Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Feel the Bowel Clenching Terror - And Do It Anyway!

I have that doohickey on my Facebook account that shows me my memories from days of yore and it has been working overtime recently to remind me that for the past several years, August has been a pretty eventful month for me - all quirky holidays, new jobs and fantastic festivals.

Which has prompted me to share one of my more significant memories:

Picture it! Ulsan, August, 2014.  The pavement is simmering gently in the blistering heat and the cicadas are so loud that I have to constantly remind myself that they are not, in fact, machines.
It's ten o'clock in the morning and every surface in my apartment is covered in baked goods in various stages of preparation, cooling and packaging. I had even McGyvered the laundry racks into a pretty ingenious cooling station. I was quite proud of that stroke of inspiration!
It's the scene of an incredibly tiny cottage industry at peak production.

And there was I, standing in the middle of the floor, positively frozen with terror.
This is not a catchy euphemism.
I was panicking so hard that I physically could not move. My feet were frozen to the floor.  In two hours time, I was due to travel across town to set up my stall at the inaugural 'Acoustic Lady Land' music festival.
The night before, on my nightly dog walk with Doc Doolittle, I had been quite optimistic. Pleased with the amount of stock I was able to prepare. Nervous but excited about the adventure ahead.

But crossing the floor of my apartment at 10am, I was hit by such a wave of doubt and insecurity:
"I don't have enough stock. I'm going to run out ridiculously early and be a complete laughing stock!"
"I don't speak enough Korean!  I won't be able to do the transactions with Korean customers! What if a scary Ahjumma starts asking me questions about the ingredients!!"
"It will be such a failure, that Dan will be disgusted that he even offered me a stall!"
"I wish to God that I had a car. I could pretend that I crashed it, and skip the whole festival."

"How," I asked myself, "did I get myself into this mess?"

Rewind to my return to Korean in the summer of 2013 - as far back as the previous February, I had been mulling over the idea of starting my own bakery business.  When I came back to Korea, I specifically took on a part-time job, so that I could really give my idea a proper chance.

I had a fistful of recipes, a killer name, thanks to the lovely Amanda Bell and thanks to Jen Lee, the world's most adorable logo!  (See for yourself!)
And so in October 2013, I was ready to launch the grand experiment.

Then, with the most serendipitous timing, the redoubtable Harry Bush launched The Ulsan Foreigner Market in November, and suddenly O'GradyLady Bakery had a regular monthly market stall where I could meet my customers in person!
Apart from the deep and thrilling satisfaction of watching them enjoy the goods, it was an invaluable resource for testing new products, as I provided samples of everything I sold.

Things were going swimmingly. I was having a ball at the Ulsan Foreigner Market and both my product line and my customer base were growing steadily.

So, I had taken a risk, a very little one, with low stakes and so far, so good.

Then, in July, a chance encounter while volunteering at the Ulsan Whale Festival brought me an opportunity to go waaaay outside of my comfort zone.  It was while I was serving beer at the Ulsan International Volunteer Center tent that I ran into Dan. Dan is one of Ulsan's most senior ex-pats, practically a Village Elder for us foreigners,  and I had met him when Ms.Amused and I had volunteered with T-Hope, a charity he had set up. We caught up with each other, and when he heard about my business and my regular spot at the Ulsan market, he offered me a stall at the Korean music festival. I was ecstatic! Positively giddy with excitement.  And barring a little sleep induced grouchiness as I baked up a storm, excited was pretty much how I stayed until Saturday morning.

Finally, after several minutes of frozen freaking out, I managed to talk myself down and begin to function again. Was I back to excited? Hell no!
I was still utterly convinced that the entire day would be an unmitigated disaster and that there was no possible way that I would be going back for round two on Sunday.

But.  And this was the clincher - I believed that keeping my promise and showing up was more important than avoiding the immanent and inevitable embarrassment. I decided that I would rather be known as the girl who failed, than the girl who flaked out.

Goodness, but I was a regular beacon of positivity!

So, this event that I was approaching like it was my own execution - how did it turn out?
One of the most amazing and satisfying weekends of my life!

For starters, I got to see my name up in lights! (kinda)

 Doesn't it look pretty! I nearly burst with pride to see that.

Now, remember my panicked rambling that morning -

1) I won't be able to serve Korean customers - completely forgetting that I had ALREADY been doing that since October!

2) I'll run out of stock - completely discounting my genius plan to bring one of my ovens with me (yes, I did say 'one'. I had three.) and bake cookies fresh throughout the day.  This had three purposes:
i) I wanted the scent of freshly baked cookies wafting over the park and luring in customers.
ii) It ensured that I wouldn't run out of stock AND
iii) My mother had taught me that Rule #1 of working behind a counter is, "Always look busy."

My dearest Korean bro, SangJin, came to the Festival and brought some of his friends to my stall. One of them declared my Chocolate Chip Cookies to be, "the best I have had in my whole life!"

There is one personal highlight of the weekend, the credit for which goes ENTIRELY to Doc Doolittle, my Brownies.
About three weeks before the festival, Doc suggested that I should sell Brownies. I dismissed the idea, saying that I already had plenty of other goods and I wasn't going to start experimenting with a new recipe this late in the day.  Doc kept suggesting, relentlessly! And I kept refusing, snappishly!
Then, the day before the festival, I was in the Bakery Supply Store and lo and behold - brownie pans on half price sale.  I listened to what the universe was clearly shouting at me and went home and researched some recipes.

The result?  I sold some to an American customer, who wandered over to a music stage 30 yards away before taking a bite. I still treasure the memory of his shocked shout of "Oh my God this is good!!"
And the from the darling Dan, who is also a gourmet chef, 
"How long have you been making these?"
"Since yesterday."
"Fuck me!!"

heh heh

These delicious babies went on to become my signature product and best seller over the rest of my time in Korea.

What a change four hours can make!  At 10am I was nailed to the floor, flailing in panic.  By 2pm I was set up and selling, in English AND Korean, and getting fantastic feedback. That evening, I finally had some breathing space and I picked up a festival brochure.  I had been so busy the last two months, planning for O'GradyLady Bakery that I had not checked out the music line up.
Reading through the programme I got the best surprise!  On Sunday evening, one of my favourite Korean bands, Urban Zakapa, was going to play.

Listening to them live while sitting under the summer stars, what a perfect ending to an extraordinary weekend, what a memory to treasure forever.

And the whole experience was a powerful lesson in not allowing yourself to be held back by fear, or, to paraphrase a famous book title:
"Feel the bowel clenching terror and do it anyway!"

A lesson I am trying to keep in mind, now that I am back in Ireland, facing new challenges and searching for new adventures.