School-of-Rock

Should You Quit Your Job to Pursue Your Passion?

Antiques & Vintage // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

Ah, the question of our generation . . . should we leave our jobs to pursue our passions? Or should we continue to work for the man in hopes of collecting that elusive drug: money.

I left my corporate job in 2012 and have long thought of the reasons why I was driven with a mad passion to do so.

In addition to writing, I own and operate a small antique e-commerce business. Although we are doing well, there are many drawbacks to this line of work. The first is that I don’t get paid unless I work every single day (at times including Saturdays and Sundays). Even though I have employees, most days I work alone, whether it’s sourcing product, photographing product, shipping product or researching product, I’m usually alone. At times I will hire temporary help, models, shippers and photographers, but those times are few and far between.

I used to work corporate (EvilCorp). Whole days would pass by the water cooler where I did nary a thing but chat about the latest Sufjan Stevens album. We got free lunches. I had contact with human beings that were very close to friend-type people. I got stock options.

Other than the yawning abyss chasing me down at two in the afternoon, I was quite comfortable. So comfortable I became bored.

I’ve written about this before. Boredom scares me to death. I start to make mischief. I get into trouble.

I left the job to restart my antique business that was on hold after the market crash in 2009. Without the structure of a regular job, I felt I was part of an entirely new reality. If I wanted to sleep all day, I could. If I wanted to spend all day playing ping pong, I could. No one was going to make me do anything. I could only rely on myself. This had some consequences. Time became perilously precious. I could no longer justify wasting the day in idle chit chat, or having lunch with friends because my time directly translated to my money.

The other night I had dinner with a large group of former co-workers who all still work for EvilCorp. I felt a bit sheepish explaining that I spent most of my days playing with old toys, sifting through other people’s attics and attending philosophy courses at the local college–and that it all was fun as hell.

They all smiled and nodded and I changed the subject.

I know how it must sound to them.

Why do some of us choose this way of working?

Here are a few theories.

1. TROUBLE WITH AUTHORITY

It’s a well-documented phenomenon. A child grows up with untrustworthy, cruel or inconsistent adults and they grow to distrust authority and even see them as silly fools. We learn to do the opposite of what they do. We feel we can’t trust these people will sustain us, so we start our own venture.

2. WE LIKE TO RULE OUR TINY KINGDOMS

This hearkens back to an earlier post on people who don’t like to compete. Some of us (and I will freely admit this is true for me) would rather rule a tiny kingdom of one (or a handful of people) than be a peasant in another person’s kingdom, even if it’s a benevolent kingdom. I track this tendency in me back to vast tracts of childhood spent alone with animals, toys and myself. They were all my tiny worlds and I loved them but most importantly, they didn’t make me do stuff I didn’t want to do or be something I didn’t want to be. I must note that I am not condoning this way of thinking as the universally correct way of thinking. There are many drawbacks to it. I am simply pointing out that there are many people out there with such “royal sensibilities.”

3. PEOPLE EXHAUST US

I love people and can spend all day chit chatting. However, I find that the mental power this requires overwhelms the heat sink capacity in my language center and I get exhausted in a way that feels like my soul has been flushed out my ears. I have to be alone in order to recuperate. This recuperation time is not possible for those of us who have families who we must care for at night, so working alone helps with our social recovery.

4. WE ARE “MODEL CHAMELEONS”

Some of us have a keen awareness of other people’s points of view and have the ability to adapt our own outlook to theirs when we are around them. This causes a cognitive dissonance that can literally confuse us as to what we want and how we should live our lives, pushing us into many directions–none of them what we might chose on our own. These types of people are called “people-pleasers” and I am absolutely of this variety of human. Remaining in a static self-supported environment helps us keep focused on what WE want and believe, not what others want and believe.

5. WE HAVE CONTROL ISSUES

Let’s be clear. Control issues are not always a bad thing. I suspect a great deal of people who have achieved great things were some version of a control freak. We absolutely need to feel that we have control in our lives in order to tamp down anxiety. This is why cleaning out our fridge can be more pleasurable than writing our next chapter. Some of us feel out of control when our financial fate is contingent on the whims of an indifferent corporation, and that feeling of lack of control can be intolerable.

6. WE WANT SOMETHING MORE FOR OURSELVES

Born within us is a huge desire to change something about the world before we give up the ghost. Even if it’s small, we want to affect some sort of transformation. We know that those who transform the culture often have a glory not given to mere drones. We go after that glory because . . . why not us?

7. WE TRIED IT AND DECIDED IT’S NOT THE ANSWER

What will make us happier? Sometimes we don’t know until we try both options. We believe that something we do for 8+ hours per day should at least be fun, interesting or challenging enough to keep us from hanging ourselves in the closet, and the job just isn’t either of those things for us. Therefore, we may try our hand at building something new simply to eliminate all possibilities.

8. WE ARE DUMB FOOLS

You’d have to be a dumb fool to think, “Yeah, I’m going to start my own business! I’m gonna invent a new product! I’m gonna end water contamination in the Philippines!” We are dumb fools because we have no idea how much competition is already out there, or we have no idea of how much it will actually take out of us. The idea may be new to us, and so we make the mistake of thinking the idea is new to the world. Trust me, there are no new ideas, only new names, descriptions, and particulars. Also, because we are not yet in the arena of competition, we may assume there are no other combatants, or at least a trivial few. When we develop our idea deeper, we find–sometimes terrifyingly–that there are almost innumerable other players in the arena, and many of them are far more clever and lucky than us. Therefore, it is important, in some respect, to be a dumb fool.  If we weren’t, we would probably never get started.

9. WE PREFER INVISIBLE REJECTION TO OUTRIGHT REJECTION

We face all kinds of rejection in our lives. Invisible rejection is what happens when faceless people who we don’t know refuse to buy our product. Outright rejection is when a specific person says no. Self-published authors face invisible rejection. Traditionally published authors face outright rejection. Invisible rejection can hurt less because of the nature of the nameless, faceless masses. While both hurt, one has less of a sting.

10. THE GLASS CEILING DISAPPEARS

In every corporation, there is a hierarchy that represents how high one can ascend. In your own venture, the sky is the limit.

11. WE WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T EXIST

Possibly the noblest of reasons for going out on our own is that we badly want something to exist and it doesn’t. We think “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website where people could buy little outfits for the fire hydrants in front of their houses?” So we go out and build that website it just so it will exist. Our culture absolutely needs this kind of person because these thoughts lead to all manner of huge changes, and change is what we want.

The great news is, we don’t have to cast our working lives in stone. Should we try the solo venture and fail, there is always time to become a middle manager at a cereal box manufacturing plant. Perhaps the comfort of perceived stability will allow us to flourish in ways that the struggling entrepreneur, writer or change-maker cannot.

January 25th, 2017

Can you make socks interesting?

You Need to Get Out More – Passive vs. Active Marketing

Antiques & Vintage // Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

Can you make socks interesting?

I am a freak for new, clean and comfy socks. I am known to change them on chilly days four or five times. I love how clean socks feel on my feet and I own a metric elephant ton of them.

But let’s face it, socks are kinda boring. We don’t think much about them. Chances are we have been buying the same kind for years. If it was our job to sell socks and gain actual market share, how would we accomplish this?

As you have seen in previous posts, I operated a booth at Comic Con last month and learned a lot of lessons. Rather than share the lessons about what sells and how to price things (most of which won’t help you) I am sharing some of the soft lessons I learned from talking to thousands of people, lessons that can carry over into different aspects of your career and art.

No beating around the bush this time.

We all need to be out among people more.

When we are trying to sell something, even something free, we often have no idea how people feel about it. We don’t know if this item will tickle their fancy or solve a need.

The only way to find out is to get among people. In person.

You heard me, not just on the internet, but in person!

This can be a really tall order to fill, not because we are busy (we are!) but because we are really, really afraid of people.

I will touch upon the fear a bit more next week but for now, let’s imagine you have a new brand of sweat-wicking sock that you want to market to professional athletes.

You have two ways to market these socks, the passive way and the active way.

PASSIVE

– Start a website and load it with keywords. Follow analytics rules. Wait.

– List them for sale on eBay, Etsy, Amazon. Get a few sales. Wait.

– Post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr. Wait.

ACTIVE

– Call up ten sports friends and ask them to try the socks. Let them know they are really important to your market testing. After they have tried the socks, give them a gift of appreciation.

– Go to ten schools and offer free socks to coaches to give out to athletes.

– Offer free socks to anyone who posts a picture of their feet on Instagram (while wearing them).

– Mail one pair of sock per day to someone with influence along with a personal, hand-written note asking nothing in return. “Please enjoy the socks!”

– Go to trade shows and ask people to try on the socks and give their opinion. Make it clear they are not for sale and this isn’t a sales pitch. Talk to those people about how they feel about socks. Invite their kids to make sock puppets and videos about sock puppets (with your logo).

– Go to the farmer’s market and have a booth with a contest called “What can you fit in the sock?”

– Do all of the above, many, many times, as many times as you can.

Socks aren’t exciting and chances are, neither is what you have to offer. It’s likely someone else already thought of it long ago. The competition may be too high. The demand may be low. In other words, your offering is very unlikely to wow anyone. Been there, done that.

But you can make it special if you involve others!

You need to be out among the hoi polloi, hearing their feelings and gathering data. In person!

Next week I’ll dive into how to make your product special by using feedback from others. It is something I am personally working on and getting excited about.

 

 

 

If you are enjoying these posts, please take the time to share them and subscribe. I can’t promise you a new pair of socks but I will think fondly of you when I don a new pair for the fifth time tomorrow.

 

 

 

September 16th, 2016

humble

Be Endlessly and Ceaselessly Humble

Antiques & Vintage // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

humble

As I mentioned in a previous post, I operated a vendor booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con last weekend. Today I will share with you the first lesson I learned from the trenches.

I met and talked to thousands of people, most of them were dressed up as obscure anime characters and superheroes. Most were a little odd, a little weird. Most had funny quirks and strange hair.

In such a crowd, it might be easy to judge our generation as total and complete children. It might be easy to feel superior. I know some of my friends put on those airs when I mentioned we were heading to the mecca of childhood and doing a booth. One writer acquaintance remarked, “I grew out of that stuff when I was seven,” putting himself above the entire experience quickly and neatly, without having to really think.

Placing oneself in a superior position can serve a lot of purposes. If we feel we are above an activity, we don’t have to understand it, we don’t have to make efforts. It is easy to sweep it quickly under a rug and walk away, forgetting the greater lessons that can be learned. This is what my writer friend did and I had to admit, his comments made me feel a bit ashamed that I had put so much effort into the con. Was I acting childish? Was I a perpetual adolescent? (Hint: a-yeah, duh!)

I resolved not to listen to the hater and just do the con. If anything, by being a child (aka, at the bottom of the social rung) I would learn a lot.

As it turned out, I ended up not only learning a lot, I met a lot of really cool people, the kinds of people who had a lot to brag about (aka, those at the top of the social rung). Some had pretty big pedigrees. I met one of the top comic book artists in history. I met a producer from a famous children’s movie. I met business owners who rake in millions per year. I met dozens of successful writers. Each one of them shared a trait.

They were all humble.

None put on airs. None seemed concerned with proving how special they were. They were simply real.

You know, like actual people.

The magic of the con was that people who may have strictly-guarded defenses in the grown-up world could let down those barriers and act silly and childish.

And that’s when the magic happened.

We were all children again. We were all kids on the playground. We smiled and laughed and made friends. Most of all, through the magic of nerdiness and costumes, we had brought ourselves to the depths of humility, where kindness and understanding live.

Humility is recognizing other people have needs, and doing what you can to meet them.

Humility is understanding that your needs can and should be met only after other’s needs are taken care of.

Humility is realizing you are part of the throng. You are not special, chosen, endowed or on high. You are part of the hoi polloi.

Humility is being a forever student, no matter how high in the game you are.

Humility is having the courage to give a compliment, say something nice and generally give verbal confirmation to others.

Humility is allowing yourself to be seen exactly as you are, without pretention or masks.

Humility is risking rejection at the hands of the masses who will never understand.

I think many of us want to be at the top of the hierarchy. We want to accumulate degrees, publications, awards. We want to feel like we are a little better, a little higher on the rung as the next guy. Some of us really want to be deified. We want to inspire awe in passersby. We want to be special. We want to be able to shout “Don’t you know who I am?!”

There are some who reach those heights. But what if our goal was to step down from the footstool we have painstakingly whittled for ourselves and become truly, forever humble?

What kind of connections might we make? What kind of lessons might we learn? What pains of comparison might we save ourselves from?

Maybe we should all try to be a little more like that seven-year-old in the superman costume.

 

 

 

September 7th, 2016

Salt_Lake_Comic_Con

Lessons From the Salt Lake Comic Con

Antiques & Vintage // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

Salt_Lake_Comic_Con

Last week I operated a vendor booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con not as a writer, but as a dealer. We sold vintage toys from the toy division of my antique/vintage business.

Through this division, we have sold toys and props to numerous exciting entities. A rocket ship from my shop was on Hawaii 5-0. A set of vintage Nancy Drew books adorned the shelves of a set room in Country Living magazine. Some baby toys from the 1990’s went to the set of “Above Suspicion.” Somewhere at Merril Lynch headquarters, a large bull statue from my shop is hanging on a wall.

The booth was the first one I had done and the idea came to me last year when I visited the Salt Lake Comic Con and noticed the entire Con was heavily geared toward male interests.

So with the help of seven of my closest friends and family, we created an awesome booth filled with vintage toys for mostly girls (though a huge percentage of my clients turned out to be male). The booth sported authentic toys from the 1970’s-1990’s as well as some modern items.

The booth was something of an experiment. I had no idea how people would react to objects that have been off the shelves for more than 30 years. But I had more than simply monetary aims. I needed rapid-fire exposure to other humans so that I could learn how they make decisions and respond to input.

Over the next coming week, I will share some of the lessons I learned from talking and selling to over 2,000 people across all age groups and demographics. These lessons were gleaned through rapid experimentation and produced some startling results that led to not only greater sales but some excellent budding friendships.

 

September 6th, 2016

simpsons_panic

How To Deal With Panic Weeks

Antiques & Vintage // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Writing Advice

simpsons_panic

In my work as an antique/vintage dealer, bad days last an entire week. I have grown to expect them. Flush with sales in the previous weeks, I will be super busy shipping, cleaning and delivering the precious cargo to their recipients. I will be expecting another busy week of great sales and easy hustle.

But for some reason, everything will grind to a halt. Sales will trickle, customers will need long emails filled with exact measurements, wood types, weights and other descriptive information. I will provide it, only to hear nothing back. There will be returns. People will want to sell large collections to me but demand ridiculous prices. Packages will be lost in the mail. Items will arrive broken. At least one insane person who doesn’t have command of the English language will pound at my door. The city will need a permit for something difficult to obtain.

On the same day (week) I will receive four unexpected and expensive bills. Something difficult to repair will break. I will receive three dinnertime phone calls from friends and family in a panic mode, needing comfort and reassurance. I will start to feel a strange pang in my back. The kids will go into nuclear meltdown over borrowed brushes and whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. My husband will have received bad news at work. All the writing I attempt to complete will be facile and simplistic.

And on, and on.

I have started to call these “panic weeks” and have exhaustively studied them in an attempt to understand why they happen. They seem not only to affect me, but swaths of individuals surrounding me. It is as if all the stress of a nation compounds in one explosive, weeping heap of anxiety.

Some theories I have tested are:

1. The time of the month. Are these panic weeks happening because of money? Is this the midpoint of the month, when we are a week away from our paychecks and all the bills are due now? I have found some rational and merit to this idea, as panic weeks seem to happen directly between the last paycheck cycle of the month.

2. On the same vein, is it the time of the year. Is August crazy because of back to school stress? What about pre-Christmas stress? Post Christmas stress? Again, there are some correlations.

3. What about the Dow? I keep an eye on the Dow daily and have found that in extreme downcycles panic weeks increase.

4. Could it be the day of the week? Are Mondays and Tuesdays insane because everyone is working? Are Thursdays depressing because everyone is worn down? Again, some of these hypotheses have proven correct.

5. Is it me? Am I stressed and therefore my worldview is laser focused toward problems. Am I looking for them? Yes, this can sometimes be the case!

Whatever the reasons are, panic weeks happen in about one out of five weeks. When they do, I have found a few ideas to be helpful:

1. I like to relive the successes of the past good weeks. That night I cried during a scene I wrote because it turned out exactly right. That client who came in and bought a third of my inventory. That date night where we stumbled into a magic shop and had a blast playing with the inventory. That impromptu dance party after dinner. Good things do happen! It’s a good idea to remember them!

2. If things are slow, use that time to work extra hard. No one calling on a Saturday night? Spend it with a novel, not a half-pint of ice cream. No sales in the pipeline? Use that time to source new inventory or build a website. Writing not coming? Work on another project that excites you.

3. Indulge. I am a huge fan of disciplined hedonism. If I am super stressed I like to dopamine bomb myself with every hedonistic pleasure I can imagine in a very short space of time. I won’t list them here, but you get the idea. Think physical pleasures. They really work!

4. Go to the animal shelter and pet kittens. No explanation needed.

5. Talk it out with someone who has the patience to spare.

6. Remember to take it one action at a time. If I have a lot of customers pounding down my door and editors demanding edits and kids demanding food, I just take it one action at a time. I try not to think of the fifty things I need to do.

7. Talk to yourself. If someone isn’t there to listen to you, turn on the recorder on your phone and talk it out with yourself. This is a surprisingly soothing way to organize your thoughts.

8. Go do something physical. Being physical gets you out of your head and helps you remember you are alive and breathing, so you are already winning!

Good luck with your own panic weeks!

August 16th, 2016

mazes and monsters

Three Reasons You Take Yourself So Seriously

Antiques & Vintage // Author & Illustrator Interviews // Book Recommendations // Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Writing Advice

mazes and monsters
Tom Hanks and crew in “Mazes and Monsters.”


THE MYTH

You believe that an almighty other (god, your parents, yourself) has deemed you a special and purposed as an instigator for some social movement, cultural obsession or big change. If that is your destiny how could you not take yourself so seriously? Stepping into Nelson Mandela’s shoes is huge and you better do a good job or you may fail to make the change you were destined to make!

THE REALITY

No one cares what you do. Your parents may give a blip of caring, but only as long as you aren’t upsetting the worldview they have created to keep themselves feeling safe and significant. Outside of your parents, the next closest person that might care is your significant other, and only because it’s either adding or subtracting resources from their coffers (time, money, attention, fun, etc). Your children will think what you do is amazing up to the age of eleven, wherein they will promptly morph into machines of uncaring and eye-rolling at every last word you say. Everyone else in the world is just living their lives independent of your grandeur. They aren’t likely to give you one iota of attention unless you give them something they can’t get better or cheaper elsewhere.

THE MYTH

Everyone is watching you, therefore, you must be extra careful with every word you write and make sure you don’t come off as an amateur or else the pain and ignominy will last until time immemorial.

THE REALITY

When I found out my daughter’s elementary school had a “no cross-dressing” rule for Halloween costumes, I went to help out at the party dressed as Jesus Christ. We live in an incredibly religious community so I feared that my costume would offend many people, in fact, I was counting on it. Guess what? No one said a word about my costume. If they had any thoughts, they kept it to themselves and nothing happened.

The only people watching you is your ex and they only do that at 2am on a Thursday night when they need to feel better about themselves. Other than that, you are invisible. Check your view counts. Check your stats. Single digits. There is nothing you can do to get the attention of onlookers that wouldn’t be immediately negated in favor of the onlooker getting a sandwich or cookie.

The beauty of knowing very few people are watching is that you can freely screw up and enjoy it.

THE MYTH

If you don’t do this perfectly, you won’t do it at all. You have high standards, after all.

THE REALITY

This attitude is called the “idealistic fallacy.” This is a common ailment affecting those in their late teens and early twenties (I know I had it pretty bad). The general premise is that you have a vision in your head of the ideal way to do things and will not allow it into the world unless it fits that ideal. This comes from the mistaken notion that you have any clue about what is ideal, which you don’t. Idealism is a moving target, one highly impossible to hit.

I love to talk about Tom Hanks when I encounter idealists. Have you ever seen Mazes and Monsters? It is one of Tom Hank’s first films and it is truly terrible. He went on to make a score of similar terrible movies like Joe Versus The Volcano and Turner And Hooch. If those are the works by which he will be judged at the end of his life then I pity him. But he also went on to make some truly stunning films such as Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and Captain Phillips (check out the closing scene, it’s one of the finest pieces of acting I had ever encountered).

THE ANTIDOTE

The antidote to taking yourself so seriously is, of course, to allow yourself to screw up a lot, be imperfect, let go of the accolades you think you have piled up. Realize that everyone, including the great ones, are flawed, weak and stupid in ways we don’t see. They will never be the ideal. You will never be the ideal.

There is no ideal.

 

August 11th, 2016

IMG_6185

The Paris Flea Market

Antiques & Vintage // Erika Viktor // Erika's Writings

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This article recently appeared in Faces Magazine, April 2014!

Awhile back, I visited The Paris Flea market to look for fun finds! Also, to generally get into trouble for taking pictures of items.

Do you know how old the city you live in is? Chances are it isn’t as old as Paris. The city got its name about two thousand years ago, but scientists think people have been living there for as long as 700,000 years! That’s a lot of time for people to make and buy stuff like pots, blankets, paintings and furniture. When an object is really old, we call it an antique—or as the French sometimes call it: ancien.

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Every Saturday through Monday antique and art dealers gather at the Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market to sell old things. Where do they find old things? Sometimes regular people sell them stuff, but most often, dealers search in old basements, junk yards, churches and attics to find their treasures. Something that looks like junk may in fact be worth a lot of money.IMG_6165

For instance, an old pair of ladies’ boots can sell for two-hundred Euros; that’s about $260 US dollars! And what about old handkerchiefs you use to blow your nose? An antique handkerchief can cost up to $500 dollars depending on the quality of the needlework. People even buy one-hundred-year-old underwear!

Not all antiques are common things you or I might throw away. Many are unique works of art. If you have enough money, you can own a marble statue carved six hundred years ago, or a painting done by a famous artist. Because Paris has always been known as a city that supports artists of all types, the Paris flea market is filled with beautiful things.

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People come to the Paris flea market because it is one of the largest flea markets in the world. On a typical Saturday you will find 2,500-3,000 booths. That’s a lot of stuff to sort through! Collectors are always ready for the job though. They want to find that one special treasure to make their collection complete. Other people come to the market to find things to decorate their house or business. Have you ever been in a restaurant with a lot of old things all over the walls? They probably found those things at a flea market just like the one in Paris.

IMG_6208Not all antiques are expensive. Small items like coins, toys, and books can be bought for less than five dollars. Part of the fun is looking for something that is priced below what people typically pay for it. Many buyers find cheap items and find out they are worth a lot more than they paid. Antiquing can be like a modern-day treasure hunt!

Paris is special because of its age, its beauty and its history. Antique dealers and buyers feel the same way about the things they bring home from the Paris flea market. Often these objects have endured moves, wartime, bad storage conditions and abuse. The fact that they survived earns them the right to be called an antique—just like the city of Paris has earned the right to be called magnifique!

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July 22nd, 2015