458: success?

melissa averinos

April 6, 2012


Forsythia is blooming, daffodils are up. I'm so glad  it's spring!

I think I said this before, but I am REALLY digging having weekends off again. I have been painting and gardening and going for rides with my honey.

I did list a few of those paintings from my last post on etsy---using scans, but I haven't photographed them yet and I really need to. It freaks me out. I guess it's like... painting is my true love and if I really give it all I have and it doesn't work...

Well, I guess that means I need to rethink what I want out of it and what 'success' means. Huh, success. That is such a loaded word. I need talk about  the reality of designing, or at least my reality, my experience of it.

People might look at me and think I'm 'successful' or have 'made it' because I have a book, design fabric, have been in magazines and on tv... all of that does kind of blow my mind and I do absolutely give myself credit for it, but it doesn't necessarily make a living, you know? Actually, you might not know.

I guess that's where it gets tricky. Of course I don't think 'success' has to be monetary, but it is caught up with it for sure. I think I need to redefine what I think of as 'success' for myself.

See, it's weird for me because I didn't grow up thinking that success was even an option for me. I struggled so much just to make it through the day in high school. I really can't believe I even graduated( and I STILL have stress dreams that I didn't) --- and I only did because of having the art department as a safe haven.  There was never any talk of college in my house. I was terrified of life. I didn't want to live because I knew, I knew how hard life was going to be for me for a long time--- and I was right. It was really effing hard--- depression, anxiety, just living in my head was torture, paralyzing and devoid of hope. When I look back on it, I am really surprised that I stuck it out. Glad I did.

When I was in high school, all I really thought I would do in life, if I made it after high school, was have some soul-sucking minimum wage job and do my artwork on the side to make myself happy. That's all I ever thought I COULD do. I had confidence in my work, I've always loved to paint and create, and I wasn't shy about sharing it, it's just that I never felt ambition....confidence....hope.

And from 19-26 years old, I did just have random jobs with low pay. Over time, I learned to breathe my way through my anxiety--- not to get rid of it, but to be present with each excruciating moment, to just breathe in and out and rinse and repeat until I could finally just go to sleep and have some relief from the constant fight-or-flight adrenaline and the underlying despair and sadness that I always had.

When Stuart and I got together, so many of my wounds began to heal and I started to grow in confidence. He is a smart guy and he believed in me. So I just tried to trust him and slowly started to believe more in myself. Have you seen the dedication to him in my book? It says something like " For Stuart, for believing in me until I believed im myself." That's what that is about. He changed my life.

I finally started to feel more confident and believe I could do more than just exist and make it through the day. I taught myself Adobe Illustrator for a new position at the embroidery shop where I was a machine operator. I had a skill for the first time! I made a little bit better wage! I was A DESIGNER!

After about a year of designing logos and screenprints, I realized... hey! I can do MY OWN WORK with this new skill! I started researching licensing and for the first time in my life I felt AMBITION. I felt like, "I can totally do that!" And I set out to do it. I felt like my day job was the enemy keeping me from my dream. I somehow managed to convince Stuart that I should quit my job and pursue licensing. This was 2004, I think.

Bad idea.

I always thought that I didn't like structure. I never had any growing up and thought I never wanted any. Wrongo. I was not built for freelance. I was lonely, didn't know how to keep myself on task, not to mention that cold calling manufacturers and being rejected constantly is really hard! I floundered. I had some interest from some companies and a couple of minor successes, but nothing that could even pay half of a bill. Literally. Our household was suffering without me making any money and eventually I (grudgingly!) started working part time again at this random job, then full time at that random job.

I did keep working on designs, and would get motivated from time to time and pursue some companies. I would get rejected, get depressed and give up for a few more months.

In 2007, I got the fabric gig and in 2008 we opened Yummy Goods. (And that is its own whole story! ) As you know, we closed Yummy Goods this winter and now I am back to my old position as the artist at the embroidery shop.

At this point I no longer look at the day job as the enemy. Instead of thinking of it as the thing that KEEPS me from doing the things I love, I think of it as the thing that ALLOWS me to do the things I love.

Here is some truth, for me at least: Sometimes when you try to turn your passion into your work? Sometimes it stops being your passion. So much pressure gets put on it to make money that what used to bring joy becomes a stressful thing. Read that again. Yes, there are exceptions. But I don't think enough of us talk about our own reality to temper the addictive and magical dream of 'making a living doing what we love'.

The internet and all the crafty blogs have perpetuated a really sparkly inspiring narrative about following your bliss. Which is lovely. I needed that pure naive faith to start all of this. In reality, in my experience, it mostly does not pay. For some, of course, it does. The superstars, the celebrities, the ones who were there first, the odd standout. Of course. And that maybe you someday and that may be me someday. Of course, have hope. But maybe also see if you can squint a little and see behind the curtain and see that it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's not all sparkly and pretty and success and shoes from "Anthro."

I'm not here to be a dreamcrusher! Do the work that you love, absolutely! But  If I could go back to my 2004 self, I would say, "Sweetie, you have a pretty good gig here. You are good at what you do. You are actually making a respectable living doing design work. Go for your dreams, of course, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD KEEP YOUR DAY JOB!"

Of course, I wouldn't have taken my own advice. I was stubborn, I was determined, I was sure I could make it work somehow. What I didn't realize is that EVEN IF I HAD, licensing is a very slow way to make a dime. Also, it is not a dime, it is a nickel at best.Again, yes, people do it and some people do make a decent (or better) living at it and I am still trying to and hoping to (I think??) but it is not like you get a fabric line and a book deal and you know make a yearly income that allows you to quit your day job. Nope, not even close.

Why am I compelled to write about this? What do I have to gain from it? Nothing, really. I guess I just want to unburden myself. I wish people were more open about this stuff. I know. it's hard.  I mean, we all want to look good, we all want to come across as successful and maybe if that magazine that we hope features us, or that potential licesing partner reads what we've written, maybe we won't look so hot....

well.... i mean, eff that.  I'm probably in a better position to write so openly about it because from the beginning I have always been forthcoming about my hard times. I kind of think of my honesty as part of my 'brand' , rather than conflicting with it. But even for me, it's still hard to write a post like this because ...I don't know, I guess I don't want to come across as bitter or discouraging or self pitying--- because it's not like that (though i certainly do have my moments!) 

It's more like I want to let you know we are all in this together. Do you ever get jealous reading about that person's new licensing gig, or that person won that award, or this person is featured on that prestigious whatever ??? ME TOO!  Even if we look like we have all that stuff going on ourselves, and even if, like me, we do give ourselves credit and appreciate how far we've come, we still suffer from jealousy, envy, rejection, struggling to pay the bills, wondering what the EFF we are doing with our lives.

At least, I hope it's not just me.

xo, nervously,



i still have so much more i want to say about this! i will probably touch more on this soon.

***edited the next day to add this little poster. feel free to print it out as a reminder!

I hope my hard-won perspective helps a few folks take some of the pressure off!



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