Malcolm Gladwell’s words cut deep:”Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity — doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth.”  Painful, Mr. Gladwell.  Based on this rigid picture, what possessed Laurie Sutton to launch a website to inspire others to be creative and open an on-line jewelry business way past her creative prime?  Only one way to find out. 

Q) In the bio on your website you write, “As my 40th birthday approached, I began pondering what I really wanted my life to look and feel like.”   40 is considered a time to wind down in North American culture, not ramp up, why did you see the need for an overhaul and what did you envision?  

A) Well, like many people, I kept putting off the life I really wanted to live because it seemed “unrealistic.”  Unlike many people, I have not yet married and I don’t have any kids, so approaching 40 did not feel in any way like a “wind down” for me.  I still felt like I hadn’t truly gotten started, and that threshold 40th birthday just felt like the perfect time to start getting myself unstuck.  I didn’t want to waste any more time struggling and settling for “good enough.”  My thirties were a crucible of unhealthy relationship choices, financial struggles, unhappiness in my career, and lack of real direction in life.  In the year before I turned 40, I simply decided that I’d had enough of that and opened myself to a brighter, more colorful, more audacious life that’s true to my real self.

Q) Building on question #1, how have you made your vision happen at age 40?

 A) For the first time in my life, I decided to jump before I knew whether or not I’d fly or fall to the ground.  And I discovered that the choice to make that leap is where so much empowerment lies, no matter what your age.  I began to remove the stones of my comfort zone and my old inhibitions one by one, and at the same time began working with my strengths, uncovering confidence and self-trust a little at a time.  My friend and coach, Lachlan Cotter, continues to be instrumental in helping me see things in a positive, “I can do this!” light.

I’ve made my vision happen by finding a place to begin, and continuing on one stepping stone at a time.   I knew that if I tried to plan things too much and wait for the “right” time to quit my old job, I would never see my dreams become reality.  What I’d wanted more than anything since I was a teenager was a decent chunk of time and space within which to explore my artistic directions and my ideas about a simpler, more meaningful way of life.  I finally decided to stop letting my fear of not having enough money, or other people disapproving, get in the way of that exploration.  It’s not an easy path, but it is so very fulfilling.  I’ve been moving steadily on it for about a year now, and I’ve never felt more awake and alive and free.

Q) You are a talented jewelry designer, why is creativity so important to you? Why should it be important to anyone, no matter what their age?

A) Any time I hear someone say “I’m not creative,” I wonder what they’re not seeing clearly in themselves.  I have a friend who is married to a creative man and has nine very creative children, and she says she’s the only one in the family who’s not artistic; yet, she makes some of the tastiest homemade bread I’ve ever eaten.  I know people who creatively fix cars, clean house, preserve homegrown veggies, rescue and find homes for cats, and re-use junk.  Creativity should matter to everyone because in one way or another, every single one of us has things to offer that no one else can share in just that way.

Q) You are also an entrepreneur.  What advice would you give to other women who want to start a small business?

A) What has worked best for me so far is to trust my own intuition, and leave behind things that feel like “should” or “ought to.”  By all means, read and study and seek wisdom from those who are on the entrepreneurial path ahead of you…but also, be careful not to clutter your mind and your plans too much with other people’s rules and choices.  If something seems to make perfect sense in general but you don’t feel right about it, explore that.  And if an idea of your own seems unorthodox or “unproven” in the world of business but feels solid and good to you, trust yourself.

Q) You’ve just started a video series, what is it about?

A) I’ve actually just started teaching jewelry-making classes locally, and the videos are for students who need a little refresher for the techniques learned in my classes.  My plan is to continue creating simple videos along this line to go along with the classes as I develop them, and then eventually to create videos as a resource for people who want to learn simple jewelry-craft online.

Q) Your website is an inspirational source for others to pursue the things that make them happiest.  What advice would you give someone who’s afraid?  

A) Within your fear, there are gifts and gateways.  Finding the courage to stop, turn around, and face fear is one of the best endeavors you can pursue.  Here’s a fun example:  I love Irish music, and I love to dance, but for a long time I was afraid I’d look like a fool if I went up front to dance by the stage at concerts and festivals.  But here’s the thing: life is too short to stay in your seat if you’d rather dance.  The bands love it when people get up and move with joy, skillfully or not.  I’d bet that lots of people in the audience wish they had the nerve to do it.  The three-year-olds who dance always look like they’re having the time of their lives.  So at the last festival I went to, I got up there in my denim skirt and green argyle socks and danced like there was no tomorrow…and among other things, was rewarded with a courtly bow from a cute young man wearing a kilt and combat boots!  I faced my fear, and the fun and energy within that were such great gifts.

Q) Lastly, you have some travel aspirations of your own.  Tell us about that!

A) Right now, my dream destinations are Big Bend National Park in west Texas, and a return to North Wales.  I’ve been to Big Bend on short vacations a couple of times, and I have a great desire for an extended stay, with time to hike on all of the trails and just enjoy the pristine silence of the place.  I love the American desert because it’s so very different from my own home in western Michigan, and yet is still a part of my own country.  Once in a while I visit a place that really calls to my soul, and Big Bend is never far from my thoughts.  And I feel the same way about North Wales…last summer I made my first overseas trip, with my Mom and sister, and we spent three days in Wales exploring the castles, wandering the seashore, and taking in the beautiful landscapes.  We stayed in a resort town called Llandudno, a place that is similar in many ways to my own home near Lake Michigan.  I fell in love with that town, the sea, the beautiful countryside, and the Welsh people with their marvelous, musical voices.  If money were no object, the first thing I would do would be an extended stay in a little cottage in North Wales near the sea.

For a final thought, Laurie Sutton’s mere existence buoy’s Gladwell’s perception of late bloomers, “The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.”  It seems, there’s hope for me yet.  Laurie shares her artwork and thoughts on the journey of life at her website, Water’s Edge Creative. Her business, Water’s Edge Jewelry, was a beloved side project and hobby for over twenty years before she decided to expand it and make it her dream career.  You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Chicks Conquering the World is a monthly series about women overcoming the odds or doing unique and different things.  If you’d like to be featured or want to nominate someone, contact me  at: [email protected].