Here's The Truth: I've Never Felt That I'm "Enough"
All the truth bombs coming atcha.
Oh hey! If you’re new to the blog, I’m a little sorry because this one’s a doozy. Like, A REAL DOOZY. But it felt like something I wanted to talk about so here we are. (Also, what a terrible intro! Are you even still reading??? It’s really not THAT bad!)
Who doesn’t love K Wiig??
I’m not ranting. I’m not complaining. This isn’t a “woe is me” blog post. And I won’t ask you in my best Kristen Wiig voice to “help me, I’m poor” at the end. Promise. This isn’t some weird attempt at a sales pitch. Just some honest talk about what it feels like to be a small business owner (of a handmade business no less) in a crazy time when social media reigns and the term “entrepreneur” seems as prevalent as Starbucks.
Two words: Impostor Syndrome.
So. You know that term “Impostor Syndrome” (well, actually it’s technically Impostor Phenomenon but I won’t be a Type A d-bag…)? Anyway, if not it’s basically when you’re constantly doubting everything about yourself and your accomplishments and feel like you’re stuck in an eternal spiral of “fake it ‘til you make it” all the while totally never expecting that “make it” part to ever EVER actually happen. Basically, in your mind you are and will forever be a giant fraud.
“I bet you think this song is about you…”
Well, sometimes there are words or terms that just feel like they were made about you. Like if you looked up Impostor Syndrome in the dictionary there would just be a gigantic picture of you in there right alongside the definition with words “SEE EXAMPLE” in big bold letters. I’ve long felt that way about “jack of all trades, master of none” and similarly, about Impostor Syndrome.
*(Best Noah Centineo voice)* “Woah, woah, woah. Hold on, hold on, hold on.”
Should I back up a bit? I think I will.
When I technically started Stitch & Shutter it was 2012 and I had somewhat recently moved to Colorado after graduating from college with my BFA and I worked a crappy job that left me hungry for a creative role. I had spent four years of undergrad constantly creating art and working with my hands and now I found myself sitting at a desk all day making cold calls, typing up quotes, and answering phones. I was often working on little personal projects and DIYs on the weekends but I needed a lot more than that. So, like every person ever at the time, I hopped on Etsy and opened up a shop. The brand name came about while I was trying to come up with something that would probably fit whatever it was I was going to be selling. My background was in fiber art and photography, hence Stitch & Shutter. I figured it would be something to do with one or both of those two things. And the brand as you know it…it was not.
"A long time ago…”
I wasn’t making leather goods yet, rather, I was making….you guessed it! Star Wars inspired clothing and accessories. (Wait, that’s not what you guessed? Shocking!) I would literally take a blank white hooded sweatshirt and sew on blue and black and red and white hand cut patches and turn that whole damn thing into R2D2 (I’m talking machine and hand stitched details on the sleeves, the hood, the pocket, the front and the back. All. Over.). Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Yoda soon followed along with some kid and baby versions plus a few other tees and accessories. Most styles probably took around 10 hours to complete and I charged…well, not nearly enough. But isn’t that usually the plight of the small business owner in a world where we’re forced to try to compete with Amazon?
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe?
It wasn’t long until I transitioned to leather goods and my Star Wars apparel days were over. I learned a little about leather craft in 2014 and started out with some small accessories before I had even realized what burnishing was. I eventually added more items, taught myself a WHOLE lot more, got rid of my old stuff entirely and launched my own website.
Introducing “fraudy feelings.”
Needless to say, I felt like I was faking it. I felt like a fraud. It was just a little hobby but I desperately wanted it to be more. I had quit my crappy job with no new position lined up in the hopes of trying it on my own for a few months (this was before the leather work started so I have no idea what I thought I was gonna do). But, because I felt like a massive fraud (and I mean, also because I pretty much didn’t have a plan I ended up panicking and applying for the first job I found on Craigslist that sounded legit) I went in for an interview with an “I’ll just see how this goes” and “I don’t have anything riding on this” mindset and came out with a new job a few days later.
Turns out that job was the best possible thing at the time and I know that I was totally unprepared to successfully run my own business full time at that point. I ended up staying there for several years and learning so many things about a successful, long-standing small business that I respected.
Ok, NOW we’re getting somewhere. Maybe? (This seems familiar)
I left right around the timeline I had given my boss when he first interviewed me. I remember saying, “I plan to run my own business full time in 2-3 years.” So I guess that felt like a win? But also, I still felt like a fraud. I was making a little money doing my own thing and I didn’t just dive into full-time. I slowly scaled back my hours at my job (I was lucky to have a flexible position where I could do that) and made sure that my numbers were on track to the number I thought would be reasonable for year one of “all in”…which if you’re wondering (and I really don’t talk numbers because it’s always felt super gross) was a low number of like, $20k I think. So maybe that’s piece one (and the biggest component) of “I’M A FRAUD!!!!”
Oh. My. Gourd. Money talk?!?!?
Okay, so let’s look at that number and break a few things down as to why that massively sucked and brings about some really negative feelings about myself and my value and what I’m (not) contributing.
$20,000 a year. In 2016. In Denver, CO. Honestly, not really too shabby in my mind (if that’s your actual, personal income) because I was fortunate for several reasons. A) I don’t need a lot. I wasn’t raised with excess, I know how to do things on the cheap and not feel like I’m totally restricting myself. B) Here’s a huge one: I didn’t have any loans to pay off. I went to a school that I really didn’t want to go to (turned out to be a great experience) because I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else and taking out $80k in student loans made me want to curl up in the fetal position and suck air from a paper bag. Daily. I also didn’t have a car payment because I had worked three jobs at once basically all through college and bought my used car with actual money that existed in my account. Again, I realize how fortunate that was. I also worked hard for scholarships that I was really lucky to get and had parents that had saved since I was born to help towards college tuition. Words to associate: privilege.
So. My half of rent in the apartment I shared with my boyfriend* (*notes on that to come) at the time was $875 (even though I was taking over the entire second bedroom in our apartment) and we had basically gone from paying under $1100/month or so for 650sqft to paying $1750/month for 1400sqft BECAUSE I needed more space to work. I mean, and because we wanted to get a dog…
So $875 is rent, that leaves $791 monthly for other expenses which for me included my half of utilities, groceries, my car insurance, gas, and whatever else I’m missing. Then there was actually a little for savings. And if your girl knows how to do anything in her life it’s work hard and save. Well, that was before I started running this thing full time. Because now I just work hard. Savings? Uh…..
And, real, real quick. This side note that I mentioned earlier: My boyfriend at the time, now husband, is essentially a saint if you haven’t already surmised. We wanted to get a bigger place for a few reasons but a big one really was that I needed some studio space and he just rolled with it. Like it was equally his burden to carry. Also, another side note: Living in a pricey city not on your own but with a significant other and splitting things 50/50 (and eventually like, not) is a MASSIVE BLESSING which also makes me feel like a fraud because I am so 100% not doing this on my own. Every time someone acts impressed by “what I’ve built and accomplished” I feel like they’re bullshitting me first of all, and when they’re like “no, no, for real” I immediately feel guilty as if I’ve put on this air that I did this on my own with no help, like being financially supported, from anyone. My husband has always responded to those concerns and fears of mine with “I look at this as an investment.” Yeah.
But $20k in reality: In a small business, there’s a simple rule of thumb that you should aim to make 3x what you need to survive because that money is going so many other places. So if you need say, $1500/month to live you really need to be making around $4500/month in your business which is $54k a year. That number is just a loose little figure based on the idea that about 1/3 of what your business brings in needs to go back into expenses, 1/3 goes to paying taxes and 1/3 goes to actually paying yourself. But I wasn’t even paying myself. So I ended up making less than my goal from my business in 2016 and hit $17k. I quit my job in June of that year so I at least had been saving my butt off up to that point but then I didn’t pay myself. At all. For a LONG TIME. I used savings toward paying my half of expenses and covering my own personal expenses and eventually ran out of money from my old job and savings and started paying myself just enough monthly to cover my small personal expenses. Not my fair share of everything. Just the “me” things like gas and car insurance and small credit card bills. Not even remotely close to a living wage (like, maybe in 1950??).
“You suck. You suck. You suck.”
So there you go. FRAUD. I ran through savings, wasn’t paying myself and therefore wasn’t contributing financially at home and paying my fair share of things. That does not equal success in my mind.
I know that small businesses take time and you need to give it several years generally but that knowledge doesn’t stop me from feeling like the worst person and biggest failure of all time. I can’t even begin to explain the guilt and the all around ICKI-NESS of it all.
Dreams demand hustle.
So I hustle and I hustle hard. I have a side-hustle for what used to be my side-hustle. And all the while hating the word “hustle”.
What this business brings in has increased every year since and that alone makes me (for the most part) feel like it’s not time to call it quits but I still “pay myself” the same way- just enough for my personal expenses- and have never REALLY taken an income from this thing. I’m proud of what I’m building, I don’t want it to seem otherwise, but I question everything daily and feel guilt daily and worry DAILY that I’m stuck in this one place and that I’ll never actually reach my idea of success.
Here’s the thing, though.
Something I’ve learned from listening to hundreds and hundreds of podcasts while working in the studio (some favorites listed at the bottom)- Those feelings of guilt and worry and sucking forever? That is so damn normal you wouldn’t even believe it. Being a small business owner just starting something new, working often as the sole person in your business every hour of every day AT HOME can be one of the most lonely experiences. So often if feels like all of these things you’re going through are on you and you alone, like no one else has been there. Especially in the world of social media where everything for everyone else seems so perfect and so flawlessly easy. I would love to say that I don’t take part in the comparison game but my experience with Instagram would say anything but. I have like, ZERO engagement which makes me constantly go over to other makers and small business owners’ feeds and say “WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING WRONG??? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE CAREEEEEEEEE???”
Please wrap this up.
I guess that’s the summary on this one? It’s been almost a full three years of full-time and I’m still working on literally everything. I’m still trying to get past my issues with money and my idea of what success is and I still find myself comparing my progress to those around me. I’m determined to pay myself FOR REAL this year and I wanted to just be honest about all of this because I’m sitting here in my sweats with unwashed hair and a makeup-less face like usual (and sweating, like, excessively plus my tongue really hurts because I apparently couldn’t wait for the crispy tofu from last night to cool down and ate a piece STRAIGHT from the oven) and I’m probably gonna hop on Instagram and talk about this post in a live video looking like the hot mess that I am because I’m so not about to shower and do myself up just for that. Like, sorry, this is what you get today kids. Also, I know I write blogs containing massive run-on sentences. This is what I sound like, especially when I talk about topics like this so I hope you can picture a fast-talking Gilmore girl when you read along.
Those podcasts I promised:
How I Built This (is there a person alive who isn’t familiar???)
*Thumbnail art by Elena Skoreyko Wagner (elenastreehouse.com)