Quit Your Etsy Shop: I got a day job!

As I approach the one-year anniversary of my current day job, I reflect on the reverse transition from “accidental entrepreneur” to 9-5er, and my ongoing efforts to juggle creativity and motherhood without bankrupting my family.

In July 2009, a few months after my husband took a 50% pay cut and I wrapped up a two-year teaching gig, a perk of my very expensive graduate art school education, we shipped the cats home with the mother-in-law, stuffed one Pod full of all our belongings, and hopped on a one-way flight, one-year-old in tow, back to Oakland, California, where we’d met and eventually married four years earlier.

The daunting task of starting fresh in a city so familiar to us was a small comfort in a time of great uncertainty. My husband continued to work for the Boston-based start-up company remotely from his desk crammed into a corner of our bedroom, while I performed the duties of default stay-at-home-mom. I began the process of applying to teaching gigs anew (following a first round of applications that seemed to evaporate into the digital ether), while simultaneously sending résumés to more traditional office jobs at art schools, in art museums, etc. Earlier that spring, I, like so many other creative types at that time, opened an Etsy shop. Then I opened another one. Business started to pick up. Wedding invitation orders trickled in. My Android phone cases were featured on blogs like Mashable, GeekSugar, and Apartment Therapy. Wow! When my son began to flip his toddler switch, I investigated part-time daycare, eventually securing 3 days of child-free time most weeks to focus on my budding business. By our one-year anniversary back in Oakland, the start-up company my husband worked for had been acquired, his full pay restored, and my online design boutique was a legitimate sole proprietorship. After a second round of unsuccessful teaching applications, I happily embraced the phrase “accidental entrepreneur.”

That same summer we bought our first house. Even though we felt a bit “house poor” at times, having a home meant we could stretch out a bit. Over time, we converted the third bedroom into an office/studio. My son eventually transitioned to preschool, giving me even more time each week to run my micro-business. I bought a YuDu screenprinting system (and wrote about it here and here) and incorporated custom-printed wraps and envelope liners into my designs. I added a fancy new printer to my studio and extensive storage options for all my paper and envelopes and twine. I worked on overall organization, efficiency, and daily workflow. I explored eventually hiring an accountant and maybe even an assistant to help with assembling orders. In September 2011, I attended the Hello Etsy conference at CCA in San Francisco. I finally felt like I was really a part of this amazing community. I ran a marathon with Team in Training the following spring, and during training reached out to fellow Etsy sellers, many local, for fundraising donations. I ran a really fun series on my blog, timed perfectly with the season of holiday promotions.

After the marathon, we decided to try for baby #2. During that pregnancy, I really mulled over the future of my creative efforts. I felt so grateful for a robust business. I loved having the opportunity to be creative every day and truly valued the freedom and flexibility it allowed me to be a work-at-home parent (whose kid was not at home, but at preschool most days, I might add). But to be honest, I was starting to feel a little burned out. Partly pregnancy-induced, but following a month of intense preparation for a craft fair in November 2012, I suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome so painful I eventually opted for cortisone injections in my wrists. By the time baby #2 was born, my plan involved closing up shop indefinitely while I mentally and physically recovered from a very busy 2 1/2 years. I wanted to be home with this one a little longer, maybe all the way to preschool age, and thought, after the first few months, surely I could manage a one- or two-fifths equivalent schedule during naps, post-bedtime, and on the weekend when my husband could help out more with the kids, right?

Wrong. I got very little done in 2013, other than keep two young children alive, healthy, and, usually, happy. If only I could get paid for that. Shortly after baby #2 turned 1, I utilized the skills of the same daycare gal who’d watched my son and once again enjoyed 2 to 3 days of child-free time each week. I went on afternoon adventures with my older kid the one day of the week his school gets out early. I caught up on projects around the house while I waited for business to pick up. It was fabulous. Until I accepted the sad fact that business might not just pick up on its own this time. A lot had changed at Etsy while I was away. International sellers were being featured much more frequently. There was this huge push to move into wholesale, not really an option for a shop that specializes in personalized products. I felt stuck in the middle, between so-called “fresh” shops and buzz-worthy, top tier sellers with wholesale accounts at Nieman Marcus and Nordstrom. Then there was chatter in the Forums about a big change to Google product ads. Good grief! By the end of last summer, sufficiently stressed out by my inability to cover my daughter’s childcare expenses, I decided to pull her from daycare, performing the duties, once again, of default stay-at-home-mom. Let me try this WAHM thing again, I thought (that’s work-at-home-mom, by the way, an elusive myth perpetuated by articles like this one and images like this. Lean in, my chewed up nipple! Come to think of it, though, maybe she’s the nanny?).

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to remember how challenging that would be. Instead of trying to figure out how to revive my Etsy shop, I instead began spending naptime and post-bedtime polishing off my résumé and coming up with clever ways to address the series of detours (not a gap, per se) since my most recent, relevant professional experience which was, pre-grad school, almost 10 years ago (for example, my six years of “freelance” work had allowed me to focus on “personal projects”). After a month of focused job-hunting, I worried I had become unhirable, hearing nothing from positions I felt perfectly qualified for. “Not even an interview?!” I exclaimed repeatedly. But just as I had written off one job in particular, having been almost a month since I applied, I got an email request for an interview. I used daycare drop-ins that week to prepare for this interview uninterrupted. I solicited help from friends who’d paid lots of money to get advice from career coaches, something I was starting to consider myself. I spent way more time than I should have staring at my closet, trying to figure out what to wear. I was so nervous I barely slept the night before. But at the end of my first interview, I was asked to return the next day for a second interview. And then a third. And then I got the job! I was admittedly torn about taking it. It’s a bit of a personal (and creative) trade-off, to be sure. But it’s a pretty posh gig in a lot of ways (decent pay, short commute, 7 1/2 hour work day, laidback office culture, generous sick/vacation time, some flexibility, oh and did I mention it’s at an art school?).

And in a weird way, I’m cautiously optimistic that having a day job will allow me to refocus my spare time on more personally fulfilling creative work. I’ve genuinely enjoyed creating wedding invitations for couples, don’t get me wrong, but I miss making my own work. You know, the kind that might never make money or even be seen! In the beginning of this adventure, previously used to spending money on art projects that might have zero financial return, I was seduced by the idea that people would pay me — in advance! — to do design work for them. But eventually that part of my creative life took over completely, leaving me little time to develop my own practice which, after all, is why I went to grad school. As Austin Kleon recently tweeted (love his advice for artists and writers and other creative types, by the way), “The work you do for pay supports the work you do for love and you should be grateful for both.” That’s from this Forbes article by J. Maureen Henderson. Great advice. Advice that I took. And I’m looking forward to seeing what opportunities this next chapter holds, whether or not it actually involves closing up shop.


Originally published at colorbirdstudio.blogspot.com on February 11, 2015.