I grew up as a practical realist in a non-denominational, go to church every-so-often family. My parents are professional classical musicians, and struggled to support a family of five. They taught me and my two brothers to pursue our dreams but “have a backup plan, just in case.”
My dream was to become a theatrical director, and so I moved to New York City in 1992 to do that. I soon discovered how few-and-far-between directing jobs were (even fewer opportunities than for actors), so I found myself working in the management side of performing arts to earn a living. I worked as a customer service representative in a box office, did grant writing and fundraising, managed operations and other general management, and I eventually worked my way up to Executive Director. For the most part, I loved my “found by happenstance” career. I worked with a lot of talented and inspirational actors, designers, and directors. But after twenty years of working long, intense production schedules, and the stress of trying to keep an arts organization afloat in financially challenging times, I felt it was time for a change.
While still working in theater, I was inspired to pick up knitting again. A lot of theater people knit—it’s a great way to relax backstage between shows, or while waiting for the next lighting cue to be worked out. One of my projects was the Icarus Shawl by Miriam Felton (named after the Greek myth about a mortal who constructs wings to fly), and whose feathery design was the perfect accessory to wear to the opening night party of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
During the same production, I made knit outfits for Alan Cummings' two dogs, a male Chihuahua and a female Golden Retriever. The sweaters turned into evening-wear: a sparkly tuxedo, and a knit gold lame dress!
When a colleague who worked at the Fashion Institute of Technology heard of my interest in knitting dog sweaters, she told me about their certificate in Pet Product Design and Marketing (yup, that's really a program!). I completed the program and launched my line of hand knit dog sweaters in 2010. TurtlebacksTM were inspired by nature, and hand knit by women’s collectives around the world.
At the same time, I continued to work part-time at a dance company and as an intern at a pet apparel company. Yes, I was a 40-something-year-old intern!
The internship eventually led to a full-time job at the pet company. There I met and worked with a designer who has since become a very close friend. Downsizing eliminated my position, but the friendship remains.
While collecting unemployment benefits, I walked dogs, designed hand-knitting patterns, and became certified by the Craft Yarn Council to teach knitting at Michaels craft stores. I quickly remembered how much I love to teach. I have been teaching since I was twelve, when I taught beginning piano students in my mother’s studio. But now I realized why I hadn’t pursued teaching sooner—in the past, I had always taught children. And while I like teaching kids, I really LOVE teaching adults!
But for that year, I was constantly worried about money and spent most of my efforts pursuing any kind of work I could get. When my unemployment insurance was about to run out, I accepted a full-time job working for one of my friends at her accounting firm. I drew on my past experience managing finances in performing arts and did that for clients of the firm. I was grateful for the job, and grateful for the income it provided.
For those two years, I didn’t have to worry about money. But I grew increasingly disheartened working at a job where I wasn’t passionate, or even interested, in what I was doing. I WAS passionate about teaching, and so did that on the weekends, even though it meant I didn’t have a day off most weeks. During this time, I also realized that I didn’t want to be a manufacturer of dog sweaters, so I closed TurtlebacksTM.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, I came across a help-wanted ad on Ravelry for a job at a yarn company. I interviewed for the company and they hired me on the spot! It was only part-time, but there were other potential opportunities there as well. And with finally having a financial cushion, I felt comfortable taking the plunge. I quit my “day job” this past July.
That particular job at the yarn company wasn’t a good fit, and so it ended in September. However, it did lead to some work developing an educational program for them (a MUCH better fit for my skills), and I went from teaching 2 classes/week to an average of 6 classes/week. And I keep getting new opportunities—I am now teaching a sold-out class at my local public library with another one already planned for March. A new Michaels store is opening nearby, and I will now be teaching there as well. I am planning my own workshops and technique classes, organizing adventure fiber tours, and have a bunch of video tutorials and online classes planned for the future. I am now doing EXACTLY what I am passionate about.
Do you remember that friend I made at the pet apparel company? She’s also now my Life Coach (there are no coincidences in life). Zina (www.zinacanton.com) is an amazing, intuitive, compassionate person who helped me understand that by quieting my fears, taking risks, being open to making mistakes and changing directions, I CAN do what I love. If I tell the universe I love to teach, then I will get (and HAVE gotten) more opportunities to teach.
I am living my dream. "Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”
I have lately been obsessed with all of the “tiny house” shows on TV. I have a crazy vision of building a tiny house/teaching studio and driving around the country teaching knitting and crochet to anyone who wants to learn. Hello, universe, are you listening?
Do you have a story about doing what you love or living your dream? Please share in the comments!