Thursday, February 28, 2013

Self-Doubt is a Real Pain in the Butt

Word on the street has it that to be successful in the art world, you need a thick skin.  I must have missed that job requirement.  My skin is paper thin.  Practically transparent.  A few weeks ago I sent my first ever wholesale order half way across the globe, and found out earlier this week that a few pieces arrived damaged.  In the grand scheme of things, this is really not a big deal.  I can replace the pieces, and things like this happen all the time.  The store I shipped them to was not upset in the least.  But I was devastated.  All of my insecurities and deep rooted need to please others came rushing in a ball of anxiety and shame.  For a solid half an hour I mulled over how I could have possible been so stupid as to not pack the order well enough, and how I could have ever thought I was good enough to sell my work.  Seems like a complete overreaction in hindsight, but in the moment, the panic and self-degradation were all consuming.

The thing is, I take everything personally.  As an adult in my early 30's, I've learned to re-frame the situation when I hit complete panic mode over something that I can intellectually identify is just not that big of a deal.  I can now get over it in a day instead of a month.  But it's still there.  That ball of insecurity is a figure on my shoulder, hovering in the background.  Sometimes the voice is whisper soft.  Other days it screams.  Most  days it's an ever-present hiss - a really, really crappy soundtrack to life.  That voice is a total jerk.

The work I put out into the world is so incredibly personal.  Every single piece I make passes through my hands dozens of times as I tweak and perfect it.  I am not someone who can ever utter the phrase, "eh, it's good enough".  It's perfection or nothing at all. 

But failure and criticism are part of the package.  When you put intensely personal work out into the world, you open yourself up for criticism and pain.  Some day I hope to disassociate my self-worth from strangers' reactions to my work.  Today is not that day.  But tomorrow could be...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Growth and Uncertainty

I admit it - I've sucked big time at blogging for the last few months.  Ok, perhaps more than a few months.  Many months.  I took a day job (an office job!  EEEK!) around the time my blogging trailed off, and I was knee deep in stress and madness.  As I've stated before, I am not cut out for the 9-5 office job world.  I think, fingers crossed, that I've finally convinced myself of this and won't second guess and embrace fear and doubt when people question me on what I "really" do for a living.  That question always cuts me to my core.  It hits at the heart of my self-consciousness and insecurity.  If I'm not working in a way that most people see as actually working, what I am really doing with my life?  How can my version of success actually be capital S success?  But, damn it, this is what makes me happy.

I do not - I repeat, DO NOT - need to be sleep deprived, miserable, and stressed out to be successful.
I do not - I repeat, DO NOT - need to fit myself into the mold of other people's vision of my life.
I do not - I repeat, DO NOT - need to work traditional hours to satisfy conventional views.

I do - I repeat, DO - need to work in a way that is fulfilling and productive.
I do - I repeat, DO - owe it to myself, my loved ones, and my community to use my gifts the best I can.
I do - I repeat, DO - need to manage my time in a way that is healthy, and not value myself by how busy I am.

So true confession time: I undervalue my work and my time.  I have a complex about being a maker and not an artist.  I have undercharged for the things I make and put out into the world because I've been afraid they weren't good enough.  As a result, my business has been handicapped.  You know how most of us artisans and crafters make a living?  By consigning and wholesaling our work.  You know what that costs?  Anywhere from 20% - 60% of our retail price.  You know what you can't do if you keep your prices incredibly low?  Afford to consign and wholesale.  And so my business has been handicapped.  Forgive me, friends, but I'll be raising my prices as of March 1.  I deserve to be compensated for the incredible amount of work I put into each piece that leaves my hands.  I deserve to not work myself into the ground for a profit of $5 a piece.

I deeply believe in breaking down the barriers to everyone owning handmade work instead of imported, mass-produced pieces that were made on the backs of poverty stricken children.  I use reclaimed materials to keep useful things out of landfills and to combat our disposable culture.  I try to create joyful, durable pieces that connect people to the everyday items they use and increase the value they see in them, so that those pieces stay around for years, instead of ending up in a garbage can every year.  To that end, I make things in a variety of price ranges.  I still want someone to spend $20 and have a handmade soap dispenser made from vintage, eco-friendly, and responsibly sourced materials.  I want them to keep that for years and enjoy it every time they see it.  But I can't afford to sell a robot lamp for $50 that has taken me over a week to hand craft and wire.

It was easy for me to undervalue myself for the last 4 years.  What really hit home was when I realized that by underpricing my work, I made it hard for all of my fellow makers to fairly price their work.  And I NEVER want to be responsible for that.  What can I say?  I'm a giver :)  

I hope you all understand.  And for all of you craftspeople out there, value yourselves!