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CREATIVE CARPENTRY 101: BUILDING YOUR OWN DOORS OF OPPORTUNITY

Back in the early nineties, I was a high school student in need of a job. I knew I was too clumsy to wait tables and working at the mall didn’t really appeal to me, so I decided to sell Avon.

Door to door I went with my catalogues and sound bites.

“What do you know about night cream,” the woman down the street asked me.

“I know it’s on sale and I’ll personally deliver it to you by the weekend.”

“Sold!,” she exclaimed amused by my boldness and fanny pack full of serums.

I never missed an Avon meeting, where I sat alone at banquet hall tables politely refusing the complimentary coffee; the curious gaze of stay at home moms nearby.

Selling perfumes and potions wasn’t about the products for me. No offence, Avon. Rather, it was about the opportunity to make money on my own time according to my own schedule without limitation. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d fallen in love with the freedom and blue sky thinking of entrepreneurialism.

In the years that followed, I attended and graduated from three post-secondary schools. Since none of that is free, I found myself with a myriad of jobs. At one point I was simultaneously working as a fitness instructor, tour guide, temp, dance teacher and brand ambassador (this is the fancy term for the person who gives you free stuff when you’re headed down into the subway). All the while trying to audition and work in the theatre industry. I was certainly rich in experience, but not in the actual bank account sense.  I was also exhausting myself doing a whole lot of things I didn’t really want to do.

Fast forward to a sunny day in early 2002 as I was finishing up a regional theatre contract at New American Theatre in Rockford, Illinois. My personal belongings were scattered in storage units across America and I had a four month unpaid break on the horizon before my next contract. I sat down with my notebook and a pen and worked out how I would piece income together for the next 120 days. I was lucky to be working in the theatre industry! Who was I to complain about having 5 part-time jobs to support myself in between?

But somehow the thought of stringing it all together like a popcorn Christmas garland turned my stomach this time around and I followed that little voice inside me that told me to flip my notebook over and brainstorm something new.

The question. How could I make real money doing only what I love? I spent several hours brainstorming all the things I loved without censoring. In the end I found myself with an extensive list everything creative and artistic.

“But how will you make money,” I heard my inner critic (and family) say. Again.

Who said artists couldn’t make real money? Ok, lots of people. But still. I was hell bent on not spending my time doing things I didn’t really want to do and I needed to make sure my employment was flexible enough for auditions when they came up. I’d already turned down several inflexible full-time well paying real jobs since I knew they would suck my soul dry. What did I really have to lose by trying something new?

Within a month, I was back in the suburbs of Toronto with my passion and plan to share my love of arts with young people. I saw a very clear opportunity to offer arts enrichment at elementary schools after considering all the classroom teachers I knew who felt overwhelmed at having to teach dance and drama as part of the curriculum. This is still the case in many elementary schools today, but it was largely uncharted territory 18 years ago.

Off I went to the closest elementary school I could find on foot (no car) with my handmade flyer (no printer) and laundry basket full of drama props.

Within a year, I had 5 schools I visited regularly in between my performance contracts. The small amount I charged was enough to help pay my rent and I genuinely enjoyed being in the classroom. It was fulfilling to share my passion for the arts and I could see the fruits of my labour in the way the students responded each time I came.

Over the years that followed, I dedicated more time and space to building my business. I increased my prices since I came to realize that a “struggling artist” scarcity mindset was limiting me considering all the experience I brought to the table. In time, I had more contracts than I could handle and found myself hiring another teacher. And another. And then another. In time, I was working with a second school board and then a third. And then a fourth.

Today I am able to employ over 75 artists and provide arts programming for over one million students in 36 school boards across Ontario and Manitoba. I have a commercial space in downtown Whitby, an admin team I adore and a door I walk through every morning excited to do what I love.

A door I built.

That’s what this blog is about. It’s about building a way in, out, around or through whatever it is you’re looking at. It’s creative engineering in a way that is fulfilling and rewarding. It’s about building the life you want by design, not about settling for what you get.

Based on my personal experience, I’ll share about entrepreneurship, parenting, blended (or not so blended) families and creative living with an openness and sense of humour in the hopes of connecting and inspiring you to do the same.

Together we’ll create a community of creative engineering and door building.

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10 Comments

  1. Jaime on January 10, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Feel like we have such similar visions and life choices.
    Excited to follow along.

    • admin on January 16, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks, Jaime! Happy to have you on the journey!

  2. Jon Marco on January 10, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Love!!!!!!

    • admin on January 16, 2020 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for the support!

  3. Laura on January 11, 2020 at 6:14 am

    A giant Santiago you are 🙏 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has got to be my ultimate soul mate 😉 looking forward to reading.

    • admin on January 16, 2020 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for the support, Laura!

  4. Alison on January 11, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Great post. Very inspiring

    • admin on January 16, 2020 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks for the support, Alison!

  5. Luke on January 12, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    A really touching and thought provoking piece Toni. I assure you, your current and future audiences will find parallels to their own journeys through your guided orientation. Two words that I will take away from this inaugural post is “Creative Engineering”; which for me, is a personal ability that we all hold and continuously developing. I enjoy the current journey that I have carved out for myself, and continue to build and design the stakes of our future.
    Thank you for sharing your personal journey, and passion to inspire others along the way.

    Luke

    • admin on January 16, 2020 at 1:30 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing, Luke! I appreciate your openness and personal reflections.

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