Stuff of Dreams
The advice makes sense.
Follow your passion. Do what you love. You only have one life to live so live it according to your dreams.
But when is anything as simple as it sounds? Reality sets in and the prospect of getting to do what you love everyday often isn’t practical. You have mouths to feed, bills to pay.
I know that when I was younger I wasn’t ready to take any leaps of faith regarding following my bliss. Such advice seemed impractical. I saw it as something to consider later, in my retirement.
When I set upon a career path in my early twenties, I did what I thought I should do. I looked at my strengths, learned what jobs required skills that I had, and got to work. I am good with people, so I became a teacher, then got my degree and became a social worker. From there, I got into human resources and then into staffing. All people-centric jobs, and the tried and true worked. I was very successful, at least in the traditional sense: I rose through the ranks; I made good money; I was recognized publicly for my achievements.
You would think that would have been enough.
But like many before me, I discovered something so simple that it shouldn’t even have to be said. You can only work hard at something that you don’t love for so long before you start to burn out. While the money and status feel good, something vital is missing and unless you try to find it, you will always feel incomplete.
So in late 2002, with my friend Sarah, another HR executive, we brainstormed in the hopes of figuring out a better future for our work lives. In my living room, we inventoried and reviewed our interests, life experiences, expertise and management skills, and “conceptualized” our dream jobs. Over time, we built the foundation for a business that would utilize our talents but that would also incorporate our passions including our shared, lifelong commitment to social responsibility. My first entrepreneurial venture, GoodDeeds, a life management services company, was born.
I had eight great years at GoodDeeds before I sold it to a loyal employee in 2010. While there, I learned a lot about running a business, about how to reevaluate decisions as the company evolves, about how to build a team that works well together and gets the job done. I also rediscovered some things about myself that ultimately helped me to carve out a future that revolved even more closely around my passions.
Playing Dress Up
I was the little girl who walked around the house in my mother’s high heels and scarves and sparkly clip-on earrings. I probably had red lipstick smeared on and little circles of rouge in the apples of my cheeks. I’m sure I wanted to be a princess or model or movie star when I grew up.
Even in high school, I continued to play dress-up, albeit in a much subtler way: shopping with my friends. I scoured fashion magazines and followed trends, updating my wardrobe regularly. My friends and I shopped, and I discovered that I had an eye for detail and a knack for dressing my friends and myself in ways that flattered our figures and enhanced our developing styles.
Once I entered the work force, I had less time for shopping but cared enough to keep up with what was happening in the world of fashion and to tend to my needs to be well dressed and well groomed. In a way, the world was my dress-up stage and no matter what I had to do, I was determined to look the best I could while I was doing it.
I never let go of the things that drove my happiness, but I did put them on the back burner. Then, one day, working with one of my customers at GoodDeeds, I had an epiphany. We were going through this customer’s closet making decisions about what she needed to toss, donate, replace and add to her wardrobe. We spent hours trying things on, admiring ourselves in the mirror, prancing around like we didn’t have a care in the world. For several hours, I felt like that joyful little girl I had been, and I realized that for the first time since I began working, I felt amazing deep down in my soul. I was having genuine fun doing my work.
Living Your Dream
What was driven home when I was playing in that client’s closet was that while I didn’t have an exact definition of my dreams nor a clear understanding of how to design a career around them, I did know that if I continued moving toward the things that make me feel alive deep down inside, I had a much better chance of feeling good about myself and creating something that would survive and thrive.
That sense led to more brainstorming, more discussions with other entrepreneurs, more looking both inward and outward as I tried to formulate a plan for what to do next that would satisfy both my practical and deepest-seated needs. Simultaneously, I took a few risks based on the ideas that I was formulating. I was involved in a holiday trunk show and discovered that some of my ideas had legs. Then I went on a shopping trip and bought some high-end fashion accessories that I thought might sell and began to test the waters. Entrepreneurial venture number two was born: Chic to Chic.
I know that conventional wisdom claims that a successful business needs a fleshed out plan that describes your business model, your staffing needs, and your financial goals for one year out, five years out, ten years out. Maybe over time, I will commit such information to paper. But, the creation of Chic to Chic is the development of a vision that already has evolved significantly through my experiences and through my developing relationships with the people who are at the center: the customers, the designers, and the people working with me behind the scenes.
Living your dream is hard work. I’ve found that while it is my inner passions that drive me to create something that satisfies my needs, it is the people who surround me that make it all possible. I developed skills in my past but I am constantly reaching out to others with questions about how to go about a process, how to deal with a problem, how to decide upon alternatives and how to make changes as gracefully as possible. I know that I couldn’t go it alone, but more importantly, I don’t want to. Part of my dream has always been to go where I’m going in the company of people I love. The other part is to honor what is in my heart.
You only have one life to live so live it according to your dreams.
The advice, finally for me, makes practical sense.
— Beth Miller