In this day and age of technology, where most of our thoughts and correspondence tend to be conveyed in minimal, abbreviated text, or using a limited amount of characters on a portable, hand-held device, how many of us can recall the last time we actually purchased a blank greeting card, recorded those heart-felt sentiments using a pen, and physically mailed it to someone, outside of the usual holiday and other annual celebrations? Most likely, a significant majority of us cannot.
Though it includes both categories (pre-printed and blank), according to the Greeting Card Association, nearly 7 billion cards are purchased annually in the United States alone, accounting for nearly $8 billion in sales.
Despite the national, overall numbers for the industry, this form of personalized, hand-written communication has become a lost art. One might even assume that it’s rarely being utilized among a large segment of the population, raised in this era of social media platforms.
That being said, this past week during one of my “quieter” evenings, not only did I make a conscious effort to unplug from all things tech, but purposely set aside several hours to reflect upon a personal journey of self-discovery, while thumbing through an assortment of images in nature, that I’d captured on film. Ultimately, this particular grouping would later become the centerpiece of a sizable collection of blank, photo-front greeting cards that were available in 25 stores throughout the Hamptons and beyond.
Up until a few years ago, much of the “free” time I’d spent outside of teaching preschool and elementary special ed was devoted to building and maintaining a small business; one that would not only explore and amplify my artistic abilities, but also provide much-needed supplemental income. Discovering which type of business would most satisfy those criteria, while simultaneously nurturing some of my under-developed interests and talents was a lesson in self-awareness unto its own.
The spiritual leader Lama Surya Das, in his epic work titled “Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be,” has a mantra that I’ve truly come to appreciate and put into practice over the years, where he states rather simply, “Appreciate and honor the things that make you unique.”
Living in a society that seems to value conformity, repetition and maintaining the status-quo, I can personally attest to the many challenges (both financial and otherwise), associated with blazing one’s own trail.
The path that I ultimately chose for this creative upstart occurred rather serendipitously, during a time when I was making frequent treks upstate to visit siblings who’d begun to start their families. While in the process of exploring the surrounding area, I’d come to develop an appreciation for vintage cottage and farmhouse furniture (commonly referred to as “Americana”), when perusing the local consignment and antique shops, scattered throughout the Susquehanna River Valley. As a self-described “man on a mission,” I’d often find myself returning with at least two or three items to fill my vacuous, post-divorce apartment on the outskirts of Manhattan.
Over the course of that year, due solely to space limitations, there was a need to cull the over-accumulated lot, and let go of some 25 or so pieces. With loaded rental van and a listing of stores I’d plucked from a Suffolk County phone book, I decided to head east. By the time I’d reached Montauk, the van was completely empty; with each of the retailers I’d sold to that day asking when could I return? Mind you, this was long before the ridiculously popular show “American Pickers” had landed on cable TV. Just like that, in what I considered a “practical” weekend hobby, for all intents and purposes, quickly materialized into a legitimate, part-time wholesale business.
Consequently, the motivation behind launching the greeting card lines grew out of an idea I had to create vignettes, using various pairings of vintage furniture and accessories I’d recently purchased. My intention was to attract potential customers to those highlighted pieces, while simultaneously presenting them with possible display options for their shop. What I hadn’t anticipated was the overwhelming response from buyers. Once posted on my newly-minted website, not only did clients immediately request the products I’d featured in the photos, but seriously suggested that I use the images as framed artwork or at least as greeting cards. Without hesitation, I chose to do both! Though no longer in full circulation, the greeting cards can still be found at the Tale of Two Sisters Bookstore on The Plaza in Montauk.
Alternative career guru Rick Jarrow lays out this concept perfectly, when he states “To truly accept what you have – your gifts, your experiences, and your chronic shortcomings – is no simple matter. But this is where your riches lie, for no one can duplicate your experiences; no one is born under the exact same set of circumstances, and therefore no one else can make the same contribution to the world that you can.”
Were there times when I questioned some of the choices I’d made regarding the business over the ten years of its existence? Of course there were, too numerous to list. But I took ownership of them, and pursued various alternatives, learning how best to grow and evolve during those challenging times. Recognizing one’s limitless potential in any facet of life, while embracing a fearless approach when presented with those opportunities, are goals we can all strive towards when expanding our horizons.