Today I learned about the "elevator pitch." Picture being in an elevator with someone you just met and they ask you, as people inevitably do, what you do. We all know that this translates to, "What do you do that people pay you for?" I sometimes wish that I had the gumption to respond, "Well, so far today I knit. Yesterday I wrote a blog post about collecting stuff and read to my 8 year old daughter. I also made an awesome dinner from a middle Eastern cookbook and dreamed that I had returned to figure skating and mastered the twizzles in the Tango Romantica. What do you do?"
When did what we do for money become what defines us? It's not that I'm bitter about it, really. I'd much rather be defined for what I do than the color of my skin or my ethnicity or my political inclinations. But I'd really like it if my interests were more important than my job. I've tried asking people about their passions when I meet them, and sometimes I get that look, you know the one, like I sprouted a second head when no one was paying attention. I give that look sometimes, and it's usually because my mind just clicked into high gear. "What the hell was that," you think to yourself, so I'm pretty sure that when I get that two-heads stare the same thing is happening on the other side. Aging is funny like that, you start to see the reflection of your behavior in other people and understand what's behind it. Often you say things like, "Sorry, I was just thinking how to respond," which is actually kind of nice since you no longer care if this person thinks you're an idiot for responding so slowly. Unless they are a potential tribe member, and then you're pretty sure you don't have to explain yourself anyway.
Back to the elevator conversation, which actually happens anytime you meet someone for the first time. In our world today, you should be prepared to respond with a one sentence answer, particularly if you have your own business. Be able to define it in one sentence. That gets you past one floor. If pressed, get into specifics, again in a single sentence. That's the next floor. If your new acquaintance seems genuinely interested, then you can get into the nitty gritty of your vision.
So, here's a trial run.
"Nice to meet you. I run a school to teach the handcrafts."
"Yes, it's very interesting. I believe that people will better appreciate the cost of handmade items if they learn the process involved in making them."
"While it's great that the internet offers us so many tutorials to learn skills at any time, day or night, I believe that the community that is built out of learning within a group setting is something that our technology-based society is hungry to embrace - from knitting to sewing to wood carving and painting floorcloths and making jewelry. People want to learn to make things, but more importantly, they want to participate within a community to do that. Working in a yarn store taught me that."
That's what I'm going to be doing when my gig at the yarn store is over. I'm still working on a name, but I've got a good idea of how the logistics will work and I'm in the beginning phase of working with a brand and website developer. There are lots of places where this is happening and the people behind it are doing it well - see the Wheelhouse Studio at the University of Wisconsin and the Handcraft Studio School in Berkeley for examples. The Handcraft Studio School has been most inspirational and I'm so glad that I read about it ages ago on a knitting blog I like.
And, since you're probably wondering, yes, this post was influenced by an After the Jump episode, two actually. One was about branding and introduced me to the elevator pitch. The other was one of those serendipitous moments, where you know deep down you're on the right track. A strategist for Etsy was interviewed about building connections in the creative community.
My final thought today is that trying something new really does open up new vistas for you. I hadn't worked retail since I was just out of college and still working in book stores, and working in the yarn shop taught me a couple of lessons. First, people are generally wonderful. In my 9 month run at the shop, I've only had two customers that worked hard to make my day as crappy as their's, and while memorable, the kindness and generosity of most knitters far overshadowed these blips. It might be just that fiber people are awesome, but I'm going to choose to think that everyone is awesome deep down. I've discovered something about myself too. I've always thought of myself as an introvert - happiest at home puttering and making things, inviting friends into our home and then sending them away again. That's still true to some extent, but I really love and need my community of like-minded souls - from my knitting friends to my movie group to my dog walking buddies to my fellow makers - and I'm eager to broaden that community and strengthen it. I hope this crazy school idea will do just that.