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Daydream Believer

Business success making aprons? She found career happiness without sacrificing family.

By Cynthia Wadell, Orange, California

Did you ever have a crazy idea that wouldn’t go away? A nudge so persistent you couldn’t ignore it?

Let me tell you mine. I wanted to start a business, making aprons. You know, those 1950s Suzy Homemaker ones with big bows in back like you see in old TV shows, the perfect thing to wear when sliding snickerdoodles from the oven or serving pigs in a blanket at a party.

Like the ones my grandmother wore. The kind of retro apron you couldn’t find just anywhere, at least I couldn’t.

I was the last person you’d pick to run a company making aprons. Sure, I had a good management position with an electronics firm, but I hadn’t gone to college, wasn’t sure how to write a business plan and couldn’t sew.

All I had was an idea that wouldn’t go away and a job I’d be crazy to blow off. I was lucky to have work, but the days could be a grind, making call after call, scrolling through endless e-mails, cranking out sales reports. I’d go home drained.

The only thing that kept me going was my faith and, well, aprons, aprons that I remembered way back from my childhood when life wasn’t so stressful. It made me feel good to think about aprons.

In between pitches to clients and spreadsheets, I’d turn to the notepad on my desk and draw the things that came to mind: an apron with ruffles down the front or maybe a flower at the waist or a large one with big pockets and polka dots. Lunchtime, I’d cruise the internet. Maybe someone was making nice aprons for full-figured women—I’m pretty curvy myself—but I never found a thing.

One bright spot in my life was my new husband, Bob. He was an answer to my prayers—kind, supportive, loving. He was a widower with two children and I had one. We faced the challenge of making a blended family work. Of all the times to go out and start a business, this wasn’t it.

Bob didn’t buy it. “Cynthia, you’ve got to follow your dreams.” But I was no starry-eyed kid. The business world was tough and a new business was a long shot, especially in this economy. Besides, we had three kids to support. Risk it all on aprons? I’d be nuts!

One night I came home fried. I’d missed dinner—again—and I hated that. Bob was doing dishes and he’d gotten the kids settled in and started on homework. Here I was working at a job I didn’t love and I didn’t even get time with my family. “Another apron day?” he asked.

“How’d you guess?” I showed him the sketch I’d made during the only five minutes I’d had alone. I could see how wonderful it would look with organza and lace. I even had swatches in a drawer.

“Honey, this is great!” he said. “You’ve got to do something with it.”

“I can’t quit my job. You know that!”

“We can manage on one salary.”

How could I tell Bob I was too afraid of failing? As long as the aprons were just a dream, I could grab a few minutes and do my sketches…escape into a safe fantasy. But what if the dream became a reality? Would that ruin everything?

That weekend, though, in between chauffeuring the kids to soccer games and birthday parties, I picked up a book a friend had recommended. All of a sudden a phrase leapt out at me: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them,” the author wrote, going on to quote from Peter: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s grace.”

I’d never thought of my idea as a gift before or that I could be the good steward of a dream. Was that why the apron urge wouldn’t let me alone? “Lord, you’re going to have to smooth the way,” I said, “because I can’t do this on my own. You’ll have to be my silent partner.”

Then, with amazing timing, my company announced a restructuring. I knew they’d be offering solid buyout packages, so I quickly volunteered. This was the perfect cushion for starting a business. Talk about nudges!

Check out some of Cynthia Wadell's aprons at heavenlyhostess.com