Yesterday, August 16th, was my four year anniversary of living in Chicago. To think of where I was on this day four years ago is simply insane. The first night that I stayed in my new studio apartment I cried for a long time because my boxes covered the entire floor of the apartment. There was barely room to walk. I also was devastated to realize that my full size bed was not going to fit in the extra roomy closet as I had hoped. This realization may seem petty. However, it forced me to realize that I would have to live, work, and sleep in the same room.
Soon after settling in, I had a new challenge to face, self-employment. At first I was crippled by uncertainty. I was desperate to know what the “right way to work” was. Eventually I realized that it was up to me to define, keeping in mind that I had bills coming on a monthly rotation. When people told me they couldn’t imagine being self-employed because they thought they thought they would not actually be able to do work at home, I was baffled. Of course you go to work each day, how else are you going to pay the bills?
My strategy for getting Jess LC started full-time was simple: sell jewelry to stores. And that is exactly what I did. What I did not expect was the exclusivity that many Chicago boutique owners wanted in their neighborhoods. Which meant that of the hundreds of boutiques that could carry my jewelry, I needed to find the best in each neighborhood and stick to those stores to have long-lasting relationships. This was new to me since in Ann Arbor, I was able to sell to three stores in the same town.
From August through December of 2007, I was a one woman show. I listened to books on tape as I cut every necklace tag, made every piece of jewelry, and answered every single email. I calculated out that to meet my bills I needed to sell $1000 worth of jewelry at wholesale a week. This simple metric helped me pace myself as I worked to get store orders. Some weeks I hit my goal early, some weeks it went down to the wire, and some weeks it didn’t happen at all. But I am thankful to say that I’ve never had to defunct on a payment, and things have always worked out in the end.
Please let me assure you that the first two years of living intentionally and growing this business could also be considered minimal, at best. I think a lot of people expect that living intentionally will always feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed. In the beginning it was not that way for me at all. Most people thought I was crazy for doing it, and even store owners placing orders would ask what my “real job” was.
Intentional living is based on the faith that you are doing what you are meant to be doing as best as you know. But you also must realize that it can involve sacrifice. I lived in a crappy studio apartment with a boyfriend for two years, didn’t go to the dentist for three years, and only went on vacations that doubled as work trips. I had anxiety attacks about cash flow. Once, I debated going and trying to find a job and give up completely.
But through it all I persevered – please don’t think this was a glamorous process – I literally just kept going.
And ever so slowly things started to improve. In January of 2008, I picked up a sales rep team who hustled and got Jess LC into 100 stores nationwide in a year. I also picked up my first assistants and interns and started to learn to delegate so I could be three times more efficient. I no longer worked one day a week at a boutique for spending money. Little by little things picked up momentum.
Then in January of 2009 I started MML as I mentioned yesterday. It was finally time for me to stop being a hypocrite. When I began to get lauded for the courage it took to start the business, a voice in the back of my mind kept reminding me that I didn’t start the business because it was my passion. It was the vehicle through which I could help people because it would allow me to write about making under as well. And the longer that I delayed working on the real mission, the easier it would be for me to eventually ditch making under, my purpose, altogether.
I was scared that one day I’d have a million dollar jewelry business and have no time to help people design lives with intention.
But as you know, the blog soon took on a life of it’s own and I now spend my mornings sharing here with you. And as I gave of my time and thoughts here, I also began reading and getting involved in blogging via the business as well. This soon helped me clarify how to best use the business. By focusing on my online customers and site, I could consolidate my efforts and become more effective. Working with people online for Jess LC and MML is much easier than trying to focus on store accounts, sales reps, and trade shows while also being present and active on MML and other social media efforts.
I’m also happy to say that by September of 2009 I was also finally able to move out of my studio apartment and able to move in with my boyfriend, at the time. Consolidating from two studio apartments to a two bedroom apartment was a huge luxury. There were rooms with doors! I set up Jess LC in a second bedroom and reveled in the extra space.
But unfortunately the move also became a turning point in my relationship and we eventually realized we needed to go separate ways. But rather than break the lease six months early, we stayed together until the lease ended. Though Jess LC had been tough to start, the summer of 2010 was one of the hardest times in my life. And thankfully, taught me some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.
Once I knew that I had to move again in September of 2010, I decided that God, or life, was not asking me to take a step back and retreat to a studio once more. I loved my new apartment building and I literally decided that I was going to make it work in a one bedroom apartment. Sure, this meant that my studio was going to have to be in the living room, but thank goodness the bed wasn’t there anymore like it was in the first place. It also meant that I was going to pay 50% more rent. This was scary, because I had no real proof that Jess LC would be able to afford it, but I set my foot down and again, persevered in the most unglamorous way possible.
And it worked out.
Since that move last September, things have risen to a whole new level for me. I began to go on speaking trips and I continued helping people make under on MML in a greater way than ever before. My personal life flourished as well. I met Mr. Lively and could not be more thankful. I decorated my apartment exactly as I wanted, and was even part of a Rue spread.
And Jess LC is evolving into a fantastic new adventure for me. Allowing myself to design and work beyond jewelry design has been a thrill, and a huge roller coaster with many twists, turns, inclines, and falls. After four years, I have found a way to design my business with such clarity that I cannot imagine life without it for the foreseeable future. The mix of MML and Jess LC has become a great fit for me. I feel honored to do both to the best of my ability.
So there you have it. A summary of the four years since I rented a U-Haul and plopped myself in Chicago. My hope is that this story resonates and in some way dispels any myths about intentional lives being perfect, easy, or even enviable. The risks, sacrifice, joy, and meaning are always there, unique to each person.
The path will not always be easy, but the path provided from within will always be worth it.