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Creating the Work Life I Love - Stress Free -Part Three

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Deciding not to continue working in a job that I didn’t hate but certainly didn’t love was wrought with conflict. Working to pay the bills and to help provide for my family were always necessities. Working in a nonprofit was also a sense of pride; it was knowing that I could contribute to my community, and at the same time earn a living doing so. But in my late 50’s to early 60’s, I came to feel like I was spending my energy and talents helping others and yet contained a sense of lacking within me.

I’ve had a creative side that I pursued throughout my life, sewing, learning to paint, and writing poetry. I loved exploration, but always at the back of my mind, I told myself I’ve got to be practical and get back to my “real” work. There wasn't and is not family wealth to fall back on. The sensible and get things done Julia coexisted with the free always seeking my truth and my passionate side.  Even though there were the times when I took off for a year and moved to Savannah, GA or back to Hattiesburg, MS for four years without knowing anyone there (Savannah) and no concrete plan for what I would be doing to survive financially (both Savannah and Hattiesburg); I knew I had skills I could employ. Afterall, I had been a fiscal manger with a strong accounting background, and I’d been an English teacher. And in each move, these skilled were indeed employed to find work. At age 59, the question that kept lurking in the back of my mind was “how could I leave this work all together and completely free myself from thinking about teaching or fiscal management as backups?

How could I make this work? Do I stay or Do I go? I looked at my less than adequate retirement savings and according to financial models for estimate income and lifestyle expectations, I needed to keep working, for how long? I don’t remember the age, but some age that felt like until I dropped dead first. Me being me, in other words, my “I have a choice even when it seems like I don’t attitude” decided I needed to reframe how I viewed what I was currently doing work wise and think of it as my exit strategy. I decided I would continue working until I was 70ish (collect maximum social security benefits).  At age 66, Prince’s death hit me in an unexpected way. I had not been a huge fan, of course the I love his popular hits.  However, his death created a sense of urgency that’s hard to explain. I'd accomplished most of goals I'd set in terms of paying off debts, so I decided to leave work that year. In order to execute this change of plans and maintain a similar lifestyle, I sold my home in an expensive city (Cambridge, MA) and moved to Philadelphia, a more affordable city; by reducing my living expenses and keeping a careful watch on my budget I retired. Well sort of! 

I did consult for another year, commuting between Boston and Philly before starting a full-figured clothing business (JTL Designs) that combined my love of fashion, fabrics and allows me to use my creative abilities while growing the business. This move also meant I could stay in the northeast and near family and not too far from friends. Living close to NYC was another reason I choose Philadelphia. Being an entrepreneur is a freeing feeling, and it's most challenging! I can’t say that I'm putting in more or less effort, because I always took pride in what I did and worked well beyond expectations, but I love it! 

I hit the ground running. I took two weeks to move into my new home and got started. I learned as much as I could about the fashion industry, designing and production of women's clothes, and launched a year later. 

Macy's Window display

I was beginning to see my customer base grow when the pandemic hit, and I was faced with another shift in my priorities and the directions of the business. I realized that much of the fashion industry encourages ongoing production of new designs, and I found myself caught up in the cycle of spring and fall collections and fashion shows and was internally beginning to question whether I’d made the right decision.

I’d lost sight of my reasons for starting the line. I’ve always purchased carefully, looking for quality and not quantity. It meant shopping for timeless and classic pieces that I’ve worn for several years, and in some cases, decades. These were the values I wanted JTL Designs to stand for. 

Instead of focusing on creating new collections, I use the time to slow down, not only physically, which we all were forced to do, but also mentally so I could center myself and steer JTL Designs toward my initial goals. I’m now focusing on a few best sellers and working to make sure every full-figured woman must have one in her closet. Slowing down allowed me to pay attention to my feelings and not push them aside because I was too busy doing the business.

I answered the question ‘Do I stay, or do I go?’ for myself even within my own business. I allowed my feelings to express themselves, I stopped feeling like I had to follow the business model of more production and the busyness of getting ready for fashion shows and new collections and began setting the pace of life that feels best for me and for JTL Designs. Is your work life rewarding and fulfilling? Are you considering a change? What will you discover about yourself if you decide you want or need to make a change?