My Side Hustle Has Taken Over My Life

Why I’m the happiest I’ve been in YEARS.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

I can’t remember a time when I’ve been this happy. When waking up in the morning breeds possibility instead of dread. When terrible inches over to tolerable. This year has punched me in the face, kicked me down the stairs, and arm-wrestled me to the ground. I went from having bombastic ideas about growing my business to wondering why I’m fueling the capitalist machine, have I wasted my life, why can’t I write a third book, why is the world a relentless trash fire, etc. etc.

I kept getting out of bed and thinking — is this my life? Good times.

And while I still wrestle with all of it, I believe curiosity will pull you where you need to be. Years ago, when I had moxie and was steeped in over-ambition, a yoga teacher reminded me that the advanced practitioner always returns to the beginning. They study and re-learn the basic poses from the ground up. They return to the breath, which is easy to forget in these suffocating times. A true student isn’t afraid to revisit the past, acquaint themselves with the person they used to be, and then make their revisions. Even Joan Didion famously said, I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

Let me be clear — I was not attractive company in my early twenties. In fact, I cringe when I think about the woman I used to be — all rough around the edges and abrasions. I was a large-time asshole and part of me is relieved I didn’t have social media back then because I would probably be shamed and cancelled for half the garbage that made its way out of my mouth.

But I do admire her creativity, her drive, and desire for purpose. I’m older now, I’ve softened, I don’t go at the world so hard because frankly I’m too tired of focusing on that which doesn’t matter.

But then, this. A month ago, a spark. Kindling. Movement beneath my feet. I kept thinking about the clothing resale business I owned, which shifted the course of my career. A small voice and a hot poker pressed against my back urged me to return to that space. But it’s sort of like revisiting your childhood home and finding it small. Look at the posters on the wall and how the edges curl and yellowed. The clothes that don’t fit. The diary filled with questions. Back when I launched my business, no established market existed— it was all wilderness and mountains of paperwork to file. Not like now, with slick apps, YouTube tutorials, and everyone prattling on about their niche or whatever.

Do I do this? I’ve got a good thing going with this brand consulting. I’ve carved out a methodology for building brands that isn’t the peanut-crunching norm. I have clients I respect. The money isn’t too shabby. But still, this feeling of parts incomplete. That my whole life is parked in front of a computer screen, encouraging people to buy things they often don’t need. Even with the most virtuous of companies, I feel as if I’m contributing to the machine I’m desperate to wreck.

I miss working with my hands. The feel of fabric. People surrounding me at the Goodwill bins, nodding their hellos because I’m a regular now. This go-around, I study the kids because they’re fucking smart. Apps that relieve the burden of listing, re-listing, closet-sharing and offer-making. And even though I have a clear picture of the kind of territory I want to occupy (vintage premium knits, sustainable brands, luxury), I’m still learning about the brands that will bring traffic to my closet — you bait them with your Cheetos to serve them a wholesome meal. I learn about online sourcing and invest in mystery boxes from ThredUp and pallets from wholesale companies that bring down my cost of goods (COG) to under $2. I study male resellers and get overwhelmed realizing the world of men’s clothing is just as complex as women’s. I’ve spent my life focused on understanding how people behave, and on Friday I stood quietly behind a bunch of twenty-something resellers (men) talk about their finds and BOLO (be on the lookout) brands.

It’s a lot. And I’m the kind of person who dives deep and wades through the murk. I live for that. No skimming the surface.

But I start small. I focus on one platform (Poshmark) because I have a decent following (25K) and I know what sells on the platform. I start with sourcing at Goodwills in the Los Angeles area (and I’m forever changed because the brands you get at Goodwill are bananas), and supplement with a few ThredUp mystery boxes because I’ve learned that you need volume to breed traffic to drive sales. I buy studio lights, but return a fancy camera because I’m not there yet. I build an inventory tracking system and financials in excel so I can track profit. Trying to suss out what kinds of products move and inventory turns.

You may have fallen asleep (wake the fuck up, grasshopper), but this exhilarates me. I love the hunt at the Goodwill bins — digging through a mountain of trash to find the proverbial gems. A Zegna men’s cashmere coat that retailed for $5K cost me $1.70. Cashmere from the 1970s that looks shelf-new.

More than anything, I remind myself to be patient. Building a business takes time — it’s not the quick cash and easy millions as the scam artists and their $599 courses would have it. There’s failure — oceans of it — from spending too much on premium items that feel like an anchor dragging my entire closet below the ocean floor to going too fast and not paying enough attention to the boring fundamentals like inventory management, storing, and profit margins. Easy, easy, kid, I tell myself. Take your time.

And what started as a flutter, a passing thought, has completely consumed me. I’ve lost interest in the work that has built my career. The office politicking and telenovela dramatics exhaust me. I finally like leaving my house and sorting through bins. I love the feel of alpaca, wool, cashmere, and cotton. I like the challenge of repairing items. The notion that I’m keeping more clothing out of landfills. Meeting people — all kinds — and the meditative way we sift through the clothes together. At a popular bin I visit frequently, I met two women from Mexico, who make the drive up every week to acquire clothes to resell back home. Their savvy and strategic about the items they pull, how they run their business, and I’m awed by their drive. I meet young women in their 20s who prefer the challenge of repairing the old and making it anew to sell in their Etsy shops. And how one recently pressed an old cashmere sweater in my hand, saying, you seem to like this stuff.

But I know I can get obsessive. I dive far and deep and get bored easily. So I temper myself. I tell myself — take the new business call. Keep moving with the partnership I’m forging with a brilliant designer to build brands in a new way — an intuitive way.

Don’t veer so far you can’t see the surface.

And then there’s this guilt. I should write a third book. I should start pitching. But. I don’t want to. I don’t have characters I want to be tethered to because a good book takes time, you have to linger, be around these people for months, sometimes years. Right now, there’s no one I want to spend time with. Right now, I want to stop living in my head and instead feel fabric, packing tape, and the paper I fold the clothes in, in my hands. Right now, I’m shuttering the voice that barks what I ought to be doing to focus on what feels right.

Often, I’m a nihilist. Everyone’s terrible, we’re all going to burn, there’s nothing good in this life except for animals, etc., etc. It also occurs to me that I have fewer years ahead than the ones I’ve left behind. But I have this one slippery, beautiful life and I don’t want to feel as if I’m squandering or slouching through it. I want part of it, even if it’s the smallest shard, to be filled with the kind of light that blinds me out of the dark.

We smother our voice. We cloak it in practicalities because we live in a world that demands them. We have to eat, find shelter, survive, and in that desire and need for sustenance, we barely have time for our wants. The garden that needs tending. The heart that requires careful nurturing. The hands where callouses have been rubbed out and smoothed. I’m not naive to the world in which I live and the bills I have to pay, but I don’t want the sum total of my life to be working to live.

It’s okay to listen to that quiet, persistent voice. It’s okay to want more.

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Felicia C. Sullivan

Felicia C. Sullivan

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge, Index & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Brand & Content eBooks: t.ly/ZP5v

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