My Year Of Living Dangerously

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(Illustration Bamforth vintage comic postcard)

Opening a shop in an economy that is so volatile may not have been my smartest move. Or is it? I like to refer to this year as ‘my year of living dangerously’. Opening a business, when so many are going out of business, may be foolhardy. When I look at what I’ve spent, I shudder. I hate to have gone through so much money. But I’d hate it worse not to have done this. I may be poorer, but in many ways I am richer. Some nights I sleep like a baby. Some nights I can’t sleep at all.

Last Thursday night was one of those sleepless ones. I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I totally screwed up my life. What I saw as a vision for my future last December suddenly became the blueprint for my total failure in August. I see signs. Now don’t think of that as a crazy lady remark. My signs are thoughts that tell me, I am supposed to do this. At the moment I think that, I act on it. I act with clarity, hope, and determination to follow my gut. Last Thursday my gut was sick.

I had no plans of opening a shop when I drove to meet my friend for lunch last December. I had been thinking, day and night, about what I needed to do next with my life. Spending all my time marketing my book online, and then having rotator cuff surgery mid summer, made for a very quiet 2010. I wanted 2011 to put me back in touch with people on a personal level.

I parked my van in front of the small row of buildings across the street from where my friend was waiting. While I have been aware these empty buildings were there, I never really noticed them. The buildings were vacant because a development had been planned for the area, but put on hold due to the economy. I hopped out of my van and looked ahead, instead of behind me, where my friend was waiting patiently. I heard her voice, strangely loud, over the noise of the passing traffic, but ignored her. My attention had been sidetracked! I saw the row of vintage buildings and one in particular stood out.

The small shop with its plate glass windows blinded my vision. In that instant my gut told me to rent it. This place would be the new start I wanted for 2011. I watched my reflection in the window and it appeared I was already inside looking out on Main Street. I knew this was the sign I’d been looking for to move forward.

“Be right there!” I swung around and yelled across the street. I reached into my purse, pulled out my cell phone and dialed the number hand written in magic marker on the yellowed paper in the front window.

“Please call me. I want to rent your shop.”

Flipping my phone back in my bag, I ran across the street and laughingly joined my friend.

We took off to our favorite lunch spot. Sitting at the Mexican restaurant, stuffing chips in my mouth faster than I could speak, I giggled like a schoolgirl.

“Called on that shop. Think I am gonna rent it.”

Then I looked at my T-shirt and salsa had dribbled down across my chest, a thin line of orange red, zigzagging across my breast, just where my heart might be. Shit. That was all I thought. Another shirt ruined because I eat like I haven’t eaten in weeks. I dabbed at it with water and kept chatting with my friend.

In my dream Thursday night, I wondered if that streaked salsa that fateful day in December, was another sign, one I missed entirely. Maybe what I thought was a mouthful of salsa gone wrong, dripping on my shirt, was the symbol of blood, on a deal that would break my heart and my pocketbook.

Today I am a drama queen if you haven’t noticed.

I opened that shop last January. I reached out to the community. The community reached back to me. Even though that tiny hub was losing foot traffic quicker than I was losing my money, I followed my vision. In six months I had rented three buildings. I was on the cover of the neighborhood magazine. I am president of the newly started business association. I was at home in a town twenty minutes from my house. I loved everything about my shop and the wonderful people I was meeting.

I guess I was more stressed then I realized from all the months of hard work and money spent. All my worries bubbled up to produce a nightmare larger then life.

I have taken on more then the challenge of starting a business in hard times. I am trying to build a business in an area that is having difficulty rebuilding itself. The area lost its restaurant and several shops just as I moved in. There are a few new businesses that will finally open this month, but for many months it has been only a handful of us trying to pull together and make things work.

I am not financially savvy. Most likely I should not be allowed to handle my own money! I love to give things to others, which does not bode well in a shop that counts on sales to survive. I love to have events, art openings and book signings, but they rarely bring in a cash flow. My shop is about more then the “bottom line” for me. It has become a way of life. It is a gateway for others to join my vision of an art center. It is my hope that while I have my year’s lease on these buildings, at the end of it, the right people will have come along who want to be part of the area and rent there too. Building a vision takes time and patience. How did I run out of both last Thursday?

My dream that night scared me, but not for the reason you might think. That dream was full of fear and doubt and found me in a place I did not want to be. It is good to question what you are doing, even if you follow signs like I do, and feel the universe is leading you. My signs don’t tell me I am making a mistake; they make me feel I am making something bigger than myself. My signs are based on faith I am where I should be. That nightmare, built up because of many things I questioned about myself in the past weeks, rocked my faith. It could have been the beginning of the end for my shop. It certainly drained me of my enthusiasm.

Friday found me moving slowly. A new friend I’ve met since opening the shop came by to visit. We decided on dinner when I locked the door at five. We went back to a favorite Mexican restaurant. We drank Margaritas and stuffed our faces with chips and salsa. I told her about my dream and the salsa on my shirt reminding me of blood. My doubts were still creeping about, as I was my most dramatic self.

“Barbara, you’re just going to have to eat slower.” She looked at me, tossed her head back, red hair flying a little wildly around her face, and laughed. “You’ve done it again!” Then she pointed to my chest.

I looked down and sure enough, salsa spotted my shirt. This time it was not dripping in a jagged line, but the small red splatters almost formed a circle around my heart.

“Do you think that looks like a target?” I couldn’t resist that remark. That mess on my shirt put me in the best of moods. The angst I’d felt since the night of my dream was replaced by the fact I should not eat chips and salsa in public.

Our laughter was so loud I am sure the table next to us thought we’d had too much to drink.

Perhaps one day I’ll learn to slow down when I eat.

I do know I am not slowing down with my dreams.

Driving home I realized that fear can take you to where you need to be, as long as you don’t let it leave you there. My nightmare was my gut telling me I needed to change some things in order to stay in business. Looking at the stars in the sky, with a head cleared by dinner with a friend, I found hope again.

Yes, this is my year of living dangerously, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it. My business will be what it is when the end of the year rolls in. My faith tells me I will figure this out. My nightmare, as vivid as any horror film, was a wake up call that I need make some changes to do things better. Not exactly “business 101”, but for a gal who follows signs, I passed the course.

I am exactly where I need to be for now. Who knows what time will bring. I hear that danger lurks on every corner.

Barbara Barth, CEO of Life

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