Be yourself (or, “Should” is a bad word)

It is January (or it was, as you’ll see at the end.) Time of resolutions and reviews. My social media feeds are full of lists and picture grids. 9 things. Resolutions. Best of 2018. Hopes for 2019.

As a business owner with just one employee, me, I have consulted many resources over the last 8 years to help me shape and build my business. There are tons of podcasts, blogs and books. Lots of suggestions. Lots of things I could be doing to build my business. And lots of “should”. You should be on Instagram. You should have a newsletter. You should post every day. You should do this show or that.

The social media pressure is enormous. Where do I post? How often? What if I don’t post as often as that other business person? Am I doing it wrong? Do I do a top 9 post? What is a top 9 post? Huh. Turns out there’s an app for doing a top 9 for instagram post. Who knew?

And the business stress can be enormous too, if you let it. Grow your business! Double your sales! Reach more people. Get 10k followers. Never mind FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I’m feeling PtP (Pressure to Perform).

As I mentioned in my last post. I’m taking stock. Circling back to some of my earlier reading about how to define my business and set my goals. There was advice I understood in principle. Define your product. Understand your customers. Be where the customers are. I knew what they were saying and I made a good first attempt at trying to define those things for my new business.

I’ve come to realize that I can only begin to answer the question of what I want my business to be as I look back on the past 8 years and assess what I’ve been doing. “What isn’t working for me?” is as important as understanding my successes. While I appreciate all the business experience that may sit behind a list of things I should do to grow my business, that’s only good advice for me if I can be comfortable, confident and real while doing those things.

My social media presence needs to be about me and what I bring to my business. It won’t be successful, or even sustainable if I’m trying to copy what someone else is doing.

February note: I started writing this early in January and set it aside because I hadn’t figured out my conclusion. Still haven’t really, but all that I wrote is still valid so you’ll get it as-is.

Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.

So long 2017

As I write on the last day of the year, it is a bright and sunny, albeit cold, day here in Vermont. -2 right now with an expected high of maybe 3°F. There is a wind chill advisory for tonight and I’m happy to be tucked up in our warm house with nowhere else to be right now.

Christmas tree with birds
Enjoying bird-o-vision

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of 2017 happenings. Nor is it a 2018 resolution list. I don’t really do either of those sorts of reckonings in a formal way. But as we come to the end of the holiday “break” and start back into the regular routine of life I find myself writing out a big to-do list and thinking a bit about what I might like to be different next year.

Many of the blogs I read are talking less about “resolutions” and more about self-care. As I went into the studio to grab my laptop I walked past the laundry room and noted that the hanging pieces were dry, so I folded them into the basket. Recalled that I wanted to wash all my hand-knit socks and started the tub filling while I got yesterday’s pair from the hamper. Tumbled the rest into the tub and started them soaking. Folded a few more things as I walked past the drying rack and 10 minutes later finally accomplished the original mission of fetching the laptop. A small illustration of the meandering, distracted paths that sometimes make up my day. And somewhere in all of this is the thought of being slightly more, I don’t know, mindful maybe? Focused on the task at hand? Organized isn’t really the right word. But I have noticed days where the meandering path, setting off a series of reminders of what isn’t done is more stressful than useful. I’d like a bit less stress in my life, wouldn’t you?

For amusement I’ve decided to try the dot journal thingie. I do live by lists and schedules and feel so much more in control when I’ve got those to-dos written down somewhere and not cluttering my brain. I bought a book (because that’s what I do) Dot Journaling — A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, read it through and started building my journal. As much as I rely on my electronic calendar, I have never embraced electronic to-do lists. I prefer the piece of paper (or more than one) with a pen handy to jot down things as they occur to me. I don’t want to find the phone, launch the app and type on the tiny keyboard. Nor do I want to have it pinging at me every time it thinks I should be doing something. Really important infrequent stuff, sure. But not all 20-odd things I need to get done this week. [And no, thanks, not looking for suggestions for the app you know will work for me. Because I realized that it’s not just about how good the app is. It’s that I don’t want to spend that much time with my phone/iPad/electronic device.]

So, dot journal, bullet journal, paper & pen-based organizer. I’ve got a notebook and a pen and colored pencils (if I choose to get fancy) and the beginnings of a plan for the first week of 2018.

To sign off I leave you with this image. When I got up this morning this path had been made in our field. There’s a straight line and a half circle sketched above it. The sun rising over the horizon line? The image does face east. An unfinished “Kilroy was here”? Who were the mysterious visitors and what does it all mean?

snow path
half circle over horizon line

 

The eternal struggle

What I want to do today vs. what I should do today…

The luxury of being your own boss comes with a need for responsibility. Sure, I can take a day off whenever I want to. Or always prioritize the fun projects. But since I don’t have any employees, it only gets done if I do it. And my overarching business goal is not just to have fun.

I’ve just gone through a business assessment process with a fellow business owner. We reviewed our 2016 goals and set plans in place for 2017. We each have a good idea of what the first quarter looks like and we are creating the action item lists that will get us to our goals. For instance, it’s all very well to say I want to increase sales by 10% over last year. But I’m not going to get very far with that if I don’t work on my marketing consistently. Much as I like to pretend otherwise, serendipity is not my marketing tool.

Which brings me to today, and a little bit of self-back-patting, for putting aside the sweater I’m knitting for a client (the fun project) and setting up for a photo shoot (the responsible task.) The sun was out this morning and it was a perfect opportunity to take pictures without setting up all the supplementary lighting.

At the end of it, I’ve come away with fodder for this blog post, additional photos for an Etsy shop listing, some future instagram photos and most of my February newsletter (subscribe here.) And I’ve banked some time against my marketing goals, which in turn lessens my guilt when I next sit down to knit.