Charlatans, Schmarlatans

By: Amy Brown of jumbojibbles

Leaving your job, friends and home for a move with a spouse is hard enough without worrying about what to do job-wise. Everyone knows how hard it is for expat spouses, but career pitfalls can happen in a domestic move also.

You may move to an area without the same career opportunities, or find yourself back at the bottom of the ladder. One way to keep your resume fresh and bolster your self-esteem is to start a small home business.

What’s that you say? You didn’t take a business class? You don’t have a formal degree in the area you want to pursue? Other “real” artists/teachers/businesspeople will smell you out and call you a fraud? Sacre bleu!

My advice? Don’t be overly concerned about truth or authenticity when you’re completely rebooting your life in a new place.  No, I’m not saying it’s ok to lie about yourself, but what if you’re already lying to yourself? About your abilities, ambitions, experience-- what if you’ve been selling yourself short for years?

Moving to a new place can be awful, wonderful, or a mix of both most times. I’m lucky that my big move was just across the United States. Just. I just had to leave the place I’d become an adult for the past 10 years, all my hard-won connections and a job I was really good at. Just that.

When I started writing my “trailing spouse” blog, Secret Confessions of a Trailing Spouse, it was because I couldn’t find many blogs that dealt with the problems of a domestic move. At the time, I didn’t know where we were going, and my spouse was still on track to become a professor after graduation. I wasn’t dealing with the realities of international travel or working visas, just the great big unknown. And I’m not sure which is worse-- knowing you’re moving to China* or not knowing if you’re moving to China.

I needed to hear other people’s voices allowing me to feel scared and maybe a little resentful, and eventually after writing out my thoughts and fears for months, I became that voice. For myself, for others, my blog was a resource for people who weren’t hunky-dory with the given situation. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first step in becoming the person I wanted to be through trial and error. I wouldn’t really learn my lesson until more than a year later.

There was a chance I’d be able to get back into my field (libraries) after a domestic move, but when we got to San Jose, California, the economy was terrible and the libraries were barely limping by. I had the luxury of relaxing for a little while and figuring out what I wanted to do. At first I thought that meant waiting until a good library job opened, but after a few months I realized that waiting wasn’t going to do me any good, and I had an opportunity to do whatever I wanted within reason.

I really like making things. Not that I had any formal training or years and years of experience, but I can do just about any craft, and I’ve done a little (tiny) bit of teaching others.

So I took that nugget of expertise and made it sound awesome in an ad for tutoring.

Was I lying about my talents? Hardly. I think I was finally telling myself the truth: there’s something I love to do and I’m good enough at it to teach someone else. I’ve always thought that was bragging-- now I know that’s selling myself.

So that gets us back to lying and authenticity. If you’ve got low self-esteem and don’t value your talents, then saying, “I am good at sewing” sounds like a lie, even if you’re wearing a dress you made from scratch. This is a problem in women-- we feel like talking ourselves up is boasting, so we do ourselves a disservice each time we downplay our talents.

Or maybe you aren’t sure whether you are good at something or not. We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to judging such things, so to figure out whether or not your talents are true, you have to show them to other people.

That’s where “fake it til you make it” comes in. No one will believe in you until you can at least act like you believe yourself.

I put up an ad on a childcare and tutoring site about my skills as a craft instructor, and I got my first client. I did exactly what I said I could do: all crafts and a lot of painting and drawing, with weekly projects that are constructed around what the child likes to do. As I did it more, I learned, and eventually I wasn’t so sheepish about it.

When people ask, “What do you do?” just say it. Whatever it is, say it and don’t hedge. Don’t make excuses, and definitely don’t appear to be ashamed. Most of the times it’s just small talk anyway, so why make it awkward by airing your insecurities? It’ll be over in just a few seconds.

Still feeling squeamish about being honest to yourself? One trick I’ve learned is to soften the blow of actually saying something positive about yourself is to add on something you know you aren’t good at. In your head. When I talk to prospective clients about what I do, I always say I can do just about everything, then add, “Except crochet. I have never been able to get the hang of that.”

Eventually I hope you’ll be able to let go of that magic feather and fly free.

I made up a new career for myself as an art educator and artist. I have no formal training and am only just now gaining experience that will draw attention to my resume. But I would not have any experience if I’d let my lack of it hold me back. I still have trouble calling myself an artist when I’m around painters or sculptors-- serious artists-- but I’m working on that.

If no one knows you, then you can be whatever and whoever you want. And that might just be who you’ve really been all along. Take a chance and let people see what you’ve been hiding. Tell the truth.

*No offense intended to China, it’s just really far language-wise from my knowledge of English and Spanish. Also very far away (I once tried to dig a hole there when I was a kid.)

Amy Brown

Amy Brown

Amy Brown is a southern girl who won the relocation lottery and now lives in Northern California. She turned a BA in English into supervising a branch library at her alma mater, then became the owner of her own plush design company, Jumbo Jibbles. You can find giant  stuffed fruits and vegetables at her store, and contact her about any kind of custom-sewn object. After making up the term "interest-led craft instructor" and getting experience teaching individual children, she is now teaching visual arts classes at a non-profit and will soon be in public school classrooms.

Isn't Amy awesome?? Tell her as much in the comments and share some of your own stories of change and growth. What secret superpower have you been holding back from the world??