Last Thursday marked a big occasion for our studio- it was Jenn's last day at her day job! After 5 years as the HR & Office Coordinator for the non-profit classical radio station in Portland, it was time to move on. Here are some of Jenn's thoughts on the transition.
This is going to be pretty long, so if you're looking for something breezy and succinct, this isn't the post for you. In a sea of inspirational internet blogs about quitting your day job, I don't have all the answers. All I can offer is some insight into how I got to this place, and maybe that will help someone else feel a little less alone in their struggles. Or maybe it will help you understand why our paper studio is bigger than a small business, it's huge to us. It's a radically different way of life. It's a choice to move towards investing in our hopes and dreams and to have the privilege to share them with others.
It seems like since we moved to Portland in 2006, I've been scheming. There's something about Portland (the supportive community, the DIY spirit, etc.) that makes you feel like it is totally reasonable to start a small business. For years I added ideas to a running list of business possibilities- Belgian Frites Food Cart, Mobile Art Supply Van, Bed & Breakfast, Handmade Paper Studio.... If you're reading this I think you know what idea stuck!
So why is it such a big deal for me to work for myself instead of someone else? It's not that I can't work for other people, I can, and it pretty much consumes me. I'm bad at the day job thing because it starts to bleed into all parts of my life. I find myself brushing my teeth on the weekends thinking about all the things I'm working on at my day job. Or I'm out with friends and all I can do is grouse about office politics. I'm wired to focus on what I'm getting paid to do and to do it well. I pride myself on having a strong work ethic, so I guess it makes sense that whether it's washing the dishes for everyone in the office, or doing payroll, or prepping paperwork for someone who's going to be fired, I've always felt an obligation to do my best. The problem with this mentality is that all your focus, and energy is sucked right up and you don't have much left to put towards anything else. And of course resentment builds up that so much of your time is put towards other peoples goals and dreams.
After earning my MFA in 2006 I naively thought that I'd get a university teaching gig as a drawing professor and my "career" would finally get on track. I had several interviews, and applied to openings all over the country. But I was green, and didn't have much of an exhibition history, and the competition was, and is intense. So I fell back on other skills and looked for work in non-profit administration. I had some success in finding work in this arena, but it's always been a way to pay the bills, and not something I found very fulfilling on a personal level. I am an artist through and through, and I feel at my best when I'm making art, talking about art, and teaching others how to make their own art. So when you're clocking into a 9 to 5 admin. job, even if it's in support of a great non-profit mission, it is a means to an end - a paycheck. At least that's what it is for me. Of course no boss wants to hear that their employee is unfulfilled in their work, so that adds another layer of fatigue- having to put on a satisfied and happy front.
When we started Pulp & Deckle in the fall/winter of 2012 I was more than ready to build something of my own. Gary and I felt that the studio would be something we could grow over time, and we would eventually transition to working for ourselves full-time. We knew it would be challenging to work at our day jobs while building the studio, but as so many others have done before us, we decided it was the only way we were going to be able to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams while still paying our bills.
Without the support of a wonderful, talented and dedicated partner like Gary, I would probably not be taking the leap into self employment. The support of our family and friends has also been key (both financial and emotional support.) You may notice I'm using the word support a lot. The foundation that's been built isn't mine alone, and that is something I not only acknowledge, but feel a responsibility towards. Everyone that has taken a class, given us a loan, supported our kickstarter or patreon, every person that has cheered us on is someone I feel an obligation towards, in only the best sense of the word. I am obligated to do the best that I know that I can do, and to put all that focus and energy I've been putting into my day job into the studio and see what happens. Whatever the future holds it will be an adventure where I'm creating the map. What more can I ask for?
Pulp & Deckle is a handmade papermaking studio located in Oregon.