A study by creative software company Adobe polled more than 5,000 working adults in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, and Japan and revealed that more than 75 percent of those employees felt as if they weren’t living up to their creative potential.
Even workplaces as diverse and innovative as Google can struggle with this conundrum — which is why the company allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their work week on projects that ignite their creative passions.
It’s little wonder, then, why so many experienced workers are leaving more lucrative jobs to establish their own creative endeavors or take up a creative side hustle. This month, South Sound Business talked to four such individuals who enjoy working creatively so much that they augmented, changed, or steered their careers in a direction to do so.
A Touch of Sugar and Spice
This career firefighter spends her off-duty time crafting sweet treats for her side hustle.
To talk to her, you’d never imagine Ann Hoag wanted to be anything other than a firefighter. “I tried a volunteer fire company, and two days into that training academy, I was like, ‘I get to use chainsaws and break down doors; this is awesome,’” she said of the time she fell in love with firefighting.
In fact, Hoag is such a proud firefighter that she named her side hustle in honor of her primary occupation. The 29-year-old founded her cake-baking and decorating company, Hook & Batter Co., in March 2018, and now spends much of her off-duty time creating elaborate (and delicious) cake masterpieces.
Despite her resolved identity as a firefighter — her passion for the occupation and her enthusiasm when speaking about it — Hoag said she’d had a different idea of the path her life would take long before that volunteer training academy.
“I was going to be a baker,” she said while donning a cheerful flower print apron in her home kitchen. “I went to college, got a degree in hospitality business management, and I’ve been working in bakeries since I was 16.”
After graduating from Washington State University, Hoag moved back to her hometown of Bellingham and took a job managing a small, local bake shop. There she honed her frosting and decorating skills, but ultimately decided to leave that position.
“It just felt like it wasn’t really sustainable,” she recalled as she pulled ingredients from a refrigerator plastered with stickers from various fire departments. “It was like I was running someone else’s business for them with no help, and I was making $17 an hour — it was hard.”
Faced with an uncertain future, Hoag turned to a career counselor, who proctored a series of strength-indicator tests. “They all said I should be a police officer, a firefighter, or a farmer,” she said with a laugh as she began unwrapping large bricks of butter and plopping them into a stand mixer. “I think it has something to do with working with your hands.”
Hoag fell so completely in love with her new career direction that she packed up everything and moved to Tacoma to be closer to the fire academy. She worked briefly as a volunteer until she was hired by the Des Moines Fire Department in 2015.
However, old habits die hard.
“Now, here I am four years later, and I’m baking again,” she said, shaking her head and smiling while measuring vanilla extract. “I can’t escape.”
Baking for Hook & Batter Co. isn’t Hoag’s only foray into culinary arts. The young entrepreneur also started a garden at her station house, the bounties from which she uses — along with eggs from her own hens — to cook dinner for her fellow firefighters during shifts.
Since founding her business, Hoag said she feels a profound juxtaposition between her day job and her side hustle. This was especially apparent during one recent training exercise.
“(We had been) working outdoors, using chain saws, and stuff like that; we used the saw so much that I couldn’t grip anything at the end of the day,” she said. “Then I had to come home, and frost cakes, but I couldn’t grip the spatula.”
Many other aspects of Hoag’s two careers seem at odds. The hours of her shift work can be brutal. Often, she’ll work for 24 hours and then come home and bake a tiered wedding cake before crashing and pulling another 24-hour shift the following day. Additionally, Hoag said overtime at her primary job is far more lucrative than baking.
“I basically don’t make any money on my time,” she said of her profits for Hook & Batter Co., as she shouted over the whine of the mixer. Inside the stainless-steel bowl, raw ingredients were melding together to form fluffy tufts of buttercream frosting.
“Everyone tells me I have to start saying ‘no,’ which is why I raised my prices recently, in an effort to let people say ‘no’ for me … It didn’t really work,” she continued.
So why does she keep the business going?
“The best part of it for me is being involved in people’s special occasions,” she said.
As she artfully and effortlessly frosts each cupcake, Hoag talks about how much she enjoys interaction with her customers and the community. Her hopes that the future of her business will include selling cake by the slice at farmers markets. And she practically swooned when asked about a possible decommissioned firetruck for deliveries and weddings.
Hoag worries, however, that she won’t be able to scale her business while making a sustainable living with the fire department.
“We’ll see,” she said with a shrug, as she added the finishing touches with a sprinkle of Butterfinger bits. “That’s even more time I’d have to commit.”
With a little bit of pageantry, Hoag held out the platter of cupcakes, and we took the first bite of moist but firm chocolate cake, fluffy buttercream frosting, still-warm chocolate ganache, and just the right amount of candy to give the whole thing a peanut-y kick.
Whatever the future holds for Hoag and Hook & Batter Co., we hope she won’t stop making cupcakes again any time soon.