A room of one's own

A woman must have money and a room of her own." - Virginia Woolf

Things are getting real over here in the world of Wander.

Logo? Almost there. Website & online shop? Under construction. Stacks of vintage furniture and assorted objects I secretly want to hoard to myself but will somehow find a way to part with? Check, check & double check.

Truth be told, most days this path to small business seems more like a never-ending treadmill than a neat and tidy to-do list. For every item I cross out, it feels like a dozen more crop up in its place. The branding I can handle – even enjoy. The bookkeeping? I'd hire that out in a heartbeart. You know, assuming I had any money to hire someone with.

Still, it's pretty incredible the amount of progress you can make when you actually sit down and do the work. Nothing like a little deadline to make things happen.

Another project I was actually looking forward to: creating a space of my own to do all of it in. I started out looking at studio space. I mean, how much could a cute little walkup with exposed brick in a decent neighborhood really run?

Lots. As in, piles of money. Like, who's renting these 500 sq. ft. studios for $800/month? Haven't they ever heard of student loans? And how do I get their financial situations?

Short of robbing Gringotts in the near future, external space was out of the question.

(Side note for a quick poll: We re-watched No. 3 of the Harry Potter series this past weekend and thanks to a little media coverage sparked by J.K. Rowling herself, the most pressing topic up for debate was which HP character would make the best boyfriend. Or in this case, the cutest. 'Cause really, short of Neville they all had their personality pitfalls – and even he spent his formative years crying in the dorms and hiding from Malfoy's goons. The decision? Somewhere between Victor Krum, books 6-7 Mr. Longbottom and whoever the heck played the dreamy Gryffindor quidditch captain Harry's first season. Thoughts?)

Anyway. Back to the space issue. My perfect artist's loft/studio was out. Our attic, previously a contender, had since been repurposed as a project holding bay. And our basement looks about as appealing as you'd expect a 100+year-old house's basement to look.

Which basically left the front bedroom formerly known as our master bedroom slash office slash a dozen other uses I'd put it to since moving in a little over 2 1/2 years ago. So with the boy off at man camp 2015 for the weekend and no one to interfere or protest, I moved all of our bedroom furniture out of the front bedroom, pulled in office furniture from the back bedroom and got to work creating a home office, photography studio (okay, wall) and prop closet all in one.

The result? A decent-sized space that houses all of my Wander business development tools and a standard wall turned photography space pulled together with a fresh coat (more like 3) of white paint, a sliding backdrop rail and vintage kitchen cart repurposed as a portable prop closet.

It's no dream studio (I still haven't figured out a way to magic in a little exposed brick) but for a weekend's worth of work, a quick trip to IKEA, a new paint job and a little furniture shifting, it'll do. And the best part? It's done. Which, as I'm coming to learn, is half the battle. Done meets best intentions any day.

I'm looking forward to snapping a few test photos and playing around with the photography wall (more on how I pulled that together in a later post), but for now I'm just grateful to have a space of my own that's a.) free, and b.) involves a 10-second commute from any room in the house. Bonus: my home office dress code is an assortment of pjs, yoga pants and whatever I throw on before or after work.

It's amazing how having – or better yet, creating – a space of your own can have such an instant and dramatic effect on how you feel about your work. It's also incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by (and seated at) the product you're working so hard to put out there. It's almost as if the physical space legitimizes all the behind-the-scenes mental and emotional work – the work that's so hard to quantify and yet so important to creating good work of any kind.

So place another check mark next to "a room of my own." Now, as Ms. Woolf would say, time to make a little money

On redefining success

Can we talk about success for a minute?

Here’s what success looks like to me: a good job at a good company, a good home that I mortgaged with my good job, a good partner to raise good kids with and a mountain of good things to surround us at all times. Every day, better. Every purchase, bigger. Every year, more.

Or at least, that’s what I was told success looks like. Because really, we are told and we are trained – told to want more, have more; trained to do more and be more.

We go to school to learn skills that will support us in the so-called real world – you know, that one we’re all student loan debt deep in right now. Skills that will allow us to achieve, to succeed, to be productive citizens of society.

We learn the whos and the whats and the when to apply them and the how to apply them. We do it all under this pretense of buiding a future – a future where we can acheive, where we can succeed, where we can be productive citizens of society.

But no one ever really tells us the why. I don’t recall any Q&A. No philosophical why that over this, no deeper defining of what life after might be actually be like.

No one ever asked me what success meant to me, whether any of this mattered to me, or what’s more, whether any of it would ever make me happy.

Just focus on the now, focus on the next. Climb the ladder, shatter the ceiling, build and take, borrow and make do. Do it all, be it all, have it all – you know, you really can, if only you’d try a little harder.

But I’m here to say, I have tried. I have climbed. I got the job. I got the house. I got the spouse (rhyme points). Took a personal pass on the kids, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

And you know what? With the exception of the spouse, none of it makes me very happy.

Don’t get me wrong, I value my job. I take pride in the work I do there. I love my house – every last crooked doorway and cobweb-strewn corner of it. And I love my spouse, even if he’s spent the better part of the last few weeks playing the same three chords of “Here Comes the Sun” over and over until I want to smother him with a couch cushion (love you).

But truly, lastingly, deeply and unequivocally happy? Not the house. Not the things we’ve filled it with. And definitely not the jobs we now need to financially support it.

Now let’s talk happiness. What makes you happy?

Me, it’s the tired old cliches. The slow, unhurried pace of Sunday mornings. Quiet cabin car rides with the boy, no conversation necessary – and the spirited debates over the latest bro drama passed off as entertainment by the KFAN morning crew. The post-work greetings from our canine kiddos. Reading. Learning. Being curious. Those rare days that stretch long and easy with nowhere to be and little to do.

Not Mondays. Not meetings. You’ll notice no mention of performance reviews, annual dividends or stock options. Not even my 401k.

When was the last time your personal happiness significantly (and sustainably) grew as a result of your work? Your home? Your designer clothing, your stainless steel appliances or your new car?

No? Me either.

So why do we spend our formative years training for a workforce that at its best, financially supports us, and at its worst, leaves us feeling detached, uninspired and physically (and emotionally) spent?

And what’s more, why do we spend so little time talking about and building a life that makes us happy vs. one that makes us the envy of our coworkers, family or neighbors?

When I started this path to small-business ownership just a few weeks ago, I tried to define what success looked like. Here’s what I came up with.

Am I having fun?
Am I proud of what I’ve created?
Am I growing and stretching as a person?
Am I given the opportunity to be creative, each and every day?
Am I confident in the quality of the product and the presentation?
Would I be proud to own what I sell?
Do I really and truly enjoy it, even down to the dullest of moments?
Am I treating my peers, customers and fellow small business owners the way I would want to be treated in each and every interaction?

In sum? All of the things my current job wasn’t. It’s funny, with all of the metrics we’ve built to measure the minutia of daily work and personal life, we’ve failed to measure the one that truly matters.

No one says we have to be happy all of the time. But who says we shouldn’t strive for at least some or most of the time? Imagine what the world might look like if we all spent as much time working toward happiness as we do trying to achieve the modern-day definition of success.

I don’t have it all figured out. In fact, I don’t have much of it figured out. I mostly have a pretty basic idea of what I don’t want and a whole lot more wishes for what I do.

I wish we talked about it more. I wish we felt safe saying, hey – this whole success thing? I’m starting to think maybe that just isn’t for me. Do you maybe feel that way, too?

I wish that for every ten articles I read on how to launch a successful startup, I could find one outlining real and sincere ideas for building a successful life.

So me, I’m still defining what success looks like, both for Wander as a business and for my work/life/whatever comes next. Except now, I measure in moments and feelings like pride, kinship, growth, and most importantly, happiness.

What does your version of success look like?

On finding your voice

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you." - Anne Lamott

I was in the middle of the lake when it happened: silence, a moment of panic followed by a not-so-brief struggle, followed by silence.

I don’t know the exact moment my mind registered the stillness. All week I’d asked it to be on high alert, vigilant against incoming queries, battling stray thoughts and alternately straining and thriving under the pressure to do more, go faster, push further.

The physical signs were the first to show – the slight raise of the shoulders, the subtle yet persistent headache, the struggle to fall asleep followed by the reluctance to wake, still tired and anything but refreshed.

And yet, I felt the tension begin to drain from my body as the pavement gave way to gravel road, then melt the moment the car door slammed and my eyes registered the endless expanse of lush green forest and tranquil blue waters laid out before me.

But my mind was more reluctant, still thumbing through the emails I’d sent, the out of office replies I’d hurriedly dashed off, the work yet to be done the following week.

It wasn’t until later, after I’d paddled out into the middle of the bay and found the minutes stretching further and further between slight tugs on the fishing line, that my mind registered the stillness and the panic set in.

The strangeness of it wouldn’t shake, the silence stretched far and wide and utterly unfamiliar. I groped blindly for something, anything to focus on, but nothing would take.

Defenseless and confused, I settled into my newfound state. Dipping just a toe into the stillness at first, then growing braver and putting out a hand to test the boundaries this new state of complete and total nothingness had to offer.

Just as I began to adjust to the stillness, the world erupted in movement and sound. First, the lazy hum of a dragonfly in flight. Then the mirror-lake surface of the surrounding lake was broken by the meandering wake of a mama mallard and her half-grown brood. A lone bark sounded from the direction of the cabin, crashed into a grove of balsams on the far bank and bounced back in a chorus of echoes.

It would take a few more moments of adjustment before my mind was ready to make its way back into the fray. Gone were the worries of words said or left unsaid, the retracing of steps and the fortunetelling into what might still be.

Instead, new thoughts rose unbidden to the surface. Ideas, born of curiosity the natural world had inspired. Questions bubbled up, no longer afraid to be voiced. Curiosity, reawakened.

And just like that, I was in recovery. It's amazing how quickly we rediscover our voices when we find a little peace and quiet and silence the world around us. And yet, it's so important that we do just that – and not only when we've reached the end of our patience or when we stumble unwittingly into it.

Starting this journey to small business ownership, it's so easy to lose sight of the now and get wrapped up in the next – what needs doing, what could be done, what wasn't part of the plan but now feels like an absolute must-have. It's so much easier to push, to shove, to climb to the top as fast as we possibly can.

Slow and steady may not win any races, but it's necessary all the same – if only to maintain a sense of sanity (which, if we're being honest, can feel more like a want than a need to have these days). But it's absolutely vital to cultivating and maintaining that inner voice that led us down this road in the first place. Because without it, we're really just another means of emotionless, characterless goods-for-money exchange – and lord knows the world has more than its share of that.

To slowing down, restarting and rediscovery.