Friday, May 14, 2010

Fulfilling My Potential

When I was young, I did quite well in school, and in fact won several scholastic awards during high school, graduating near the top of my class. I would have been at the very top, but my extra-curricular activities were way more fun than homework! I don't say this to brag at all, because I regard any intelligence and ability that I have to be a gift from God -- something that He just poured into the top of my head, snapping the lid shut and saying,"There. Go enjoy that".

I tell you this because after high school I did nothing with all this talent. I went to the local community college, and finally became a hairdresser, never even completing the courses that would have at least earned me an AA degree. For the next few years I starved in that profession, because, as many will tell you, doing volume services is usually what brings in the money, unless you are at the top of the field and can command a nice dollar for every service. I was way too nitpicky and careful in my cutting and other services to ever do volume. There is certainly nothing wrong with the field of hairdressing, but when I look back now, understanding more who I am, I realize that, with some encouragement back then (which I didn't have) I could have gone to nearly any college in the country and become, perhaps, a medical researcher. That is something I would have been really good at, and who knows? I may have played an important part in discovering the cure for a disease, like breast cancer. Is it too late for me to still do this? Well, at 51, maybe not, but I am beyond wanting to do it now. I have a husband, three teens, a business, and a household that I barely have time to run, as it is. Taking on a major career would take away too much from them now, and I'm not willing to do that.

But to digress a bit. I got out of hairdressing and into office work at an investment advisory firm. I did not make the money that the college graduates at the firm did, doing the same work. So while I did make better money, the lack of degree cost me many thousands of dollars over the years I was there. I got married, and went overseas with my new husband, again doing administrative work. When we came home I continued in that vein until we had our first child. I wanted to be home with her, so I returned to my hairdressing work, opening a shop in my own home to be near her. Eventually I simply got tired of doing hair, and closed the shop. Next, I did some cooking locally for extra money, which continued through a major move about 10 years ago. Since that move, I have worked in banquet service at a local hotel for about 8 years, and I have done some catering, as well.

Two years ago, I developed breast cancer. Fortunately, it was found at stage 0 and my prognosis is excellent, but the whole experience, which was difficult, gave me pause to re-evaluate. (For more on breast cancer, please see the link to my breast cancer blog in the sidebar.) I realized that the common theme of all my 'jobs' up until that point was that they were all on The Path of Least Resistance. I had never really taken the time to evaluate my ability, and find the thing that I would enjoy and be good at -- I always chased the dollar. I won't get into great commentary on the subject, except to say that for me, this realization brought regret. I love my life as it is, and I know that all the decisions I made earlier in life, right or wrong, brought me to where I am today. So from that standpoint, I don't regret making them. On the other hand, I feel a sense of having squandered the abilities that were given to me.

So I finally did take the time to evaluate what I love and what I am good at, and to formulate a plan to find work that would take those things into account. The one thing that I love most is hand dyeing wool. So I began to imagine a business doing just that. In the past, when I had imagined having my own business, or inventing something and selling it, or some other hairbrained scheme, I always became discouraged by not knowing where to begin, or by not having enough money to invest, or by not wanting to have a storefront that required my presence many long hours each week. Fortunately, the internet is at a stage now where many of these roadblocks are removed. And I realized, looking at the wool already available on the web, that no one was offering what I, myself, wanted -- many colors in one place, and the ability to buy many small pieces in the colors of my choice, at reasonable prices.

All of this thought and planning lit up my mind. I wrote down pages and pages of notes and ideas. For the first year of the business, I worked many long days, in fact one night I worked clear through until the light of day to reach a goal I had set for myself. I felt on fire to get my ideas up and going. At first I planned to offer about 400 colors, but as I worked on more and more formulas, they organized themselves in such a way that I concluded I would need to use them all if I wanted to offer a complete selection of colors, which I did. And I wanted to offer all those colors in enough values to make shading possible in any color. Simple math made me realize that I was looking at offering at least 1,100 colors, and I felt very hesitant about this, which started to paralyze me, as I tried to plan what my business would look like. So one day I sat down and evaluated my hesitation to offer all of the colors I wanted to. I concluded that I was concerned about all the work needed to keep that many colors organized, and I decided that my desire to offer as many colors as I wanted trumped any fear I had of organizing it all -- I knew I could do it, it would just take more work, which I was not afraid of. Once that was decided, I kept any color that I felt was worthy of being in the collection -- which basically meant that it was not too similar to the color next to it.

And, yes, it was a lot of work. It took a full year to develop the formulas, name them, organize and document them, and photograph and upload them onto the web. And with that many colors, there were lots of little discrepancies to deal with, and I am now working on going back through every single color to resolve those. When I am done I expect to have a perfectly organized collection, with accurate graphics, interesting descriptions, and a complete inventory. Only then will I turn my attention to the fun part -- developing ideas and formulas for specialty colors, working up patterns, doing shows, and even writing a book on color formulation, a subject on which I hope I have a lot to contribute, after all the color studies and dyeing I have done.

So at 51, I am finally fulfilling some of my potential. Is it medical research? Nah. But that's OK. If I can aspire to making a difference in the field of wool dyeing, I think that will be enough for me at this stage. Maybe my lot in life is to make small and personal differences in the lives of others -- both those that I know personally, and those that buy my wool and enjoy it in their own home on the other side of the country. (I really do get a charge out of knowing that others are enjoying my wool.) And it's enough that I can get up in the morning and spend the day doing something I love, while being home when the kids and the Hubs get home from work. My house is still a mess, but I never was a good housekeeper -- as the business grows, the first thing I will treat myself to is some maid service -- more thoughtful evaluation has led me to understand that this would be an excellent use of my resources!

Hand Dyed Wool

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