Why I Walked Away From My Dream Business

Back view of asian business woman looking the city
Back view of asian business woman looking the city

When I was in college, I learned pretty quickly that I wasn't going to make it in the corporate world. Besides my punk rock du juor hair colors, I was also unintentionally abrasive and difficult. It wasn't that I was trying to be a jerk, but I was interested in the "how" and "why" of things, which I found out most middle managers weren't enthusiastic about answering and that they'd prefer I just kept my head down and mouth shut.

So when I graduated, I did what any sane person would do: I started making soap.

No, I was not inspired by Fight Club. Actually, I think I had a phobia about smelling badly and had no money, so I just made my own stuff. But thanks to that I decided that I was going to go at it on my own and figure out my dream as I went along. I ran my company for nearly 10 years. It was great for many of those years: I won 5 industry awards for my formulating, I saw my work in over 100 publications, and I had easy presents for Mom and Gram every year.

But two years ago, things started to chip away from this dream life I thought I was living. I was constantly chasing money, biting my tongue when corporate buyers didn't value my livelihood and wanted lower prices, or trying to look cheerful and not completely exhausted after standing for 10 hours a day, for 25 days straight (looking at you, holiday markets). I kept chugging along, thinking that this was so great, being so busy all the time. People in my social circle thought it was amazing I was doing it all myself, and I used that admiration like a drug, trying to keep me up until the next catastrophe. What I should have realized instead is that they were amazed at me doing everything, because I shouldn't have been trying to do everything myself. They weren't seeing me like I was some sort of small business heroine, instead I imagine they were looking at me like some sort of ticking time bomb, and it would only be a matter of time before IT happened.

The "IT" did in fact come. It started when my husband said to me one day after I had recapped how busy I was "You don't sound like you like your job." Wait, what? I LOVE being self-employed... right? Then my good friend, who is also in the industry, was complaining to me about an issue she was having. I made some sort of commiserating joke, to which she replied "No way! It's hard sometimes but I absolutely love what I do every day." I left feeling confused. Why didn't I ever say stuff like that? Didn't I love my business, too?

By 2015, I knew there was an albatross around my neck, and it was my business. I had perpetual sharp pains in my shoulder that no x-ray or acupuncturist could figure out, and it was gently suggested that maybe my pain was caused not by injury, but by serious stress. I knew I had run my course with this life, but what could I do? I wasn't really good at anything; I had no real corporate experience and, let's be real here, I had a chip on my shoulder from being an entrepreneur. But I was still young and there was no way I could just give up on trying to leave my imprint in the world. There was something still in me that wasn't ready to give in, I just didn't know what it could be.

As I started brainstorming, I realized that there was one thing I was known for with my friends in the industry: I knew a lot of stuff. My friends that were also in skincare and home fragrance would come to me when they had a question about the FDA, or a source for an ingredient, or a name for a packaging guy. And even though they were my competitors, and my brain would tell me to shut up, I was compelled to tell them everything I knew because I liked helping. I liked being the one they came to when they needed answers, because it made me feel valued and wanted.

And there it was, my new path in life.

I pivoted earlier this year from maker into teacher, and now I spill my secrets via my blog, podcast, and Periscope. It gives me a true sense of purpose to be able to help (and yeah, I know that sounds very "celeb PR move after a scandal") by telling everyone how I've failed, or my tips to hack your way to success.

It definitely doesn't smell as nice as it did when I was making soap, but pivoting from my original dream to this new life feels like a path that was laid out for me. In today's entrepreneur-or-bust world, it can feel like a failure to give up and say "this isn't enough for me." I think many small business owners feel that working against the grind, ignoring the exhaustion, and pushing through just one more time will be the time that shows a pay off. And sometimes it does, I won't deny that. But many times it doesn't, and it's okay to accept that and pivot into something else. Giving up on a dream isn't the end of the world. In fact, it can be the freedom that you've been looking for that you never even knew.