In her own words, Mona Hoffman “jumped off the cliff” in February of 2004 resigning from a successful corporate career to seek a new and more fulfilling livelihood. A born leader, Mona worked her way up the ranks of the office furniture industry and distinguished herself in a male dominated workplace. From product development and marketing, to eventually an executive level position as general manager of a business unit, Mona was never one to be satisfied with mediocrity.
As her business unit became successful, Mona saw and felt the corporate culture change festering jealousies from a sister company. While climbing the proverbial corporate ladder was never an intentional goal, Mona’s strong work ethic and passion for variety always led her to take on new challenges. But obeying the rules when they did not make sense or follow suit with her values and integrity was a line she was not willing to cross.
Mona worked hard to build a strong professional culture in her company and also tried to beat the realities of the good old boys club which was alive and well in her industry. She worked her way up to a Vice President position and was the only female VP in the company at that time.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Her goal was to instill professionalism into the company with high standards for performance and accountability. Finally in a position to grow her staff, Mona brought more women into the organization and found that they went above and beyond and proved their worth through their performance time and time again.
One staff member at a time, Mona was most proud of her work building a strong and professional work culture that was appreciated by her colleagues. But with each step forward came two steps backwards as she and her boss were clearly not on the same wavelength. Their values differed so greatly that it was time to consider an exit strategy.
While contemplating a major career reinvention is scary and risky, Mona knew she was ready for a change. She needed time to think about her next career move and delved into some serious soul searching to contemplate what she was really good at and what was most important to her in a career. She resigned the first time in September of 2004 only to be wooed back by another position that seemed more palatable.
Reality set in when she recognized the new position would not solve her discontent with the corporate bureaucracy that convinced her to resign initially. In February of 2004, Mona resigned again – this time for good…or so she thought.
Time on Your Side
With breathing room and the luxury to really consider her next career move, Mona began immersing herself in all things artistic. She discovered a book by Fu Tung Cheng called Concrete Countertops. Known for his unconventional use of concrete in the home and his minimalist designs, Mona was inspired by Cheng and decided to pursue training at Cheng Design in California. Her investment paid off as she began to design and craft concrete countertops, sinks, and fireplace surrounds for discerning Designers and homeowners.
Since Mona has always liked to make things, her newfound artistry was a natural fit. It was a relief at first, playing to her strengths and monetizing her passions.
Mona admits she had her share of panic attacks wondering where the next client would come from for her specialized concrete creations.
Having to cover a range of up to 3 hours one way to find the right customers, the process to make and install projects was very labor intensive and financially challenging. With another crisis of career faith, Mona began to doubt if this was really something she could enjoy for the foreseeable future.
In 2008, she went back to her former company to give it another try with a different business unit. The environment she returned to was completely opposite of the one she had left behind. Ten months later she traded her misery for an artistic lifestyle, a risk but one that also brought her great joy.
Mona began to settle into her new career with an eye towards the future and ways to make her craft financially feasible and more enjoyable.
After working with a myriad of clients, Mona discovered that some of her favorite projects were those that allowed her to freely design and explore with the concrete medium. She soon discovered that smaller scale creations tapped into her strengths of design and problem solving without the labor intensive installation requirements. And so, Mona’s handcrafted concrete table lamps became the focus of her business.
As a craftsperson and Artisan, Mona’s background in retail, marketing, and management empowered her to handle the back end of the business with ease.
The Beauty of Imperfection
Mona’s work celebrates and embraces imperfection. She subscribes to the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi – the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. This artistic philosophy has become an inspiration for Mona’s art, her life and her values. She talks about de-molding a piece and how she relishes in the imperfections of the concrete. “I am completely entranced by flaws and imperfections in this medium – I never really know what is contained in the package and the thrill of discovery for a new piece never wanes for me.”
Mona is also drawn to the implicit natural strength of concrete and her table lamps are sturdy and stable. They will stand the test of time and Mona encourages her clients to appreciate the nicks and chips that will occur as they are moved about and handed down through generations as a sign of change and growth since nothing is permanent.
A Gambling Woman
The concrete metaphors serve as a reflection of Mona’s career journey. With chips and nicks taken out along the way, she has carved an authentic livelihood that empowers her. Although the risk continues, Mona’s work has been validated by being accepted into major national design shows and publications.
At 53, Mona appreciates her flexibility to craft a lifestyle void of endless meetings in a status quo environment. She is making it happen and remains open to the possibilities that life offers. Wearing all the hats of a solo-preneur, while rewarding, can also feel isolating at times. Mona continues to be drawn to the business world and hopes that her work as an artisan will lead her to discover new opportunities for influencing others to discover their strengths and find their passion.
The Patina of Life
As the table lamps withstand the test of time so will Mona. Both will gain the true and metaphorical patina from living life and years of use respectively but Mona sees these as marks of experience and a life well lived.
Rough Edges Design was a calling for Mona to embrace the uncertainties of life by following her heart, whether it is a lifelong passion or simply leading her to discover more of what she is capable of. Like the concrete medium in which she works, Mona Hoffman is strong, hearty, natural, and timeless with authentic imperfections that are inspiring to all of us.
Mona’s Advice and Action Steps:
- There is no better time than now for a change because ‘someday’ may never come.
- As a solo-preneur, at the end of the day, you know specifically what you did and did not accomplish. You are accountable only to yourself.
- Trust your gut and believe in your decisions.
- When you are unhappy in your career it becomes physically debilitating. You deserve to be happy and healthy.
- It’s ok to be afraid but trust that the risk is usually well worth taking.
- Surround yourself with people who can help – everybody needs a strong support system.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing that you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Rough Edges Design: http://www.roughedgesdesign.com/
Mona’s work is also in the Artful Home catalog and website: www.artfulhome.com
Western Art and Architecture magazine has included her work in the editorial Things We Love section –Fall/Winter edition www.westernartandarchitecture.com
Mona recommends Chris Guillebeau’s www.artofnonconformity.com for inspiration to lead a life you love.