I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how so much of what I had done BEFORE I started an art business had been preparing me for what I am doing now. So, here’s my story- from seasonal worker at a music store, to Starbucks manager, to university store employee–and just about everything in between…
When I was 27, I put my 2 weeks notice in at Barnes & Noble, and took a job in Baltimore at an educational center for kids. I packed my things, moved away from my hometown, and landed in totally unknown territory— all because I couldn’t take the retail management world anymore that had sucked me in after art school.
Just 4 months after relocating, my boss, three co-workers and I were sent to a region meeting in D.C. There, we met over 300 other young professionals with bright eyes for their futures. Little did we know that the men standing in the back of the room were there to hand us our severance packages, and that we had just 2 weeks of work left, right before the holidays, before we were going to have to start our job searches all over again.
So, here I was back in the game just as fast as I had gotten out of it.
I vowed that I would NEVER, EVER work retail again. The long hours, and hard, physical labor just weren’t what I was hoping to be doing when I graduated from college. I applied to over 100 jobs- avoiding anything that even smelled like “customer service”.
I remember it well- that one day, about 2 months into my job search (think economic depression of 2008…), when I had called my mom and broken down into tears. It had never taken me so long to find a job before, and the pressure of life was really starting to weigh me down. She reassured me that all of my previous experiences would be helpful to me now, and that my job was right around the corner.
Later that same day, I found myself at a Starbucks for an interview with two women who were starting an art school for kids and were considering me as an instructor. “Finally, something art related”, I thought.
We meet outside, all dressed in business attire, portfolios/resumes in hand, and go in to order our coffee-
“What can I get for you?”
me: “tall black coffee, please.”
woman #1: “I’ll have a medium half-caff, extra foam, sugar free caramel latte.”
woman #2: “Medium Pumpkin Spice latte, 4 shots, extra hot.”
We sit down at a round table, and awkwardly begin the interview process while we wait for our drinks.
Barista arrives and delivers all three at the same time. I pick up the small cup.
The two women I was with sat there, confused as to which coffee was theirs. I picked one up, slid the sleeve down the side of the cup, and said: “this is a half-caff, extra foam, sugar free caramel latte.” They looked stunned. One woman reached for her drink. “How did you know which one was which?! That’s amazing!”…..”I used to be a manager at a Starbucks”—
Right there, in that very moment, I realized that all of the times that I had scrubbed the cafe floor on my hands and knees, daydreaming about a different career, those moments would lead me up to this day. It was, and still is, a clear moment of clarity: wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, you could be preparing yourself for your dream.
I had been tricked- I’d wasted way too much time thinking that the grass would be greener. It wasn’t until almost 10 years later that I went out on a limb and applied for my business license.
What does this have to do with being an artist, you ask?
Things are different now.
When I do the mundane boring tasks, such as taxes and inventory, I think: these things wouldn’t have been available to do if I had not had any customers this year.
When I package my boxes to ship, I use tools that I learned to use when I was packing books, cds and college merchandise in my previous retail jobs.
When I get a great product review from a customer, I think of the people who used to ask me (in a sarcastic voice) why I was in RETAIL instead of being an “real artist”. To which I would respond: it’s an art to help customers, and I really do enjoy doing it.
When I write my thank- you notes for customer orders, I think of all of the times that I wasn’t able to help the customer find that one “book with a blue cover”, but went the extra mile trying. (bookstore people, you know what I am talking about).
When I set up for art shows now, I think about the overnight shifts I worked to get the tables merchandised and ready for the holiday rush.
I still drink coffee, lots of coffee.
I still LOVE helping customers, and get to do it from my own home.
So, wherever you are right now- whatever you are doing- enjoy the moment.
You are still an artist, even if you’re not painting.