Category Archives: Personal

Failing Successfully

From fairly early childhood, I was a reserved, self-contained person. A shy introvert with anxiety issues; really it’s a wonder I ever left the house! I was also a very sensitive child, and the slings and arrows of even quite ordinary fortune hit me harder than I suspect most people realized. Everyone has coping mechanisms for dealing with the parts of life that are unpleasant, and mine was to retreat into a shell of arrogant ultracompetence. If I didn’t already know how to do it (or could pick it up without it being evident to an observer that I hadn’t done it before), it wasn’t worth doing, and that was all there was to that.

Unhealthy? Absolutely, and also ultimately self-destructive in that it prevented me from being willing or able to learn to do anything with a learning curve steep enough to notice. I didn’t learn how to learn, or that it was OK to get up and try again after falling down. This led to dropping out of college twice before finally finishing, and to dropping out of grad school twice before giving up on that entirely. It led to leaving job after job, after the first tiny misstep in learning the ropes of a new place left me feeling like a complete irredeemable failure.

Which led in turn, perhaps inevitably, to the life I am now living: That of a self-directed, self-employed creative type. But the thing is, the early period of that life was a horribly rocky time in which I had to learn to fail. Because it turns out one cannot create worthwhile things without creating a whole horrific slew of garbage, first, and throwing it away and refining techniques and getting back on the metaphorical horse. I also had to come to terms with the fact that almost all entrepreneurial endeavors fail (and indeed so did the first of mine), and that is ok. Failing does not make one a failure! It seems so obvious, but in all my life I am not sure I have ever learned a more difficult or painful lesson. (I am not actually sure I would ever have learned it had I not been able to do my failing in safe solitude with no one to offer comfort I would have been unable to perceive as anything other than mocking.)

So these days I am a moderately successful entrepreneur, and well-accomplished at failing successfully. And one of the things I have had to learn is that “failure” doesn’t always mean what others would define it as meaning. For instance, I regard it as a failure every single time I get a bad review. Does that mean I am going to rush out and try to bribe people into changing the reviews? No, of course not. For one thing, that’s a pretty shady business practice, and for another, it’s a remarkably quick way to go broke. If I made a mistake of any kind, I will obviously make it right as quickly and as thoroughly as I can, but in other cases, while I will feel bad about it, I simply accept the review and let the averages speak for themselves. And they do! Fortunately, because even though I’ve become somewhat inured to the occasional less-glowing review, it still takes 20-odd positive reviews to get the taste of a bad one out of my mouth, because I am evidently a diva.

Anyway. I’m going to feel like a poor review is a mark in the “fail” column anyway, and for years I felt bad about feeling that way, because it seemed like I ought to be able to shrug it off, “grow a thicker skin”, all those things people say. I have recently realized something, though: For me, the “personal” touch is part of what makes my products worthwhile. It’s part of what it means to be an artisan, and I don’t get to pick and choose which parts of “personal” I want to experience. The bad comes with the good, and it’s OK on the average, because the good is really, really good.

And even the bad – the poor reviews, the failures – are usually good in their way. How else do I learn to do better, if not by learning how I am lacking now?


Musings on the Concept of Work

I’ve been variously self-employed for a while now – since 2008, more on than off, in various ways. It’s been five years since I launched Foam on the Range, and nearly three since I gave up on my most recent attempt to co-exist with a Real Job [TM]. One might think I’d’ve sorted out most of the kinks by now, no?

Well, one would be wrong. Or at least, it turns out the kinks are self-replicating, and some of them hide quite cleverly and leap out at me just when I start to get all complacent and stuff. But kinkiness notwithstanding, I wouldn’t trade this life for any I’ve had before, or any of the ones I see around me, either. As it happens, I’m a cantankerous sort who prizes the freedom to do things MY WAY DAMMIT above predictability, security, or any of that sort of thing.

Anyway, my “I did it my way” mantra isn’t actually what I came here to talk about today. I came to talk about the illusion of work-life balance, and how I’ve finally begun to come to terms with the fact that it is, for folks like me, an entirely mythical unicorn of a beast. By which I mean: There will never be a time at which I am not working in which part of me does not think I ought to be, and there will rarely be a time at which I am working in which part of me isn’t thinking about laundry or groceries or something. It’s a fairly insurmountable issue, when my primary work space is about 15 feet away from my bed; the two lives – work and personal – that for most folks live in different buildings, become indelibly blurred and blended.

I fought against this for years, feeling like I ought to be able to set up a delineation of sorts. Then I got busy, and for another couple of years I lost all semblance of a “life” outside work at all; I couldn’t carry on a conversation about anything other than work, and if kept out of my workshop for eight or ten hours straight I’d get the full-on hand-shaky DTs. Neither of these is good; creative work does not respond well to attempts to corral it into scheduled “work hours”, and suppressing all non-work life leads in fairly short order to drying up the well that the creativity came from in the first place. So I needed a third option, one that would let me get things done without turning into a hollow, shambling semblance of myself.

In 2013 I tried taking a half-day off every week, figuring surely 6.5 days of every seven would be enough to get everything done. That lasted until mid-February, I think, at which point I went back to working all the time. OK, so come 2014’s rethinking of things, I decided to try taking a whole day off every other week. I think I did that twice. This year I’ve wised up and realized I’m not going to stick to anything much past the end of first quarter at absolute best, so instead of trying for a whole-year resolution, I turned first quarter itself into a sort of extended partial vacation. Which does not mean I haven’t been working all year! Indeed not – I’ve rolled out two new product lines, revised the core soap lineup, designed some fun new soaps for spring and summer (some of them are on the curing racks, and some are already available!), set up and run my annual clearance sale (ending Friday!) and have shipped several crates of product to Amazon’s warehouses as well as over 100 orders directly to customers (thank you all!). I’ve just been doing it while only working between 25-50 hours per week, instead of my more usual 60-80. And I haven’t been stressing myself to push harder and do more and stretch my limits, as I so often do.

The busy time will come around soon enough, and I’ll be ramping back up into my more normal work patterns around the time temperatures climb back into the above-freezing levels to stay. But I’ll be doing it well-rested, and with a refreshed mind and spirit. I’m even starting to look forward to being busy again, whereas if you’d asked me two months ago I’d’ve sworn I needed to sleep for at least a year.

I’m not going to claim I’ve found the one true way – after all, not only is everyone different, but I don’t even really know if this is going to work for me in the long run. I do know, though, that while I haven’t stopped being a workaholic (and haven’t lost my addiction to creating beautiful things), I have enjoyed this long semi-vacation more than I would ever have thought – and more than I’ve ever been able to enjoy a “real” vacation that keeps me away from work entirely. So for now, I’ll take it!


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*snif*

One thing that is stunningly, obviously different about my priorities in these days of self-employment: I am genuinely irritated when I get sick right after my vacation instead of while it was still going on. I had worky PLANS, gorramit! I have so many awesome new things I want to be doing, and instead I’ve spent several days mostly sitting on the couch with a box of tissues and a snuggly dog.

IMG_2892

…which, OK, it’s hard to complain about the snuggly dog. But still!

Anyway, I think I may be on the mend now, and may soon be able to leap from my sickbed and Do Things, instead of feebly issuing directions in the croak which has served as my voice for the last while. And don’t worry, everyone around here is washing our hands. After all, we have plenty of soap.


In which I confide in my readers

I have a confession to make. It’s a bit off, and indeed some of you may find it just a little deviant. Ready? OK, here goes: I actually quite like Mondays.

…yes, yes, I know. It’s a horrible thing to admit.  But here’s the thing: I’ve always had a thing for beginnings. I like beginnings of months, and beginnings of years (and once upon a time when it was relevant, the beginning of the school year was the greatest experience ever, a thing of fresh, clean notebooks and brand-new pens). So why wouldn’t I like beginnings of weeks? Monday morning is the piece of the week in which it all stretches before me in an expanse of beautiful potential. It’s a time in which I look ahead at all the things I will achieve over the course of the next span of days and feel a great sense of preemptive accomplishment.

I haven’t always liked Mondays, of course. In my old life, Mondays weren’t a time of beginning – they were an end. That is to say, an end to the weekend, the only part of the week that seemed worth paying attention to. However, not only is that no longer the case, but I often don’t even realize the weekend has come until it’s half over, unless I have something scheduled on a Saturday or Sunday (like a show!) that requires I keep careful track of the days. But I nearly always recognize Mondays, as a sign that it is time to reset my internal clock, sweep aside the unfinished business of Last Week, and set out anew on a fresh set of tasks (well, sometimes they do include some of last week’s leftover tasks in a sort of to-do list version of debt consolidation, but never mind that) with renewed vigor.

Or at the very least a new perspective.

…anyway, I like Mondays, these days. It’s a good way to put some punctuation in my week, and keep all the days from dissolving into one big ending-in-Y blur.


UG MAKE SOAP. UG NOT TALK MUCH.

For those of you who aren’t already aware, I work out of the basement of my home, full-time and then some. My “co-workers” are my husband – who also works from home, though mostly on different projects, in a different part of the house where I rarely run into him during the day – and two dogs. Now, I love what I do and I love my working conditions, but there are a few side effects. By far the most significant one: My social skills have atrophied considerably in the last few years.

Not all of them, mind – interacting with customers in the specific milieu of a craft fair or market is a skill I didn’t have before, and I do like to think I’ve got a decent handle on that now, for the most part. But the normal-person, day-to-day things? Casual conversations with friends about what happened yesterday, or what I’m planning to do next week, or so forth? Yeah, I am no good at those anymore. I appear to have lost the skills for any conversational mode between “yes thank you I would like fries with that” and “stream of consciousness babble with no thought to situational appropriateness”.

…well, OK, it’s not quite that bad. It’s not this bad either (um, maybe panel 2, come to think of it), but it’s there. One gradually forgets things like how to recognize which color combinations of clothing are socially acceptable for public wear, whether or not one has combed one’s hair on a given day, and even what time or what day it actually is.

I am an introvert by nature, and while I do quite like the company of many people, the near-solitude of my work life does not bother me in its own right. But sometimes, when I’m at a family gathering or in a group of friends and I hear myself rambling on about things about which no one can possibly care (bear in mind here that one generally talks about what one thinks about, and mostly I’m thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list, and business plans for next month and next quarter, and technique tweakings for soaps I want to design for next season, and other things ill-suited to social conversation), and I see eyes glazing over, and I think maybe I should get out just a bit more, to remind me how this whole “coexisting with other humans” thing works.

Or else I should just go back to my cave and stop trying to socialize in person at all. Maybe that’s what social media really is for: Providing a social outlet for the situationally socially inept.

Oh, wait. That’s the entire internet, isn’t it.

In any case, this being my blog and therefore a place in which it actually is socially acceptable for me to ramble about whatever happens to be on my mind, I’m going to try to do some of that here – and maybe I’ll get it out of my system enough that if you happen across me at a coffeeshop someday, I’ll be able to talk about my dogs and ask about your kids like a normal person, instead of talking about the esoterics of soap chemistry or the delicate balance of show scheduling. Hey, we can hope, right?


Days Off: Threat Or Menace?

Self-employed people work a lot of hours. No, really, I mean a LOT of hours. This is my sixth year as a self-employed person and I can fit the total number of days on which I have done no work in those years into the number of vacation days allotted to the average professional my age EVERY YEAR, and that’s before you figure in holidays or, y’know, weekends. An average work-week for me contains between 60 and 100 working hours.

We work a lot, is what I’m saying.

Now, this isn’t a complaint. I love what I do and would never ever want to do anything else, vacation time notwithstanding. In fact, that’s sort of the problem; I’ve forgotten how to do anything else, and in the last few months I have gradually come to the realization that I may be becoming just a little bit one-dimensional, as a person. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, obsessed with my work, and can pretty much not talk about anything else, most days. I try to remember not to talk about it TOO much to other folks, because I know perfectly well no one else is as obsessed with it as I am, but then I just don’t talk, because there’s just not much else in here.

This isn’t surprising; it’s what I spend all my time doing and thinking about and planning for, and that’s what people tend to talk about: The things they spend all their time thinking about. It’s why new parents talk about their babies (well, also, babies are pretty neat in their own right), and why egomaniacs talk about themselves.

…wait. I’ve just spent 250+ words talking about myself, haven’t I. Oops. Right. Let’s move on from that before I have to have another uncomfortable personal revelation; I think one of those a month is about all I can cope with.

This year my husband and I are embarking upon a strategy to try to re-learn how to take time off, by scheduling a single day of mandatory down time every two weeks, whether we want it or not. This is less trivially easy than it might seem – since work is what we have spent virtually all of our waking hours doing for years on end, we’re not exactly awash in hobbies or projects clamoring to fill up down time, because those were mostly phased out years ago. And that’s before you get to the guilt, because it’s not like the work isn’t still there. Waiting. (This is an irrational guilt, by the way; it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of my rational self that taking a modest amount time off actually means you get MORE done, not less, even though you have less time to do it in. But guilt is rarely a feeling amenable to being talked away by logic.)

We had the first of these days yesterday, and we were both utterly miserable for the entire day. I was jumpy and anxious and couldn’t concentrate on the book I was trying to read, and Alistair was cranky and grumpy. Our dogs, whose primary role on our business team is as morale officers, were kept busy all day running from one of us to the other, trying to figure out what was wrong and how they could fix it.

So, the initial implementation of this plan was not an unmitigated success, to say the least.

Still, we have learned some things, and while we are both VERY glad that the next Mandatory Day Off is a couple of weeks away still, I hold out hope that we will get the knack of taking time off before we drive ourselves or each other entirely insane with failed attempts to do so. I know that there will be some times when we have a lot of trouble justifying taking one day off out of every 14, but I’m hoping we don’t talk ourselves into cheating very often, because that’s a slippery slope right back into working 360+ days per year and spending the rest twitchy and guilt-ridden for daring to do anything else.

In an attempt to reinforce my efforts to break out of my one-dimensional habits, I’m intending to put an occasional bit of personal-life stuff on here scattered amongst the soap and such, to remind me that not only is it OK to have some bits of life outside of work, I don’t even need to pretend not to. Perhaps with time I will get used to the idea that working only 340ish days per year is not going to turn me into a lazy slacker who never gets anything done! (Really, most people would consider working even 300 days per year to be serious workaholism, but let’s take this one step at a time.)