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New Year's resolution: career change

Hello all,

I usually try to avoid making New Year’s resolutions, but this is a
resolution that needs to be made. I started making jewelry about 5
years ago, on my own, figuring things out as I go, reading this
forum, watching some videos and reading several books. I’ve made some
expensive mistakes but I’ve learned a lot, too. My “day job” (i.e.
the job that actually pays the bills) is that of a graphic artist for
an engineering company. I’ve been there 10 years and I dread going to
work every day. I have to stay there much longer, I willl slit my
wrists. It has taken a long time for me to figure out what I want to
be when I grow up, and now at the age of 44 I think I finally figured
it out. I just need some guidence to actually get there.

My question is, how do I get into this field for real? I enrolled in
the GIA GG program and I’mm about a quarter of the way through it, I
have spent about $5000 on tools over the last 5 years, I’m trying to
learn things as quickly as I can, but how do I convince a shop to
hire me, even just part time?

And what about health insurance? My husband is self-employed and job
(as odious as it is) does provide good health insurance. With 2
kids, it’s not something we can go without for very long.

Advice? Comments? My ears are open.


It has become my belief over the years that the jewelry industry as
a whole pays far lower wages than it should. Unfortunately part of
that is because of what the industry consists of: mostly smaller
operations that simply do not have the ability to produce the high
sales figures necessary to set up proper employee compensation
packages. Sure there are some companies you can go to and get
employed at that offer 401k’s, health plans and decent salary, if you
have plenty of experience, but they are far and few between. Because
so much of the industry is composed of smaller operations run by
individuals who have mostly pulled themselves up by their own
bootstraps it is hard to find an interesting job position that is
going to pay salaries equivalent to what you are making in your
current day job. Having a GG is great and a wonderful asset but it by
no means guarantees any kind of employment, nor does it guarantee
much higher wages. I think the only way to guarantee yourself a true
living wage, especially when you don’t have the experience necessary
for the few positions available that offer the salaries and benefits
you need, is to run your own business. Of course this has its own
series of pitfalls and issues (as I’m sure can be attested to by
plenty of Orchidests) such as no benefits that you don’t pay for
yourself, high startup costs (often), employee problems, etc. It also
takes years until you can reach the point of earning what you do now,
but I truly believe that in the long run you can earn far more money
running your own business than any other way in this business.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

I apologize for not answering your question, but why do you hate
your job? I have been a lawyer for 25 years, and I have hated it for
the last 10, but the security it provides is not easy to abandon.


Don’t be so quick to quit your day job. As much as you know, you
will find there is so much you don’t know that you need to. I would
recommend that you go to a quick fix place in a mall and see if you
can get on part time (week-end, a couple of evenings). When you work
those slam it out repairs you gain an incredible amount of knowledge.
It’s not creative, not exciting but you will get a taste of the
jewelry world. Most of what we do in the business is repairs. It will
be quite a while before you will be creating things. You have so much
to learn. You just might find yourself ready to slit your wrist in
that situation as well. Think this thru.

This is a response to the post of hating the lawyer job for 10 out
of the 25 years you’ve been at it. My advice - forget the 'security’
it provides, follow your passions, find something you like. My dad
hated his job for too long. Yes, it provided security, and has
provided well for him in retirement. It also had a strongly negative
effect on my childhood, and on our family life. Much owes to his
individual personality, and mine, but living with someone who stays
for security while hating the job is difficult at best. I stayed at
the repair bench for many years thinking I had no other viable means
of making a living. As the situation grew more and more unbearable
over the years (for many reasons), I just kept hanging in there for
the ‘security’. It nearly destroyed my marriage and family. Now I am
doing the things I love. We are struggling, but at least content in
who & what we are. Practicality must play a part in any career
decision, especially when families are impacted. BUT, living a life
of misery in the interest of a dollar is not healthy for any of us,
or for the families who count on us not only for sustenance, but for
our presence and love.

My 2 cents worth. Haven’t read the original post yet, but this
statement really struck deep.


I too am a graphic designer and I can relate to what you are
experiencing. I think we do experience burnout after a bit.

I cannot afford to quit my day design job, nor would I want to as I
still like what I do. I also feel it enhances my jewelry designs,
since I sometimes create something in Illustrator or Photoshop that
will work as a design for jewelry.

But what I did do was this: I went down to a 4 day work week. It is
called short hour and I still get all the corporate benefits at an
80% reduction but that is OK. I needed to do it.

I devote all day Friday to jewelry making.

I don’t know if that is an option for you but it really helped me
make sense of my work/jewelry/life needs. I am so much happier at my
job now that I know I have that one day to devote to metal smithing.

I hope this helps.



Is there any way you can reduce your hours at your day job? Or find
a similar job, where you can work part time and still get health
insurance–and maybe get away from engineers? If you were working in
a creative environment, you might find that your work isn’t so

To my mind, the health insurance issue is really serious (I assume
you’re in the good old US of A, rather than in a civilized country).
You could find that you aren’t enjoying you new career either, if
you’re worrying every day about how to pay for your kids’ health

Another idea: if you’re a graphic artist, you might be able to find
some kind of transitional job, working in the industry, but not as a
jeweler. It’s funny what can happen once you get your foot in a door.

Good luck!
Lisa Orlando
Albion, CA, US

I really admire you for following your love. If anything, reading
everyone’s posts over time has increased my fear of relinquishing
the security blanket.

I can’t offer any pearls of wisdom, but thought I’d add my story
anyway. I have been a registered pharmacist for 30 years. I have
wanted out for most of that time. When both my parents had passed
away, something clicked in me to make me realize that I had gone that
route to try to get higher on the approval rating.(Truthfully, it was
my own approval I needed.) Anyway, after much agonizing over how in
the world to get out of pharmacy, I just started cutting back on my
hours about 8 years ago. I am now down to only about 20 hours a week
and the setting I am working in was a divine gift: no constant
phones, no weekends, no nights, only the staff doctor to work with,
very few drug interaction problems to deal with, no insurance
arguments (we are a nonprofit clinic that pays for the care), no
narcotic inventory to worry with, and the list goes on. Every time I
have decreased my hours worked in pharmacy, we have decreased
spending on things that were a waste and have literally found that
when you work more in a job you hate, you also engage in wasteful
spending in a vain attempt to compensate yourself for having to do

During the last 5-1/2 years I have done what you are doing: teaching
myself in every way I can avail myself of (the best of which has been
experimentation and learning not to repeat my own mistakes). I
started out in the jewelry business trying to follow the footsteps of
two local jewelry artists but their route didn’t pan out for
me–trying to do shows as far as 10 hours away from home. The shows
were hit and miss and I ran up some debt. I try to be a realist, a
business person, and an artist. To me, some artists I have met are
not as aware of the particulars of their endeavor from a business
standpoint as they should be.

This year I decided I had invested enough and I have orchestrated my
approach to this business to almost guarantee I won’t have any years
with a loss. The three biggest components of that guarantee aRe:(1) I
only do shows close to home that I have done in the past that I know
will make a profit for me (and are a minimal risk if by some fluke
there is a bad year at one of them). (2) I offer my jewelry locally
in a shop that has sold well for me. (3) I will not spend anymore
large amounts on supplies without recycling pieces that I have had a
long time. In other words, if it hasn’t sold in a reasonable time
frame and I am tired of looking at it, I will refine the metal and
make a new piece. I am making a modest profit now but not enough to
quit my day job completely.

If you were desperate enough to ask my advice, I’d say to look first
at what it costs you to do your day job. What expenses would you
gladly do without? Are you willing to eat at home more? Do you really
need a new couch? Look into the idea (which I resisted so long) of
buying only used cars. Do you really need that magazine subscription?
The expensive vacations? The expensive gift buying at Christmas and
other holidays? How about beans and rice for a week of each month?
Can you give up the lattes at Starbucks? Can you get by with one
pair of shoes for each season? Can you buy clothes that don’t go out
of style so fast?

The biggest question, bar none, is: Can you do without credit card
purchases? Using credit is the absolute worst thing you can ever ever
do to yourself! After a long period of resistance, my husband and I
are doing Dave Ramsey’s total money makeover—I can’t believe the
difference it makes in our financial health after only a couple of
months! It is just as he says, “It’s not a math problem but a
behavioral one.”

Find some way to cut your regular hours a little at a time and give
that space to the jewelry work or some other work that you think you
can be passionate about.

note: I have thought that there might be other passions that would
be easier to make a living at. There are so many jewelers. If you can
find a niche, though, it doesn’t matter how many other jewelers are
making other jewelry.

J. S. (Sue) Ellington

Can you give up the lattes at Starbucks? Can you get by with one
pair of shoes for each season? Can you buy clothes that don't 

I’m not going to get into this one - I have little to say, mostly.
But the latte comment reminded me of a financial advisor I saw on PBS
once, and he calls it “The Latte Factor”. That is, keep a log of your
out-of-pocket expenses for a month - coffee, haircuts, lunch, etc. He
had a few real people who actually did it for the show, and they had
even $500-$800 a month just for stuff. His advise was to look there
first, if you want to cut expenses - it adds up quick. If we were to
drive to work it would cost $20/day - seriously, it’s downtown SF. We
take BART, the commuter train, and it’s $6.20 round trip. Stuff like
that. Our coffee costs about 10 cents - coffee pot.


The biggest question, bar none, is: Can you do without credit card
purchases? Using credit is the absolute worst thing you can ever
ever do to yourself! 

You make some eloquent and excellent points for frugality.

I would only add the recommendation for folks to read the books:

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominquez and Vicki Robin and the
follow up book.

here are the amazon links:

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money
and Achieving Financial Independence (Paperback):

Getting a Life: Real Lives Transformed by Your Money or Your Life


Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

I am aware of an international wholesale jewelry designer and
distributor which is currently looking for sales people. The company
offers a solid base salary, commission, and benefits to include
health insurance, and pays all reasonable travel expenses. Perhaps
this would be away stay in the business, with stability and security.

If you’d like some help in this direction, please let me know.

Beth Rindels

I definitely agree that when you are working at a job you dislike,
you spend A LOT more money buying things, especially now that one can
buy anything without leaving one’s desk. I used to find myself
sitting at my desk at 9 or 10 at night working on some dull project,
and I’d just take a break and buy something.

You make some eloquent and excellent points for frugality 

I’m just going to be a bit contentious here and throw out another
thought on this. If you owe a lot of money (or like to live high on
the hog) it often forces you to figure out ways to make more money,
be more efficient in your operations, etc. So it isn’t always a bad
thing to want (or be forced) to strive for more whether it’s to
support a more extravagant life style or simply to save for your
retirement. Also, since as jewelers, we are asking our customers to
want and buy more of something they probably don’t really need,
shouldn’t we join in on the fun?

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Can you give up the lattes at Starbucks? Can you get by with one
pair of shoes for each season? Can you buy clothes that don't go
out of fashion? 

When we were first married and both still students, we got by on
very modest means. We had a rule that if it cost more than a dime
(the price of a small coke back then), we had to write it in a ledger

  • that made us accountable for nearly every cent. It’s hard to
    believe that we lived on less than $250/month… that included rent,
    utilities, groceries, gas, insurance, etc. In these times, that
    figure would be more like $1,000/month. My, how inflation has hit.
    Anyway, we both graduated without student loans. Lots of
    hand-me-downs and cast-offs helped too.

The point it, if you really want something, you find a way to do it
or get it. So, set your priorities and write down your goal with a
date. Look at your goal and plan to make it happen.

Judy in Kansas, where things are getting busy; students start classes
in a couple days.

Thanks everyone for your input. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and
encouragement. However, I would like to clarify a few things. The
reason I dislike my current job is because I am basically burned
out. I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, there is no
challenge, no room for growth, not much creativity. Add to that a
bi-polar boss and you have a recipe for disaster.

Are you willing to eat at home more? Do you really need a new
couch? Look into the idea (which I resisted so long) of buying
only used cars. Do you really need that magazine subscription? The
expensive vacations? The expensive gift buying at Christmas and
other holidays? How about beans and rice for a week of each month?
Can you give up the lattes at Starbucks? Can you get by with one
pair of shoes for each season? Can you buy clothes that don't go
out of style so fast? 

I have to respond to this. Money is not the issue. I’m not trying to
brag, but we handle our money very well. My husband has a very
successful business. We have no debt, money in the bank, the house
is mortgage-free and the cars are paid for.The one credit card I
have is paid every month if I even use it. I’ve taken 2 vacations in
12 years, there isn’t a Starbucks within 40 miles of here and I hate
shopping for clothes and shoes. The issue is making the transition
from one career that I’ve had enough of but know very well, to
another career that I’m just learning but are much better suited
for. The health insurance question is more for the sake of security.
My family has no health problems but all it takes is one major
health crisis and your savings can be wiped out. About the part time
thing - I already work part time (about 25 hours a week) and I do
jewelry repair work and and some custom pieces for friends and
family, and a few friend of friends.

I realize I will probably have to start my own business and I have
seen how much time and hard work it takes to do well from seeing my
husband build his business. Fortunately I have a good work ethic, so
I’m prepared to put in the hours when I need to.

I’m just looking for input from people who are already where I want
to be, about how to get my foot in the door.

Thanks for all your help

Dear Lisa,

I am in almost the same financial situation as you, except that I
have been a self-employed jeweler for 36 years. My husband has a
separate, successful business, we have no debt, have a cash reserve,
etc. What can I say about health insurance? It is expensive. I have
a high deductable, and we count on our cash reserve to pick up the
pieces if we have an accident or serious illness, before the
insurance kicks in. We also just got Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s)
from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and the system is working well for us.
This keeps up from having to pay taxes on our money that goes into
health care. I suggest you look into it, since you sound like you
are in a position to do so. One has to put money into the account,
which can only be drawn out when needed, with receipts, for health
care. Check it out!

I’d say that life is too short to stay where you are when you are
fortunate enough to have the chance to move forward into something
you’d love to do!

Best wishes,
M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA