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  • Alexis Feldheim

Career Switch: Spending Time Enjoyably

By Lex Feldheim

Published in the November 2022 issue of Ceramics Monthly

“The goal always moves,” I recently found myself advising a young friend who was confiding his long-term professional aspirations to me, looking for encouragement.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“It means that, in my experience, I have never accurately predicted where I would be in 5 to 7 years. I have barely reached and enjoyed a goal, before setting the next one. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have goals—just don’t confuse achievements with happiness.”

He stared ahead and asked, “Then how do you get to happiness?”

I know there are people who go into educational professions thinking it’s a safer path than going after what they secretly dream of doing, but I thought I would love being a teacher. And I was right.

I enjoyed becoming a middle school special education teacher in Brooklyn, New York, and people told me I was good at it. But over time, I realized that although I loved teaching and learning, I wasn’t crazy about schools. I was not wired to easily endure bureaucracies and to be held responsible for things that were completely out of my control.

Dark brown cups, to 5 in. (12 cm) in height, stoneware, color waterslide decals, fired to cone 6 and then cone 013 in an electric kiln.

A New Journey

At 33 years old, I came to New Paltz, New York, to follow my husband who was starting off on his own new career path. I couldn’t picture any possibilities for my future, because I convinced myself that I had no transferable skills.

I certainly wasn’t optimistic.

I couldn’t even imagine the journey I would take from a beginning, Saturday morning ceramics student who was struggling to learn to center and understand glazing, to a successful ceramics studio owner, artist, and teacher. I did not envision or plan for it, because it didn’t even seem possible. I had wanted a step-by-step guide to follow to my next career, much like the one I followed to become a teacher, but instead, I felt my way here.

It has been a long, unwinding process of understanding my own unique combination of strengths and abilities over time. I was developing a variety of skills, but I had no idea how I would use these skills in the future, or even if they would be useful at all. Though I didn’t have a plan, I had a guideline: I would do any work that I didn’t hate. I wasn’t looking for passion; I was just trying to not have a breakdown while paying my bills.

During this period, I did a lot of odd things and collected useful tools. I took photographs for real-estate agents’ virtual tours, worked as a studio assistant to a local furniture designer, tutored online, babysat, helped actors run their lines, assisted an event planner in procuring donations for fundraisers, and worked as a technician in the ceramics studio at the community college where I was getting a degree in graphic design. I explored jewelry making, photography, film editing—anything that was creative. But no matter where I dipped my toes, there was one place that always felt like home: the ceramics studio.

Dark brown cups, to 5 in. (12 cm) in height, stoneware, color waterslide decals, fired to cone 6 and then cone 013 in an electric kiln.

Ignoring the Negative Voices

Even though ceramics made me really feel like an artist, it didn’t seem to be a place where people built careers but instead was more of a favorite elective. So, I didn’t think I should continue studying ceramics. I had a lot of work experience and a pile of student loans. It just seemed self-indulgent to go to school for ceramics.

Those negative voices in my head berated me: “What in the world are the chances you will find work as a ceramicist?!” But one day, I had a pivotal counter-thought: “How wasteful to throw away a chance to do something you love. How many people have lived on this earth and have never come close to having that kind of an opportunity?”

There was a school right in my town with a great ceramics program, surely that meant something! I began my studies.

Honestly, it was hard. I found it difficult, as a trained educator, to be in school again. My work didn’t always meet the expectations of others, including my professors, but most especially, myself. I love ceramics, but I dislike critiques. I don’t really connect with much of the academic discussion that goes on in them, and I wished that I didn’t have so much ego in my response to others’ thoughts about my work.

I dislike deadlines and pressure, so learning ceramics in this setting was all very uncomfortable and rooted in insecurity. I decided to ignore the show side of ceramics (ironically, where one might dream to make a little money). I didn’t know the names of any of the big artists in the field, even the ones I liked, never mind the mid-level or emerging artists I enjoy today on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, I graduated at the top of the art department with honors, right into the recession of 2008 with my brand new ceramics degree, not knowing if there would be work for me anywhere let alone in my newly chosen field. But I didn’t regret my choice. I felt that even if I had to do something less enjoyable than ceramics temporarily, at least I had spent the time I had in school well and followed my real interest.

But that isn’t what happened.

Dark brown cookie dishes, 5 in. (12 cm) in diameter, stoneware, color waterslide decals, fired to cone 6 and then cone 013 in an electric kiln.

Taking On a New Opportunity

A year after graduating, I joined a ceramics studio as a student just for recreation. I was scrambling in the gig economy, so I had an atypical schedule that allowed me to be there a lot. I learned that the studio was about to go out of business. A local painter bought it and offered me the job of managing the studio on a half-time basis. I jumped at the chance and couldn’t believe my luck. I had an above-minimum-wage job in a recession! In my field! I didn’t know the things I needed to know to run that studio, but the former owner and generous friends and artists helped me learn what I needed to, in order to make a go of it.

Three years later, I was offered a job creating and operating a non-profit community arts center with a ceramics studio half an hour away from where I lived. Those two experiences fostered me and allowed me to understand and solve the real problems of running a ceramics studio without any financial risk of my own. I highly recommend working for someone else at first, and learning whatever you can.

At the three-year anniversary of running the community studio, frustrated by the things that frustrate anyone who works with other people, I decided that my happiness lay in “sailing my own boat,” as my late father used to say.

Branching Out

I started Kingston Ceramics Studio (KCS) in May of 2017 in Kingston, New York. It began in a 750-square-foot space with 5 wheels and 3 tables. Over the last 5 years, KCS has grown into a 3000-square-foot ceramics school serving more than 65 members on a monthly basis. The environment is collaborative and cooperative, and the studio is staffed with a team of instructors offering more than twelve ongoing weekly classes, private lessons, and party events for all ages and skill levels seven days a week. I’m pleased, relieved, and beyond grateful to say it’s going well, despite the COVID-19 pandemic challenging the community-studio environment these last couple of years.

Still, this has been a particularly difficult few years. Although there are always reasons for hope and gratitude, collectively and as individuals, we have gone through a lot. In the last year, I lost my father rather quickly and unexpectedly, and I’m still grieving and that won’t end. I’ve since seen friends and family members lose people important to them in quick succession. It feels like a wake-up call to spend my time the way I want, to whatever extent possible. I think that’s true for a lot of us right now. So how to advise my friend about happiness? The fact remains that building a career is a lot of work. The goals are always changing and are less important than how you get there. Do whatever you can to spend your time in an enjoyable way—collect the skills that interest you most and put them together. These days, I’ve hired a studio manager and released most of the responsibility for the day-to-day operations. My goals are changing, yet again, and I am enjoying a lot more of my time, whether I am playing or working. I’m slowly and gently pursuing a few things that I am very interested in, not for achievements, but for exploration, curiosity, and satisfaction. I expect those pursuits might change again—with any luck! the author Lex Feldheim operates a studio out of The Shirt Factory building in Kingston, New York. To learn more, visit


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