"Don't just spend time. Invest It."
That little pearl of wisdom came from my fortune cookie last night with my order of shrimp cashew and pork fried rice.
And, just coming off the Juice Conference 3.0 this past weekend, it seemed so apt. If it were Nadia Comăneci, it would have stuck a 10-point landing.
I actually went to the conference to cover a story for TheScene, but couldn't help but get caught up in the fervor. The Conference's theme this year was "Celebrating Risk." It was about taking a risk with your path in life; to work through the fear to find your highest potential. In Maine, small businesses keep our economy alive. These micro-businesses, the very heart of our creative economy, have been described as "specialty foods, cabinet makers, people in arts, education consultants, etc." We are surrounded by a community of entrepreneurs in the Midcoast who make it happen.
Entrepreneurship is a process and a journey; ask Eric Leppanen, a Belfast artist whom I interviewed right before Juice. His story is similar to Governor Angus King's (also one of Juice's dynamic speakers that weekend). Here's the familiar story: A guy goes to work at a company for a long time. He gets comfortable. He has benefits, security. In the back of his mind, he harbors the desire to do more with his creativity, but, the job takes it out of him. So, he keeps going along, monetarily satisfied, but creatively complacent. Suddenly, he is downsized, laid off and a horrible realization hits: he is on his own.
This is exactly what happened to both Angus King and Eric Leppanen. Have you ever been through that? I have. That itchy panic sets in, the monkey mind questions zipper through: "What do I do now? How do I scramble to make money to survive?"
Both King and Leppanen surely felt this too, but each decided to push through the fear, to take a risk and change their perceptions. The question wasn't "What do I do now?" It became: "What do I choose to do now?" Instead of "How do I scramble to make money to survive?" (and taking whatever job came along to recapture that familiar feeling of security) the question turned into a thoughtful, deliberate decision to invest their time by developing a new path that fulfilled their passions. For Gov. King, whose passion was energy conservation, he took his severance package and a week later, founded his own company, Northeast Energy Management, Inc., which developed and installed large-scale electrical energy conservation projects throughout Maine.
For Eric Leppanen, after being laid off from the corporate job, he started a modest home cleaning and property care company with his wife. Now, wait, before you say, "that was his dream?" It was a viable path toward his dream. Hired mostly by artists and interesting folks with basements full of old paint and quirky "junk" materials that needed to be cleaned out, Leppanen was thrilled to haul out and keep all of this stuff for his own artwork, some of which is comprised of recycled and reclaimed materials. What he didn't use for art, he sorted, gave away, and made every effort to keep out of the junk yard. To him, cleaning someone's house was a gift: every day was Christmas. Some of his artwork using these materials is now on display at The Belfast Co-op. For more on Eric, you'll have to wait until the December issue of TheScene.
The point is fear is inherent in every one of us. I know I'm not the only one who has been laid off in this state. (Hey I'm a writer who has worked for nonprofits and small businesses most of my career. The way I look at it is: it has happened before, it'll happen again. I'm so used to not being afraid of it, I see it as mental bungee jumping at this point.) Juice galvanized me in many ways this past weekend as it did for many people who have dreams of starting their own businesses. Use fear to change your perceptions of what you are capable of. Not (nail biting) "what if?" But (dawning realization you could be happy waking up everyday doing what you love) "Hey....what if?"
And what if you fail? Economic conditions in Maine are still vulnerable, have been since the recession of 2008. There's risk, there's always risk. So go into it, knowing if it fails, you'll learn from it and start a new business. That's why, as Gov. King said, there is a half-million dollar industry dedicated to putting erasers on pencils: so we can make mistakes. "Mistakes are the portals of discovery," goes the slightly edited James Joyce quote.
We already live in a gorgeous state that provides inspiration every day. Why not make a deliberate, thoughtful choice to pursue your dream to do what you love? (Is that really so audacious a thought: to love where you live AND love what you do?) Make a plan; work on a strategy to get there; invest your time, don't just spend it. The best part is we live in a tight-knit community of people who are just as enthusiastic about your dream as you are: so find your people and talk about your plans. You'd be surprised to know how many organizations and funds there are in this state willing to invest in your big idea too.
Maine Entrepreneurs LinkedIn Group
Maine Small Business Development Centers
Maine Technology Institute (seed grants)
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The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.