The Beginner's Mind

This is me in 2010, with my first few creations
When I decided to begin a handmade jewelry business nearly five years ago, I understood I was beginning a new adventure. There was much to learn, and I'm sure there is much I could say now to the person I was then.

But rather than regretting my somewhat awkward first steps, I find myself musing on that strange, courageous, willful person who jumped into my head one day and said - Sure, go ahead - just Try it!

Beginners of almost any discipline are frequently dismissed as naive, "unseasoned," clueless, and generally not too bright. In fact, as we gain experience in the thing we love to do the most, we even take perverse pleasure in becoming jaded, disillusioned, and actually sour on life. We think that if we can point out exactly how dumb we were in the beginning, it will prove how smart we are now.

Recently (not by choice), I was poring through the papers that represent every piece of jewelry I have ever made. It's not important to my story, but if you must know, I was switching over to new accounting software, which is sort of one of those horrific odysseys that you really never want to do. It wasn't all horrible, though - at times it amounted to a little walk down Memory Lane, taking me through the details of what appear minor transitions now, but really brought me to new levels of understanding in my designs, my materials, and even my customers.

The first earrings I made with entirely
handmade niobium earwires and headpins
For example, it took a little time before I created earrings that were entirely niobium, with my own wire wrapped headpins and earwires, rather than using commercial findings. The earrings I made that day don't look flashy, or really that impressive, but I recognize their importance.

In addition, I have to admire how prolific I was then. Unfettered by expectations, within my first six months, I created 125 items and posted them for sale on ArtFire.com. I am amazed to discover this. I can point to many things I did not know at that time, but the point is that there are many things I did know, and was able to enter this new phase of my life with a little business sense I did not even know I possessed.

So, at the risk of advising you already-very-smart-people out there, I think I can enumerate a few of the things that have helped me then and now:

My first jewelry display for sale - a home party in Nov 2010
1. Keep it fun. Try new techniques, appreciate the creative flow, keep learning from many channels.

2. Don't stop or get stuck just because it's getting complex. Okay, I admit it. I'm a starter. I start new things and when it seems like they're too much work, too risky, taking too much time or requiring some financial investment ... I find ways to stop. My message to myself is that this thing I'm doing - it's going to take me past my point of comfort, and that's wonderful.

3. It takes time for customers to find you. It takes around five years for "any" business to start to get traction. Online business isn't faster, it's just a little different path. I have benefitted from the fact that my husband had started his own business, not once, but twice over time, and I had been able to process some of this knowledge. Knowing this helps me be more patient. 

4. Learn to say "yes." I confess I have a history of the "yes, but..." syndrome. I often come up with good ideas then talk myself out of them, usually before I even get started. There are a few people I've known along the way who are just always trying new things, and not afraid to jump in wherever they're needed. I decided to live with them in my head for a while, and call them up in my memory from time to time.

5. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. When you rely on only one way to sell forever, funny little things happen in your brain. You start to think that your sales venue IS your business and that somehow you can't live without them, even though they are just one resource. The business is with me -- not any particular website or location. I find comfort in that, and knowing this has allowed me the freedom to try other ways to reach out to customers.

6. "Hands-On-Jewelry."  This is my mantra when I feel bogged down, and a little confused about what to do next. True, there are many little wheels to keep moving, but without fresh jewelry, none of it really makes a difference.

I never thought I'd be brave enough to do a craft show. 
7. Live the life. I'm in this, in part, so I can enjoy time with my family and spend money on my own needs, beyond the business. I'm still working on that second part, but it's so important to remember and really be with the people who are most important to you.

8. My customers have the same questions I do. Honestly, I never expected to be in business. But I started the way many people do, with a simple question - my question happened to be about how to wear jewelry without pain. My questions led to some extended research which brought me to most of the information I share regularly today. I have a high opinion of my customers. They are smart, they are concerned, they want facts, they don't want smoke and mirrors. They want more than "stuff," they want to be part of the story.

9. I can't choose everything at once. When I started, I understood that if I experienced even partial success, it would take massive amounts of time, and other aspects of my life may get rearranged and even crowded out. This is part of the risk. Alas, my fish tank has taken a huge hit (I almost completely ignore them anymore - so sorry, fishies!), I hardly ever write at all, which is really a surprise to me, and I'm sure there are many other opportunities I have just had to flatly ignore because I am the only person running my business. And it's okay.

Establish a presence at my husband's computer biz?
Sure - I'll give it a shot.
10. Spark creativity with creativity. It seems counter-intuitive that I started playing the fiddle during the last couple of years, but interestingly, the brain-breaks that come as a result of concentrating fully on something else seem to help me come back with more energy. I can listen to my fiddle tunes as I make jewelry, so it actually works both ways. It also gives me something interesting to tell about myself at parties.

11. It is customary to stop with ten great points, whatever they may be. I'm sure there is more to say, but I have probably used the portion of your attention span I'm entitled to. Besides, you probably have to do the things people have to do by now - stretch, use the little room, pet the cat - but I do thank you for your time.

Truthfully, now it's a little hard to sort out where one idea began and another took off. I should point out that I am still on this path, so I should be cautious about spewing advice, as there are already too many advice-givers in the world, and too few listeners.

One thing we face as go along, though, is that we will never entirely understand the seeds that began us. I have a high respect for beginners wherever they may appear in life. I think that in order to arrive at that jumping off point, they they have achieved and are in a rarified state of awareness. Like a traveler in a new country, there is an openness and willingness to experience life more fully, and to actually try things that didn't seem possible before. It is among the many difficult balancing acts that we do, that even as we benefit from experience, the beginner lives inside -- sparking joy and demanding discovery.

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