In this article I would share with you my journey- why I gave up my teenage dream to be a crafter and instead channel that creative energy in my corporate job. The job not only pays a reasonably well salary but enabled me to help many others.
One of my ambitions was to make a full time living from starting a craft business. I had this ambition since I was 19 years old after discovering (by chance) that I have some shriek of creativity in me. Prior to that, I never thought I was creative because I was so bad at art classes.
This realization came by chance when I was facing the tremendous pressure to study for my pre university exam papers, known in my country as STPM. It is one of the hardest exams to pass. During my time, the only way to do a full degree locally was to get into a local university. For private colleges, all degree papers require twinning program with overseas universities and my parents do not have the money. However few years after I graduated, private colleges were finally allowed to offer local full degree…. if only I was born 5 years later, then I need to suffer so much in my studies.
Anyway, while facing the stress of exams, I saw my best friend’s mom beaded hairclip collections. I was so mesmerized by those clips that I borrowed from my friend, went and bought metal barrettes and learned to make my own beaded hairclips. I would then model my hairclips in my own long hair and gave a few to my best friend after I return the clips from her. I also started making beaded necklaces that my mom can wear while attending dinners and functions. My mom, who then had shoulder length hair also used wore my hairclips to work. I made the clips to suit her uniform colours.
Learning and creating these clips brought the much needed respite and allow me to just momentarily forget about the stress that I was feeling. I’ve always planned to be an entreprenur but now my intention is to sell crafts, mainly necklaces, bracelets and hairclips. A classmate of mine aspired to be a fashion designer so we discussed about our dreams of setting up our own little boutique- she would design the clothes and I would make accessories for them.
But then, things do not turn out as planned. I was accepted into a local university but it was at another state. The friend of mine, through using wrong method of studying (she studied hard and try to stay awake through drinking strong doses of Lipton tea) ended up failing some of the papers. She then started to avoid us and because I was posted to another state, I also lost touch with her.
I studied, graduated and found a good job in one of the top corporation in my field doing customer service which is something I love to do. During that time, the company was very selective at the customer service staff they wanted to hire that they only accept degree holders (from overseas) and there are stringent screening process. But somehow because I impressed them during the phone interview, they decided to give me a chance.
About few years of working in customer service, I felt almost burn out. Often I wanted to help customers but my hands were tied by ‘corporate policies’ and ‘terms and conditions’. I felt quite powerless and use the extra time to re-explore my dream of becoming a crafter.
I spend hours and hours of my time out of work to make my craft and learn to improvise on my products. I came out with a lot of products but did not know how to market them (online platforms were just at its infancy then). Family members and my best friend told me that it can only stay a hobby and I could not make a full time living out of them.
When I got my first computer with my salary, I discovered a whole new world of craft forums and websites. I was always lurking in the Arts and Craft discussion forums from About.com which was extremely active and popular place for crafters to gather. I was following their discussions and going through countless of threads. I wanted to get some ideas on how to sell and market my products.
Crafters are creative people and they channel the energy to build beautiful sites to showcase their own products. This motivated me to build my own site as well. Because of my interest, I put in the time and effort to learn. I remember when my first site was published, I was so elated and happy.
It was then I discovered an emerging trend that became a recurring theme in the forum- cheap mass produced Made in China crafts that were flooding the American markets- craft malls, craft fairs and shopping complexes. These items come at a much cheaper price because the materials and workforce wage was way lower in China. At the same time, these items are also flooding the markets of my country and traditional crafters also find it hard to survive.
As I wanted to sell my products, I need to calculate the selling price after taking into account labor and materials cost as well as profit. I spent about 2 hours to make a hairclip and realized that I need to charge more than 10 dollars and to be able to sell a decent amount of volume in order to make an income full time. And I needed to keep in mind that not all the type spent in the craft would sell.
Whereas the mass produced hairclips were selling 3 for 10 dollars! There is no way I am able to compete with the pricing. My corporate job pays so much better and what’s more, I get free dental, optical, paid medical leave, insurance coverage and medical benefits. When the full realization hit me, I knew I had no choice but to let go of my dream. I could not quit my job to pursue my dreams.
I asked myself what is my motivation to make a living as a crafter. And I realized that I wanted to give something from my heart to others using my abilities. By that time, I was already developing more and more interest in websites- because I saw the power of web presence and how it can reach countless of people. I begin to actively writing content for my blogs.
Whereas if I were to make my craft, I can only sell for a low margin. And it can perhaps make a difference to one person. Perhaps it may not even be appreciated and cast aside later. But with a website or a blog, it is very different – this was around the early 2000s when internet was just starting to gain momentum. It is a wonderful feeling when you find that the site you design yourself goes live to the world (that time WordPress still did not exist so we usually have to make our own sites) and that you have people all over the world commenting and appreciating what you got to say.
I learned to channel that creative energy, that motivation towards building and improving my sites (I started with one site but eventually created more). I mentioned earlier that I was a little burnt out from my job. Due my passion in building sites, I was able to convince my boss to transfer me to their online service team whereby I did troubleshooting and email reply related to our corporate website.
Eventually my wonderful boss created a very unique position for me- she got me to manage the company’s intranet portal when it migrated to a new system. There was no content in a lot of the processes so I need to write a lot of the content myself. And I needed to contact many other departments to obtain the information. In the process, I learned a lot and got to know many colleagues.
When I felt my hands were tied when I was a mere customer service agent, in my new position I was able to negotiate a lot of transparency in the promotions and processes as well as able to balance the company’s bottomline. Why creativity helped me to improve the portal (it is a dinosaur structure with lots of limitations) and make it user friendly. It also helped me to work out solutions to issues and able to figure out how to draft communication to my staff.
Instead of just helping just 80 customers a day on my own, I help the few hundred workforce who are dependant on my information portal to in turn help their customers. Essentially I was scaling up what I could do. I felt I made a difference and I was essentially using my talents to benefit others but in another way.
Final words for those who feel that it robs your soul to work in corporate:
Working in corporate life is not that bad. Initially I used to feel resentful at certain policies that sometimes management choose to implement. But over the years, I learnt to make peace and not to feel too judgmental. Some battles I cannot win because public listed companies need to deliver increasing profits to their shareholders every year. This is a fact of life.
But I learned to manage what I can control. I negotiate and fought for recovery processes- that there have to be processes to handle complaints from customers.
Each day, I told myself that my role helped people who are here to make a living. Instead of finding fault with management, think of the difference your role is making. I earned the respect of my staff. They know I am honest and transparent to them and can accept even if I had to break some bad news to them.
But in 2017, I made the decision to resign from my corporate job to be a full time caregiver for my mom. I felt there was no point I help hundreds of people but neglect my mom whom I love dearly.
By then my blogs have been a little dormant for a few years due to the high demands of my job that left me no more energy to blog after work or weekends. Now I channel my creative energy back to my blogs.