work for an agency. Once I gave myself permission to live the kind of creative life I really wanted, things started to fall into place. That's not to say there aren't periods of major stress about money, times when I have to check and re-check my fear about the future and what it holds, and deal with the isolation of working alone, but for the most part, I like my life. It's not a worldwide success, I spend a lot of time not really knowing what to do next, and I'm working on a better work-life balance, but it's really pretty good. I have freedom and make beauty daily, which are two things I value highly.
I think losing my way creatively was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It forced me to explore, to experiment and when I finally found my way back to living a creative life it felt incredible. It felt like a brand new start and like a well-loved home all at the same time.
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