Lots of little things have come together in a perfect-storm-style to prompt me to write this post.
* A more established potter visited my stall, asked me about the pots and how my business was going. He also said "it's a hard way to earn a living".
* I worked about 6 weeks straight with 2 days off, during which I was so tired I spent most of those precious days collapsed on the sofa.
* My back got more and more unhappy, eventually requiring 3 trips to the osteopath & strict instructions to do the prescribed exercises twice a day for the rest of my life.
* I read the Good Elephant blog's update on her hourly earnings project.
* I calculated that last year despite working 6 days a week for most of last year I took home the grand sum of about £3.50 per hour.
It looks as if Mr Established Potter may be on to something. Physically it's certainly laborious hard work being a potter. It's tough setting up a small business by yourself and being responsible for all the making and all the selling and all the admin and all the marketing and all the planning and everything else that 'should' be done. And it's hard living on £3.50/hr, especially in London. (For the same period the official minimum wage was £6.31/hr and the London living wage was set by the GLA at £9/hr). I'm not married to a banker so I do have to be able to support myself financially. In truth it means you work like crazy and come home with not much in the wallet at the end of the week, and are so tired you don't want to do any more. You don't have the money to go out and take advantage of the splendours the city offers and you don't have the energy to do it. And then the burnout kicks in. All of which might make a sane person if its really worth it.
But I'm just not that motivated by money. I could have stayed in my previous career, sat out the restructurings, taken the promotion my then boss expected me to take. Had I done so I might have been pushing 40k p/a by now. But that salary would have come at a price. My previous job was already unbearably management-y, surrounded by team-members doing interesting, creative and socially useful things but me stuck at my desk, forced to wear smart officy clothes and spending my time sorting out problems, running budgets and the like. The promotion would have been worse. It would also have entailed moving to a different building where everything was grey, everybody hot-desked and you couldn't even stick a picture on the door of your locker (unless it was hidden on the inside).
For a creative and visual person who likes to get their hands dirty that's about the working definition of hell.
All that's a long way of introducing the possibility that talking about 'earning a living' is answering the wrong question. For me, the question is becoming more about how I can life a creative and fulfilling life. It looks at the quality of the total experiences of each day lived. I do still live in a country that likes to use money so I do have to think about that, but it's only a part of the equation.
My answer to Mr Established is therefore to agree that yes, being a potter is hard work, and yes setting up a business is incredibly challenging. But as a way of living my life I am always grateful to have chosen this path and however hard it is I know that I have absolutely zero desire to go back to my old life.
The last couple of years have brought endless challenges to my door, but they have also helped me to grow, to learn about myself, and to spend far more of my time actually being myself, being creative and getting my hands dirty. I have been able to celebrate heartfelt successes and spent my time doing something that really matters to me.
Plus, I see signs that the business is growing and I have hope that the financial side of things may not always be quite so difficult. I don't imagine ever being rich but enough seems possible.
The opposite of an hard way to earn a living would I suppose be an 'easy way'. As far as I can see easy money only ever comes at the expense of someone else and that doesn't sound like something I could be proud of at the end of the day. 'Easy' also doesn't sound very interesting for a life's work. In fact it sounds as if it would get boring very quickly.
Being bored or ashamed of my work or stuck in a hell-of-a-job just for the money sounds like the hardest of lives.
All things considered then, I'm happy to have found my path and I would choose it again hard knocks and all.