A few days ago, I sent a "let's keep in touch" email to Sandy Maine, the keynote speaker at last month's Conference of Handcrafted Soapmakers and the founder and CEO of SunFeather Natural Soap Company in Potsdam, New York. I thought I'd get a reply of a similar nature, and Sandy did not disappoint. But true to form, she also did more than that.
In her reply, Sandy described herself as a "free spirit in a soap business ‘yoke.'" As a craftsy entrepreneur whose business started with a weekend soap making adventure (with a Lemon Soapmaking Kit from SunFeather no less — how's that for serendipity!!?), Sandy's statement intrigued me, so I asked her to tell me more.
dM: What exactly do you mean when you say you are in a business "yoke?"
Sandy: I mean that I am a creative person who attempts to earn a good living off of my creative talents within the context of my own business. And as any kindred spirit would know, that is a slippery slope because you have to heavily engage the left brain to run a business. And if you engage it too much, you will compromise your right brain's ability to generate all those wonderful creative juices.
On the other hand, if you focus "only" on the creative thing, your business will likely fall in on itself.
dM: What are the top 3 things you have done as a free spirit to "tame" yourself enough to be successful in business?
Sandy: It's about getting into sync and keeping a balance.
I have noticed that good aerobic exercise in fresh air each morning before breakfast really helps me integrate my creative side with my pragmatic side. Also viewing your work from above and getting a snap shot of the big picture, as if you were a bird flying over your work day and then seeing yourself as if in a dance or a movie or a perfect moment in time.
As a creative person, you have the ability to alter your perception of reality, which can help keep the work day amusing when it might otherwise be burdensome.
One of my employees a few years back said she felt like I am a character in Sandy Maine's dream. And you know what? She (Sonja) was!
We used to laugh about that and make fun of how our dream was unfolding. She was a creative spirit too and a joy to work with.
Another thing I do to stay happily yoked is to PLAN for creative, fun time away from home and work. A working vacation or just a vacation. Just me. Maybe a week here and there a few times a year to retreat and nourish my creative roots.
Or sometimes, just a party — like this party where everyone (including me and my 80-year old mom) dressed up like fairies to celebrate my daughter's birthday.
dM: What's the top thing or two that a "free spirit" should avoid if they want to make a good profit from what they do?
Sandy: Avoid the temptation to embark on wild chases.
Your focus is needed at home and at work. If you are in a "good enough" relationship with your business and/or a life partner, focus on making it even better instead of looking for the next field of green grass!
Green grass usually turns brown eventually and can even catch on fire.
So even though creative spirits get bored easily and want to create new forms of excitement, these things need to be approached in a non-haphazard way.
I also think that discipline is needed in how you treat yourself. By that, I mean that you must avoid extremes.
Eat well, rest enough and stay away from addictive and destructive things that weaken your life force.
dM: How has your position as a wife and mother of 3 impacted your business life?
Sandy: I have had to compromise on my business and on my family life, but more so on my business. That's been my choice.
My family is successful in large part due to what I have invested of myself at home. My business is not always as financially successful as I would like it to be, though I know it could have been a huge major success story if I had devoted myself entirely to its existence and growth.
I think it is much easier to run a family than a business, but I would not want to live without either!
dM: What was it like to work with your husband in SunFeather?
Sandy: My husband worked in my business for 5 years, from 1996 to 2000. I enjoyed that time and so did he. We were closer when we worked together, and I felt a sense of relief in having him to lean on.
Eventually, we decided to diversify our income, and he went back to his original occupation as a land surveyor. So for many years, I have toughed it out on my own at work each day making all those business decisions on my own and in my own way.
This has made me grateful that as a woman I am able to enjoy so many economic, social, political, sensual and creative freedoms. It has not always been like this for women and some women, even in this day and age, live with unimaginable terrors and oppressions.
So I am very very grateful that I can be who I was born to be, and whomever I wish to become.
I can surround myself with my own self-created livelihood, freedom of thought, freedom of motion and everlasting invention!
What do you think?
The dictionary defines "yoke" as a device for joining together a pair of draft animals, usually oxen. We all know how hard oxen work, and when they are yoked together, they must work in tandem. The yoke helps them do that. But if one ox moves in one direction and the other ox moves in the other direction, the yoke will strangle both of them.
Sandy's analogy of the free spirit in her being yoked to the business woman in her is a brilliant and memorable illustration. It clearly describes the need to reign in both sides of her personality in order to accomplish all of her goals — personal and professional.
Do you find yourself doing this? Successfully? Or not so much? It's tough, isn't it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
And if you are looking to enjoy some soapmaking mentorship, Sandy offers on-site handcrafted soapmaking consultations at SunFeather to help you launch your soap business, or improve the one you have. She's been at it for nearly three decades, so if you want to learn from a master, you don't need to look any further than this blog post to find one. Contact Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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