Welcome to my blog. My name is Lydia "PrairieGhost" Jacobs and I am a professional artist. Sure, you won't find my work hanging in any galleries, and I'm not featured at any museums. Rich folk don't get into bidding wars over one of my creations, and I'm practically unheard of even in my podunk little Kansas town. Truth be told, I'm a mediocre artist at best, but I love what I do, and I do what I love. By some miracle of chance or good fortune, I have found a way to make a living doing what I love to do, and despite being mired in one of the worst economic crises to face our society in recent history, I have been able to leave my "day job" behind in favor of a more uncertain--but certainly more fun--career.
Originally, I had the idea to carry on a blog while I was in the process of establishing myself, chronicling my progress and my woes as I faced the day-to-day rigors of working for a steady employer AND establishing my own online store. The problem with that, of course, is that if you're already working a full-time job AND trying to build up an online store, you're not left with a lot of time or creative energy for blogging. I kept putting it off and putting it off, until finally it was a moot point... My first blog entry comes nearly a month after my last day as an employee and my first day as my own boss. Ah, well... such is life!
So what possessed me to leave the security of a steady paycheck behind in favor of the chaotic world of self-employment? The middle of the worst recession in our history would seem like a crazy time to cut out on your own, and as many people pointed out, I was fortunate to have a job in the first place, but that was exactly the problem. We have become so focused on security and safe bets that we have forgotten that such a thing doesn't exist. We can believe with all of our hearts and minds that the company we work for would never fire us, would never go under, would never leave us high and dry, but that would be foolishness. Many of my coworkers told me I was crazy for wanting to leave Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart wasn't going anywhere, they said, and you'd have to REALLY screw up to be fired, but in the time I worked there, I saw coworkers demoted after being hurt on the job, one coworker fired after getting into a car accident on the way to work (They marked it as a no-call-no-show), and watched as several of my older, veteran coworkers were run through the wringer in an apparent effort to force them to quit. Since the recession began, I've heard countless stories of people who thought their jobs were secure, only to find out one day that they no longer had one. I've watched as retirement plans evaporated, pensions disappeared, stocks tumbled, and it's made me realize--there is no such thing as a safe bet. You may think working 9-5 will earn you comfort later on in life, or financial stability today, but it's all an illusion. While the world of self-employment seemed a little scary at first, I realized that by jumping into that big scary world on my own terms, I was taking control of my situation, instead of leaving it up to some larger entity to decide my fate for me.
The real moment of truth, however, was a few years ago. I was working at a convenience store that had no love or respect for its employees, and I was working the closing shift on Thanksgiving, which meant I was going to completely miss out on Thanksgiving dinner with my family once again. Trying to stay in good spirits, I kept a smile on through the evening, and as my shift wound to a close, I started cleaning up. As I was removing a huge trashbag from one of the outside trash cans, a customer nearby asked me how I was doing. I barely got the words, "Oh, I'm fine," out of my mouth before the trashbag split wide open and dumped all of its wet, unidentifiable contents down my front. In that moment, on Thanksgiving Day, as my family was a hundred miles away having a wonderful time and eating turkey and I stood in a gas station parking lot covered in garbagecan juice, I realized... I couldn't do this for the rest of my life. I just couldn't. I had to get out.
College was the first--and most obvious--solution, but try working and going to school at the same time when you work for an employer like I had. Even if I had been able to overcome the financial hurdles, my employers at the time were not known for working well with students. Student employees tended to be scheduled during class hours, or scheduled so close together that it was impossible for the student to get to work or class on time. It seemed I wouldn't be able to attend school while working, and I couldn't stop working long enough to attend school, so I was thwarted once again.
My epiphany came one day when I was checking my e-mail and discovered that I had sold 100 copies of a keychain I'd designed on Zazzle. The chili pepper keychain had been customized and ordered in bulk, and I found myself thinking, "What if I made a shop full of nothing but customizable products? Would that result in more bulk sales?" About the time I quit the convenience store and started work at Wal-Mart, my new Zazzle store Customizables was born. It wasn't long before the sales started rolling in, and I began to realize that a career as professional artist was really possible, even without a college degree! One year and three months (and about 4,000 products) later, I was earning enough money on Zazzle alone to pay my bills, and it was bye-bye Wal-Mart!
So here I am, 24 years old and making my living doing what I love. Sure, I'm not famous, and I'm not rich, but I'm happy. I get every Thanksgiving off, the only trash I have to empty is my own, and if I work 10 hours straight without a break, it's because I'm just having too much fun to quit.
Life is good right now.