I’ve already shared with you a very brief snapshot of my identity issues in my first post, but I really want to dive deeper into it today. The reason for this is partly because I think we all struggle with this to some extent as creative entrepreneurs, and partly because I think I might just need to get it out on paper (or screen) in order to deal with it completely.
Fun fact: I actually do a lot of writing by hand, especially my first drafts. A lot of these posts come from my own journal entries, or excerpts of them. Someone once told me that when you type words, you’re writing with your head; when you physically write them down, you’re writing with your heart.
I’m trying to avoid talking about this. Can you tell? I’ve basically been writing versions of this post in my journal for about the past four years, but I’ve been really resistant to even talk about it to anyone but Dan. So this is a bit of a leap for me–so much so that I even wrote this post in two parts, having given up on it back in June after I wrote the first part, and then coming back to it recently (but still a little while before I could bring myself to hit the “publish” button).
I think, to some extent, I’ve always been creative. I did an exercise a little while ago that asked the question “How would most people describe you if they only had to use one word?” and I immediately wrote down “talented,” but “creative” would be a close second. I was really into art and music in high school. In college, I got into theater (incidentally, I still use a lot of the skills I learned building sets when I’m building my furniture). After Dan and I bought our house, I started to get creative with decorating it, since we were on a budget and trying to get out of debt. When people ask me to help with things like weddings or events at church, there’s almost always a creative element to what they are asking me to do, because that’s what I’m good at.
It feels hard to talk about this, though. I think so often, especially as women, we are conditioned to be humble and defer to others and say things like “oh, anyone can do that.” It’s hard for us to take pride in the things that we are good at without feeling like we are hardcore bragging on ourselves. So many times I’ve given a variation of “anyone could do that” in response to people telling me I’m talented, when the reality, when it comes to my particular vision for the furniture that I recreate, is this: someone else could do something like it, but no one could do exactly “it” because I found the piece, saw its potential, and carried out my design (sometimes through several revisions).
I think realizing that is so important to realizing your value as a creative entrepreneur and realizing that the things you as an individual have to offer to the market and to the creative community have value as well. Girl bosses, #metrodetroitmakers, no one else can do exactly what you do!
Here’s the other part of my identity crisis. As silly as it sounds (or maybe it doesn’t sound all that silly to you–if you’re reading this, maybe you feel the same way), being a creative entrepreneur doesn’t feel serious to me, especially when you compare that to being a college professor. Or a doctor, medical engineer, EMT, nurse, attorney, or executive, which I happen to be surrounded by in both my family and my husband’s family. I feel like an underachiever extraordinaire when I hang out with these people and hear about travels to Russia and Africa, emergency C-sections, rubbing elbows with Dick Cheney, or saving someone’s life with CPR and a plastic pen.
Often, I feel like a hobbyist rather than a businesswoman, especially because all I have is an online shop, an occasional weekend outdoor booth, and a garage full of broken furniture that hardly anyone sees as having any value (that is, until I finish a piece).
Note: The above all pretty much came out without a lot of self-editing–drawn from journal entries and emotions and comments that have built up over the past few years. The problem is, once I had it down, I was like “No one will ever want to read this.” So I put it away for a bit. Then early in July I came back to it.
None of these issues are helped at all by well-meaning comments and questions like “how’s your little business going?” or “that furniture painting thing; are you still doing that?” My business isn’t little—many months I bring in as much or more than Dan does with his “serious” finance career—but it feels little when compared with something that is easily recognized and firmly established, like a medical or law practice. Those comments and questions are part of the reason why I’ve gotten in my own way when it comes to my business, and part of the reason why I’ve held on so long to this idea of a career as a college professor when, in reality, that is looking less and less like my best option for fulfilling my career and life goals.
Luckily, Dan is my biggest supporter, and he’s constantly telling me how much he values everything I’m doing to try and make this business work. I don’t think I’d be pursuing this seriously at all if he weren’t on board with the idea. He’s always told me that he wants to work at his job and provide everything we need so that I can do what I’m most passionate about, whether that’s teaching, running my business, or raising our family. The hardest part for me has been figuring out exactly what I want to pursue—again, partly because of my own identity issues.
As a Christian, it’s super hard not to get wrapped up in defining myself by what I do, or how much I make, or whether or not I have a white slipcover sofa like all the other home décor bloggers out there do (or at least, seem to). The thing is, when I’m in my garage, painting and listening to worship music or podcasts, or when I’m out with Charlotte, exploring the park or playing at the library, or even when I’m in front of a computer screen blogging or invoicing or lesson planning, it’s not that hard to rest in my identity in Christ. I belong to Him first and foremost, and the most important part of my identity is that I am His child.
But that’s hard to talk about (for me, anyway). It would be weird as a response to the question “what do you do?” And when I’m in my booth during the summer, or in front of the classroom in the fall and winter, or sitting around the dinner table with family, it’s the last thing on my mind. I’m trying to navigate and respond to whichever identity is uppermost in my mind at that moment, whether it’s business owner, professor, wife, or mother.
It’s really easy for me (and I think for all of us creative entrepreneurs) to think that things will be better when I make X amount of money from my creative business, or when I have X amount of followers on social media, or when I have my physical store, or…or…or…
But I’ve met goals before. Goals on Etsy, goals for inventory, goals for the number of shows I’d do in a given year. I’ve exceeded plenty of goals, too—goals for the year, goals for a particular show, goals for income in a set period of time…and exactly none of those times was my overall happiness or sense of identity in the least affected. At the end of the day, they were just numbers, or dates, or pieces finished. They were just arbitrary things. I still fall into the trap of thinking that the next goal achieved will be different, somehow, but getting all of this out on paper helps me to keep that feeling in check.
So where does that leave me in my struggle with my identity as a wife and mama, girl boss, and part-time English professor? I’m not sure. I guess my best answer is: I’m working on it. It’s funny, because in almost every other area of my life, I actually feel ok. I’m a natural introvert, and I’ve always struggled with that part of my personality—I just work better in small groups or one-on-one, and I feel a bit awkward interacting with large groups of people (unless I’m in charge, like in front of a classroom—then I’m in my element, for some reason). I’ve struggled with my body image too, and I always feel like people are judging me for being super unhealthy or unattractive. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what people think of my personal style, or the way that I parent, or the things that I believe.
I think all that has really started to change over the past couple of months. Suddenly, I’m not really thinking about everyone else so much. I’m oddly focused on what’s best for our family, what’s best for my business, and what’s best for me. What other people think seems so much more insignificant to me now than it ever has. It’s not that I don’t care at all about other people—I do. I just don’t care what they think.
Maybe that means that resolving my identity crisis when it comes to what I should “be” or “do” is right around the corner. Fingers crossed!
Do you struggle with the same things I do? How does your family respond to your small business, dreams, or goals? What do you see as your primary identity, and how did you get to that point? Tell me about it in the comments below—I’d love to get some more perspective on this!! As always, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Instagram and use the #metrodetroitmaker to connect with the community.