Debbie Viola – Reflections of an Entrepreneur

I recently turned 60, and realized it has been 20 years since I took up a hobby that would change my life forever. In 1998, we redid our bathroom, and I somehow convinced my husband to let me create a faux finish on the new walls. I had zero experience, and no clue of what to do.  However, I figured it out and managed to create something beautiful. In fact, the contractors who were still working in my home told me I should quit my day job, because they could not believe it was the first thing I had ever done; they said I was better than any professionals they had seen! I couldn’t contain my elation that I was good at something besides typing!  I was always creative but never had the opportunity to paint; I even cried when I missed finger painting in kindergarten one day.

I was a legal secretary straight out of high school, and in my last job, was working for the same attorney for 23 years, running his nine-attorney law firm. I spent every weekday living for the weekend. I felt like a robot, barely alive from Monday to Friday, often working late every night. My boss had a toxic personality, and was sucking the life out of me.  But it was all I knew how to do, and I was great at it. So I stuck it out to help provide for my family. I had no choice.

My newfound passion of decorative painting remained a hobby for a few years, except for the occasional room I would do for family or their friends.  But September 11, 2001 changed everything for me. What a moment of clarity I had,  working in New York City, and witnessing the Towers come crashing down from my Midtown office windows. My boss was screaming because he thought his friend was in one of the buildings at a meeting (he wasn’t). Yet when I was walking to the elevators to begin my two-mile walk to be with my daughter at her Barnard College dorm, he followed me with work, telling me to do it at the dorm since I was leaving early! That just sums up what I put up with all those years. I realized in that moment that life was both precious and fragile, and I could not work in that toxic environment any longer.  I am so thankful I found the courage to change my life. Trust me, it wasn’t easy, and felt like financial suicide. But I could no longer let money be the driving force in my life. I had to put my sanity first.

All these years later, I still pinch myself. I get to do what I love and make my clients happy. And I’ve been voted Best Artist of Long Island for six years in a row! All I had was an insatiable passion for my new hobby, and an urgent desire to exit from the rat race that was my life. Let there be no mistake, I didn’t choose an easy path, and it’s still difficult, not knowing when and where my next paycheck is coming from. But the rewards are immeasurable. I am in charge of my own destiny, my own schedule, my own happiness.

When I left my job, I promised myself I would never work for anyone but myself ever again, and I’m so grateful that has remained true. I show my gratitude by sharing my talent in ways where it can bring joy and hope to others, such as donating murals and art in foster agencies, schools, children’s hospitals, or wherever there might be a need.  I have also donated tens of thousands of dollars of paintings to important causes I believe in.

These days, I try to live a tranquil life and be in the “now,” which is the total opposite of the life I lived in my corporate job.  Just give me some soft jazz and paint, and I’m golden. I am passionate about all the beauty life has to offer, and the heavenly landscapes of Long Island, New York provide never-ending inspiration.

As an entrepreneur I have been forced to do things that are often way outside of my comfort zone, such as figuring out ways to market my art business, finding new opportunities, or being in a room of strangers at a networking event or business seminar. But one thing I’ve learned all these years is that anything worthwhile is worth fighting for and never easy. It’s  all up to me to either carry on and continue to put myself out there, or crawl into a corner and give up. But that is not an option for me. I’ve been told more than once that I am tenacious, and I’m so proud of that. Make no mistake about it, turning nothing more than a passionate hobby into a business, without having any game plan, let alone a business plan, in place, is quite an accomplishment. The fact that I am STILL in business nearly two decades later, is pretty darn awesome.

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