The Lessons

In honour of our talk tonight with Local Talks this evening. A raw and honest summation of the first few years of business. See how far we've come and come sit with us. Tickets here.

Originally posted Feb 2016.


I have spent my entire life guided by my emotions. I feel deeply. I cry easily, share often, listen intently and wholeheartedly trust my intuition. I can’t buy a banana or pick an apple from the grocery store without asking myself, “Okay, but does this feel right?” While having its benefits, my emotional acuteness is not short of its downfalls either: I’m often vulnerable, terribly indecisive (see above) and unhappier than your average bear. I bring out the tissues watching Jeopardy when people go home without prize money.  Seriously, it’s a problem. However, aside from growing up witnessing an immigrant father who came here with, ‘nothing more than a suitcase’ start a successful small business, being guided by my emotions was an essential component that pushed me towards pursuing my passions. Without romanticizing the idea too much, there never seemed to be much of an option for me. I saw the world in metaphors. I had a burning desire to manifest my feelings and create the world around me. Admittedly, the choice, was made rather easy for me. If it needs to be said and without underscoring my own diligence, I grew up middle class. I am aware of my privilege. I navigate through a system designed for me to succeed. I had parents who supported and encouraged (both financially and emotionally) my interest in creating and didn’t ask me to set it all aside for more practical work. I grew up with a mother who would spend her early Saturday mornings taking me to Lewiscraft and White Rose (RIP to great Canadian businesses) to rummage through sales bins. We would collect odds and ends, and it would be my responsibility to see the possibilities within them. I’d be left to my own devices all weekend long, talking to myself and my stuffed animals as if I were Neil Buchanan, emerging victorious and presenting my newly made object to my mother in the kitchen. My father chose to carry a picture of my paintings in his wallet over a photo of my face. These are my roots. They were well nourished and well taken care of. My gratitude is immense. I am lucky. 

There was a decade and a half in between that I can gloss over for time. I attended art school. I interned a lot. I made practical decisions regarding my art education. I created often. I surrounded myself with both like minded and equally diverse people who both supported and challenged my ideas. I collaborated. I discussed. I have notebooks filled with failed ideas and ‘to be revisited later’. I invested in the possibilities. 

Without going full blown self-jerking Kanye, for all the reasons above and with a tinge of talent mixed in, I find myself here. 365 days after my last (and hopefully final) boss told me she was firing me, not because I wasn’t capable of doing my job but as a result of noticing my complacency and sheer lack of happiness: “I see myself in you. Your talents are wasted here. Will you just go after your dreams already? Call me any time.” I drove home, I cried a lot (obviously), and told myself that was it. I was caught up in printing shipping labels on my lunch break, going to bed at 3AM, sketching ideas between someone else’s invoices, working shows on my weekends off and I just wanted to see what happened if I made it happen for myself. I weighed my options. I realized quickly that I didn’t have a mortgage or children to support and said fuck it. Another creative admin (whatever that means) job would be waiting for me when I failed. Six months turned into eight, eight turned to ten and ten turned into today. I have been doing this whole thing on and off for over four years, but yesterday I made it official. The papers say it loud and clear. I own a business. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and these past twelve months of complete self employment have been the most trying but most meaningful. 

Being an emotional entrepreneur is hard work, you guys. 

Here are some of the key aspects to following your dreams they don’t tell you about:

Expect to be poor.

I didn’t seek financial help (i.e loans, grants) when I started and I spent every dime of my own money trying to make it work. I’ve lived on my own with my partner (surprise! sorry, dad, for living in sin) in an otherwise deemed sketchy neighbourhood of the city in an old building for a long time. We slept on an air mattress for seven months because we couldn’t afford to buy a new one after our hoarding neighbour gave us bed bugs. I didn’t (okay, couldn’t) take vacations beyond a weekend trip to my boyfriend’s parents cottage in a busted convertible that stalled a few times along the way, every. single. time. I don’t know what a girls trip to Vegas or Miami is like. I don’t know Yacht Week or music festivals. Even if I wanted to develop a coke habit or eat molly for breakfast lunch and dinner I couldn’t afford to. I’ve never felt wanderlust. Those quotes on Instagram don’t resonate with me. I developed a wardrobe that consisted of neutrals so things never went out of style. I learned the benefits of shoe polish and a good tailor. I worked out of my apartment for years. I asked for tools for Christmas and birthdays. I apologized (and cried again, obviously) when I couldn’t give my family and friends more than made gifts in return. It’s not easy asking working class parents for rent money or to pay your phone bill after they just paid over $20,000 for an education to further support your passions. It’s not easy watching your phone get cut off month after month or be served with N8’s when they simply couldn’t help you. This is the reality of self employment. But life has a funny way of marking itself out for you. The layers of lessons compounded upon one another by way of sacrifice change you. They make noticeable differences on who you are, on what you’re capable of enduring. I consume less conspicuously. I have a shorter list of wants. I’ve learned the value and merit in consistency, in commitment to place. I have felt real gratitude; the kind that hits you in the gut and brings you to tears. I know what a real ‘thank you’ sounds like on my lips. What a real ‘I’m sorry’ feels like when you have to utter the words. Through self sacrifice I have earned those lessons, and ironically, like J.Lo always knew, they didn’t cost a thing.  

They don’t prepare you for the unhappiness.

There are countless Pinterest images iterating the same idea that to, “do more of what makes you happy” or, “happiness 100% of the time or you’re wasting your time” is the only way to live. Most of these are shared by other self employed people who dig into your soul and make you wonder what secret fucking magic elixir they’re drinking that makes it so easy to feel so good all the time doing what you supposedly love. (I’m convinced it’s that privilege potion, but that’s just me). This is not my reality. A history lesson: I have always loved creating. In fact, being called the ‘artsy fartsy one’ amongst my circle of friends by other, clearly uncreative acquaintances growing up is my reality. I always dreamed of a profession in the arts. I was going to stop at nothing to make that true. I interned everywhere for free. Took stupid jobs. I took really good jobs. I overachieved and throughout my entire life it all felt worth it: one day I was going to work for myself and be an artist and I was going to shit sunshine and rainbows from there on out. 

Here is what they don’t tell you: commodifying your craft chips away at the intrinsic happiness felt by being supported by your passions. It eats away at your creativity. It stalls your next move. It makes you renegotiate how much you really do love what you do. When your guiding principles become your currency it all just ends up feeling like work. My business is a sole proprietorship. Friends have assisted me along the way and been paid in jewellery but every piece that is created through BREAD&Circus has been made by me. When no one is buying your stuff, (because you’ve put it out there to be bought, sold and picked apart) you feel it. It hurts. When people ask for a discount on your blood, sweat and tears or when you’re rejected for the seventeenth time by a retailer you question whether it means anything. When you miss a personal anniversary or special occasion on account of all nighters and 8 day work weeks you question whether it means anything. They don’t prepare you for the let down, for the sense of failure, for the impostor syndrome. If I have any advice that is worthwhile: don’t read inspirational quotes to yourself, they suck and they don’t work. What does work is the ability to pay attention to the highs and the lows. Remembering what is important to your craft, what guides you and putting in practical means of achieving these things. For me, this was taking the pressure off myself, numbering my collections and not adhering to fashion timelines. I aligned myself less as a jewellery designer and more as an artist working in the medium of jewellery. Cheesy, perhaps, but guess what? I make the rules, so too bad.

Learn to say no.

THIS. If I could all caps this entire section I would. When I first started I would accept every show, every custom order, ever return, every discount inquiry, every call for consignment in an effort to get my brand out there. If you read carefully, this is a lesson I learned, and thus, I said yes to everything before I began saying no to anything. There is value in giving away things and making people happy. There is value in undercutting yourself for a period of time. I learned how to navigate through my own fuck-ups, admit when I had failed. I learned that despite my skill sets I wasn’t Hermione Granger and couldn’t fashion myself a Time Turner. I learned how I chose to allocate my time with only twenty four hours in a day, and it meant learning what I value as an individual person and also as a brand. As a person, despite the thrilling (albeit dangerous) high of an all nighter, I thoroughly enjoy rest. When I don’t sleep, my fine motor skills suffer, I am a space cadet. If I am already an emotional person, any logic sans sleep is out the window. Avoid me on those days. My boyfriend does. He’s better for it. As a brand, I thoroughly enjoy the exchange. When someone wants to own something I’ve created or tells me they live with their pieces on their body every day, I lose the ability to articulate what I’m feeling. Its a rush comprised of one part ego, two parts gratitude, ten thousand parts shock. But learning to say no is a pivotal part of growth. I am well paid for my work these days, and I don’t undercut myself as much any more if I can help it. The biggest challenge fell for things that seemed outside of my realm of billable work but that I was doing for free. I handle every single component of my business, and thus people asked often for a little extra help getting started. Here’s some advice: If you are doing graphic design work for someone, charge. If someone wants their picture taken, bill them. If they want to sit down and talk about marketing strategies for your business, have a consulting fee. Decide what is worth your time. Make a schedule. Treat it like a real job. Admit when you cant. You’ll thank me later. 

It takes time. 

Contradictory to my above advice, I read something that said “isn’t it a wonderful idea that some of the best days of our life haven’t been lived yet?” The best lesson I’ve learned is that in the process of becoming, I’ve created more than just a little jewellery company. Here is what life in your twenties looks like to me: a big huge pile of reeds and mud and shit and boulders and obstacles on a path that feels like at times you were being held ransom on. ESCAPE OR DIE. This is not life. Are you not strengthening your whole person by enduring? I don’t know how you find it, but patience is a virtue. Commitment is a virtue. Being present is a virtue. Finding the bright side is a virtue. Accepting the hard times is a virtue. Sacrifice is a virtue. In a world filled with constant, instant gratification and overnight internet success stories to admit that you are in the process of something is hard. Learning not to talk at yourself and have meaningful conversations with who you are instead is even harder. I don’t even know how long I can do this for. A large part of what I do is reliant on how long I can keep people interested in my craft. I’m tired of writing. I don't have the answers. Strap on a pair of well made running shoes and get moving. Stop once in a while, though, and admire what you’ve pushed out of the way to get even to the half way mark. The view is nice when you take time to appreciate it. 

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