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When life gets messy :: Vol. 1 :: It’s Not A Set Back

Learning to Trust God for growth

Have you ever thought back to your younger years and said, “I never thought I would be doing this for a career?” I can honestly answer a resounding, “Yes!” to that question. I have always loved art and anything creative. I went to college to become a graphic designer, but had my first huge set back when I was in my sophomore year.

I had always been good. I always received good grades. I had always been creative.  Picture

In the VCD (Visual Communication Design) program only a handful of candidates passed onto the next step to graduate with that degree. All students spent their second year creating a final portfolio. I vividly remember one of my profs talking to the class prepping us for our results. “Some of you won’t continue on, but,” he continued, “it’s not because you’re not good. Some of your peers just scored higher.” I swear I remember him looking directly into my eyes while speaking. I had always been good. I always received good grades. I had always been creative. People always praised me for my work and talent. That year, I did not pass.

I was absolutely crushed. I felt like I couldn’t go on

I was absolutely crushed. I felt like I couldn’t go on. No where else did I want to be; no where else made me happy. I wanted to be creative for a living. Nothing else filled my creative soul. A board of directors at a prestigious university told me I wasn’t good enough. What do I do now? My dad had spent lots of money to send me to a great school to be told, no, your kid just doesn’t have what it takes. I felt like a complete failure. I watched as some of my dearest friends went on in the program leaving me behind in their dust clouds of creativity.

My head and heart hung low as I met with my guidance counselor. Being one of my profs, he challenged me to think a different way. I refocused my attention on other forms of art. I took drawing, painting, sculpture, jewelry, photography, and art history. I completed a degree in Fine Arts with concentration in illustration and drawing and a minor in Art History. At this point, no where did I see decorating cakes and cookies in my future.

After graduating, I was still set on graphic design. I applied to many positions, but no one wanted me. I didn’t have the experience, nor did I have the VCD degree backing me up. I was determined to show the doubters I was good enough. I was going to build my own graphic business from scratch. I took a random unrelated job just to make a paycheck. When I wasn’t pandering for lousy pay. I found small businesses that needed help in branding and marketing. I taught myself web design, and to this day have a portfolio full of logos, business cards, magazine ads, and the like.

As I look back now, I see that God had other plans. He redirected my path to give me skills at many different things. Picture

As I look back now, I see that God had other plans. He redirected my path to give me skills at many different things.

Because of my son’s first birthday, I found my love for making and decorating cakes and cookies.

While coming up with my own recipe and researching how to decorate a cake, I stumbled upon an ad for a cake decorating position. I had only ever made that one special birthday cake. I sent my resume. Ehhh..what could it hurt? I was hired to do….marketing and office management.

God is good, all the time. He knew my previous experiences would get me in the door. He would show me what hard work was and open my eyes to a new form of art I am in love with.

I was put in the office managing emails, customer calls, website, advertising and social media. The bakery owner acquired a new location and was in process of launching a new catering and event facility.

One day, the bakery was put in quite a pinch. The only decorator quit. They needed someone that could draw. “You can draw, right?” “Yep” “Can you draw with icing?” “Dunno. Never tried. Why not?” And so, my decorating career was born. I will never forget that little dump truck I drew on a little boy’s birthday cake.

Since the bakery now only employed 3 people, my weekly schedule went something like this:

Sunday and Monday: off

Tuesday: Office work, help bakers wash dishes, wrap cakes, and clean up the kitchen from “bake day”

Wednesday: Decorate cupcakes until bakery opened, office work until noon, make icing (lots and lots of icing), decorate any occasion cakes ready for adoration, clean work stations, clean kitchen, wash dishes, icing tips, and supplies, sweep floors

Thursday: Decorate more occasion cakes all day, clean work stations, clean kitchen, wash dishes, icing tips, and supplies, sweep floors

Friday: Finish any occasion cakes, stack wedding cakes, decorate wedding cakes, clean work stations, clean kitchen, wash dishes, icing tips, and supplies, sweep and mop floors

Saturday: Come in before the shop opens, package orders, pulled cakes from inventory for the next round of orders, cover the shop for pick ups and make cake deliveries

Mind you, even the days I wasn’t behind a computer, I had to answer phones, check email, answer voicemails from the night before, and help walk-in customers as well.

When you work for a small business, just because you’re the office manager and decorator doesn’t mean you are above cleaning toilets, dusting storefront shelves, cleaning refrigerators, helping with the catering and serving at events.

This was an overload of work, yet I felt appreciated. Not only did I receive fair pay increases, but the joy my heart felt when someone picked up a cake I had decorated especially for them was very fulfilling. Customers loved my art work. I was proud to be the one with the icing bag in hand behind the well-known name.

I was the only decorator and office person, this pace continued for a few years. Before I knew it, I took on more tasks. I started coming in when the sun was peaking over the cornfield horizon and went home when the sun was low, giving it’s last few glimmers of the day gone by. From mornings where the summer humidity blasted me in the face as I loaded my baby in the car; to days where the fields, now full of snow, glistened in the rising sun, I worked day in and day out. I became tired and pulled every which way but up.

I saw my baby growing and soon school days would come. I had a burden on my heart. “I’m missing out.” My heart was proud of the skills I perfected, but what was the cost? Was I going to regret working so much away from the home? I was missing lots of moments with my toddler, who was being lovingly raised by my grandparents, while I was gone. With them aging and added health issues, I knew they couldn’t do this forever. A job I thought would be fun and creative turned into a burden.

Prayers for months and seeking Him, God redirected me yet again Picture

Prayers for months and seeking Him, God redirected me yet again. He presented me with a new job opportunity. I made a huge decision to quit working at the bakery to have more time working from home, raise my little boy, and be the wife I longed to be.

While working from home doing online marketing, I became depressed. Focused on my role in the home and a full time job, I realized the longing for creating was dying to be let out. I have always been an entrepreneur and go getter; I have always felt a call to make something for myself. I felt stuck between two worlds —-home life and a creative professional.

I started making a little extra cash creating cakes and cookies for close friends and family from home in the evenings. Soon, the word got out, I created a website and Facebook page to showcase my work. I began taking on new clients and in less then 4 years after leaving the bakery, I was back to working 12+ hour days (including the full time job) and over 100 cookies a week. Again, I became burnt out, and my talent became a burden.

I slipped back into my old habits. I piled even more then I should have on my plate. I had no time for family duties and no availability in my schedule to get away. I forgot to schedule time for mental and physical rest.

Calculating business numbers, the cash flow wasn’t enough to justify hiring a part-time employee or spending the profit on help to clean my house. I came to a point to make a HUGE decision. To make money work, I would have to increase my productivity and work load, even quit my full time job with steady pay and 401k. I was too scared to make the commitment to open my own shop. Building a business is supposed to give me more income and free me from being a slave in the corporate world. Or is it???

To those looking from the outside the choice was clear; to me, it wasn’t. They don’t see the hours, the labor intensive work, and shopping for ingredients. My time spent working with clients—designing, fitting budgets, arranging deliveries and/or pick ups. They don’t see the ugly side of business, when clients never replied, stood me up, or try to haggle pricing. I spent my time with continuing education, scouring the internet and magazines for new ideas and techniques, spending money on new equipment and classes. It was personal.

Quote from Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” circa 2000
Quote from Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” circa 2000

When 2019 came, I took on even more responsibility. In my marketing job, business was booming. In my baking business, I had a great amount of loyal baking customers. By spring, I was stressing over trying to keep up with wife and mom duties, along with changes in my family dynamic and personal life. Then, the diagnosis came.

Read Facing the Pain

God redirected me yet again. I had to tell my work team what was going on. I was in consistent pain and needed to slow down. I told my baking clients I was taking a medical sabbatical. I felt I let everyone down. My drive to create, please people, learn, and chase the almighty dollar was too much. My body and mind was at it’s breaking point.

My heart secretly ached, but I told no one. Yes, I was at home where I longed to be, but I was only there because it was my office. When I did have a small lull, I wanted out of the house. I wanted away from the “office.” I felt, I had neglected my son who was used to his mom always working. “No, I can’t play bubbles.” “No, mommy ‘s got a deadline. I can’t play video games today.” “Those socks were only wore a day, wear them again. I’ll wash a load tonight.” My husband was used to laundry in the mandatory 7 day holding pattern before it was out of the dryer and folded. Dinner was late, or we ate take out. The cleanest room in my house was always the KITCHEN. Everywhere else needed desperately to be swept and/or dusted. On Saturday’s, I would try to catch up on house work. Because of exhaustion and lack of motivation, I often failed. Sundays, I would rarely make it to church. If I had the chance, I slept ALL. DAY.

When God says, “Stop.” You stop. It’s only been 5 months since I was blessed with Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN2). Even though it’s a painful disorder, it is making me take a 40,000 ft. perspective on my life. I realized the need to prioritize my life. God, self, family, friends in that order.

You may ask, “Why did you list yourself as second? That order seems awfully selfish.” That is a loaded question. I’m a VERY giving person by nature, but if I am not in a healthy place; I am good to no one, not even me. On a plane trip, they tell you in the event your oxygen mask drops from the ceiling, place it on yourself first before assisting someone else. By taking care of myself, I am taking care of my family and friends. When I take time to cultivate my relationship with God, I am better at my job and more gentle with everyone I encounter. I am breathing “oxygen.”

I may not be able to serve my customers in the capacity I was used to. I have learned, I can only serve, so many people at one time. The blessing of TN2 made me stop filling everyday with everything. God is using it to call me into a closer relationship with him. Learning to trust his faithfulness, I am finding more and more peace with the craziness that is my life.

After much time in His Word and prayer, God revealed a stumbling block in my life. I don’t NEED money or praise for my work. He didn’t give me my spiritual gift and talent to covet. He spoke to my heart and told me to reach people; teach people; help people. My talent isn’t something to be concealed or grieved because my physical capacity is limited. I was designed to do something greater.

My ultimate goal is to now share the path that I am walking. My journey, with God’s providence, to a healthy place while managing my creative yearning coupled with responsibility. I want to share what I am learning about the importance of paying attention to your well-being while being productive. There’s pearls truth in my story for everyone to take away.

Are you are able to address some things in your own life that may be causing you to be “busy” but feel like you’re not getting anywhere? We all need to prioritize and take things off our plate. Don’t be good at a lot, but master of none.

What can you really live without?

I found I was very wrapped up in business and enjoying the additional income, but what was the price I actually paid? Investing in relationships—God, family, friends, even strangers is priceless. One of my business goals was to save for vacation with my fellas. I worked my tail off to spend a solid week undistracted. When time came to get away, all I wanted was to do absolutely nothing. I came to the realization that I wouldn’t be so worn down that I ABSOLUTELY NEEDED a break, and I could spend quality time EVERY EVENING with them if I just removed some unnecessary distractions.

Do you feel like, “I HAVE to do it?” Get over it, hunny. Assess what you can delegate to someone else to help or tell people, “No” without guilt. People CAN and WILL manage. Sometimes it takes a little tough self love, but teach yourself “it’s good enough” even if it’s not done YOUR way.

For example, I decided that my son was old enough to help with chores. He has a list now on small things he can do to be part of the family team. He’s not the best at mopping floors, but he’s getting experience and responsibility. My husband picked up dinner duty. He’s a better chef, than me. He does the cooking; I do the dishes. I’m better at loading the dishwasher anyway. 😉

I assessed the extra curricular activities. “Do I NEED to go here, do this, and fill my schedule minute to minute?” Our wants are often greater then our needs. What is a need and what is a want? Physical rest is important. Even though you may WANT to do it, do you need time for rest?

Are you a task master?

I always have a task list. I write down all the things that need to be accomplished and feel like I have to do them TODAY to feel at ease.

Stop, it. Having a list isn’t bad, but the anxiety is. Again, I stress the importance to delegate. Great leaders are those that can ask for help.

I have what I call “my rolling list.” I have trained myself to look over it and decide what has the most priority. Things come into the day that require me to take notice of experiences that feed my soul. Sometimes, I need to invest my undivided attention. If I do not get everything accomplished, God willing, there’s tomorrow. The dust on my shelves can wait.

Are you working more than one job? Do you absolutely need the money? In a society where status and the amount of tangible items means success, who’s standards are you living up to?

I evaluated my situation. I have a roof over my head, plenty of food in my tummy, a happy, healthy family (with the exception of my TN which is not life threatening), what more do I REALLY need? You know the saying, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like anyway.” My journey has taught me humbleness. My home isn’t magazine or show room perfect, but we live here and make memories. I don’t have a gourmet chef, but my grandma’s recipes are delicious.

Do you feel like a door has been closed in your life plans? Has a stumbling block been put in your path?

I suggest talking to God. He is the divine of all creation. He knew you before you were born; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps. 139:14)

You were made for a purpose. Look at my examples. Every time things didn’t go as planned, I persevered. I learned so much more then I imagined possible. I found a talent and love I never knew I had. I learned to work for many different types of people with many different personalities. I learned the importance of family. I gained experience. Relying on God’s strength and faithfulness, I endured the burdens that turned into blessings.

Ask yourself, “What did I learn from that?”

Write it down. It’s often we get caught up in the emotion of what seems like failure that we don’t see the beauty of actual growth. With some real thought and physically putting it before your eyes, you will see that you are indeed widening your horizon.

What are you are thankful for? Seriously, take the time to assess the positive in your life. You woke up today, you have breath in your lungs and you have something great to offer the world. When we want to consistently dwell on the negative that is what we produce. Training the brain to focus on the positive will give new perspective in everything you do. You will begin to pour out the goodness that fills your heart.

It’s often we forget to take joy in the everlasting and delight in the little, simple things that make life enjoyable. We consume our self with monetary things that we lose pleasure in after a short time. Our thoughts and life become cluttered with tasks that aren’t necessary.

Our set backs come into our life to make us learn. It takes rain to make seeds grow. We wouldn’t know the joy of gain if it wasn’t for loss. It’s time for redirection.

What struggles you are facing? Do you have suggestions of what you have learned when you need to redirect? Please give me a like and comment below. This messy life is all about learning and sharing with one another. Let’s collaborate!

Don’t forget to feed yourself!


Published by Karen Piehl

I am a wife, mother, friend, artist, baker, decorator, risk taker, mess maker, coffee lover, quirky, creative, and a wonderfully made child of God. I wear a lot of hats in the creative world, but my love and passion is baking and decorating cookies & cakes.

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