Monday, October 20, 2008

What Your Dreams Can Cost You

Since writing the post about calculating how much you need to earn to achieve those more material dreams you have in life, I’ve been nudged by an email and a comment, to look at aspects of this a bit more.

My experience is that I got to a place where I was so hugely enthusiastic about the work I could do – I dreamt of designing for people, showing them how to adapt their products to be more appealing, easier to make with production flow techniques and more marketable with packaging and labelling (this last part especially was more my husband’s skill, but we work together on a lot of things, a lot of the time).  I could see trade fairs and retail fairs, well organized and marketed, beautiful shops, happy people. I wanted to do this because I and my husband had so many ideas that I knew we would never be able to do them all, not even a fraction, so what better, rather than see them fade out of view, than to earn from giving others the benefit of our skills?

But, and it’s a big but, it was not to be. There are times when your dreams don’t match the market and this was the case with us - and the result can be quite a shock. It is immensely easy to use up most of your ‘productive’ time proposing things to people who may buy or fund your idea. The result, if you do not manage to convince them of the idea’s worth, or that it can happen, and you have no back up activity going on, can be the loss of life of your business and your dreams.

It is so important to match what you want to do with the reality of your surroundings. In our case we were ahead of our time, offering upscale training – to produce smaller quantities of niche products to sell to discerning customers that would be happy to pay a good price – something like a fair trade concept in a context where people were thinking and seeing handicrafts and hobby crafts. We were also offering top of the line graphic design, logos, branding, to a market that really doesn’t worry about using an inkjet on draft-mode business card, ‘designed’ in Word by someone’s kids who never took art in school. With a ‘logo’ that is completely different to the sign over their shop door, which is completely different to the print on their merchandise bags. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, way, way out on a limb: A dangerous place to be without a safety net.

We were met with comments from potential funders like “if I pay $6.00US for a soap, it better make me look 20 years younger”.  We were met again and again with having to scale down our aspirations; People who we wished to do work for– even when they understood, were not in the position to pay for it personally, institutions who could pay for the development programmes, did not quite see it as realistic for the recipients / market / or just their budgets. Sometimes maybe it all got just caught up in ‘politics’ – but that too is a reality of the space we work in.

Now, 2008, I see the North South Project between Canada and the Caribbean and Onsite Caribbean– launched with much fanfare at Caribbean Gift & Craft Show - designers working with artisans to produce high end, niche, small number handmade items. All the talk of the town is niche, high end, small production, realistic fair trade. 

It’s a good thing - I’m not bitter – I was for a while back there, when my mistimed, misplaced, misread, mis-planned attempts to follow my dreams cost me my inspiration, I lost the taste to create. Not only that, it cost our income too because we had not planned properly to allocate time to various avenues - to have the safety of ongoing income generation underpinning the speculative work. And that puts you even further in the rut because you just can’t produce without a certain base level of funds: If you don’t make sure you have figured out what that is and made plans to make as sure as you can that it’s there, you are in for a rough ride through some thick mud. You are likely to start not liking your useless, costly creative ideas.

That’s why I want to help creative producers understand the importance of, and how they can plan for what they want to do, by clear quantitative analysis and flexible plans. You should not let go your dreams, not at all, no matter how hard achieving them may seem - but they must be kept alive and given flight by being planted in well prepared soil, intercropped with drought resistant companion crops.

But, should you, like me, encounter a time when you slip up and miss the mark, do remember, time passes and water always flows somewhere deep down and the creative spirit lives deep too and comes out clean again if you let it.

I am so happy now to see these things happening in the Caribbean and I know that I am a part of it, my husband too and others who understood all along, and still others who now get what we were talking about. The upcoming Arts & Crafts Market at the Caribbean Marketplace and St. Lucia Food & Rum Festival is one more example – the Project Coordinator from the outset was determined to provide an upscale showing – setting the best of what we have in the best of lights to show off to the region.

So dream on creative people, and to ensure a safe flight, make sure you have enough to pay the fare, and before take off, please study your safety instructions booklet, observe all warning signs and buckle your seat-belt. Fly high.

What Dreams Are Made Of, Sonacia James, Class of '08