Passions, Pottery, and the Pursuit of Progress: Q&A with Foster & Feed Owner Melissa Alkire
Earlier this year I put out a survey for readers about career development topics they would like to read about. One topic that came through loud and clear was “finding your passion.”
This made a lot of sense to me because a lot of us are in an age and stage where the responsibilities on our plate are gigantic and the time we have to explore what makes us tick is minimal. We are hungry to find our passions, but feel a little stuck on how to get there.
Enter my dear friend, Melissa.
Melissa knows a thing, or two, or twenty about passions and making them a priority in her incredibly busy life. She is a mom of two, wife, devoted friend, high school teacher, blogger, and most recently – a potter. A really amazing potter. Her pottery shop Foster & Feed launched out to the world this past month and I really want you to hear about it. The pottery of course, but also about how she thinks about what “having it all” means to her and how she finds the time to do it.
Readers, meet Melissa. Q&A style.
Finding Your Passion(s): Q&A with Foster & Feed
On Being Interested
Becca: Mel, I’ve always admired your curiosity and willingness to try something new. Whether it’s cooking, exercising, reading, writing, pottery, etc. you always are excited to find your passion, learn more, pivot when you need to and just give it a go. What inspires you push past your comfort zone?
Mel: I think a lot of my motivation comes from wanting to be interesting to myself and to my sons,
After having my sons 21 months apart, I felt like I was getting lost in the soupy haze of motherhood and simultaneously doubting everything I was doing. There was a lot of self-doubt about what I felt like I could offer two boys. And then you add in sleep deprivation and it becomes hard to think straight.
Being a mom put me out of my comfort zone as a type-A perfectionist. Nothing was predictable any longer and I didn’t know how to define myself within that. What I did and do know is that I want my sons to see their mother as someone who is confident, able, passionate, empathetic, driven by morals/love/values, and supportive of their explorations in life be it their passions, interests, or partners. So if I want to model those things, then I need to actively be engaged in those behaviors daily.
My sons and my marriage are my most compelling reasons to try new things and incorporate them into daily habits that push me to stay energetically involved in my pursuit of knowledge and experiences. And if I throw a dart at the hobby board and it sticks for a little bit but then I find myself not totally loving it or being engaged in it, I need to also model grace to my sons in order to allow myself to move on and evolve and to show them that it is okay for them too.
I keep thinking that we are all “works in progress” and I want my sons to explicitly see that process in me and David as a lifelong and loving journey of education and for them to be able to then embrace whatever version of this pursuit feels right for them as they define themselves over and over again into their adulthood. And in doing that, and actively asking myself every day, “Am I happy?” “What do I want to be doing?” “How do I want to be engaged?” I am finding all sorts of new people come into my life who enrich it and so many new hobbies and interests layer in.
On Finding the Sweet Spot(s)
Becca: I think there is something to be said for having multiple “sweet spots” at the same time. I see you as a prime example of this when you consider your teaching career, motherhood, and pottery. What do you think?
Mel: I think that is a great idea of multiple sweet spots! And yes, this phase feels very much like that. It has taken me a full ten years to feel like I have flow as an educator. A lot of times at school, we talk to students about having a “purpose-driven career” where you can see important overlaps in your life: you love it, the world needs it, you can meet your personal needs with it, and you feel great at it. And I totally feel this way about teaching and motherhood and pottery. That doesn’t negate the many hard spots when a day gets unraveled nor does it shield me from soft spots when I feel vulnerable and exposed in any of these identities. But, I think it helps that in each of the layers of life there is a common thread between passion and interest.
Whether it is wearing the educator hat, potter hat, or mother hat, each of these passions and interests require me to be open to real feelings of others, to get feedback (sometimes even shouted at me from an angry toddler), and to creatively design.
As moms we design our children’s world from the measure we take to keep them safe, to their dinner, to their adventures. We take their feedback verbal and non-verbal and weigh it against their developmental needs and readiness and continue to do our best to design and facilitate their healthy, curious growth.
As a teacher, I design classroom experiences. I share content every day but really I am there to expose students to new information and help them take the ownership of their academic curiosity and challenge them to demonstrate their understanding and to challenge their biases.
And as a potter, I get to learn and be reminded that designing is hard, messy, and sometimes an utter failure. But sometimes, if you are lucky and keep at the wheel, the clay just moves under your fingertips and you can feel the wall of a mug emerge vertically from the clay ball you placed on the wheel. And that moment when you are holding your physical creation in your hand is beautiful.
On Making a Change
Becca: Change can be really scary, but also really worth it. What would be your best advice for someone who is nervous about putting themselves out there to try a new hobby or business venture?
Mel: Being uncomfortable is exactly that: uncomfortable. I do not see myself as someone who embraces discomfort. I sweat and get flush and seek often to avoid that which makes me uncomfortable just like so many of us in general. But, I hold onto this silly mantra that I use with my classes often which is: Some days are cake and some days are lima beans. You grow from lima bean days and decisions. They are “good” for you but they aren’t always comfortable.
Even though I enjoy spin classes on Tuesday mornings at 6AM and pottery on Tuesday night until 10PM, when the alarm goes off there is a moment of dread. Can I really get out of bed at 5AM and make it to class? Should I just take a few more minutes to rest? Will I have enough energy to make it through a work day and an evening routine with the kiddos that is always unpredictable because there is a two-year-old involved? But I know that despite being temporarily tired I do love getting to spin class. I build a little ritual around getting coffee and enjoying a hot shower and those little things help me push past the tired dread that startles me awake at 5AM.
And with pottery, I am vastly outside of my comfort zone. Every time I enter the studio I feel like an utter impostor! I never took a single art class after middle school. So the idea of being an “artist” is super intimidating to me. But I also know that I love making stuff on the wheel, and that hearing the critiques of my teacher are “good lima beans” for me to continue to grow.
As a high school teacher, I ask my students to be vulnerable every single day. They are challenged to share their ideas in every single class they walk into, to be vulnerable and open to critique constantly, and as an adult I don’t find that we are asked to do the same. It is invigorating to learn something new, try something new, and make lots of mistakes once you tuck that ego aside and fully embrace humility. It is then like a shot in the arm to do the new hobby and to find a new layer to one’s identity through that process of learning.
I make more mistakes on the pottery wheel than successes. But every now and then, I hold my breath as the clay blob turns into the a pitcher and I raise the wall higher and higher. It is crazy to feel the progress in my fingertips and this gratification keeps me trying at the wheel.
On Finding the Time
Becca: Let’s talk time. You are a mom to two beautiful boys plus you work full time as a history teacher. Your cup already runneth over, but somehow you are creating more gorgeous cups! Finding your passion is one thing, fitting it in can be a whole other thing. How do you go about fitting life into, well, life?
Mel: This question is so great because I often feel like a failure when I compare my life and “hards” to other women around me. As a recovering perfectionist, one habit that has helped me try to find pockets of time within days that never seem to have enough hours in them is to be organized. I have a big planner out on my counter and I write in each day’s focus. This gives me a lot of mental space to turn down my anxiety about “doing it all.” By writing out my daily goals and breaking down the many things that I want to do and have to do, I am better able to visualize what a day can feasibly look like.
Before I would get paralyzed because my brain immediately goes to: I have to do this thing every day in order to be good at it. And that was always a set-up. Instead now I think about routine tasks that I share with my husband and then compartmentalized activities that happen on different days of the week. This let’s me feel like I actually get to do it all but maybe not everything all at once. So for example: Friday night I do laundry and I grade papers. I then don’t do either of those tasks again until the next Friday. And Sunday, I do pottery and meal planning and groceries. And each day gets something mundane attached and something fun attached and then by the end of the week the illusion of “doing it all” feels complete without the pressure of having to have everything done perfectly everyday.
I find that in breaking down the days I am able to be a mom authentically with my kids, be a wife authentically to David, do my job the way I expect myself to, and have pockets of “me” time to reconnect to myself where I get to be muddy with clay.
On Shop Talk
Becca: Tell us about Foster & Feed and the shop you have launched for your pottery. I’m super excited for you and want to shout it from the rooftops that my friend’s got skillz! So let’s shout together, shall we?
Mel: Yes! Please come over to https://fosterandfeed.com/pottery-shop/. I am super excited to be offering different pieces from platters to mugs to pitchers to Christmas ornaments to sponge holders to pour over coffee drips and more. My instagram is the same (@foster_and_feed) and I post there often with new items coming to the shop as well as little videos of the making process.
I am a designer, ceramist, and craftswoman focusing on perfecting qualities of the hand within functional tableware. My work is intended to bring life into your home – to be a refreshing change in a world of casted, symmetrical, and manufactured goods. All works produced are small-batch provisions, one of a kind, and 100% made by my two hands – loved and cared for until the very moment I send them out to you. My objects are products of the hand, made for your home.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions, requests, or inquiries.
Wrapping it Up
She’s pretty fabulous, right?
If there is one thing I hope you take away from Melissa it’s that you are an interesting person too and your career and hobbies do not need to follow a linear path. Explore, get messy, put yourself out there. Maybe it becomes a new career path, maybe it doesn’t. That’s not the point. The point is to embrace learning and growing and in that process you get to keep reinventing yourself.
If there are two things I hope you take away from Melissa, I hope the second thing is a really killer mug. Seriously, go buy her stuff. It’s gorgeous.
All photography from the incomparable Lyndsay Hannah Photography.
What a beautiful, artistic expression. Your pics are terrific and make it looks so relaxing and almost simple – although I know it’s not! 🙂 I love how you aligned it with life. Real life.
Lyndsay and Melissa are such fantastic artists! Such a gift to host them both over on the blog today in combination with some real life talk. Thanks so much for reading and enjoying their work!
She sounds great, and so very organized. I love that she’s balancing all of her loves. Thank you for sharing.
What a great interview! I love the idea of having multiple sweet spots because that is totally true in my life as well.
I love the thought of change is a good thing, especially when you’re uncomfortable. I’ve been going back and forth for months on whether or not to continue my small business I started a while ago, being scared of it failing, but this was great encouragement for me!
If we retrace our steps we will find that the times when we stepped out of our comfort zones were moments of most worthy achievements