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Ethical and natural personal fragrances inspired by wildness.


A Photo Blog of Firn explorations.


2: Whether to Turn One's Passion Into a Creative Livelihood

Lisa Lindner

There are a lot of creators out there. We're motivated by many different things and take many different approaches to branding ourselves, especially in perfumery: modern minimalist, gothic, outdoorsy, ritualistic, glamorous/celebrity, and so on. If we're being true to ourselves, our brands are direct extensions of our values, style, and personas, and our voices and messages ring clear in every fragrance we create. All creativity is self expression.

Recently, I've been talking with friends about Firn more often. I told one of them last night: "You know, I struggle occasionally, because as an environmentalist, I feel guilty about continuing to produce more stuff that just gets sent out into the world. What makes Firn different from or better than any other perfumer's creations? Why do I make something that some could argue is sort of meaningless, like makeup or hair dye?"

My friend nodded his head sympathetically and responded, "Yeah, that's deep. Why do you do Firn?" He was kind in his question, and it made me verbalize what I'd been trying to answer for myself recently. "Well... Hm. I guess I want people to smell these fragrances and be moved by them... maybe make them want to go outside afterward, to experience the wet moss that inspired a scent. Also, it allows me to express my values and leave what I hope is a positive impact on the world. The small amount of side income is nice, too. And I really love the creative outlet. It's like a child that I put a lot of time and thought into, since I'm probably not going to reproduce." He nodded his head. "All of these things are true," he said.

But after the friends left, I thought more about it. While I'd love to spend more time perfuming and committing myself to Firn, I'm uncertain that it's practical or would even continue to be enjoyable to make it a full-time career. The thing about perfumery, being a writer, a musician, a jeweler, a woodworker, or any other passion is that we don't do these things just because they're fun. Sometimes they're the opposite of fun. Sometimes they're extremely challenging, and at other times, painfully mundane. I know this because at the company I work with, the founders rarely get to make their award-winning hard cider anymore for work. They're squeezing in bites of lunch between Google Hangout texts, ordering new stainless steel equipment, budgeting for the next fiscal year, supervising people, talking with investors, organizing leadership retreats for the management team, and generally planning for the future. They're not making cider directly; they're now directing those who direct those who make cider. (A couple of the founders are still making it at home in small batches in their garages or shops.) Don't get me wrong -- they're "killin' it" as we say in our industry, and they're probably ecstatic. They're transitioning from a small company to a medium -- even a big, some may argue -- company. I'm both thrilled and humbled by the success of my employer and am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn new business skills by being a part of the workplace. It's crazy inspiring to see young entrepeneurs kick ass, and kick ass so quickly.

Like meditation, our passion is a practice and we improve and learn about ourselves as we dedicate more time to it. For most of us, we're driven to hone our craft because of a sense of pride and to be brought closer to our highest, "most shimmery" selves. (I mean, does anyone truly feel proud about producing large quantities of crap that can't be differentiated from another person's large quantities of crap? NO! Most of us want to produce quality work, and for so many reasons, the main one because it becomes our legacy. Pride and vanity are to blame, but I'm glad they exist... Otherwise there'd be way more garbage in the world and not enough high-quality art, food, and goods in general.)

But just as importantly: we want to share something with the world that we like to believe will be appreciated, like a gift to humanity.

Passions are those things that we're not perfect at but love doing so much that we dream about them at night. That is what natural perfumery is for me: an aromatic golden carrot dangling at the end of a stick. (It would likely be made from fragrant Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir, Spruce, or Virginian Cedar, if the stick weren't figurative -- those are my favorite materials to work with.) I often ask myself even when I'm not in my home studio: How can I make that scent I've been working on more complex? More long lasting? More representative of its namesake?

We creators have major questions to answer, and we can only answer them ourselves. Before you go down a Google rabbit hole, know that I've already tried and was unsuccessful at finding answers to these questions:

  1. Do we let our hobbies remain hobbies, or do we allow them to become the demanding mistresses of our lives to whom we bow our heads and crawl back into our studios even when we're exhausted and possibly burnt out because we have to do it just as much as -- or worse, more than -- we want to do it?
  2. And when our "hobbies" get to that point, are they still enjoyable? Would we want to continue the hobby even after they've developed into a full-blown income-earning livelihood, the monsters that we willed into existence that we may come to rely on?
  3. And decades later, if we stop enjoying it or we still love it but our hands are riddled with arthritis and we can no longer do it, how do we walk away from something like that, the vessel of and muse for thousands of hours of effort? Which leads to the next question:
  4. When self-employed, can creative passions offer the long-term security/stability that employers can?
  5. Can we retire easily by pursuing our passions? If not, then what?
  6. And oh man, the million-dollar question for me right now is: What is sense of security? How will we know when we've arrived to a state of feeling secure? How can we even try to predict what the economy will look like in ten years? How do self-employed creators define security for themselves (if they do), or do they just accept that one must trade security and stability for purpose, expression, and fulfillment?

As you can tell, I'm trying to decide how big (or small) I want Firn to be. At the end of every day, I want to feel that I put effort into the world that was positively impactful and that connects people with nature. And I'd love to do it more often than I currently am. My dream life would be to give more time to Firn, perhaps have some kind of yurt, studio or other small funky outbuilding on rural property. The rest of my time would be spent volunteering with environmental groups and working with a sustainable business, hiking in the coast range, and tending a vegetable/flower/aromatic/therapeutic plant garden. To me, that's an ideal future. I'm really not far off, either. My current employer is super flexible, and although the desk job is probably the worst thing that's happened to my health, I love the people I work with (and for).

I've been employing a lot of different techniques to create the future I want and will need to work pretty hard for: getting insight from mentor-types who for one reason or another have left the rat race; meditating; visualizing; drawing; journaling. Each of these methods has been very helpful in bringing me closer to answering these huge questions which have been weighing heavily on me in recent months.

Since I don't have any answers to these questions yet, I'll end this post with some quotes that deeply resonate with me. Hopefully they're encouraging for you, too:


"How do you make a small fortune? Start with a big one." -Saying


"You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." -Mary Oliver


And some Rumi quotes -- you can never go wrong with Rumi!

  • Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
  • Inside you there's an artist you don't know about.
  • What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.
  • When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

  • We began as mineral. We emerged into plant life, and into the animal state, and then into being human, and always we have forgotten our former states, except in early spring when we slightly recall being green again.

  • Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.

  • Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.

  • It is as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task. You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have done nothing at all. So people have come into the world for particular tasks, and that is our purpose. If we don't perform it, we will have done nothing.