88: Breaking the Mold

88: Breaking the Mold

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Breaking the Mold

You conceive your world in your mind and then you create it with your hands.

~Chris Widener

Gazing out my office window, my eyes fixed on the woman moving slowly down the sidewalk. It appeared the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. The methodical shuffle and the frown lines on her face seemed to signify a joyless life and hidden sadness.

I sensed she knew I was watching when she stopped abruptly and turned toward me. Uneasiness gripped me as the sun cast her shadow’s outline across the desk. When I momentarily gazed into her sad eyes, I saw a reflection of myself. She turned and shuffled away, leaving her image to haunt me.

That evening, as I told my husband Chris about my encounter with the sidewalk woman, I struggled to hold back tears. I described the overwhelming emptiness I felt when our eyes had locked.

Sensing my precarious emotional state, my husband asked cautiously, “You work downtown and see countless street people every day. What was it about this sidewalk woman that disturbs you to the point of tears?”

In a barely audible voice, I whispered, “I saw my future. That sidewalk woman is me if I don’t change the course of my life in ways that will nourish and nurture my happiness.”

With trepidation, Chris asked, “What changes do you need for that to happen?”

His voice reflected his fear that I might be about to ask for a divorce or confess to marital infidelity. I grasped his hands in mine and released the words I had longed to say aloud for the last few years: “I am going to quit my job.”

I don’t know who felt a greater sense of relief, my husband or me.

Generally, when a person gives a “quit my job” proclamation, it’s followed by a plan of action. I had none. My business degree had landed me at a downtown city hospital with a job that provided a good income and coveted health care benefits. The Monday through Friday workweek and thirty-six days of paid time off were added perks. To the average worker, this was a dream job — no nights or weekends, and a pension plan with union job security. Yet for me, it was a prison sentence.

I had allowed my entrepreneurial and creative spirit to be suppressed by the mundane routine of shuffling papers and punching in and out at a time clock. After fifteen years, I finally found the courage to relinquish job security for happiness. I applied for early retirement. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if the sidewalk woman was really an angel in disguise and not just a chance encounter.

It is amazing how fast you can draft a business plan when you don’t have a paycheck. When I worked at the hospital, I had put together gift baskets to be auctioned or sold at fundraiser events. Many of the baskets were filled with bath and body products, and over time I began to make my own in an effort to increase the profit margin.

I started to purchase lotion and shower gel in bulk containers and then colored, scented, bottled and labeled the product from home. It wasn’t long before I added decorative soaps to the product line. I searched the Internet to find specialty molds to cast my soaps, and eventually stumbled upon a website that offered custom-made soap and chocolate molds. Bingo! My creativity went wild as I looked at all the ready-made designs available, not to mention what I could create myself.

I acquired a domain name and uploaded all my finished bath products to the website. The proverbial saying, “Build it and they will come” never happened; so I changed my strategy. Instead of selling ready-made product, which was quite labor intensive, I would target the “do-it-yourself” market. I channeled my energy into developing a unique line of soap molds for anyone to make their own bars of soap.

The mold maker at the company I discovered online began to create my mold designs, and wholesale accounts were set up with various vendors to purchase soap bases, dyes and fragrance oils. Soap-making tutorials became my trademark in this new and upcoming industry. Others would soon follow, but I knew I was the pioneer.

It all proved to be a good marketing move; I had an immediate increase in sales. It was empowering and intoxicating to finally have some control over my life and the direction of my future, but my income wasn’t self-sustaining.

I registered for classes in HTML at the local university to become skilled in the infrastructure of website design. Upon completion of the courses, a local school district hired me to set up their website, which provided income to continue growing my soap-making business. In my mind, no side job was too small if it brought me closer to my business goal.

My friendship with the owner of Mold Market continued to grow and our shared Christian faith further deepened that business relationship. It was a solid partnership of skills; he casted the molds and I marketed my designs. Three years later, I purchased Mold Market with a ten-year contract for exclusive rights to my mold maker’s services.

That partnership and friendship continues to this day. My company offers 300-plus unique soap and chocolate molds with distributorships around the globe. That encounter with the sidewalk woman forever changed the direction of my life and inspired me to step out in faith and believe in myself.

We only get one chance at life. Now I get to mold mine to order.

~Denise Marks

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