Kwohtations Cards

Doing the Maker Hustle

Janine Kwoh1 Comment
Getting up at 6AM on Sunday mornings to set up for  the South End Open Market ? Piece of cake.

Getting up at 6AM on Sunday mornings to set up for  the South End Open Market ? Piece of cake.

Dear everyone,

A confession: I’ve been a witness to and a participant in the glorification of “busyness” that has become pervasive in certain circles: of declarations that we’re too busy to eat or pee or think or return calls and emails or even say hello, of stacking dates and meetings, of ridiculous combinations of multi-tasking (I may have more than once tried to work out while simultaneously listening to the news, writing emails, and cleaning my room), and of feeling compelled to say yes to more commitments and to excel in all the identities we assume. 

And with the advent of the “quantified self” movement and social media, we’re tracking and sharing exactly how much and how well we’re walking / sleeping / eating / working out / working / spending / dating / traveling / reading / enjoying and living life.  The all-knowing Internet tells us that everyone else is doing A LOT (much, much more than we are), and that it’s working out REALLY GREAT for them (much, much better than for us).  Which can only mean that we’re slacking and falling behind. That we’re sleeping in when we should be getting in an early morning workout, that we’re home binge-watching old seasons of CSI: NY when we should be out rubbing shoulders with our next great love or potential employer, that we’re sitting in coffee shops writing self-indulgent blog posts about being busy when we should be developing next year’s business strategy.  And that’s why we’re not as rich, attractive, loved, famous, and happy…right?

Within the maker and small business community, I’ve found that busyness is often embedded in and expressed as the idea of “hustling” – having the oomph to do anything and everything needed to achieve your goals, and to never stop or slow down or steer away until you’ve achieved them.  On Instagram, 3+ million posts tagged #hustle contain inspirational and motivational messages like these: 

I recognize and appreciate the intention and truth behind these messages. All jobs require some hustle, whether it’s working toward a promotion, taking night classes while paying the bills, or networking and pounding the pavement to land a new job.  The so-called “maker hustle” is different in that it’s not about proving your capacity to add value to something existing, but about your ability to create something new and then to fight for its existence.  I’m inspired by other makers who dream big, and then cram in their entrepreneurial endeavors around their “real” jobs and ongoing commitments, and who give up their mornings, nights, and weekends to bring those dreams to life. 

But when my feed is filled with posts that say things like “Life is Short. Don’t Be Lazy” and “Good Things Come To Those Who Hustle,” I get anxious. Because these mantras imply that the opposite is also true: if I don’t hustle – if I’m not constantly on-the-grind and up-and-at-‘em and being a #boss (and a #girlboss and #bosslady and #bossbabe at that) – that means that I’m wasting precious time, that I’ll have less of a chance of achieving my dreams.  I feel guilty that I’m not hustling hard enough, not passionate enough, not active enough, not disciplined enough, and therefore not enough, period. 

From my copious amounts of Facebook and Instagram stalking, I sometimes feel like all the other makers out there are like these blissed-out, unnaturally photogenic, hyper-productive, well-adjusted elves, spending their days making beautiful things and fistfuls of cash, living out their dreams in sun-lit, exposed brick studios.  And meanwhile I’m bouncing around between different life commitments slightly wrinkly and glassy-eyed, trying to build a business out of my bedroom, climb (or at least hang onto) the corporate ladder, exercise every day, read more books, keep a blog, teach myself how to code and play guitar, go on dates, work on my self-esteem, and generally have a social and sane life. Sometimes I feel like Superwoman on a cocktail of #highonlife and #killinit, and sometimes all I can do on a Saturday night is inhale a family-sized bag of Chex Mix while I stare at piles of unfinished cards and try to suppress a salty flavored bubble of panic. 

A few weekends ago, I missed the bus and cried.  I generally don’t fancy myself much of a crier if it’s not death- or injury- or love-related, but there I was, a spontaneous burst of snot and tears in the middle of running an afternoon errand.  This came on the heels of a morning that was a clown car of missteps and mistakes – it was amazing how many fuck ups could happen in rapid succession within such a short amount of time – as I ran around (literally) prepping for the next day’s holiday market, and finishing, shipping out, and hand-delivering orders.  This was in the middle of a holiday season of working 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week between my day job and Kwohtations, and I was tired, stressed, and feeling like I was shouldering the burden alone.  So I bawled a bit while I speed-walked to the post office (because who has time to sit down for a proper cry?)

Everything ended up being fine - I had a few unsatisfactory sobs, mailed out my package, went home to make more cards, had a good holiday market the next day, got some sleep, went to work on Monday, and was back on my game by Monday night.  But it got me thinking about the expectations and demands we put on ourselves, especially as makers and business owners.  How much of the work and sacrifice we put in counts as “paying our dues” and “doing the work” and are necessary steps on the start-up path, and how much of it is actually not required (or even helpful) for us to achieve our goals?  What is driving all this busyness?  In other words, is a midday ugly cry a sign that I’m working as hard as I can, that I’m hurtling myself ever closer to my goals (limitations be damned!)?  Or is it a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle / mindset based on a flawed perception of how busyness is a prerequisite to self-worth, success, and happiness? 

I share all of this because I’m still trying to figure out the right balance for me between testing my limits and being content, between being ambitious and exercising self-care, and what success means for me and what the journey of getting there can look like. I want to recognize, for myself and anyone else trying to do something new, that this process is really fun and rewarding, and also really confusing and hard.  And I don’t have any answers on how it should best be done. 

But I guess that’s what Kwohtations is about – it’s for the people still figuring their shit out, and in the meantime trying to remember to celebrate the little victories, to apologize when we fuck up, to thank those who help us out, and to embrace our true selves in all our flawed and earnest glory, if only we can make the time.        

Love,

Janine