As a young girl in Washington State, Nicole Morgenthau dreamed of being a doctor – a dream she held onto almost all the way through her college career at Virginia Wesleyan. But, in her senior year, it dawned on her that it was still going to be a really long time until she actually got to work in the field. Twelve more years of training seemed daunting, and, simultaneously, her English professor approached her and suggested she consider a career in literature, an area that seemed to be a natural fit for her. So Nicole pursued a focus in creative writing and ironically, instead of diving into a career right away, went on to get a masters in literature at Old Dominion University.
“I was working at Starbucks at the time (in grad school) and really didn’t know what I would do with the degree.”
As she contemplated that, she started substitute teaching in the Virginia Beach Public School District. Eventually, one school saw her talent and asked her to teach there full time.
“I enjoyed it but there was a huge gap between what I had been studying and what I was teaching in middle school. It was not a good fit at all. In my idealistic mind I thought they could do some more complicated literature, but I wasn’t with an advanced group. I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”
After two years she moved on to the local high school. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” High school literature classes were a whole different ballgame, Morgenthau realized. And, after just one year of teaching, in addition to being the youngest person in the English department, she became the chair.
Then, the woman who didn’t want to pursue 12 years of grad school to become a doctor went on to pursue a post graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from George Washington University.
She spent the next several years training other teachers as an assistant principal in Virginia Beach. “I had a great career and absolutely loved what I did.”
But then her husband accepted a job across the country in Portland, Oregon, and with a new baby in tow, Nicole decided to take some time off. Their new neighborhood had an active sewing studio, a hobby she had always loved. “I was always the most creative of all my colleagues – the one that made the flyers and did the party decorations, and I had sewed since I was a little kid.”
“I asked my kids recently, ‘what do you think of Mommy’s shop. Is it a store or is it another family member?’ And they said it’s like a family member, so I don’t think it’s taken away from my family life. I think it’s a part of it.”
Another baby arrived and Nicole continued teaching part time at the sewing studio. It became a part of her life, and her family’s life, and when they moved back to Loudoun County, Virginia, in 2012, she missed it. Searching for a similar community-based sewing outpost, she came up empty handed. “There was nothing like what I had been doing so I had to make a decision.”
She did put her name into the hiring pool for the local school district, thinking that maybe she’d return to school administration, but she couldn’t shake the idea that it would be hard with babies. So the 35-year-old talked to her husband about starting her own sewing shop – in their house.
They had no start up money, so with just that year’s tax return, they headed to Ikea and furnished a room off the back of their house. She advertised among friends and neighbors and got a nice slate of classes running. Within a few months, people whose names she didn’t recognize started signing up for classes. She was getting referrals from beyond her immediate network and that’s when she knew she was onto something and she decided to look for a real shop. There was one building she had in mind. She drove by the empty freestanding brick building every day and month after month it remained vacant. So one day she made the leap … sort of.
“I called landlord and said, ‘I don’t know if this will work but I think and hope it will. Would you be willing to do a pop-up shop for a one month rental?’” He said yes. That was two years ago and since then Finch Sewing Studio has expanded twice. You might say things have gone well.
Morgenthau thinks its funny looking back. “Here I thought if I was a doctor I’d be working all these hours and wouldn’t have time for my family, but as an entrepreneur, I was there seven days a week until recently. But you think you’re going to have things a certain way in college but then life takes over, and you sort of walk through doors that open for you.”
In the past couple of months, Morgenthau has been able to take a couple days off here and there, but working for herself is different and therefore different for her family. “I asked my kids recently, ‘what do you think of Mommy’s shop. Is it a store or is it another family member?’ And they said it’s like a family member, so I don’t think it’s taken away from my family life. I think it’s a part of it.”
Morgenthau did go through a mourning stage when she left her career in education however. “It was tough to get into that role as young as I did… I thought what did I do all that work for?” But now when she looks around her shop, and her bevvy of 12 teaching staff, and the full slate of programs she’s set up, all with her kids by her side, those questions dissipate.
“Now, I feel like I’m doing all the things I did as an administrator without all the yucky business. To me it’s better but everything I did before informs what I do today.”
- I choose to be driven by my own curiosity. I would say that I have found more success in being open to the opportunities in front of me than in pursuing a singular passion.
- Any creative venture (and many that are not particularly creative) requires tenacity. I am nothing if I am not tenacious.
- Keep your vision ever in the forefront and know how to communicate that vision. There will be many voices and distractions- having a clear vision is the key to quieting the noise and helping those around you know how to further your goals.