As a social worker, Nina Gordon hit a point in her career where she began to burn out. Unsure of what she wanted to do next, Nina decided to take a chance and pursue her creative interests. “I learned to be careful not to confuse being good at something with feeling passionate about something,” she says below. This creative self-discovery led to the opening of her own shop, take heart.
Located in East Austin, take heart is a thoughtfully curated boutique featuring home goods and gifts from artists all around the US, with an emphasis on Japanese design. One visit to the shop and you’ll instantly recognize the thought Nina puts into each and every object, and feel the creative energy that fills the room (and find it hard to leave without buying a few things).
We chatted with Nina about why she opened the shop, where she goes for inspiration and what her best advice is for aspiring creative entrepreneurs.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before take heart, and what led you to open the shop?
I was a social worker for many years. I stopped doing social work altogether about 2.5 years ago. I had started feeling burnt out doing social work and began thinking what else I might want to do for work. I really thought social work was my life career and I was feeling nervous about changing careers at 35. Then I did the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and through the exercises in the book I started exploring what I feel passionate about. I learned many things doing that book.
I learned to be careful not to confuse being good at something with feeling passionate about something, I learned not to judge what I am interested in or passionate about, I learned I am not helping anyone doing a job begrudgingly, I am not adding positive energy into the world if I am doing that. I also learned I was limiting myself; we can do most, if not anything, we set our mind to if we believe and trust ourselves and listen to our inner voice. I learned taking chances is when the really great and unimaginable things can happen, not when I am keeping myself “safe” and in the comfort zone.
What has been the most unexpected part about owning a business?
Learning that I am a very creative person. Learning that I am more capable than I gave myself credit for. I like being my own boss and I love collaborating on projects. I am also amazed with the wonderful customers we have and some of the fun and meaningful conversations we have in the shop.
“I learned taking chances is when the really great and unimaginable things can happen, not when I am keeping myself “safe” and in the comfort zone.”
As a shop owner, what does a typical day look like for you?
I actually don’t work in the shop much these days. I am learning to manage my time better because this is new to me. I am on the computer a lot communicating with vendors, making plans for new products, looking for new products. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that I am doing, that cannot be done while I am working in the shop. I am in the shop 1-2 days per week because I like to be in there and interacting with the customers.
Where do you go for inspiration? What fuels your creativity?
I love traveling. I especially love the desert. I enjoy going to Santa Fe and Tucson once per year. I find new items for the shop when I travel and it is fun for me to get away and refresh myself.
How has community played a role in your journey as a small business owner?
When I started on the journey I took a wonderful business class at a local nonprofit organization called Big Austin, I highly recommend the class. In the class, I started creating my idea and I worked one on one with the teacher to create a business plan. At the time Big Austin had a competition going on with A+ Federal Credit Union in which one could win a $25,000 business loan, zero interest for seven years. So I entered the competition and I was one of the winners. I am about to pay that loan off this May! I am very grateful for the Big Austin class, my teacher and A+FCU for their support in me opening my shop. The community in general has been very supportive over the years. They continue to shop with us, give us great feedback and send their friends. I could not be more thankful for our customers and the love they show us.
After seven years in business, what keeps you motivated?
I continue to feel motivated to evolve the shop as my tastes and interests change. Owning the shop is a great way to keep my creativity alive. I am working on new projects and products such as growing the online shop, creating new custom tissue paper, pins, tote bags, etc…Meeting new artists whose work I love and I feel excited to get their products in the shop and introduce them to our customers. Being in charge of my time and my life keeps me motivated, I enjoy it much more than a 9-5 clock in and out job that I have worked most of my life.
Favorite way to unwind after a long week?
I do love my alone time and spending time at my house. I love relaxing at my house, on my house, in the yard when the weather is nice. I try to make very little plans on the weekend, it feels relaxing to me to not have to be anywhere at a specific time for a couple of days.
What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a business?
You can do it! People that open businesses don’t necessarily have a special gift or a lot of money. You have to be willing to take a chance and listen to your instincts. Be open to help and feedback from others. It will not be perfect (ever) but especially at the beginning and that is ok. Be patient, it takes time to grow.
Feature image by Cydney Cosette, story images by Movers + Makers.