Rewind to summer of 2014. I am getting ready to pull off an insane cake week. In fact, this is mid-wedding season and the temps are soaring. It’s an 8 cake weekend, and for me, that was pushing it. I had cupcakes, cookies and cake pops on the books as well. I was tired. I was running on fumes and my fridge and freezer were PACKED. Unsure of how I was going to Tetris things in and out of the small extra fridge, and keep things fresh, I had to purchase another freezer. Did I have that money just laying around to do that? Nope, but we did it, and I made it work. I had no energy and by the skin of my teeth, and many prayers, I pulled that chaotic weekend off. Sound familiar?
Welcome to Cakers Burn-out!
I was a wreck the entire time. Grumpy at everyone. Yelling at my poor husband, and needing the kids to be anywhere, but here. I couldn’t make lunches, and dinner for them, let alone myself. My family came to my rescue and helped watch my two kids, but it left me feeling like a less than stellar mom. I felt like a complete failure. After the sea of chaos, I could be a mom again and not a crazy cake lady. I mean, you get one shot to get someone’s big day right, and the pressure of trying to create a flawless cake is insurmountable.
In the back of my mind, I always feel like I have my whole world “watching” me. My online group of caker friends and acquaintances who I relate to, admire and want to model my “cake walk of life” after. Some are very well known, some have millions of followers, some are just like me, and some are just starting out. So, I don’t want to fail in front of them, but the pressure was stacking. If I made a less than great cake, are they’re going to judge me? If I share a post online, is someone going to say I didn’t share the right way, or from the right page. Did I tag the right person, or help my friend in the best way possible?
If I share a trick that I believe I came up with, is someone going to be proprietary and say they coined it? Even if I have never seen this anywhere before or I have my own way of accomplishing things. All these defeating thoughts were going through my head, suffocating me, and making me want to post less and less. Every two months the boat seems to be rocked somewhere in this online community and it’s making more and more of us want to stop altogether.
I am starting to see less and less family and every weekend is taken up, by a cake that’s due, and all plans are put on hold. We can’t go anywhere because we have to deliver a cake or be home for a consult. There has to be something better.
Later that month, I was approached by a local cake decorator who’d been in the industry for over 30 years and asked me to lunch. We sat down and talked about the possibility of me joining forces with her and the other lady in town who was also a caker vet. With all three of us, we could have an amazing plan. The caker who approached me had everything she needed for a great bakery; a sheeter, all caking things, freezers, walk-in fridge, dragees galore and pretty much everything you can think of- the works. So I was completely in love with the idea of clocking out at the end of the day, of not putting my life on hold. No more tracking receipts. No more taxes, no more long sleepless nights. Just clock in, and clock out. So I said yes! My last month would be in September. This seemed to be the answer to my prayers. A way to gain control back again.
I worked for her for a total of 6 months and sadly I left on unhappy terms. There was so much that was behind it, those reasons really aren’t important and I won’t divulge the grievances behind the demise of that position, except to say, when you are passionate about a way you complete a task, and product you are used to using, switching gears after a long time of creating things like that, is very hard. When it comes to decorating, I am very methodical and like to take my time, and that isn’t conducive to working in a fast paced environment. Top that off with things behind-the-scenes not being the best scenario possible, and you end up with an unhappy decorator, and totally burnt out again.
Finding my Way
I decided to change tact. I had been approached earlier that year by another bakery and after things not working out with the first bakery, I told the second employer that I was available and asked if she needed help. We met and talked and she asked me to work for her. I worked there for about 14 months before leaving this position. There are hundreds of reasons why it didn’t work, but not one of them matter. The fact is, I learned so many things at both places. I learned how to be faster. I learned how they run their business and about their ‘Cake Walk of Life’ — The ‘Cake Walk of Life’ is the way you operate, the method to your madness; from frosting style, to how you bake, and what products you are familiar with and will use.
I have learned how to be more efficient with my time. I am always learning new ways to do things. But more than anything, I learned that I need to be more confident in myself. I need to remember that I am good at what I do. Whether someone is standing over the top of me, or someone needs something yesterday, I am a good decorator. I am a good person, and no one will ever take that from me.
Rediscovering my Passion
Two years had passed since putting my Top Tier Cakes baby to bed. A baby I had raised for four years and had coddled and helped mature. In the two years that followed, there wasn’t one cake I made, set aside from a collaboration cake, that I could stand back and smile over.
Something I felt ownership about.
When that happens, you drift away from having your hands on something you feel proud over, you lose your mojo. The thought of doing cake seems so not worth it. You don’t want to play the game anymore. To post your happy cakes. To feel happy about a finished project or to even pick up a spatula to create something. You start to feel disconnected from your tribe because you can’t relate anymore. You don’t own your business, and you can’t relate on the same level. And it’s so very hard, because these people who you hold in such high regard, don’t see you anymore. You’ve become a ghost. Lost and floating around in limbo. You have a page, that does nothing but help to push your friends forward. It wasn’t even me anymore. I felt lost and dying. I needed to find my way back. I needed to get out of this rut. I needed to put my hands on some fondant and feel that passion again. I needed the OPPOSITE of what I originally thought I wanted. To not just clock in and out. I needed to be invested and I needed to learn how to do this in a way that I wouldn’t burn out. I have a need inside of me to show other people how to love it too. I had to step away, to see where my love is. I had to experience it all. As much as I could. Still many aspects I haven’t delved into, as of yet, but the “night is young”.
My Life, My Rules
So after both places not working out, and after me feeling like a failure, what I have come to the realization over, is that I need to learn to give boundaries. I need to take what makes me happy and say no to the rest. Being in business isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ model. I am employed by myself. That means I decide what will work for me, and what won’t. I set my rules. I take what I want, and decline what I don’t. I hold myself accountable for my time. And maybe that means that for now, I work for another place part-time, while I do what I want in my spare time. Maybe that’s not ideal for you, but for me, it works. And it works because it pays for a steady income and has nothing to do with cake. I can disconnect. I can have insurance and gain control over finances and my children’s future.
So now at present, I decided I see where I went wrong in the beginning. I said yes to everything. Cupcakes, cake pops, cake parfaits, cookies, cakes, sheet cakes…literally did everything. In my own home, I didn’t take full advantage of my time. I walked in circles and procrastinated. I didn’t charge what I was worth. I went into full-on BURN OUT mode. I wasn’t streamlined with my ordering. I wasn’t able to set ground rules for myself; so how could I ask that from my clients? Needing them to fill out contracts, and hold up their end of the bargain. Asking for deposits and standing firm. These things are so important. You skip around and start slacking off and not asking people to follow your protocol, then you slip up and things get chaotic.
Be the Captain of Your Own Ship
Admitting to this is hard. It’s not perfect, it’s hairy and it’s scary, but if my faults can help anyone, then at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I know it is for me because it’s made me appreciate cakes.
Having to take that break and step back from caking really makes you see what you miss or don’t. If I had this to do again, I’d do it the same way. To see if I missed cakes, or if I didn’t, and learn things about the industry you can’t possibly know unless you have worked in a bakery. It’s invaluable knowledge and I am grateful for every step along the way.
If you’ve lost your mojo, it’s okay. It’s okay to take a step back. It’s okay to mull over where you see yourself. It’s okay to stop entirely. You have to prioritize what is important for you in your own life. You are the captain of your ship, you sail it where you want.