|A corner of my study. As you can see, I have kept too many books!!|
I have enjoyed Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts which examines how giving thanks in everything changes one’s perspective and mental state.
Many events in our past which we view as tragedies or failures are, in fact, just seeds. They may look inert, unpromising and dead, but can still blossom into goodness.
I was thinking today about a stretch in my life which I viewed as wasted. In 2006, I both bought my dream house and put my daughters in an excellent private school, Oxford High School, neither of which I could afford. At all!
And so, without any business experience, I started a business to pay for this. Ouch!
I had always thought that if I ever needed money, I could sell second-hand books. And so, since no better idea presented itself, I did.
I believe that one should wait to hear from God before doing things. However, if we have not heard, and there are pressing needs, like money, then we need to make the best choice we can, considering our energy, interests, and resources.
* * *
I sold second-hand books on Amazon mainly, but also on ABE, eBay, etc. from May 2006, intensively until we started our publishing company in July 2007–and then with tapering intensity until our publishing company went into profit in late October 2008. There was some desultory listing and selling until April 2010 when I began blogging, and realised I was wasting my time on my used book business.
Wasting my time. Gosh, how resonant and dread-ful that phrase is for me.
* * *
I remember walking down St. Giles past Balliol and St. Johns as an undergraduate late one evening in Oxford (not a Christian then) and thinking, “The world is full of beautiful books to read, and things to learn. I will read and think and write all my life. I will only work if I need money, never from greed for money.”
I’ve pretty much kept that resolution. I’ve worked for brief periods teaching English and Creative Writing, but mostly have read, and dreamed, and thought… I married Roy, a professor, while in graduate school, and we happily lived on his salary…
Except for that four period when I sacrificed myself because my children needed an education, a period I usually view as wasted.
* * *
We decided to clean out our garage and barn today of all the books. And believe it or not, there were 240 boxes of books.
As I sorted through them, I found lots of lovely books which I am keeping, lots to give to my friends, and my friends’ children.
And I realised that there was much to be thankful for in this experience which I then found so hard, so overwhelming, so exhausting, so sad-making and depressing, which made me lament because of its sheer waste.
* * *
The slant blessings of this period:
1 After 14 exhausting months of second-hand book-selling, I founded a publishing company. God blessed it. After working part-time in our company for three years, Roy took early retirement from academia aged 47, and now works full time in our family business. We’ve hired help with the company beginning in autumn 2009, have 12 on our payroll now, and so I no longer need to work in business. Phew!!
However, without the hands-on experience with books, I may would not have thought of a publishing company. I might not known enough about business, marketing, customer service, or books (as a product rather than an experience) to make a success of it. The best way to run a business is to be familiar with every aspect of it, all its nuts and bolts.
We gained a subliminal sense of successful book covers through sorting through thousands of books, and also a subliminal sense of the physical tactile sensory aspects of books—paper thickness, paper colour, fonts, typeface, blank space. All this was useful in our self-taught publishing company
1 B) I gained a solid understanding of business from the process of starting a business with an outlay of £250 and converting it to one with a healthy turnover, and several part-time and full-time workers.
2) Zoe helped us with the sorting, stacking, packing when she was 11, 12, 13 until her 14th birthday, and so learned a lot of practical things, and developed character, concentration on boring tasks, perseverance in them and a work ethic. This will be very useful in life in which character, more than education or intellect ultimately determines success. Also, the money she earned is proving useful at University.
3) I myself learned concentration, perseverance and stick-to-itiveness from the long hours of listing and repricing.
4) I learned a lot about books and authors I had never heard of from turning over thousands of books.
4b) I developed new interests and areas of knowledge from the books I skim-read or kept for myself while sorting and listing.
4c) I kept the best of the books which washed up in our house, and now have a super amazing library of art, poetry, gardening, children’s and Christian books
5) Having a book-selling business and dealing with customers were good for my character and knowledge of human nature.
I developed the ability to gauge character from emails—who was lying (about a not-received book; who was a hard-to-please misery, better not to mess with; who needed help from his psychiatrist, not me). I learnt to act with my head, not emotions, to consider the outcome I wanted to see before reacting with gut and emotions to a heated email. (Well, to some extent 🙂
6) At first, I had lots of fun buying books from charity stores and Hay-on-Wye and bulk eBay lots.
After the first few months, I tried the experiment of putting both girls through private school (about £2600 a month) without putting any money into the business. I picked up free lots of books on Freecycle, and from a local high production-value printer (overstocks and samples for a range of publishers) and unsold books from house-clearers, some which turned out to be very valuable. Living in Oxford, I soon acquired more books than I had time to list. So after the first four months, running the business cost me nothing, and was almost sheer profit. This fascinating experience in micro-finance has taught me to think outside the box, and has given me the experience to advise friends who interested in setting up their own businesses.
6 b) God provided. It was actually fun. Such as the time I offered a houseclearer in Oxford £40 for a large room stacked with books, about 5000 of them, and he accepted. He cleared houses after people died, many of them academics; he cared nothing for books.
Many of these were very valuable, indeed antiques; I have kept many of them.
We once got first picks of a dead poet’s house on Freecycle—thousands of valuable poetry and literature books for free, some of them 18th and 19th century first editions. (Guess who’s saved many of them?).
The girls enjoyed the excitement of those emails promising us a car-load of free books.
7) My girls saw an example of positive and creative thinking, free enterprise and hard work. Perhaps, they will run creative businesses, on the side or full-time. Owning a small business, and knowing how to run one is a useful skill in a very expensive country like the UK.
8) My confidence greatly grew as I saw through an idea from fuzzy dream to successful reality, with, first, the second-hand books, and then the publishing.
I learned to “see” the whole process from dream to reality in my head. So much so that if I cannot “see” something, and how it will work, I will no longer embark on it.
I have gained confidence in practical thinking, in sensing whether an idea had the practical undergirdings which would make it work, or whether it wouldn’t work for now, because there were too many fuzzy nuts and bolts.
I now have more patience with the process of seeing something through from an idea to a successful project—for instance, with my still-growing blog.
9) I am far more sympathetic to other people’s financial struggles, and far more able to offer practical advice which might help them.
10) When the business became overwhelming, and my predominant prayer was, “Let my life be less hard,” I began to pray, seriously, desperately, and God gave me the idea for the publishing business. My difficulties taught me to pray. They increased my faith in prayer.
Though I don’t believe in steering a car unless you know where you going, sometimes desperation forces you to steer towards the best bet. I was encouraged by how God used the experience I gained through mistakes and errors!
So there you are, ten blessings at least from a very hard period of my life, which I then viewed as “wasted.”