Belonging. Fitting it. Finding your place in the world.... words that I think we all can relate to at some point in our life.
From the time I was in grade school I've been a chameleon. I would be with the "popular" group one day, marching along side my fellow "band geeks" the next and running to catch up with the "theater kids" in the afternoon. Maybe it made me well rounded, maybe it was because I had a lot of interests, or maybe because I tend to naturally avoid conflict and confrontation like the plague so I would just hop around (Dealing with conflict is something I'm continually working on!)
I believe life is a puzzle. Full of moments that viewed separately don't seem to make a lot of sense or have true purpose-- that is until you find your true calling and they all become interconnected to form a beautiful picture of everything that was meant to be. One of my perfect places in being a mom to my two beautiful children... and they are my perfect fit along this journey that has led me to where I am.
Personally for me I can see how my life has brought so many puzzle pieces together to allow me to get to this place in my life of running a business that I truly love with all my heart and finding my "perfect fit" with the blessings of my husband and two amazing kids. It's why I knew this year's Mother's day collection had to include something with puzzle pieces.
Sometimes puzzle pieces aren't huge life events-- it's just simply what makes up your being.
From the time I was a little girl, I was obsessed with quotes and music lyrics. Don’t judge, but one of my favorite pastimes was to tape songs off the Radio—usually listening to Light Hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s with Delilah. I would stay up for hours until I could press record at just the right moment and catch my favorite songs – and create my tapes to play on repeat over and over. A true hopeless romantic at the ripe age of 8. Cue the first piece of the puzzle.
As I got a little older, I discovered the joy of gel pens. For those who may have missed this critical phase in history—It was packs of free-flowing ink pens in every color imaginable—from black to glitter, and mint to fuchsia. It didn’t take long before my passion for lyrics and quotes collided with my passion for school supplies-- and I would fill journal after journal with hand written copies of my favorite lyrics in carefully thought out colors and accented words—Yes I was raised on the words of Phil Collins, Chicago, Rod Stewert, Eric Clapton, Celion Dion and Amy Grant.
Fast forward a few years and my obsession for words and quotes grew even bigger—To the point where after my parents divorce my mom was being the “cool” mom and let me decorate my room however I wanted. So I went back to those same journals and decided to stencil – letter my letter old school style --- over 150 quotes all over my walls- with no rhyme or reason to the pattern, but just quotes—surrounding me day in and day out.
Even at a young age, I think I realized that Words have power. Your day can be shaped by the words you hear others say about you and perhaps even more so by the words that you tell yourself. I believe by surrounding myself with the quotes that spoke to me and having them visible to read over and over again helped shape my reality. These quotes, passages and lyrics gave me words to fall back on to give me strength when I felt weak, encouragement when things seemed to be too much, and positivity when the world around me felt bleak. And the second piece of the puzzle was formed.
As I became a teenager I took an intense interest in art classes and loved working with my Grandpa on his business of Witbro wood ‘n’ things. I would help him for hours in the shop making small ping-pong guns and learning how to belt sand. Every few minutes I would knick one of my knuckles, and quietly put a Band-Aid on it so Grandpa wouldn’t make me stop working in the wood shop and go inside with Grandma. I loved the smell of fresh cut wood and the power of the saw and drill press. I loved packaging everything up and sitting at booths like Pulaski Polka days for long weekends and the joy of watching people buy things that we worked on for gifts and items in their homes. And without knowing it, piece 3 of the puzzle was formed.
Hearing the story of these three “puzzle pieces” it seems obviously that I would fall into owning a small store front that worked with wood, quotes and teaching people art. But that’s not how life works. You see—as Pablo Picasso once said, “Every Child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
At 18, I went off to college about an hour and a half away from Green Bay in a little town called Stevens Point. I was a driven young person that was going to conquer the college world. At my core I wanted to major in Art—but at the guidance of my parents, guidance counselor and trusted adults, it became clear that majoring in art was probably not to going to get me a successful job out of college. As a young college student, I thought it wise to listen to the counsel of adults—and so I switched majors to business. To which shortly after I was told I wasn’t “strong” enough for business—that I wore my heart on my sleeve too much” and I should choose a more appropriate profession for my personality type—and so I switched to teaching—because it was the “safe thing” to do and I could make a career out of it. And so I listened to the advice. I did the safe thing. I majored in teaching. But I did take a leap and transfer to Flagler College to be able to live in Florida after falling in love with the weather and the culture after a Summer Project with Campus Crusade.
I graduated College and was hired as a 3rd grade teacher at Callahan Intermediate. I learned a lot as a teacher: the long hours and dedication it takes to be truly good at something, the ability to work with challenging people (both young and old alike), and the struggle of putting my heart on the line every day to have things not go my way or have outside circumstances let me down. And piece 4 of the puzzle was formed.
I loved teaching—and I was validated as a good teacher by my performance reviews and opinions of parents—but it didn’t fulfill me. I felt the struggle of being trapped in the same four walls day in and day out felt like a hamster wheel of a new quarter, semester or year without feeling like I was going anywhere. For many, teaching doesn’t feel this way… It’s a new adventure of children each year and new challenges- and while I could completely see this side of it – My restless wind and fire personality wasn’t satiated by it. And I learned, as Steve Jobs said, “Don’t let the noise of other peoples opinions drown out your inner voice”. You see, although I was good at teaching, it doesn’t make it my right for me. It doesn’t make it something that will allow me to feel fulfilled or accomplished. And that doesn’t make it a bad profession—It just makes it a profession that is not what I am called to do.
A long story made short, I ended up leaving teaching after achieving management level for an MLM company called Lia Sophia. Something I swore I would never do- “Direct Sales”. What made it perhaps funnier was Lia Sophia was a jewelry company. And I—am perhaps one of the least fashionable and least jewelry-wearing girls you will ever meet. I still don’t know what quite made me take the leap of starting and I certainly never thought it was going to go anywhere, but I fell in love with the people and my upline. I also thrived on meeting sales goals, achieving recognition and finding ways to drive my team to be the best version of themselves. This was the first time in my life I realized that the path that we take through life is not by accident. Each stepping stone we take in life gives us skills and the ability to understand and thrive in the next stage in life. For me, the puzzle piece of teaching collided perfectly with running a team of 95 amazing women in their own personal quest for financial independence and personal growth. Not to mentioned, I learned that I am capable of achieving things that people say don’t happen. Status quo says that you can’t make a living on an MLM business. After 5 years I was making almost 2x the amount I ever made teaching, setting my own hours and learning to build sustaining relationships with women—something I had always struggled with being a bit of a tomboy. The fifth puzzle piece was being formed—and truly I thought this was the career I would ride to shore.
Until December 3rd, 2014… I was eight months pregnant with our 2nd child—coming home from a meeting to pick up Matt and head down to Jax for our weekly check up and ultrasound. I was walking into the house and popped on a manager conference call late. As I dialed in I heard the words I will never forget, “…we will be ceasing operations December 28th.” It was a scene out of a movie. I remember Matt walking into the kitchen as I dropped the phone and sat down as fast as I could before the faint feeling crept in. In those 7 words, everything I had poured my heart and soul into for 5 years--- the relationship I had built, the hours of driving, and the training I had devised came to a screeching halt as I realized I had 25 days to sell as much as I could before my job ended and I was left 9 months pregnant and unemployed and the income we had counted on would be taken away with no back up of being able to collect unemployment while I had a child.
Matt and I crunched the numbers and decided we could afford to at least float through having Tucker and a few weeks after. And so I decided to be a stay at home mom. (long pause)
And I lasted about a week. For me personally, being able to contribute to our family financially is where I find my fulfillment. This may have a lot to do with the fact that I don’t cook and I’m not exactly an amazing housewife. I also knew I had spent 5 years building a network of people that were looking at me to find ways to support me through this transition. I was headhunted by many other direct sales companies as our contact information was shared and flown up to Chicago even to be shown around headquarters of another jewelry company. But it didn’t matter. My heart had been broken and I wasn’t sure I could find it in my soul to ever work for another company that could potentially pull the rug out from underneath me again. And perhaps one of the darkest puzzle pieces had been placed in my story.
S.A. Sacks once said, “Hope Rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams,” and without realizing it at the time, the crushing blows and sadness I felt would be exactly what I needed to catapult me into the next and most fulfilling stage of my life. After working and traveling almost non stop for 5 years, here I sat with idle hands, 9 months pregnant, with a toddler that took 2 hour naps. I tried to find things to fill the time—and although I could have vacuumed, cooked or painted the nursery—I didn’t have the energy to do these things. And with idle hands, and time to reflect I came back full circle to resurrect my inner passion for quotes to help me process the overwhelmed feeling and cope with fear and used art to make them come to life. I finally opened the silhouette I had gotten 3 years ago for Christmas and looked up how to used it. I started researching typography and graphic design. And I felt the fire start burning inside again. The inner artist that I once had as a child, that had been suppressed for years under the guidance from others that art was not going to make me a living—but in reflecting back—teaching and business hadn’t fulfilled me enough to make a living either. So I spent time recreating myself. If I was going to be a “stay at home” mom, I could at least create art of positivity to surround myself.
It didn’t take long before I started processing how to make grocery money with the skills I had learned. Matt and I have always ran our finances as everything is based out of a joint account and we get $50 every two weeks as “play money” to do with as we please. So in early January, I spent $25 of my play money on vinyl. I practiced on a few cups for Paisley, made a few wedding presents for friends and decided I could work to regain my investment. So I started a Facebook page. Now, please keep in mind, I was 9 months pregnant—while I had some creativity flowing—naming a company wasn’t in the mix—So I went with the name I liked best—my daughter’s name—Paisley Grace. I listed “Sippy cup decals” as my first product-- $5 for 4 of them. And surprisingly enough, thanks to that amazing network I had built for 5 years with Lia Sophia—before I knew it I had 3 orders. I had made $15 back already! This fueled the fire to find something new to sell—So I made a few decals for the front door and posted them. I sold two more! The exhilaration of making back the $25 I had invested and still having some product left over was such a high!! I knew I could make this work. So on January 17th, 2015 --- 12 days before having my son, I started the process for filing for a fictious name registration and started Paisley Grace Designs.
I believe there are at least two types of people in this world when it comes to business ownership. There are the people who follow the path—who do their market research, devise a business plan, secure the proper investments or loans and have a plan and a goal for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years and so on. There are hundreds of books written to this subject and plans to follow to achieve your dreams and conquer the business owning world and the American dream of entrepreneurship. These people are driven by their fire and passion, and yet have the ability to be grounded to the Earth and the process. To these people, I commend you.
Because there are also the other type of people--the souls that are also driven by the fire within them, yet have an uncanny ability to fly with the wind. Those who despite their best attempts to follow the status quo and follow the process, can’t seem to stick with one thing as it seems the wind picks them up over and over again to align them with their passions. The ones whose version of entrepreneurship looks a lot more like finding a cliff and proceeding to run full force off of it while fighting to build their parachute on the way down. This is my story.
Perhaps it was that I was pregnant and we couldn’t even process taking on a loan for a business idea, but even more likely was that at my core, I never even looked at it as a true business. Sure, I filed for the fictitious name- because there’s still the “rule follower” side of me, even though I am built out of wind and fire—but I think the biggest puzzle piece that I can attribute to any amount of my success is that I never really thought of it as a business at first. It wasn’t an “end game” to see how much money I could make or how to get rich. I wasn’t thinking of it as a business plan. I was thinking of it as how can I make enough this week to help our family to compensate for the money I no longer had coming in.
The newborn business was momentarily delayed to welcome in our newborn baby boy. A spunky addition to our little family, who suddenly was hospitalized for 10 days in Wolfson’s as he was born with MRSA in his bloodstream. But the one thing that Newborns do is sleep. A lot. And so I found myself in Wolfson’s alone, with A LOT of idle time as Matt and his mom helped with Paisley at home. Matt brought up my silhouette machine and computer and journals and I spent the many hour or two naps times awake journaling, creating and figuring out the next steps.
It was then that I realized that the puzzle pieces of life did not happen by accident. Things had come into my life to give me the perspective, skills and connections I needed to thrive. I was a teacher by trade and I knew network marketing extremely well. I knew how to clearly explain steps and create lesson plans, and network marketing taught me about people and their desire and need to feel connected with a purpose. This combined with my inner most belief that we are created by a creator to create made it clear that there was no reason I couldn’t bring what I loved to peoples homes in a business created by me, provided by me, where the only person that could put me out of business was me.
As soon as I was able I was home creating signs. I reached out to a few friends and hosted a “mock” party in my living room where 10 wonderful friends gathered to let me find my way through teaching how to paint their own wooden sign. The night went very well and I asked everyone for feedback on how to improve. The next day I was reaching out to past hostesses from lia Sophia that I was close with to see if they would host a paint party for me. I was able to secure 4-5 solid booking dates and was estatic. So the quest was to figure out how to build a website to allow their guest to register for a project. Remember that whole “build a parachute on the way down”…. Yes. This was one of those moments. But I found very quickly, that when you don’t live in fear and a paralysis by analysis mentality you can get A LOT done in a very little amount of time. So a website was built.
The next day I got a call from a wonderful lady who lived in Hilliard. Somehow she had seen a post of mine on Facebook and said she wanted to have a party next Thursday. While my soul was elated, let’s look at the facts. I had only done ONE party, IN MY HOUSE…. With people I KNEW! My plan was to host two or three parties with my close friends in their homes to get things under my belt and perfected before marketing to strangers. However, I find that when I plan, God Laughs.
So here I was with my first party scheduled, with people I didn’t know and realizing this was my moment to shine. It felt very much like Tim Gunn from Project Runway whispering in my ear, “Make it Work”. The day of the party my best friend from WI was down visiting, I told her she was being put to work that night and we waltzed into that 15 person party with as much confidence as we could muster. It was a true fake it until you make it moment--- and you know what? It worked. They had no idea until the very end that it was my first outside the home party.
In that moment the biggest puzzle piece of my professional career was formed. I learned the lesson that the old adage of “you can do anything you set your mind to” was absolutely true. I could have turned down that party. I could have tried to schedule her after I got a few rounds under my belt. But I would have been doing myself a disservice. I believe one of the reasons the SBA has found that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years is that people live in fear and are crippled by over-analysis. Of course there are times to weigh the facts and watch the market trends—but you can only get caught behind a powerpoint and board meetings for so long before you need to take a leap of faith and trust your inner instincts. Especially as women in business, I believe our greatest strength is our instinctual nature and it is not to be ignored. One of my absolute favorite quotes to remember in every stage of my business is this:
“It’s impossible” said pride.
“It’s Risky” said experience
“It’s Pointless” said reason
“Give it a Try” whispered the heart.
From that day forward I proceeded to do mobile in-home or church parties for a year. I relied off word of mouth advertising. Because the single greatest thing I learned from my time with Lia Sophia is that the product you sell should be no more than a souvenir of the time that the customer spends with you. Business is not about sales. It’s about relationships. And if you can make someone truly and authentically feel loved, cherished and adored during your time with them, they will continue to build loyalty and trust with you. And out of that trust is where your single greatest asset of advertising will come to—a heartfelt referral about how their life was touched because of you.
So the business grew. And it became real. The 2 hours a night once or twice a week my husband and I spent building signs in the garage after the babies went to bed at 9 or 10pm quickly turned into 2-4 hours every night to be able to keep up with the materials we needed for the parties booked. Our garage was covered in sawdust. I painted daily with a baby tied to me in a k’tan or ergo. Paisley got so much time coloring in sidewalk chalk there was an entire size of clothing that I couldn’t donate to anyone. Mom-a-preneurship was in full force. And I was loving every exhausting minute.
We were blessed the parties kept coming—but it reached a point where my body was tired of loading and unloading pallets, heavy paint and brushes. Especially when it was 2-3 parties all over Jacksonville on a Saturday. I started dreaming… and living in the land of the what if’s? What if I opened a studio? Would people come to me? Or was the business successful because I brought it to them? What if my garage wasn’t always covered in sawdust and we could actually have storage? What if this was really, actually a business.
The first year ended and I realized I had made just shy of what I used to make as a teacher. The fire grew stronger. The puzzle pieces were coming together and there was an inner voice shouting that this could become a reality. I came to my husband and told him I wanted to search for a retail space to open a studio. Now before I tell you his answer, let me digress. You’ve heard me talk a lot about Wind and Fire and personality. There is an amazing book called “The four elements of success” By Laurie Beth Jones. And it talks about how our personality types reflect the elements. As you can tell… I’m a little wild and free like the wind and my passion is strong and consuming like fire. My husband? He is WATER and will go with the flow but has a lot of analytical Earth woven in that drives him to be logical, analytical and thoughtful (which is why he makes a good Air Traffic Controller). So with this being said, his first reaction was to meet me with a firm NO. How was I going to take my profit and afford a studio, utilities and have the time with a two year old and a newborn to staff said location? So I tabled the idea.
But the passion continued to grow and a whole week later I approached him again and let him know that this was something I had to do. That no matter what I could make this work and I knew that this was my time. As Erin Hanson says, “What if I fall, Oh but darling? What if you Fly?”
This moment may have been one of the last puzzle pieces I needed to start the journey into opening the studio. I started the search and in about 10 days I had signed a lease, negotiated two “free” weeks and came home and told Matt we had 10 days to build 6 tables, put up a pallet wall and install some flooring. There was no huge equity we had that we could invest, no thoughts of investors or hiring a staff. Just a huge dream and a handy husband that can learn things from You Tube. And 14 days later we kicked off our first Grand Opening event—which sold out at 35 people.
I will never forget the emotion of the day we did our ribbon cutting that led into the grand opening night of our first paint party. The moment I turned around and 35 women were gathered at the front of my studio holding with pride the signs they created was enough to truly move me to tears. My day had come. The sadness and loss I felt when Lia Sophia closed it’s doors had come full circle into realizing that every new beginning has to come from another beginnings end. And when things end we are allowed to be sad, for a moment…. But then it’s time to rise again.
Within each of us in our own phoenix … but especially as women we can’t let the enemies of self-doubt, people pleasing, timidness or fear guide our decisions. We have to rely on our inner instincts and wisdom to guide us. You are far more powerful than you think or give yourself credit for.
I can not for one minute look at any of you and say with a straight face that we were going to survive the 3 year lease. I can say it was what drove me. I had to make this work and I made a promise to myself that it wasn’t going to be for my lack of trying or hard work. The first year I had two friends working with me helping me teach workshops—Jennie and Ashton. I was so blessed to have them because I finally had a handful of nights home with the babies. As the word got out, we started to have more parties and needed to hire another instructor. This was one of the most pivotal growing stages for me as a business owner. It’s one thing to rely on your friends to support you in business and be the best representation of something I had worked so hard for and put my daughter’s name on, but it’s a whole other thing to figure out how I was suppose to hire someone I didn’t know to do the same. I scrutized and made outside friends come in and do interview with me. To anyone else, this may have seemed like overkill. It was a job that was 3 hours a night after all. But to me it was so much more. After about a month I found Emily and she joined the team.
Last year was one of the biggest years of growth for me personally. It was suddenly real. We had made it two years in the studio already and things were doubling every year. We had 4-5 instructors and a part time office assistant. In February, during a birthday trip and time away from the studio—while the studio actually still stayed open with me out of town-- it hit me that this quest I had to make grocery money and recover from losing a job had become so much more than that. I started being able to look at myself in a different light. As I mentioned, earlier—the words that you tell yourself carry weight—they define your reality. My reality for three years at that point was that this was just a hobby, that I didn’t go to school for business- so clearly I wasn’t running an actual business. I didn’t have an actual business plan written up—so I wasn’t a good business owner. I didn’t know everything there was to know about tax laws, payroll taxes and Balance sheets—so I was just “playing” in the studio. I was just the “little girl” playing lemonade stand in my mind.
But it was this self-talk that was holding me back from growth. It was this down-playing my abilities that kept me in a holding pattern of surviving and not thriving. And when I looked at my husband on that birthday trip, through tear filled eyes and told him I was sad I only had a year left. He looked at me like I had lost my mind. You see- It may sound so elementary but in my narrow minded survival mentality—My only goal was to make it through that 3 year lease so I could prove that I “made it work”. I realized, that I had never given myself the chance to dream bigger – because it that moment – my big dream was the studio.
I came home realizing that it was time to Thrive and not just survive. And it was time to start treating this business for what it was—a business. It was ok for me to be a business owner and not feel like I had it all together. Because what I have learned is that there is not just one way to run a business. Sure, it may be the easier path, or at least the path that you have the most guidance of resources and books with—but it doesn’t make it my path.
If I could speak to my 18 year old self... I would probably need to sit down for a whole week to get off my chest what I wish I would have known, there are some things that are so important that it is almost all I would focus on. And the first thing I would encourage someone to do is to surround themselves with quotes and affirmations. If you haven’t been to the studio, come one by! You will see that I haven’t changed much from that young teenager who stenciled quotes all over her walls. But what is amazing is that puzzle piece that seemingly was just a teenager decorating her room, shaped my reality.
As I approach my 34th birthday, this is not where I thought I would be in life—It wasn’t the path I set out to achieve, but I’m actually extremely grateful that some thing didn’t work out the way I once wanted them to. Because if I hadn’t allowed myself to be willing to shift, and if I hadn’t had the fire within me to chase what seemed impossible, I would have still been living a life in a great profession but one that I was not destined to be in.
The world of business and the world of being a Mom is never easy or constant. There are stresses and new challenges that appear every day it seems, but I continually tell myself that, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
So fI encourage you... don’t let fear keep you from your dreams. Let your fear be the kindling that sparks the fire to let you chase your dreams. Trust your intuition and don’t over analyze it. After all, You can not plow a field by turning it over in your mind. And when it seems like the world is too tough-- just remember it's another piece of your perfect puzzle...and the picture will become clear in the end.