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An image by one of my favorite Symbolist artists: Sisyphus by Franz von Stuck, 1920.

When I made the decision to officially start Plume Perfumery earlier this year, I was nervous but optimistic. I knew it was borderline crazy to even think of starting a small business while also trying to write a dissertation. But I also imagined losing my sanity if I didn’t have something else to focus my creative energy on.

I could have easily chosen to continue making perfumes as a hobby, blending fragrances for friends and acquaintances in my spare time. But I saw the potential for something more. I saw a vision of myself in the future, and I liked what I saw: I was my own boss, and I was living where I wanted to live, creating what I wanted to create, traveling where I wanted to travel, teaching the subjects I wanted to teach. In my vision, I was crafting, connecting with others, and building my own bliss.

PhD and dissertation aside, this was the life I knew I wanted for myself. No amount of nay-saying from my ever-cautious (and annoying) inner critic was going to stop me. It just felt like the right time, despite all of the obstacles.

Little did I know, the obstacles involved in starting my business would be more challenging than I could have ever imagined….

Do you remember the story of Sisyphus? Sisyphus was a brutal king who was punished for his deeds by the gods — the gods cursed him to an eternity of rolling an immense rock up a hill, only to have to watch it roll back down again. As soon as the big rock crashed back to the ground, Sisyphus had to start all over. Well, starting a business can sometimes make you feel a bit like Sisyphus. Just when you think you have overcome one challenge, another one comes promptly along to test your mental and emotional stamina. Suppliers fall through. Product design ideas don’t pan out. People don’t work according to your schedule.

Like many other small-business entrepreneurs before me, I faced moments of self-doubt, questioning, and uncertainty. I felt a constant tickly-nervous-excitement that oscillated between annoying and exhilarating (I still do!). I also learned that no matter how organized, creative, and well-researched you are, nothing ever goes as planned. FLEXIBILITY became my mantra.

I had to learn to be flexible about:

  • My money — most of my extra money goes back into my business, and it probably will for a while. Sure, I have had to cut back on many of my favorite little luxuries (candles, lipstick, art books), but it is worth it in the long run. Having my own business feels like the biggest luxury of all!
  • My time — my days are long and unpredictable. Sometimes I work 14 hours a day (and feel like I should work more). I have to be willing to pull late-nighters and get up with the roosters.
  • My expectations of others — people don’t always come through. Shipments don’t always arrive when they’re supposed to. Everyone is human.
  • My need for control — I can’t do everything all by myself. It’s OK to ask for help.
  • My ideas — this is the hardest one! My ideas are not sacred objects — they can be altered, tweaked, revised…even thrown out if need be. Listening to my gut and being aware of synchronicity is far more important than holding on to a dead idea.

Of course, many more challenges await, but I am much better equipped to handle that inevitability. I know that I am the only one who can continue to to build the life that I desire for myself, and this knowledge and drive makes all of the work worthwhile. With some flexibility and persistence, I finally feel like I’ve got the rock to stay at the top of the mountain —  and now I’m truly starting to enjoy the view!

Are you a small business owner? What challenges did you face when starting your business? What have you overcome?

Do you want to start a business? Why haven’t you? What fears or anxieties are holding you back?

I hope that as long as I stay flexible and open-minded, Plume will blossom and flourish…only time can tell.

Fragrantly Yours, Tara