Personal Column: Running a small business: a new flavor of burnout

The crochet bee is one of my many creations from my small business that consumes me.

Photo courtesy of @mmmmcrochet on Instagram, image by Ava Lim.

The crochet bee is one of my many creations from my small business that consumes me.

Normally, I wouldn’t consider myself prone to injury.

But in the last month, I’ve strained my wrist, several fingers, twisted my neck with something akin to pinching a nerve, and began waking up with headaches once more from clenching my teeth so hard. I don’t play a sport or work hours at a physically demanding job—rather, I’m running a small (read: tiny) business from an Instagram as a high school involved in Many extracurriculars. I have no one to blame for my (extra) long hours as a Carnegie student except for my own overzealous ambition.

Today, I’ve been crocheting and selling my wares on @mmmmcrochet on Instagram for a little over two months. I didn’t actually know how to crochet until I started my business. Of course, I learned to crochet then gave myself a week or two of practice before I started selling anything, but I didn’t click on that tutorial in my YouTube recommended with the intention of starting a business. I didn’t have the intention to do anything with that video at all, actually. Procrastination—that’s all it was.

But I found myself intrigued by the way the two hands on screen managed to turn yarn into an intricate (and absolutely adorable) tiny dinosaur in the span of thirty minutes. So, like any reasonable person, I was determined to do the same thing. It crossed my mind somewhere in the process of formulating my plan that I should probably google the parts of the video that I didn’t understand—what the hell was a single crochet? Why are there so many hook sizes? What was a “worsted” yarn? Yarn had different weight? Cool. What on earth was the difference?

For the sake of efficiency, I, of course, did not open another tab to google these questions. I mean, why do that when videos with those exact questions for titles were starting to pop into my recommended bar? After almost two hours worth of basics tutorials, I finally stopped running down the rabbit hole. By then, I had learned to read a pattern, do some basic stitches (…in theory), and could put together a list of things I needed to buy from Michael’s.

A busy weekend passed, then two. I still hadn’t gotten a chance to go to the store.

And when I finally did, it turned out to be an absolute disaster. The mini triceratops I had been trying to make looked more like a deformed ball—

So I unwound all of my first 20 attempts and made a ball. The first thing I ever completely crocheted was a baby blue sphere, stuffed with whatever scrap fabric I could find around the house. (I would later learn that I had actually turned the sphere inside out, but that’s okay. A ball was a ball.)

I was so proud of my creation, and I think I even grew somewhat emotionally attached to it. I texted pictures to my friends—”look what i made!!!!! it’s not a dinosaur but look!!”—and showed all 3 of my family members. My parents feigned their interest; I could see that they were hoping I’d just move onto my next hyperfixation already, but I didn’t care.

Soon after, I completed the final step to developing my hobby—looking up the tags on Instagram and all of my socials. I saved pattern after pattern on Instagram, building a collection of things I wanted to make later. Later, when I went on my regular runs to Michael’s I would open up my saved tab and see what colors of yarn I needed.

Eventually, I grew experienced enough to be confidence enough to sell my own creations. I started out with six-legged octopi, who I dubbed Gerald. I sold at least ten within the first few weeks, and soon people were asking what else I sold, could I take a request, how do you balance everything with school and theatre and being on the board of your other clubs? Can I commission something? Do you think you could make ___? How long does it take to—

At first, I liked the overwhelming feeling of attention, and most of all, success. I was making money, albeit less than minimum wage. Still, I was covering my material costs if I rounded down a few dollars per hour of work. And I was having fun. So I was fine.

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I spent my weekends on crocheting and cramming in assignments at 11:00 at night on Sundays, but I promised myself it would never come before school. And I don’t think it ever did directly, but now that I look at it, the cramped neck that I missed a day of school for (which, at Carnegie, is practically a week), maybe it did. Just a little bit.

I don’t think I had stopped or slowed down at all until it was 1 in the morning and I was looking at all the work I had to do before 8:30, and I was dreading filling my crochet orders.

I realized that my hobby turned small business has become yet another source of burnout.

So I did what I do best: stay up then vow to never do it again. And, surprisingly, it sort of worked. I turned down a new order for the first time since I started my business, explaining that I was simply too busy at the moment, but they were welcome to come back in a week or so.

Again, to my surprise, my potential customer did not reply aggressively or even passive-aggressively—I get it, school is a lot! There’s no rush, I’ll ask in a week or so!

The people-pleaser in me was shocked. For the first time in months, I went to bed promptly at 11:45 (much earlier than my usual bedtime). I was making less money per week, but I worked around this by asking if my customers were okay with their orders taking at least a week to prepare, a much more realistic turnaround than the 1-day wait time I had promised people for some reason.

With my new realization, I had started to go easier on myself, to cut some slack for my one-man business; I was a junior in high school, not some conveyor belt in an Amazon warehouse.