Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“How Can I Find My Calling?”

From the forums:

I’m a creative person with a lot of energy; I love learning, cooking, reading, textile arts (embroidery, sewing, and crochet), digital design (but I’m not good enough to be a graphic designer), and natural health. I’m also a mom of three very young lovely kids. But since I left college, which was 12 years ago, I have not been able to focus on just one thing. I’m always trying to find ways of possibly making a living from home doing something that matters to me and for others, but I cannot seem to find this within me.

Everyone I know always tells me I’m talented and should do something, but I’m like, yeah, ok, thanks, but too many interests ain’t a good thing since I’m just a hot mess wanting to do everything which isn’t realistic. Should I just be patient and let it come naturally or should I assume I’ll always be a hot mess wanting to do everything and still continue to try new things?

I’m kinda sick and tired of learning so many things and not finding and pursuing MY niche. Soon, when the kids go off to school, I need to start doing something decent for myself and our household. — Have You Seen My Niche?

This is similar to the discussion we had last week when a LW lamented that he wasn’t excited about the real world because it didn’t seem exciting enough. What it boils down to in both his case and yours is managing expectations. Chances are, even if you chose one niche to focus on and try to monetize, you aren’t going to magically make great — or even “decent” — money overnight. You can’t just “be patient and let it come naturally.” If you wanted to actually monetize a hobby that you’re interested in, you’d have to be assertive about it and work really hard, and even then there’s no guarantee you’d have much of a pay-off. The market — every market — is saturated with hobbyists trying to monetize their crafts and skills. Does that mean you shouldn’t make a go of it yourself? No, but it does mean you need to manage your expectations. You’d have to have something that really sets you apart from the countless other people also trying to monetize the same hobbies, and right now it sounds like you don’t even have the skill set to compete with the best, let alone a hook that might make you stand out. That’s ok if you want to simply continue enjoying a hobby, but if you are serious about monetization, you have your work cut out for you, and the reality is it may be a very long time before you see financial results.

Like you, I know a little bit about a lot of things and am not really a master at much. But two things I know a little more about than maybe the average person: stay-at-home parenting and monetizing a hobby. For the past nearly eight years I have monetized this website while staying home and raising my young kids. In a few months, my youngest will be heading to public pre-k full-time, so I am at a similar crossroads as you except that I already have the stay-at-home, part-time job (in my chosen “niche”) set up for myself. It has been a lot of work to get to where I am now, and I have to be honest: While there are a lot of perks to this lifestyle (I work from home, I’m my own boss, I do work I really enjoy, I have a flexible schedule that completely works around the kids’ school schedules), there’s a lot that is frustrating about it, too (the most universal frustration is the inconsistent and unstable pay). I couldn’t do this kind of work if my family really depended on my income to survive. Instead, my income is the family “bonus” money – we use it to pay for the kids’ extracurricular activities, babysitter nights, and vacations. And it took about two or three years to even break even on this site, so for that time I was working 20 to 30 hours a week while raising a baby/toddler and losing money in the process (paying for website overhead and babysitting costs for some of those hours). Talk about a passion project!

I say all of this to, again, help you manage your expectations. You may not be interested in pursuing blogging, but it’s likely that whatever niche you might choose to pursue will have a similar trajectory – and that’s IF you’re lucky and IF you work hard and IF you can choose one thing to focus on. Some questions to ask yourself (and maybe your spouse): Does your family need you to start earning a part-time income as soon as your youngest child is in school and out of the house? If not, how would you feel about dedicating time to perfecting your skills and craft as well as learning how to run a small business while not earning much, if any, money for a few years? Are you prepared to invest the income you might earn back into your business?

You say that soon you need to “do something decent for yourself and your household,” which I’m inferring means contributing financially to your household by doing work that you enjoy on some level. I don’t think you need to feel “passionate” about this work. I think, as I argued in this post (see the comments section), that it’s perfectly fine — and perhaps necessary – to take a job because the pay is “decent,” the schedule and commute works for your lifestyle, the boss and co-workers are nice, and the work itself is interesting enough. True, none of this sounds super exciting or screams “found my passion” or whatever, but if you have to choose between financially contributing to your household or following your bliss, the wiser choice, when you have three children and don’t know what your bliss even is, would be finding a part-time job you can do while the kids are in school, earning a steady paycheck, and continuing to enjoy your many hobbies in your free time. Maybe if you feel inclined, you could even start an Etsy shop where you might experiment with selling some of the crafts you make in your free time without the pressure of needing it to take off and support your family.

And, P.S., you aren’t a “hot mess” simply because you have a lot of hobbies. You don’t need to define yourself by one job or role and that one role alone. But if, for your own self, you feel you do, you already have one of the hardest and most fulfilling jobs of all: you’re a mom. And you’re enough.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    dinoceros May 6, 2019, 10:12 am

    I posted some comments in the forum, which I’m not going to repost. My reply focused more on what you should do if you want to have a business. I’m not even sure if you do. I can’t really tell, from your post, if you just think you should have a business because people say you should (spoiler alert: it’s just what everyone says to someone who is talented at something) or if you want to or if you just need the money. If it’s the first one, you don’t have to. If it’s the last one, you could, but you could also just consider getting a job. But if you really want it to be an at-home business, then you have to approach it in a business-minded way, not in a whimsical “what is my purpose in life” sort of way. And if it’s the middle one, then you can kind of do whatever you want.

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  • avatar

    ron May 6, 2019, 10:16 am

    Wendy or Kate — I have a technical suggestion for when Wendy answers a letter from the forum side. Is it possible to move all of the responses to the new thread and totally kill the old thread? It would be simpler and maintain the continuity of the on-going discussion.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy May 6, 2019, 12:55 pm

      Hi, Ron: what I can do — and what I did this time — was to close the thread in the forums for more comments. That way commenters can continue the discussion here for more continuity. I can’t easily move the thread comments over here and I realize that creates less continuity for readers, so I’m sorry about that.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark May 6, 2019, 10:48 am

    Being highly creative and talented sucks. If only I was better at practical and marketable things… sigh.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse May 6, 2019, 11:04 am

    Maybe you could do graphic design for local businesses/people in your (ha ha) spare time? Or teach a class about your favorite craft at your local community college, ymca, library or something? I do think trying to start a business from the ground up with no clear direction or even type would be really hard and possibly expensive.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie May 6, 2019, 11:05 am

    I wrote a short novel in the forum which, I’ll summarize:

    1. Crafting is hard to break into, there are a lot of makers out there. You have to stand out and price your wares appropriately.
    2. Once you find your niche – that’s now what you make. You can branch out a little, but your clients want you to make versions of your best seller. Over and over and over.
    3. People will copy you – you have to determine whether to protect or support
    4. Your hobby as your job is tough. What you did for fun and curiosity is now a source of stress.

    You need to determine if you do your crafting for fun and learning or if you do it because you can’t imagine not doing it and that you are somewhat obsessed with that medium and you’re ok sticking with that as your primary craft for the foreseeable future.

    You also have to be prepared to spend at least 30-50% of your time marketing whether that’s blogging, photographing your stuff, managing a sales site, building your brand, monitoring your page stats and participating in online and IRL sales/shows/teams.

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  • avatar

    Miss MJ May 6, 2019, 11:10 am

    Honestly, LW, I’d recommend that you not start your own business. My husband and I own our own business and it’s hard. It takes a lot of work, and it consumes most of our focus and energy and time. Aside from the actual production of or doing of whatever it is your business would make or do, there’s also the marketing and/or the client development that is necessary, then the actual business administration and accounting and, if you’re selling a product (or food), then there’s compliance with taxes and possible laws and ordinances and agencies and whatnot. Even for a small business that’s run out of your home, there’s a lot of actual work that goes into owning your own business.

    That doesn’t sound like what you want. It sounds like what you want is just a job? An outside outlet that lets you earn some money, maybe one in a field that’s at least tangentially related to one of your hobbies, or maybe not. I say try that first when your kids start school and see if it fits the bill and keep your hobbies as hobbies.

    Not everyone can earn money from home and that’s okay!

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    • avatar

      dinoceros May 6, 2019, 1:45 pm

      Yep. Wanting to earn extra money at home and wanting to have a business are two very different wants.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant May 6, 2019, 11:15 am

    So, I just saw an article that was in the NY Times a few weeks ago.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/smarter-living/why-find-your-passion-is-such-terrible-advice.html

    Basically, it says that by telling people to find their passion, we set a lot of people up for failure. That mindset leads many to believe their passion should come easily to them, but like anything we’re bad at things the first time (or first few times) we try them. So a lot of people get frustrated and give up.

    Also – by telling people they should follow their passion, they set parameters around what they think they should be doing, meaning they aren’t open when a job comes along that actually is a good fit for their strengths and interests. Sometimes you know your passion and pursue it, sometimes you stumble into it.

    Which is exactly what happened to me.

    I’d tell people to pursue jobs that play to your strengths (although, again, practice makes perfect, you can always strengthen your abilities). There is nothing more dispiriting than being in a job and feeling you are failing to perform at a baseline level. Even if you’re at a job that you find boring and is maybe in an industry that’s not interesting to you, at least if you feel like you’re killing it you probably won’t hate life.

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  • avatar

    csp May 6, 2019, 11:23 am

    LW – Hobby jobs are really hard because you really need to be good at sales and marketing. While I do think you have more schedule flexibility, many times you are working more hours for less pay and you are working many many weekends at craft fairs and different events. Where a lot of stay at home moms can thrive is in freelance work or admin roles for small businesses. Many people would love a competent part time worker who wants to be part time and doesn’t want benefits.

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  • avatar

    csp May 6, 2019, 11:26 am

    Can I just add that “Follow Your Passion” is many times terrible advice. Most people don’t live and breathe one thing so that makes the rest of us feel like we are missing something. I think if you can find something that you feel good about and you are making a difference. For example, I am a recruiter. I feel good that I get to find people jobs. It makes me want to go to work.

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    • avatar

      Marie May 6, 2019, 11:36 am

      You hit on something I have found in job searching over the years: If you can drill down to the fundamental reasons a job might be fulfilling, it helps you pinpoint exactly what would be a good fit. So in this case, the woman likes being creative but that could take many forms. And perhaps she really likes interacting with people. Or maybe she’d prefer to sit at a desk and not interact with people. It’s helpful to figure that out.

      Personally, it doesn’t sound to me like she has the focus or passion to create a creative business for herself. I think she would be better off getting a part- or full-time job somewhere, and she can always explore her hobbies on the side without the financial pressure.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy May 6, 2019, 12:12 pm

      I totally agree, and I think because it is advice that has been given so aggressively in the past couple decades, more and more people are feeling the kind of anxiety they probably would not have felt otherwise because they don’t know their passion or, if they do know it, they are finding it next to impossible to monetize it in a way that supports a well-balanced lifestyle.

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  • avatar

    Peggy May 6, 2019, 11:32 am

    There is a book called “Your Natural Gifts” by Margaret E. Broadly. The L.W. may find it useful-it helps you discover your natural aptitudes in areas which will give you the most success. It could help narrow your focus and avoid wasting time on things that won’t “pay off” personally or financially.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie May 6, 2019, 12:45 pm

    I think there is this notion that “if you love what you do for a living, you won’t work a day in your life” kind of bullshit. And the people who are great successes in their chosen field, they WORK. They put in tons of hours and a lot of effort. \
    The only people who truly have it easy are those that know people who know people. “I designed these lovely earrings and then a friend of mine encouraged me to wear them to one of her dinner parties and by happenstance the buyer for Barney’s was seated next to me and suddenly I’ve got an order for 25 pieces and now I do $1M in sales with Barneys alone per year.”

    If you think you can parlay your talents – go for it, but I think you have to have a business plan – a real business plan. What your cost outlay will be, how much are you going to invest to start this up, what are you going to pursue and why?

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  • avatar

    convexed May 6, 2019, 4:11 pm

    So, I’m also a creative person, with my creativity scattered across a few different areas. I’ve sold things here and there, but I don’t run a business or make any real income from it. At best, I recoup expenses.
    Do I sometimes dream about making a full-time income doing the projects I love? Of course. But, you have to remember that running a creative/crafts business is about 5% new ideas, 40% production of things you are already tired of making, and 55% networking, pitching, setting things up on tables for people to touch for 10 minutes and then not buy, photographing your stuff professionally, inventory, SKUs, marketing, taxes, and all that ‘business-y bullshit’, as I call it. I’m very good at making things. But I’m terrible at marketing and sales. Awful. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I don’t enjoy it. I sell a few things here and there, but for the most part I give things away as gifts or donate them to charity fundraiser auctions.
    This actually works for me right now, because I get to make what I want to make, I enjoy the few serendipitous sales I make, and I have a full-time job (that is not at all creative, but I enjoy it and it pays the bills). Could I still, theoretically, succeed at selling my work? Yes, but it would actually mean I’d spend less time MAKING what I love, and MORE time on the business administration side of things. What I love is making things. And, ironically, selling said things would take away from that, because selling is a much bigger project than making, especially when you’re getting started.
    So, I guess you have to ask yourself what you love about your hobbies. If you are equally energized by the thought of running a business as you are making the projects themselves, you can consider dipping your toes into something low-stakes like Etsy and then building up from there. But if you really just like to make things and see people’s smiles when they enjoy those things, I’d keep your hobbies as hobbies, and give your products away as gifts.
    As someone mentioned above, the people who mostly succeed at richly monetizing their hobbies usually start off with pretty steep advantages. Like, they had no debt and could afford to make a big investment up front. Or, their husband earned six-figures, their father had a fully equipped workshop just sitting around not being used,, so they could just quit their day job, live on husband’s income, downsize from 4 cars to 3, and get to crafting in their ready-made workspace. For everyone else, it’s an uphill battle to break even, and you need more than crochet skills. You need internet marketing and SEO skills, photography skills, salesperson skills, connections or the ability to make connections, accounting skills, etc.
    I am truly not trying to discourage you from doing what you love. Not at all. What I am trying to do is encourage you to do what you love more, and not assume that if you love and are good at crocheting, that you will also love and be good at marketing crochet work. I would say to pick up paid work where you can with your hobby, because it’s fun and rewarding to get a commission or two, but there’s a huge leap between doing that (and the joy it brings) and launching into a full-scale crafts business (and the stress it brings).

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  • avatar

    convexed May 6, 2019, 4:23 pm

    Still, you asked how to find your calling. Aside from selling your crafts to consumers, there are a few ways to side hustle using your hobbies, to make your hobbies self-supporting, at the least.
    –Teach a low key textile arts workshop. Choose a location you don’t have to pay much, if anything for, like a friends home or a pavilion at the park in nice weather. Send out a materials list ahead of time, advertise locally on facebook or with a flyer at the library, and charge a low fee per person. You can make this a series. You’d be doing this, essentially, for yarn money, but it increases your visibility as an crafting expert in your community, it’s fun, it lets you try out teaching, and you never know when one thing can lead to another.
    –Organize a few fellow crafters to form a group to produce functional items to donate to those in need. This is not a money maker, but a way to give back to your community, meet others, and keep yourself in mind as a human in the larger world and not ‘just’ a stay-at-home mom, which can sometimes feel isolating.
    –Some school districts or community centers have after school programs that hire. You might need clearances and meet whatever other requirements, but it might be a good place to bring your skill and introduce it to a younger generation, while having a few hours of paid work (depending how it coincides with your family’s schedule).
    I don’t know if you already have education/work experience/a profession that you’ve put on hold, but if you’re just looking for work, look for creative environments to work in. Museum gift shops or docenting, coffee shops that host live music, etc.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant May 6, 2019, 5:46 pm

      I’d still say the point is, not everyone *has* to have an intense passion. Some people have a number of things that keep them contented without having one, singular laser focus.

      OP should ask where this desire to focus is coming from – is it truly coming internally from her wanting to have a singular passion, OR is it coming externally from people pressuring her to monetize one of her hobbies?

      It’s totally fine to be a person that has a bunch of interests that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Maybe her passion is not a thing, but her passion is the process of trying out something new, becoming proficient in it, and then moving on.

      As long as she’s happy, and as long she finds a job she can stand that will pay the bills, she can keep being that jack of all trades that’s always trying new things out in her down time, if that’s honestly most enjoyable for her.

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  • avatar

    Diana May 6, 2019, 8:20 pm

    I’m a full-time artist and here is what I know:
    1. It’s a lot of work
    2. It took me many years and lots of struggle to finally get to place where I could self-sustain
    3. Most artists who I know are constantly anxious about finances. Even the super successful ones.
    4. I work over 40 hrs a week for sure
    5. I had to make choice on one thing to focus on and do that thing really well
    6. I love what I do and it’s very fulfilling, but it does take a lot out of me
    7. My social life consists of hanging around other artists at conventions. Not much social life outside of that ( which is fine because I’m an introvert anyway lol)
    8. I don’t have kids so it’s only my husband and I doing it together. I know artists who have kids who are able to do but but they usually have spouses with very good stable jobs.

    You don’t have to make your hobbies into a business. Learn, have fun, master your skills. If you are really interested in turning it into a business someday, start doing your research. Take some business and marketing classes. Anything creative is lifelong pursuit that requires a ridiculous amount of commitment. But you don’t have to build it in a day.

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  • avatar

    Mimi May 7, 2019, 8:56 am

    You are a mom! Of lovely very young children! You already have an interesting and challenging job for the next few years! Your creative interests and hobbies can only enrich your children as you model for them someone with a vivid interior life and a lot of fun experiences to share with them. What a wonderful gift for them to have such a mother.
    Find out where the “shoulds” that are causing you stress come from – and if they are valid. Did your husband, mother, brother, other close person imply that you are letting (someone) down because you are not using your creative skills to earn money? What exactly is “not enough” about your current situation that you “should” be doing something different? I usually find that the shoulds bothering me are external values that don’t match what I truly believe or want.
    Like you, I am a Jill of all trades, master of none – it used to bother me a lot that I wasn’t an expert in anything, just a pretty good amateur in different areas. Now I think people like us keep the world running : )

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    • avatar

      Confuses May 10, 2019, 11:21 am

      “Like you, I am a Jill of all trades, master of none – it used to bother me a lot that I wasn’t an expert in anything, just a pretty good amateur in different areas. Now I think people like us keep the world running : )”

      That’s exactly it. I think because I’ve dabbled in so many things and have many hobbies that’s what bothered me. Which you’ve also mentioned bothered you at some stage. I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling like this. I definitely think a creative and hands on person can relate to this. Maybe it’s just a matter of time till I get over having to SPECIALISE in one thing rather than knowing ALOT of things. Which is the Point to my story.

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  • avatar

    CET May 8, 2019, 6:58 am

    What if you take classes to get a degree in Graphic Arts (and learn more skills) and then work to get a job in this? My neighbor has his own graphic arts business and is very successful at it. He works out of his home. He is going to redesign the logo of the small science company I work for this year, which is exciting! Then you should also keep up all your wonderful artistic hobbies on the side, and if you wanted you could do a booth at a local arts and crafts fair or sell on etsy…whatever brings you enjoyment! I love doing a booth once a year at an art fair where I live and I also put a few things I make into a local art store. They take a percentage, which sucks, but it gets my stuff out there year round. Good luck figuring all this out!

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