From Corporate to Creative

AUGUST 19, 2012


Katie Bartels is a New York-based jewelry designer with a classic quarterlette story.  Three years ago she quit her stable day job to follow her creative passion, and she hasn’t looked back.  Check back often for Katie’s musings on her life as an entrepreneur, designer, and quarterlette.


“To change one’s life: start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions” –William James

This summer will mark the 3rd anniversary of my jump (or, huge leap of faith…) from my corporate job to running my jewelry company. Leaving a secure job–I managed the accounts receivable department for a large NYC-based law firm–in a bad economy to pursue a very unpredictable career path was an incredibly difficult decision but one I have never regretted.

People always ask me when I knew the timing was right to make the jump.  Here is how my decision transpired:

I had been miserable in my job for a while (not sleeping, constantly anxious, no appetite, etc) and because all I did was work, I was always miserable. And my crazy work schedule meant I had to basically drop my jewelry business, which I had been running on the side for two years.

My jewelry business was my real passion.  I started designing jewelry for myself in college, founded my company in 2007, and began selling jewelry to retailers.  My business had started to grow but I found myself making sacrifices and giving up opportunities because of my job. I was becoming increasingly frustrated even though my plan was to stay at my job for 1-2 years, get an MBA, and then work on my jewelry company full time. The idea of another 1-2 years at my job was getting harder and harder to stomach. Then, one day, I decided to make a change and leave my job to do what I love.

I went into work in mid August 2009, sat down at my desk, and said to myself “I literally can’t do this for one more day”.  And decided I wouldn’t.  I made an appointment to meet with HR the next morning to give my notice.

I experienced a lot of emotions that day: fear, guilt, regret, but mostly excitement because I was finally about to have the freedom to pursue my passion.  I knew I wasn’t quite ready to jump into running my company full time so I enrolled in the Graduate Gemology Program at the Gemological Institute of America so that I could become an expert in gemstones and start to build a network in the jewelry industry.  I was on cloud nine.  I was making my dream come true!

The walking-on-sunshine feeling faded a bit the next day when I gave my notice and had to start telling the people I had worked with for the past two years that I was leaving. I don’t exaggerate when I say I cried at least once a day for the next two weeks. I went through moments of feeling like I was abandoning my team, possibly giving up too soon, and knowing I would miss people I worked with so closely.  But I never changed my mind.

I realized life is too short to spend all of my energy doing something I don’t love. The past three years have had lots of ups and downs, road blocks, and sleepless nights but those emotions have been caused by something that I love and care about, so it has been completely worth it.  I feel incredibly lucky that every day I get to do something I’m passionate about. And I am so glad that when I had that “I can’t do this anymore” moment in August of 2009, I didn’t just continue to sit at my desk and be miserable; I decided to change my life flamboyantly.

Photo by Frankie Shlain

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