I’m pretty sure this is the best life I could have chosen for myself.
Seven Okanaganites who’ve made professions of their passions prove that a typical nine-to-five job need not be your final destination if you’re truly inspired.
In an ideal world, we would all be working in professions or businesses we love — making enough money to support ourselves … and more.
Certainly, there are those who knew from the git-go what they wanted to do when they grew up — recognized and developed their talents, got the right type of training and honed their business and promotional skills.
There are many, however, who arrive at the find-the-work-you-love crossroads because of personal epiphany or sometimes necessity. Perhaps they never bothered to sit down and figure out their ideal job and work in positions that give them no satisfaction. There are those who always knew what they were meant to do (“I always wanted to be a sculptor”) but were discouraged by others, or even themselves, from pursuing their dream.
Some lose a job, while some decide to “unretire” and have the opportunity to try something they really want to do. Yet others are injured at work or suffer accidents and have to switch to safer and more suitable employment. And then there are those who experience personal loss — financial or otherwise — and decide to turn tragedy into an opportunity.
Read how seven Okanaganites found a way to make their passion their profession.
Find Your Calling
Teresa Proudlove (perfect name) loves her business of teaching people how to find the work they love. But it’s taken many years and a major financial setback for her to arrive in her present situation. Back in the 80s, she operated two retail clothing stores in Vernon and Kelowna, but skyrocketing interest rates drove her into bankruptcy.
“Not only did I lose $100,000, my two businesses and my marriage, but also, I lost my self-worth amidst feelings of shame and failure,” she says. “So although I had no career direction when I left my stores behind, I was very clear that somehow — despite being a single mother with a baby — I would create the life and work I loved.”
Teresa grasped at straws and took odd jobs to make a living, but never wavered from her entrepreneurial passion. Remembering how much she enjoyed giving professional development workshops for her store staff, she started teaching a course on “how to be your best inside and outside.” She was also an image and wardrobe consultant and wrote a column for the Vernon Morning Star.
Then the big break came. In 1992, Teresa landed a major contract with Okanagan University College teaching the Career Assessment Program, helping people determine how best to find work. She continued this for 15 years — until the labour market changed. “Finding work is not the issue,” she says of the current situation in the Valley. “There are plenty of jobs.”
Teresa began teaching a new course at Okanagan College (Create the Work You Love) and started a new business. Through her company, Yourlifework Enterprises, she helps people discover their true professional calling. Teresa offers in-person and telephone coaching and sells an e-book on the subject from her website, which itself is a gold mine of encouragement and information.
“People have to remember what they love, and need some help with belief,” she counsels. “They have to know what resources they can tap into, and then get ongoing support to put in some of the groundwork.”
Money Making Music
“I enjoy telling people what I do for a living,” says exuberant Rhiannon Schmitt of Canoe, near Salmon Arm. “It’s seen by many as being exotic and so artsy. I’m like a diva who gets to wear fancy dresses on stage and gets summers off. It’s, of course, more boring and far more work than that, but I am proud to do something more unique than most professions. And besides, I love it!”
Rhiannon is a performing violinist. But that’s not all — she teaches people how to play the instrument and runs a shop that sells violins and accessories locally and around the world via the Internet. She also arranges music and writes two magazine columns.
Rhiannon knew when she was 10 what she was going to be when she grew up. Inspired by a band teacher’s presentation on the violin at her inner-city school in East San Diego, California, she asked her mother to rent her a violin for $15 a month, and proceeded to teach herself to play by ear at home.
The next school Rhiannon attended offered an orchestra program and in her first year of playing, she advanced from the back of the class to assistant concertmaster. Four years later, she was playing in a community college symphony, practicing five hours a day.
“My hope was to play for the Berlin Chamber Orchestra and to live a passionate and single life in a massive downtown penthouse suite with cats and marble statues for company.”
Meanwhile, Rhiannon developed a thriving busking business — playing for tips on the streets. “I got to be a very good busker and my tips eventually funded my Canadian immigration,” she says.
Instead of attending a classical conservatory in a big city, Rhiannon graduated from a contemporary jazz and rock music school in Nelson at the age of 20. Daunting as it seemed, she opted to remain and make a living as a musician. Soon she was playing three to four nights a week and teaching 40 students.
“There were lean times,” she recalls, “which really inspired me to get out there and make money. Adversity can sure promote creativity!”
Rhiannon married her bass-playing college sweetheart in 1999 and moved to the village of Canoe where she had a baby and started her violin school and shop, Fiddleheads. While the entrepreneurial musician admits that this new direction is “worlds away” from her old aspirations, she can’t imagine her life any other way. “My only regret is that I truly miss playing in an orchestra, which was my original inspiration for playing the violin.”
Rhiannon says the keys to her success are the ability to promote herself and her business; her attention to customer service and dedication to being honest with herself and others.
But the success has come with a price. “Balance? What’s that?” she asks. “As a recovering workaholic, I must admit this has been the biggest challenge of my life — balancing work and family. Working at home makes it even harder to distance myself from my business.”
However, the violinist is making strides — limiting afternoon hours so she can spend time with her son, not answering the phone after hours and being more productive with her work time. She hopes to hire another violin teacher and she’s building a new studio to keep work separate from home.
“There are times I yearn for the days when I would pick up my violin and play for hours and hours just for the passion of it. That said, I absolutely love what I do and would not trade it for anything else.”
“Clients just seem to miraculously appear.”
Graham T. Chambers thinks God has a lot to do with it, but it’s also his previous reputation as an interior designer (friends telling friends) and people viewing his work.
This devout, energetic man, who was employed with Jordan’s Interiors for 23 years, left the firm a year-and-a-half ago to start his own design business. “In contract interior design, I end up doing all sorts of things I wouldn’t do if I were working for the store.”
Besides decorating, he’s helped clients move, renovate and shop for furniture and art. One client even flew him to Toronto to decorate a high-end apartment on Bloor Street.
When Graham hurt his back on the job, he began painting murals and creating glass sculpture in an attempt to change the direction of his profession. Interior design still provides most of his income, but he’s making great strides in trying to actualize the other areas of his ideal livelihood.
Graham has been commissioned to paint a mural at Brookhaven Care Home on the Westside, to brighten up an otherwise lifeless wall. He’s also setting up an outdoor garden at his Kelowna home to feature his glass sculptures. These large-scale and often brightly-coloured pieces are created using a fusion technique.
“Glass is great for outdoors,” he says. “It’s never been used for sculpture in a garden. But it’s great because it’s never affected by heat or water.”
While he markets his sculptures and painting, Graham’s interior design business funds the glass he orders and kiln time for fusing. Sadly, half of his sculptures were lost in a recent fire at the Lloyd Gallery in Penticton. It’s a serious setback, but Graham retains his perspective.
“My work could easily occupy me all week, but I insist on taking one day off out of seven,” he says. “It’s why God put it there.”
Life Force Lessons
Studio Chi’s owner and head instructor, Brenda Molloy, came across shiatsu after a debilitating car accident.
“I was no longer able to work at a hospital as an education coordinator,” she says. “After a year of rehab, I wanted to go back to work, but they told me my position had been eliminated because of cutbacks. They also said there was nothing more they could do for me in rehab.”
Brenda was still getting headaches and couldn’t raise her arms. It was suggested she try shiatsu. Not at all like the Swedish relaxation massage many people are used to, shiatsu is a Japanese-style treatment that uses pressure on specific parts of the body in a most effective way.
“After three sessions, my headaches were gone and I had full range of motion,” she says. “I also knew this was going to be my new livelihood.”
Following study under the practitioner who had treated her and at a school in the Valley, Brenda started her own part-time practice. She took more training in Berkeley, California, then returned to the Okanagan and began a full-time practice. Since then, she’s added feng shui (the Chinese practice of environmental design for positive living) and yoga to her professional repertoire.
When people started appearing and asking if she could teach them, the practitioner became the instructor and Brenda opened Studio Chi (chi means life force), which is registered with the Private Careers Institute of BC.
Studio Chi is not a typical bodywork school located in an institutional-type environment. Since 2002, students have travelled to this professional-level training centre, located in the lower level of Brenda’s warm, woodsy home on Westside Road, to become shiatsu practitioners. Three years’ worth of graduates now practice in the Okanagan.
Meanwhile, Brenda continues to treat clients. “It keeps me current,” she says. And running the school and treatment room at home aren’t as distracting as you might think because they are located below the house. “I just close the door so I can ascend to the living room area.”
There are challenges, of course: “The administrative part of the business always takes time and I tend to overbook myself with clients. But now that I have graduates, I can refer clients to them.”
Brenda tries hard to live a balanced and tranquil life, something that is not always easy for self-employed people — “I try to find the time to hike, swim, and be a mother and grandma.” One son is still at home; the other is a father himself.
Brenda continually studies Asian philosophy and health practices and is completely fascinated by and dedicated to her field. “I’m pretty sure this is the best life I could have chosen for myself.”
Talk about eclectic. Angela and Jeff Hook have managed to roll graphic design, audio/video production and … wire sculpture … into one Summerland home-based business, H2Okay Creative.
Both raised in Penticton, the pair had moved to Calgary but returned to the Valley three years ago. “We got educated, got jobs and then came home,” says the truly original Angela, who studied visual communication, architectural design and (of all things) astrophysics.
In Calgary, she was a freelance graphic designer while Jeff worked for QSound Labs doing audio production.
“I had half a dozen good clients,” he says, “and it didn’t matter where I was to do their design.” He arranged a deal with his employer and began to work remotely on a contract basis.
When Angela first moved to Summerland, she got a job with a firm in Penticton, “but didn’t find the corporate environment very creative.” Now, she stays home and does their work in her pajamas. Her surprising sideline (and passion) is wire sculpture, from which she actually makes a decent chunk of her income.
“It’s a release after work,” she says. “It’s taken years to reach the point where I’ve mastered it. I have fans around the world of how I bend wire.”
Angela sells her creations, often horses and human figures, for $300-plus, frequently through her website. She also sells a book she’s written and a video on the subject. In addition, Angela offers wire-bending workshops through the Summerland Art Gallery and, with Jeff, is building a new studio where she can teach even more.
Fun as it is, the couple’s home-based business still has its moments. “We play a lot, but we still have clients and deadlines,” says Angela. “And because we’re creative, staying focused is an issue. My daughter will come and sit at my desk and chat — meanwhile, I’m trying to work.”
Blooms for Babes
“Babies are very special and bring happy times for any family,” says Annette Gramiak in her thick Kiwi accent. She pauses because she really has a soft spot for newborns. “Why not give a new mother a gift that’s both pretty and practical?”
The Penticton travel agent was “tired of being retired” — again, after several times — and decided to create Baby Bouquets and Gifts with the aid of Community Futures, the federal government program that helps people start new businesses.
She creates gift baskets for new mums filled with high-quality cotton infant clothes including sweet little pants, T-shirts, tank tops and hats, as well as 100 per cent organic garments for premature babies — all imported from the US.
Annette folds and twists them into blooms and buds so distinctive they’ve been trademarked — wild roses, camellias and freesias among them. She then surrounds her wearable posies with silk flowers and chocolate flowers imported from Italy, and might pop in a keepsake like a pewter rocking horse. The result is exquisite gift baskets that look like floral bouquets, customized for baby boys, girls, twins and preemies.
Her creations go out to hospitals or baby showers as gifts, not just in the Penticton area, but as far away as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Overseas customers also contact her to deliver baby gifts to their families in Canada. In her latest coup, Annette has hooked up with the Shopping Channel and her gift baskets will now be sold on television across Canada.
The original idea came from gift baskets Annette saw in New Zealand and after 12 months of research, she started Baby Bouquets and Gifts last year.
“Canada is such a wonderful place for small businesses to get support,” she says. “They really try to help you. There’s Community Futures, the Development Bank of Canada, the Penticton Chamber of Commerce, all those breakfasts, mixing and mingling; it’s really great for people with home-based businesses.”
Building her business, Annette has learned to develop a great amount of patience.
“Everything takes time … like building a website,” she says. “When I started doing this, I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. Plus, you make mistakes along the way, and some of them are costly. Every day’s a different challenge.”
In other words, there’s far more to making baby bouquets than forming floral patterns out of infant clothing. But to Annette it’s all worth it. “A baby is a new life,” she sighs. “And I enjoy the fact that I’m creating something that will bring pleasure.”
The Four Rs
Rick Grandbois is proud to be able to execute his philosophy — reclaim, rebuild, renew, resplendent — in his business, Plexus Doors. The committed family man and environmentalist recycles old timbers from buildings like warehouses, packing plants and barns that are about to be demolished and turns them into quality doors in his Naramata workshop with the help of several employees.
The father of five has a degree in economics but “didn’t want to be a white collar worker.” While living in Vancouver, he learned woodworking by renovating his house and making cabinets. When he saw demolition companies breaking up timbers and putting them in dumpsters, he started buying big pieces. With a partner, Rick formed a company to buy wood from demolition sites and now buys from buildings being torn down anywhere in BC.
Rick’s custom-made doors are in demand from the Okanagan to Vancouver and are very popular with wineries because of their rustic look. He uses mostly Douglas fir because it’s stable, fine-grained and has a nice “old-growth” colour. “People really like it because it’s environmentally friendly and recycled,” he says.
Plexus Doors has been operating for ten years in a 2,250-square-foot workshop on Rick’s 14-acre property in Naramata. It’s getting busier, which is a good thing, but makes it more difficult to allocate the time to “adapt and tweak his vision” as the volume of orders and workload increase.
“It’s also a challenge to find experienced, qualified, ‘traditional joiner’ craftsman,” he says. “Plexus doors are constructed using traditional joinery methods — such as floating panel and classic mortise and tenon joints. It takes a specialized, detail-oriented wood worker who has experience and training in joinery techniques to craft our custom product.”
Rick finds his business extremely gratifying and he likes the fact that he can work close to his children and wife Harriet.
“I’m also able to recycle and transform timber that otherwise would be destined for destruction,” he says. “It’s really rewarding to be in on the ground floor of the green building movement and to see it expand and become more mainstream.”
Photos by Mark Coffey
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