I became a business owner the way that protagonist girl falls in love in The Fault In His Stars: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.” I never thought I’d start my own business, and didn’t set out to do so. I was just making cards that I found I needed – scratching my own itch, so to speak. In my mind, the title of Entrepreneur was up there with Ultra-Marathoner – I admired others who wore those badges, but they weren’t ones I aspired to or thought played particularly well to my strengths. Nevertheless, this past year, for a number of reasons and kind of no real reason at all, I started taking my business, and by extension it turns out, myself, more seriously. I learned that you don’t have to be wildly extroverted and charismatic, well-connected, or a “visionary” to be an entrepreneur. Hell, you don’t even need to have a plan or a finished product. I started and grew Kwohtations pretty much the same way I do most everything else in life – cautiously with occasional bouts of confidence, varying degrees of thoughtfulness and over-analysis, lots of whining and wallowing, a certain amount of scrappiness, and the unshakeable belief and support of people who love me.
As a staff of one, I spend inordinate amounts of time by myself designing, carving, printing, painting, stamping, packaging, sorting, tracking, shipping, and promoting cards. But I’m never going about it alone; I have a team of people unflaggingly cheering me on and giving me their time, energy, and heart and mind space. They cart my mountain-loads of crap to and from flea markets, keep me alive with food and coffee, and occasionally man the stall so I can pee. They form impromptu and captive focus groups for potential card ideas. They help craft and edit my Facebook and Instagram posts, and then promptly *Like* all of them. They are reluctant models for my photo shoots. They patiently listen to me gripe and grumble, then assure me (again) that Kwohtations is not a dumb idea and gently remind me (again) that this is supposed to be fun. They help me hunt around in our neighbors’ trash for useful pieces of wood, patiently explain the difference between a domain name and a hosting site, and never complain when I’ve covered every usable flat surface in the house with drying cards. Basically, they are there to hold my hand through all of it, for which I am eternally blessed and grateful.
When I first started out, I brushed it off uncomfortably whenever anyone referred to Kwohtations as my “card company.” “It’s not a real business, just something I do for fun,” was often my knee-jerk response. I think I reacted in this way because I felt vulnerable; for me, Kwohtations is deeply personal. In my professional life, I take great pride and ownership in my work, but am always slightly removed from it – there’s really no place in a data analysis to unpack how I feel about the fact that everyone on my Facebook feed is seemingly on Forbes’ “30 under 30” list, and I can’t write “getting out of bed” under the “Accomplishments” section of a grant report, even though some days it really is. In contrast, Kwohtations reflects my voice, my humor, and my reality. It’s what I find funny and how I experience life. Putting Kwohtations, and thereby myself, tangibly out there for others to see and evaluate is scary, unchartered territory. It’s me, not my analytic skills or project management abilities, that I’m exposing for evaluation and potential failure. So, as a coping mechanism, as with so many things that have the potential to affect me deeply, I pretend like it doesn’t matter at all. But really, it does.
I don’t have aspirations to change the world. I just want to minimize the harm I cause and make my little patch of grass as green as possible for those who share it with me. I hope that Kwohtations is one way of doing this, of spreading joy and bringing people closer together by using humor to celebrate the diversity and cope with the absurdity of life.
Kwohtations and me – we’re both constant works in progress. I’m anticipating some incremental improvements and big life breakthroughs in the upcoming year, as well as a good amount of stagnation and making the same mistakes over and over again. And I think I’m ok with that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the internets. Using twitter to organize protests? Game-changing. Watching videos of tiny animals doing strange things? Hilarious. Scrolling through a hundred happy birthday posts from a random smattering of people I’ve met throughout my life? Unnaturally gratifying.
But as many emails as I send each day (and there are a lot), I find them to be somewhat cold and without personality. They don’t capture the excitement of furious scribbles, the painstaking care behind every evenly penned line, the flourish of double underlines, the refreshing spontaneity of crossed-out words and carrots followed by tiny scrawled afterthoughts. They often are too impatient for crowded meandering observations or funny stick drawings around the margins. You cannot tell how many times an email has been read by the state of its edges, if it has been carried around, cried over, taped up, folded and smoothed over, read and re-read. The best ones usually are. In a time where the truism “time is money” has never been more true, emails are both time- and cost- efficient. But there is no physicality to them outside of the words they carry -- they have none of their own texture, size, or shape. They are rarely treasured (or worth treasuring), have never been saved by another generation to be passed on, stored in drawers and boxes, deemed worthy of their space and weight.
So once a week, I take out a card, set aside 30 minutes to write a note to someone I love (or really, really like), and pop it into the mail. Sometimes it’s in time to celebrate some life event –- birthday, new job, wedding engagement, passing an exam -– or maybe it’s just to let them know that I’m thinking of them and how important they are to me (in more than 140 characters). Because at the end of the day, if time is money, don’t you want the people you care about to feel like a million bucks?