(This post is part of a pact I made. Click here for the full story.)
Since the moment I sat down to speak with her about her career path, I was overcome by a sense that our mass-produced, fast-moving world does not deserve people like her.
Monika is a classically trained master gold and silver smith.
To you and me that means that half her life – since the age of fifteen – she has been perfecting the craft of fine jewellery-making mostly by being an apprentice of Germany’s top jewellers.
Possibly Monika will be inclined to correct me on this because ever since she can remember, fine jewellery-making has been a part of her life, much before she was fifteen years old. Her father is a master gold and silver smith who works out of a studio in their family home in a town outside of Cologne in Germany. When Monika was ‘old enough’, between 8 and 10, her dad started to pay her to do the menial jobs that he was not too keen on doing like welding and braiding pieces of gold. As she told me: ”I must have been quite good since I was making good money…” Sitting on her dad’s lap, working at the bench, marked the beginning of Monika’s love affair with very, very small details.
Creating one-of-a-kind pieces that put smiles on people’s faces is where Monika finds her career Nirvana.
In her words: “When I’m working at my bench I feel content, it gives me inner peace, it feels like home. I’m calm and I get back energy.”
Note to self: Tune in to your feelings. Trust them. Feelings don’t lie. They don’t know how. Good things feel right, bad things feel not quite right.
Listening to Monika describe how she works on a piece of fine jewellery, is as soothing as watching a prima ballerina float on stage, as intense as following an elite athlete compete at an Olympic event and as nerve-wrecking as seeing a neurosurgeon perform brain surgery through a microscope. It’s quite clear that when she’s working at the bench, she’s in the here and now. For her every movement counts. In her words: “My gut guides me through the process…every detail matters and there is endless learning.” So much so, that she feels that she could spend her entire life in jewellery school because there is so much to learn. She should know since her 72 year-old father often tells her that he’s constantly learning new things about the craft.
When I set out to share Monika’s story with you, I was secretly hoping to learn from her ability to feel contentment on a single path. I naively thought that Monika was so obsessed with small details that she found happiness in very minor things. After speaking with her for a few hours, I found a person who’s driven to find meaning in her work. And even though she feels a strong pull towards the craft, she questions whether this is her own path or if it’s one that she inherited.
Note to self: Questions are important. Honest answers are vital.
For the more Machiavellian types, her questioning would seem impractical. After all, what matters most is arriving at a destination, not the path taken. However, Monika has always been one to follow the beat of her own drum. Among the conservative community where she grew up she is considered a pioneer and known as one who walks out of step with the crowd. As she explained to me, by nature, she has an inner need to create and follow her own path. It is not enough for her to experience bliss while sitting at the bench, making fine jewellery. It is not enough to be considered one of the best in her craft. To be able to continue to dedicate her life to it, she needs to know that her passion for the craft came from within herself. That it is not something she’s drawn to because it is all she has done or because it’s a family tradition.
In search for answers, at the age of 25, after she graduated as a master jeweller, she moved from Cologne, Germany to Sydney, Australia. As soon as she told me this, I quickly scanned the globe but struggled to find a connection between those two points. She said that the language played a big role in her decision (she’s fluent in English). She also has a ‘thing’ for opals. More important, she wanted to go as far away from her home-town as she possibly could. As soon as she told me this last part, she started to laugh – at herself. Shortly after moving to the other side of the world, she realized that while she left her home-town oceans away, she had not been able to get away from herself!
After five years of living in Australia, Monika has found more than what she came looking for. Her initial plan was to work in different things to find out if anything else came close to jewellery-making. If it did, well she would know that she was meant work in something else. If it didn’t, she’d know that her life’s path was to take over her parents’ shop back home.
Among the most memorable experiences, she worked at a cattle ranch. And after nine weeks of doing different things like painting, renovating and wood-working, even though these were all forms of craftsmanship, she felt it was not the same. In her own words: “That was an interesting and unique experience, but exhausting!…At times I’d ask: ‘What am I doing here?’” She also worked at an ice-cream store and at several other businesses in the hospitality industry. Yet nothing came close to making her feel what she does while working at the bench. And nothing paid as well as jewellery-making, even if she’d take a job mass-producing jewellery.
It was during her travels up the New South Wales coast that she came upon a town called Byron Bay (a.k.a. Byron). For those of you who have been there, you’ll know what a special place it is. With its surfer culture and artist community, few places emanate such good vibes. In Byron Monika met a community of jewellers who like her have an interest in Numerology. Inspired by what she describes as a chance meeting, shortly after she completed a course in Numerology and began to explore ways to integrate its principles with fine jewellery-making. That was when she realized that even though she did not find her craft on her own – it is a God-given gift that she can make her own.
After a few more non-jewellery related jobs, Monika accepted a job at one of Sydney’s finest jewellery shops. And for the past two years she has been learning about Australian stones (opals and blue sapphires) and creating pieces based on her knowledge of Numerology and other New Age principles. She must have struck a chord because in 2008 Monika was the recipient of Australia’s most prestigious jewellery design award, the Jewellers Association of Australia Design Award, with her Ying and Yang bracelet.
Note to self: What is that one thing that you enjoy doing and you tend to be great at? The combination of enjoyment and skill are the foundation of your strengths.
Little by little, Monika is weaving a two-strand career. By doing so she has been able to preserve a family tradition – one she’s passionate and quite skilled at – and quench her thirst for meaning.
Note to self: Be open to finding this and that answers. Go beyond this or that.
Yet something tells me that Monika’s search for answers is far from over.
Through Numerology, she gave me a peek into her soul. She explained that the number 8 captures her soul’s purpose. It stands for several traits, among them independence, fairness and assertiveness. According to Numerology people like her are quite rare, often described as higher beings. Even so, I found Monika to be quite humble and very grounded.
Based on her birth-date, she explained that she tends to be very head driven. That means that at times her mind does not allow her to listen to her heart. And that has been one of the sources of her inner conflict. As she told me: ”When I’ve listened to my heart, everything falls into place.” The trouble is her head is usually making too much noise for her to listen to what her heart wants. During the few moments that she has listened to her heart, she feels jewellery-making is what she’s meant to be doing. As she told me: “I feel drawn to it. It flows. It feels easy.”
When I asked Monika what she has learned along her journey, she said:
“Mostly to listen to my gut…my tummy guides me.”
Note to self: Trust your intuition.