A few weeks ago, someone on this American Life was sharing his approach for teaching other men to pick up women.
The idea, as it was explained, was to “lay five bricks every day.”
Talk to a woman, just in passing. Deliver a compliment. Engage. Not necessarily with intent. Just lay five bricks and see where you are at the end of a month.
That caught my noodle, because the whole philosophy sounded familiar.
It sounded like . . . my life.
Okay, not the picking up women part. But the idea of laying bricks everyday.
It sounded like upholstery, and self employment, and every day of the past several years.
Especially last fall, in a new shop . . . there were so many days when it felt like nothing was happening, and those were the worst days. Why isn’t the phone ringing? Why don’t I have any new emails? Let me check again – after all, it’s been about 30 seconds.
I eventually figured out that the best way to stave off hysteria was to take a deep breath and lay a few bricks: post on social media, reach out to a past client, visit a neighbor, railroad your kids into making a silly video:
Just do something. Anything. Not necessarily with specific intent or expectation. Build a solid foundation of determination and enthusiasm and see what sticks.
And wildly, a few things have panned out:
Being active on social media has created teaching opportunities and friendships with other creative professionals. It’s attracted awesome new clients and students.
Networking with neighbors has led to fun (and occasionally fruitful) relationships with other businesses. It’s given me a critical referral network.
Reaching out to preferred vendors made it possible to spend the summer crashing around YouTube with The Fabulous Amy Oh.
But here’s what I REALLY want you to know:
I’ve laid a ridiculous number of bricks that went nowhere.
SO SO SO many bricks!!!!! SOOOOOOOOOOOOO many!
I’ve networked, and emailed, and phone called, and gone to meetings, and returned bids, and discussed teaching opportunities AND AND AND.
So. Many. Bricks.
I couldn’t even begin to name them all.
I have five years worth of notebooks stuffed with ideas and actionable items – most of them dead ends. I’m not crazy. I just really want to teach upholstery.
I keep those notebooks to remind myself of all the things I’ve tried so far. To remind myself on the slow days, that, HEY: You’ve come a long way. Look at how many things you’ve discovered that don’t work. That’s progress, hard won.
One reason this was rolling around in my brain was because I got invited to an open house.
An open HENhouse.
If you don’t know her yet, allow me to introduce Lindsay Orwig of, “A Chick and a Chair“
Some back story:
I believe I was Lindsay’s first contact with hands-on upholstery education, but she’d been banging down this particular door for awhile. She read the Spruce Upholstery book from beginning to end, along with every upholstery book at her local library. She watched online videos from Sailrite and Kim’s Upholstery, and took my Craftsy class. She took an online course with Shelly Leer and read my Facebook feed from beginning to end.(embarrassing – who on earth knows what I posted those first few months?)
I first met Lindsay when she signed up for a professional workshop with me and Steve Cone (she was kind enough to email that my online registration wasn’t working. I’ve laid lots of bricks learning how to work the interwebs – they weren’t my favorite)
Here’s a full confession: I didn’t know Lindsay that well when I invited her to join our mentorship group.
I happened to have an opening, I knew she was seriously digging around upholstery as a potential profession. And I worried I was ripping her off.
Ah, this lovely and enthusiastic woman! She has no idea what she’s getting into!!! I’m going to crush her dreams of professional upholstery when it turns out to be a long, hard, messy, uncertain path instead of some linear tiptoe through the tulips!!!
I might have laid a lot of bricks in my career, but Lindsay is a freaking mason.
She didn’t waste any time worrying about which bricks to lay, she just said, HELL YEAH and started building.
She initiated conversations and handed out business cards like breath mints.
She engaged all over Facebook, quickly building a social media following. She joined a bunch of groups and then created her own.
She came to class armed with very specific questions and a giant notebook and endless enthusiasm.
We sat and talked through technical challenges (working with vinyl, foam selection, spring tying) and philosophical questions (How to schedule? How to charge? How and why to start selling fabric? How to battle, “Imposter syndrome”)
I spent most of last year in a new shop trying to control my stress related eye twitch, so Lindsay’s momentum was equal parts awe inspiring and overwhelming.
There were so many days I wanted to clam up and shut down.
I remember one such day, feeling burned out on a pile of fruitless bricks, and kind of whining to Lindsay that so much hard work turns out to be a massive waste of time.
Oh sweet Lindsay. She looked at me like the twit I was being.
“But if you do nothing . . . then you get nothing”
That’s not an exact quote, forgive the liberty. But it was basically like DUH laying bricks might turn up lemons, but doing nothing DEFINITELY will.
So last week, I got to help Lindsay celebrate the opening of her backyard shop, a ridiculously cute barn shaped structure with a bright pink door, a giant cutting table, a storage loft, a Consew named Boscoe and a long, happy client list.
It is amazing what can be accomplished in a year when you wake up every day determined to lay a few bricks.
I’ve learned in teaching and doing upholstery, that a lot of us want to stand around, and wait to be handed opportunities and answers.
Or we want to lay one brick and then stare at it.
Maybe seeds are a better analogy here?
Yeah – we want to plant 1 or 2 seeds and wait around for immediate results.
I’ll confess to having stood around for too long on my share of seeds.
COME ON, COME ON, GROW!!!! I LIKE THE PICTURE ON THIS PARTICULAR PACKAGE!!!
Would it surprise you to learn that many of my seeds have been planted with colleges and community education programs? OH I stared at those for too long.
So every time a discussion starts up about degree programs, I sigh and go back to gardening.
Or building walls.
What metaphor are we using?
Yes, it would be lovely. When peers from the PUAM talk about their college experience and their apprenticeships, I’m positively green with envy. I would have LOVED to have been part of a big crew doing custom upholstery with a degree tucked under my arm.
But I’ve spent enough time staring at the dirt, waiting for those sprouts to appear.
And the time I’ve spent building and planting has been WAY more productive.
There’s an interesting upshot to our lack of degree programs: We find out in a hurry who’s prepared to lay bricks.
If, like Lindsay, you’re determined enough to network and learn and seek out and problem solve . . . Those skills are going to serve you very well as an upholsterer.
If you need to be handed a road map . . . well, it’s going to be short road.
I guess I’m saying . . . to get there without a degree, you have to dig awful damn deep. And in the process, you’ll be cultivating determination and optimism and creativity and resourcefulness and ingenuity. Which is good – believe me, you’re going to need those things – to sort through clients and leads and roadblocks and messy, evil projects. You’re going to need to lay bricks on the lowest and slowest of days. And when most of those bricks go nowhere, you’re going to have to wake up and lay some more.
So a huge congrats to Lindsay this week on the opening of her Henhouse – I know a whole lot of bricks went into it, and I CAN’T WAIT to see what you build next <3
(Want to listen to the episode of This American Life I referenced? It’s called White Haze – it’s excellent, thought provoking, and definitely NOT about picking up women)
6 thoughts on ““Lay Five Bricks””
Regarding teaching upholstery… I think there are certain elements which share the same concepts… someday, I’ll get around to fully forming the idea…
Meanwhile… yer doing it!
Good morning, Dave
I hope you do find time eventually to organize your ideas and thoughts! Lots of folks interested in learning about this thing we do. In the meantime, I’ve no doubt you’re busy doing what you do well, and that is equally commendable – consumers and students alike need the example of quality craftsmanship so they can appreciate that professional upholstery is not what they see in a 30 second DIY clip. Onward and upward! Best, Cynthia
Cynthia, you are not alone. There are many of us out there trying to persuade, cajole, bribe ( did I say that ? ) Tutors, colleges,Guilds, anyone and anything that can help us establish a standard of competency and recognition for our passion that is the craft of Upholstery. If Lindsay has built the Henhouse, let me tell you I have been building the outhouse 🙄 Lol, maybe if we all join together we will at least be building the foundations, and as we all know, good upholstery is built on great foundations !
Hi Louise!!!! Don’t I know it – seeing that others were already out there persuading, cajoling, bribing etc., inspired me to get my own show on the road. Thank you for doing all those things, and for continuing to strive toward those goals! We shall not go quietly into that good night, LOL!!!! All my best, Cynthia 🙂
Loved reading this – I don’t know if you saw the little video that what Ira glass explains in 1 minute will change your life forever. It’s all about this .
You might have to google it or look it up on my Facebook it’s way down though. I’m not big on Facebook as all y Instagram posts automatically sends stuff to my page.
Hi Jane! Thanks for the tip, I didn’t see that Ira Glass video, but I’ll have to try and hunt it down! sounds like something I’d dig 🙂 <3