In this episode, I talk with Chair Stylist Wendy Conklin. Wendy created her company, Chair Whimsy, in 2012. She designs custom, one-of-a-kind chairs and shares her expertise consulting and teaching online classes. During our interview, we talk about her journey and how she changed her career and her life. You'll also learn a little known fact about Wendy and hear a couple of her expert tips and practices.
"When you get more miserable and more miserable it’s easier to make the switch. I don’t think you make that switch until your misery is greater than the fear of the unknown."
- Wendy Conklin
What do you hope your daughters learn from your journey?
“I really hope, more than anything, that they see that life is about an adventure and not to be afraid of taking calculated risks, not to be afraid of change - if it be in their career or their life.” – Wendy Conklin
"Pattern mixing and color coordination are kind of my superpower and I enjoy it."
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Welcome to Stories of Change and Creativity. I'm Judy Oskam. I'm a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University. Throughout my career is a television journalist, video producer, PR professional and educator, I've always been drawn to stories, stories about people and how they deal with change and embrace creativity. Hope you enjoy listening. On this episode, I talked with Wendy Conklin.
Wendy Conklin: 0:33
I'm Wendy Conklin and I'm a chair stylist.
Judy Oskam: 0:36
She's a savvy entrepreneur, artist and designer. Wendy created her company Chair Whimsy in 2012. She designs custom, one of a kind chairs and shares her expertise in online classes. During our interview, we talk about her journey and how she changed her career and her life. You're an award winning writer, editor, consultant, teacher. You've written a lot about creativity, and I want to talk today about how you made the shift and why you made the shift.
Wendy Conklin: 1:10
Well, about nine years ago I started by taking an upholstery course only because I was interested in it. I like to do things that challenge me, because my feeling was as a writer and an editor that challenging myself in different kinds of ways, doing different kinds of things and trying out new skills was a way to make me better at my job. And I had always been interested in upholstery and kind of dabbled in it by looking at books you know, long ago. And so I tried some things and it was just really hard. And so once I took my courses, I was like, Oh, that's how you do it. And it was much easier. And it was something that, um I think anything that stretched me. At that point, I feel like, Well, that makes me better my job and what I do. So I had no inkling that I wanted to change jobs that I wanted change careers at that time. So once I finish my upholstery courses, I decided, Okay, I need to open an Etsy shop that's the next step for me. And that challenged me as well because I'm like, Gosh, how do I ship across the United? How do I ship a chair? And because that's what I wanted to do was chairs. And so, um, everything was like a challenge, But it was a hobby, and it was fun, and I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot, a lot of hard ache too. And as time went on, that business grew and I began to become more dissatisfied with my regular job. It wasn't as challenging to me anymore. You know, once you write so many books. What other book do you need to write to challenge yourself? And probably the only one of any topics would be math and I didn't want to do it. So I realized, you know, I've really become dissatisfied, and I'm the kind of person I need a challenge. I need, uh, change to keep me fresh. And I'd like to try new things so as my chair business grew, I became more dissatisfied with my job and what I was doing just because it wasn't, um my heart's desire to do any more. I felt like I had done everything I could and grown as much as I could. And yet being an entrepreneur, on the other hand, was very scary. But, uh, also something that was that pulled me in that direction. So I decided over time, you know, when you get more miserable and more miserable, it's easy. It's easier to make the switch, and I don't think that you make that switch until your misery is greater than the fear of the unknown. You know, there's always that fear of the unknown when you go into business for yourself or you switch careers or you completely do something different like I was doing, and a lot of people are doing that now. But there's a lot of people who want to that don't make that switch. And, you know, for me it was finances, having a family and having to contribute to my family. And, uh, my daughters were getting ready to go to college at the time, and I'm like, how in the world can I do this? So really, as my business grew, I could see a small path, and yet I was still very scared. But my misery became greater than that. Fear of the unknown. And that's when I leaped, you know, and quit my job, quit my day job and decided to do this full time,
Judy Oskam: 4:34
And I think a lot of people might have a passion and they have a hobby, but they don't ever do it. They don't ever do it. What really push you over the edge you talked about the misery was my misery. But also I think it takes some real courage take the leap.
Wendy Conklin: 4:52
It does take courage. So you know, courage is different than fear. You can have a lot of fear and still acting in a courageous way. So I think maybe that's what it was for me. I just I didn't like what I was doing anymore and became just more dissatisfied and and yet I could see who this is a way out, maybe. But then, you know, you wake up in the middle of night scared to death, you know, hot. You know, you're sweating and you don't know. You know, if you're gonna make it and you're scared, But, you know, you wake up the next day and you think I can't do this other job one more day, you know, and there's got to be a path. So I went on like that for a couple years before I actually decided to make a switch.
Judy Oskam: 5:34
And then when you did make the switch, talk about how you created your company and why? Because you've created... you have the designers expertise and the eye and the creativity to make it work. Not everybody does that. But you also worked hard at it, right? So talk about that, if you would.
Wendy Conklin: 5:54
Well over the years, I became better and better at doing chairs. When I first started out you know, the chairs weren't that great, but I had to start somewhere and learn more about fabrics and learn more about color, coordination and things like that. So the more that I learned, I did have to make effort to get better at what I did. And I'm that kind of person, I'm an achiever. That's a part of my D-N-A and, um, that's how I function. And so whatever I do, I want to improve on, and so it over the years I mean, it took me a while and and I had mistakes that I made that I had to learn from and bad clients to deal with that I had to learn lessons from that on and still have lessons still have more to learn, and I'm. But the encouraging thing to me is I am still growing and getting better at my design. There is not a finish line in this, every single month I can look and think I'm getting better at this. I'm seeing something in a new way, so there's always something more to achieve. There's always a way to get better. What I'm doing, and that for me is very satisfying. Just because of the way I'm wired you know.
Judy Oskam: 7:14
Well and Chair Whimsy is ...it's more than just a chair design shop. Talk about Chair Whimsy and what it's growing into,
Wendy Conklin: 7:25
Right. So what I do is custom chairs for clients. They either order from me a set of vintage or a vintage or antique chairs. Um, and a year and 1/2 ago I created my own line of antique inspired dining chairs so they were made in Italy. But they look like antiques, so they're super strong. And that was really born out of the problems that I was seeing with antique chairs. You know, I, like to up cycle, I like to recycle, and, you know, I feel like it's better for the environment, all those great things. And plus I love the style of old things, so giving it a new life is very satisfying. But at the same time, a lot of the chairs weren't strong enough to handle even more wear and tear because maybe they're just too old. And so that's why I decided to create my own line a chair. So I do both, and I So I have a line of antique inspired dining chairs that I also customized for clients. So I have the old and I have the new, but they all look old. And so a couple months ago, I, uh, through people asking me to do this, and I had no idea anybody wanted me to do this. And I thought I had kissed my years of teaching goodbye. And it's interesting to see how things come back full circle. Um, I have an online upholstery course called D I Y upholstery with Chair Whimsy, and it's a course for beginners that teaches them how to do what I do. Um, you know, I know how to write curriculum, I know how to teach. And I know how to teach adults because that's what I've been doing for years now. And so it just kind of grew into that, and I'm releasing a new course called Fabric Mixology because I kind of think fabrics and pattern mixing and color coordination are kind of my superpower and and I enjoy it, and it's something that it is work. But it's not difficult,
Judy Oskam: 9:23
And your clients are wanting it. Why it's not difficult is because it's part of your expertise, right? You already have it, and now you're able to share that with others online
Wendy Conklin: 9:34
And teaching them how to do it right, And so that's really satisfying. And and I've had tons of people say, Oh, you're creating competition for yourself and your, you know, just by teaching other people to upholstered how to do fabrics like you do. But I don't view the world in that way. I believe that there is enough work for everybody who wants to do this as a job. People want to flip and sell chairs, more power to him. I think it's great, and I'm happy to help him and teach him. So I don't have that scarcity mindset of if I share this, someone's gonna steal my customers. I just don't believe that way at all. I do believe that there's great satisfaction helping other people to become the best that they can be. And, you know, we all have our own tastes. We all have our own slant on the way that we do things, so no one's going to do it exactly like I do it anyway. And no one, if you were taking the class, would do it exactly the way you would do it. You have your own style and your own thing, and there's enough clients for everybody. You know, if you want to do that, or maybe you just want to do your own, and I'm happy for you to learn to do that. So these online courses I'm opening and closing throughout the years. And now this is my third time to open a course coming up, and I'm hoping to maybe do a business course. Also this next year that may turn into, like more of a coaching type course for people who want toe get into the chair business. Like what I've done because I've learned so many lessons and I would like to help other people to bypass a lot of the heartache that I've had to do.
Judy Oskam: 11:07
Yeah, yeah, and And I think you know, part of one of the things we always ask on the show is give us a little known fact about Wendy Conklin.
Wendy Conklin: 11:18
Little known fact. I know how to play the guitar. And I started taking when I turned 40 years old because my kids bought me a guitar for my birthday back then . And I thought, you know, I'd always correct. Yeah, and I had always complained it was my complaining story of when I was a kid, how I wanted to play the guitar and I begged my parents and they never let me do it and never got me lessons. And so I complained about it for long enough, I guess my kids thought we'll get her a guitar. And I thought, Oh, shoot. Now I have to learn. But, um, that was another one of those things that it helped me with my job, you know? And I wanted to learn because it stretched me. Did that turn into a career? No, it didn't. But it was something I enjoyed doing. So
Judy Oskam: 12:00
challenges always put challenges.
Wendy Conklin: 12:03
I think the challenge is good for everybody. Um, I don't know. I'm extremely wired that way, but I just think it makes life more interesting. And makes it more worth the living. I mean, it makes life an adventure for us when you when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations and trust me with the guitar thing, there is a story, but you know, I have. I was in very uncomfortable situations having to do a recital and where I bombed. And everyone else besides one guy were young kids at this recital besides me. And there was this one older man and he was really good. And of course I'm a beginner, so I was not really good. And anyway, someone knocked over my guitar and I didn't realize that that put it out of tune. So when I went up to do my song, it was off awful awful, and I just mortifying. It was terrible. But now I laugh about it. Came a good story, you know. So it's those kinds of things of putting yourself in those situations, and it makes it fun
Judy Oskam: 13:08
Well, And you have you and Blane have two daughters. What, you hoping your daughters learn from your from your journey here? Because I think as a mom, I think you really are a role model because you're a mom. But because of what you've gone through with the business, right and your whole career,
Wendy Conklin: 13:28
I'd like them to learn not to be afraid, to take risks. And, um, you know, not any kind of risk, but calculated risks. And and, um, not to be afraid of change, that it's a good thing. I really hope, more than anything that they see that life is about an adventure and not to be afraid of taking calculated risks, not to be afraid of change if it be in their career or their life. Somehow, because we all have things we have to deal with, we all have changes that we encounter throughout life and that those are things that we should welcome and even when it's uncomfortable, um, it's a good thing to be challenged to be uncomfortable in certain times that life isn't a bowl of Cherries in that, you know, and they've seen that with me. They've seen me struggle. They've seen me cry, you know, they've seen me happy about things with my work and the changes that I've done, and and they've been very supportive because I know that cannot be, um, an easy thing, especially my husband to have to sit back and let me do this when there's no guarantee. There's no guarantee that I was gonna be successful in it so. You know, I think my whole family, my girls especially I hope that I'm the example to them of not not letting fear control you. Yes, we get afraid. We all feel it, but not letting that get the best of you and robbed from you living your life
Judy Oskam: 15:06
Well, let me follow up with that way. We always try and and try and gain something from our experts. For the listeners about some strategies, what are two strategies that you might share that would help us do just that? Because it's the how that's the difficult.
Wendy Conklin: 15:25
Well, I'm not sure if they're strategy there more practices. One is a practice. I think the first thing I think is good for anyone but anyone who's contemplating change. I think that, um, some form of a ritual of meditation, whether it be prayer or just doing meditative practices and more for five minutes. That's all I do is I have an app on my phone that's free, and I tie myself for five minutes and it reminds me to be in the moment, to breathe, to not respond to things around me in anger or frustration. And it helps me stop the stories in my head because that's the biggest battleground for anybody, especially entrepreneurs, or especially people who want to make career changes that seem scary. It is the battleground in your mind, and if you can harness that, and I think the best way to do it is through meditation, and I don't believe that it has to be hours and hours of it. But I do a practice a five minute every morning, and it has made a huge difference. It's it's the whole mindset change for me, and it's help me manage my fear of doing this because, yes, it's scary. I mean, even still here. You know, there are moments where things don't you know. I think, Oh, gosh, I hope I don't have to go get a regular job. That's what every entrepreneur, artisan fears the most is having to go back to their old job or what kind of other job could they get? That would be a regular income because the money matters and that's why That's why we have to do what we do. We do our work, you know. So that's number one and number two, I would say get some kind of business coach. I think everybody could benefit from this, Um, get and try to get one that you just don't think you can afford a little more than what you see if you can afford it yourself. Yes, because it will make all the difference. Having some kind of mentor, business, coach, even a group coaching. I had a business coach for a couple years who was wonderful and really got me off and gave me great advice. And then I graduated this last year into a group coaching program that cost more money, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it. But I just knew it was the right thing to stretch me again, and it has. And now I've just done it again with something that's even more expensive that every time I think Oh boy, I don't know if I can afford this, you know?
Judy Oskam: 18:05
But that goes back to your growth mindset. Yes, knowing when it's time for you to level up, right,
Wendy Conklin: 18:10
Right and and everybody needs that. I mean, I don't know that anybody should ever stay with the same business coach forever. I mean, like, you need to be changing because different people offer you different things. They have different gifts that they can offer and help you, and they have different viewpoints. So you need that in order to grow and as a person and as a business person, because they're all gonna have different focus, they may have a financial focus, or they may have, you know, something with the marketing focus. Or they may, you know, just have something with promotions, you know, or whatever. But I think both of those things, I think some kind of meditation, ritual practice and then I think, having a business coach, mentor, grouping, program, mastermind program, whatever it is, you need to be in something, you cannot do it alone, right? You, I just I don't see how you can grow and be successful on your own. You have to level up and pay a little bit.
Judy Oskam: 19:11
Speaking of ah, being successful, where do you see yourself in 2025? Look five years ahead. What's your.. Paint the picture there And what you're what? What does winning look like for you in 2025?
Wendy Conklin: 19:25
I think winning looks like more courses in helping people in that way by teaching, which is so surprising because, honestly, when I shut the doors to that a few years back, I thought I would never do it again. I thought it was over, and I never had a inkling that anybody even wanted to learn from me. I'm like, What? I was surprised, but I
Judy Oskam: 19:49
Well, that's market demand right there. You're wanting that.
Wendy Conklin: 19:52
And I was shocked when I put up a post thinking Okay, maybe I'll just ask, Would anyone want this? I thought no one's gonna comment on my social media post today and I couldn't believe all the comments.
Judy Oskam: 20:04
So take a risk.
Wendy Conklin: 20:05
Yeah, . Yeah. And you know, if no one had, then that would have been a sign right there. OK? Yeah, that's not the right direction. Everything is a feedback, you know, it's not ever failure. It's just feedback. And you have to view it that way. Everything is be back. But, um so I would see him five years having more courses, doing less physical work on chairs, but maybe being more of a consultant on chairs. So it's kind of weird. I'm growing back into my consulting teaching days, but it's just with chairs and design and helping people become the best version of themselves by learning new things, challenging themselves because that's really where you become the most satisfied, the most joyful it is. It's really even though you have hard days when you learn new things or hard moments, you get a lot of joy and satisfaction from everybody does. So I think it's the best way to live your best life.
Judy Oskam: 21:03
I agree. And on that thank you for joining us.
Wendy Conklin: 21:06
Thanks for having me.
Judy Oskam: 21:06
Appreciate it. Thank you for listening to Stories of Change and Creativity. Check out the show notes. For more information about this episode, you can find this podcast on any of your favorite streaming platforms. Please subscribe, leave a review and share this podcast with a friend. If you have a story to tell or know someone who does, reach out to judyoskam dot com or Dr Judy Oskam at gmail dot com. That's D. R. Judy Oskam at gmail dot com. Thanks for listening