New Years Eve, 2019, I made my first ring with a minimal tool collection and hours of YouTube tutorials. I’ll never forget, I scratched “2020” into the backplate because that ring signified something new for me. Too exhausted to celebrate the New Year festivities and desperate to catch a break, I stayed home with my (very patient) partner and crafted maybe the most important piece of art in my life. At the time, I was buried by my studies in Neuroscience at the University of Montana and motivated to sharpen my skillset in healthcare. I had my EMT license and worked at a local Emergency Room, mostly night shifts. Like most of my peers, I was prideful of the 80 hour work week that I had just completed on top of my full-time school work. I could talk about how working 80 hours in one week in a hospital is indeed *not* something to be prideful of and how it’s s a symptom shaped by capitalism, but that’s not what this blog is about. And besides, if you’ve worked a day of your life in the US, you likely know what I’m talking about. I digress… My lifestyle kept me busy, learning, and always reaching for the next ‘thing’ that would advance me forward.
To be honest, watching the inner workings of our healthcare systems disappointed me and I’m happy I figured it out before I furthered my education. They say it’s important to get hands-on experience before you go invest time and money into a Masters or PhD program, and clearly for good reason. After experiencing several horrific infant deaths in a short period of time in the ER, I felt like it was time to shift gears. I started working as an IV technician in an IV suite. Talk about a major pivot- I started IV’s all day (one of my favorite skills), the pay was significantly better, they helped me find health insurance, and the hours we’re during “regular people time,” which was wildly different from my usual 7pm-7am ER rodeo. The clinic was privately owned by wait for it: a group of female doctors. Now the livable wage and health benefits make sense, right? (Shout out to Natura Health and Wellness Clinic).
So, where does the jewelry making come in? There was never a “eureka!” moment for me. Instead, I made small decisions that moved me toward the lifestyle I wanted to have. I began to recognize how uncomfortable I was with each little step I took away from what I knew. The more I started prioritizing my happiness with each decision I made, the more second-nature it felt. It would be perfectly poetic to tell you that after I made my first ring going into 2020 that I ~just knew my life would change~ but that’s not the case. I never ‘went rogue’ and quit my day job and invested all my savings into metal smithing tools. Instead, I gave myself permission to step away from healthcare and part-time youth counseling to try bartending. *Side note: all this job-hopping during the coronavirus outbreak was just as disorientating as you’d think it would be.*
For the first time, I picked a job with my happiness as first priority. Not for the ways it could advance my future and not for the pay (which was double scary). The drop of income during this job transition pushed me to take metalsmithing a little more seriously as a potential income source. Fortunately, I live in a community that values handmade goods. And yes, thankfully the time eventually came where I was able to quit my job for the last time and transition to full self-employment. The support fell in my lap in the form of friends. And now, those friends are some of my strongest relationships.
It’s been four years since I carved into that first ring of 2020 and I don’t have a pit in my stomach when I think about facing the day. I wake up every morning grateful for the small decisions I made that lead to such a different life. I get all the sleep I need and eat when I want to (it’s feels silly that those things seem like such a goldmine of self care, yet here we are)… I still get to practice tedious skills, just not on humans anymore. I’m no longer comforting people on their worst days, instead, I get to see people experience some of their best days.
The friends I’ve made during this phase of early adulthood have the same enthusiasm for carving their own paths and I strongly believe our shared passion is going to change our community for the better. Bailey Durnell and I co-founded the Missoula Makers Collective shortly after I took up metalsmithing and it repeatedly shows us that we aren’t alone in that itch to pursue happiness, a sense of community, and listen to our creativity. Amongst the growing buzz to monetize what we make and the intricacies of status amongst the arts, we do our best to remember why we make things. We continue to encourage people around us to consider their crafts to be more than the hobbies we are told can only exist as fillers adjacent to the “real jobs.” They can be our life lines, the connection to our communities, the expression of our identities, and in some cases, they can become the center of who we are and how we live.