With millions of Americans looking for work, and politicians pontificating about how best to create jobs, a few bold entrepreneurs are finding ways to employ themselves. For Part 1 of The Greenery’s Make Your Own Job series, meet Sarah Souther.
Sarah Souther makes me feel hopeful about the American Dream. Who better than a beautiful Irish immigrant with a Renaissance-woman range of talents to embody that hope: that a creative person is free to build a thing from scratch, that hard work and great ideas can find purchase here.
There’s a lot of buzz lately about bringing jobs to America, and about the perception of a growing gap between rich and poor. Those are issues worth discussing. But I’m not convinced that trying to revive the American Dream in its 1950s form—some sort of manufacturing-based economy in which workers are awarded a cradle-to-grave job—is what we should hope for. It smacks of a sort of corporatized socialism: The Corporation will care for you. Fear not. The Corporation will withhold your taxes. The Corporation will manage your health care. And so on. To my mind, it’s tough to feel self-sufficient if you’re at the bottom of a corporate hierarchy—your fate, to a large extent, isn’t in your own hands. The individual is at the mercy of a large institution’s bottom line. And that does not sound like freedom to me.
Likewise, I’m all for thinking long and hard about the ways in which our economy is set up to reward the folks who started out on top in the first place. Does our education system reinforce the existing economic hierarchy? What about our tax laws? And are politicians honestly capable of separating their own economic interests from the interests of the nation at large?
I have no answers. But for me, the crux question is this: Therefore what? What if the system does favor the haves? What if big companies continue outsourcing to India and China? These aren’t problems with easy political fixes. Or quite possibly, any real, lasting fixes whatsoever.
Personally, I’m not willing to wait around for somebody’s notion of economic “fairness” to ensue, or for The Corporation to award me a job. I’ve got a life to live, and work I want to do, right now. If nobody wants to give me a job, I’ll just have to make one up and do my best to make it work.
Sarah Souther seems to share that philosophy.
Souther’s done a little bit of everything: silk painting, kid raising, yoga instruction. Most recently, she has perfected the Art of Marshmallow.
A couple of years ago, she started crafting a variety of zippy little flavor-squares that bear no resemblance to the chalky mini-cylinders we roasted on sticks in Girl Scouts. She bought a tiny storage shed, painted it up fancy-schmancy, and started towing it around town, selling her arty confections out the window (on the leading edge of the food truck craze sweeping Nashville).
Late last year, she hammered a brick-and-mortar stake in the ground, opening a cool storefront operation at Marathon Village. Her artistic aesthetic pervades the space, from cool packaging to silk art on the walls, an old jukebox, and shelves of old bottles, artfully arranged. Besides her flavored marshmallows, she serves coffee & tea, soup, paninis, and sodas flavored with her own homemade syrups.
Bang Candy strikes me as the embodiment of an artist’s vision, well-executed. I enjoy stopping in of a Saturday morning for coffee and a sandwich, all the more because I find Souther’s charm utterly irresistible. And by “charm,” I only partially mean “Irish accent.”
It’s not an easy time to start a business—to take your life into your hands, to go to the effort and expense of implementing your creative vision (and hoping the world embraces it, and you, with infusions of cash).
But then, when has it ever been easy? As a small businessperson, you’re still subject to the whims of the market. Interdependency is unavoidable. But as an entrepreneur, you’re the pilot of your own craft instead of a passenger on a huge vessel. The big ship may feel safer, but what if it turns out to be the Titanic? Or an Italian cruise ship?
I prefer the small-sailboat model of living. It’s risky, but it’s freer. You choose how you harness the wind and where it carries you, how you weather the storms, how you navigate. The maneuverability is unsurpassed. And when the wind dies, you can always start rowing.
I guess that’s why I admire small entrepreneurs so much. Folks who start with nothing more than an idea and prodigious energy. Folks fearless enough to unleash their vision on the world. And in the case of Sarah Souther, that vision tastes really, really good.