Like many of us, 9/11 activated Judi to rethink her life’s purpose. But unlike many of us, she took it a step – or shall we say “a leap” – further. In 2012, based on what she calls “an intervening universe moment” – the possibility of a layoff – she walked out of her Park Avenue office as a director at a well-known publisher in New York and back into the classroom to help her pursue her dream of becoming a jewelry designer. And she’s never looked back.
Today, Judi has a thriving business, Judi Powers Fine Jewelry, where she personally handcrafts each piece with sustainably sourced precious metals and gems.
Here’s her story about how she worked through her fears and found the courage – within herself and through her friends’ and family’s encouragement – to become what she was truly meant to be. You will love her genuine advice for making big life changes, and the sweet and simple ways she wants to be remembered.
Give a synopsis of your decision to become a jewelry designer.
Shortly after 9/11, I knew I needed to change my life and for me, that meant doing something that would help me connect with others and also tap into my creative spirit. I’d always loved jewelry and living in New York provided me with a few places where I could learn how to make my own wearable art. The moment I completed my first ring I was hooked so I took as many courses as possible on evenings, weekends, and during vacations, developing my skills and style along the way.
It was in Spring 2012 that I seriously began to take the steps necessary to become a full-time professional jeweler. I applied to the Jewelry Design Program at F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology). Once accepted, I took a huge leap toward making my career fantasy a reality: I quit my 22-year career in book publishing to become a full-time student. I’m very proud to have earned my AAS degree in Jewelry Design in May 2013 and to have graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Was there a pivotal moment in your decision — something specific that pushed you to take the leap?
Yes, there definitely was. My corporate parent had put the company I worked for up for sale and my colleagues were being laid off at a rapid clip. As a newer employee, and as one of five directors, I thought I was next in line to be furloughed. At first, I was terrified of the prospect of being unemployed: I’d never been laid off—or without a job!—in my adult life. But I also knew that being unemployed would give me the rare—and hopefully once-in-a-lifetime—opportunity to become a full-time college student again and get the education I needed to pursue my dream career. And, I never got laid off!
Making the career change — lifestyle change — must have taken courage. Where did the courage come from?
I’d been thinking about becoming a jeweler for a number of years and I knew that in order to be successful I needed to build skills and knowledge, and fast. An immersive educational setting like the one at F.I.T. was what I knew I needed. It was a one-year program with two years’ worth of classes (and homework!) — a fast track.
Once I started telling my closest friends and family members that I was hoping to go back to college and pursue my dream career as a jeweler, they cheered me on and that helped so much. I’d also been doing a lot of soul searching and I came to believe after a couple of really challenging years (dissolved relationship, moving homes, changing jobs, the loss of a friend) that the universe creates opportunities in the most unexpected places. This was one of those “intervening universe” moments. I don’t know that I would’ve really considered quitting my first career if I didn’t think I was about to lose it and if I didn’t have that space to consider what was next for me. It’s funny what happens when you let go of attachment, isn’t it?
What scared you the most? What was the biggest obstacle you needed to overcome?
My biggest obstacle was me! (And I think that’s true for so many of us.) Fear is a powerful oppressor and I had hundreds of moments where I had to step back and ask myself if the fears I was having were real or if they were “chattering monkeys”, distractions that held me back or drained my energy. I was afraid of failing, of not being talented enough, of looking foolish, of not having the benefits (salary, vacation, health care) I enjoyed so much, and of being poor. I was also a little afraid of success: What if I knocked it out of the park and couldn’t sustain the success? Dwelling in worry is a huge time suck so I had to acknowledge those feelings, tell those monkeys to be silent, and focus on my work.
After you quit your job and packed up your office, what did it feel like to walk out the door? How did it feel waking up the next
My last day on the job was a Friday. Two days later, I was a full-time university student for the first time in 22 years. I felt a lot of different things: excited; nervous; proud; confident; insecure; focused on the future; upbeat, and really lucky. And because I was leaving one industry to do something completely different, the packing up part was quite effortless. The next day I woke up at about 6 a.m. and thought, “this is the start of the rest of YOUR life.” I was living MY dream and my decisions—good, bad, or otherwise—were completely my own. I was excited, I felt free, and I felt completely alive. Then I went shopping for school supplies!
What is an unexpected joy that comes out of your career change?
Well, I expected to make jewelry for a living and that’s a pretty big joy. But the biggest source of joy is the relationships I’ve made. When I first became a jeweler, it was a little bit like being the new kid at school. I didn’t know a lot of people and, frankly, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew how to make jewelry, I knew how to market and promote my business, I knew how to meet new people, but that’s no guarantee of community. To say I have an incredible group of new friends is a huge understatement and I am grateful them for their generosity, support, and openness every single day. I’ve also become really close with some of my clients and that’s deeply fulfilling.
What was something you expected to happen — a feeling or circumstance — that didn’t?
I thought I might feel lonely. I was totally wrong!
What advice would you give to someone else who wants to change her life?
Meet your new colleagues and build relationships by putting yourself in your new community.Join organizations, attend educational events, join Facebook groups in your field.I read a book called “Power Questions” and I found it to be an incredible tool for starting meaningful conversations with new acquaintances.Ask for help when you need it. Better yet, ask for help BEFORE you need it!Be kind to yourself. If you make a mistake, remember, it’s just a mistake.Don’t be surprised if out of the blue you’re suddenly mourning the loss of your old career and the life that accompanied it. It happens, especially if you were in your old career for a long time.“You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero is essential reading, especially during moments of doubt and fear. Read it!Continue to do the things that give you joy: go to movies and museums, attend cultural events, socialize, take classes. I made the mistake of getting deep into my new career bubble and became very one dimensional. The arts, my friends, and travel saved me from myself.Just because you’ve changed careers and are in a new field and haven’t learned “everything” yet doesn’t mean you’re stupid. If you don’t tell yourself you’re dumb, no one else will!Surround yourself with thoughtful, positive people. And avoid people who bring you down and drain your energy.
How does your jewelry reflect you? What characteristics does it have that similar to your character?
I never kept a diary, in large part because my ninth grade English teacher told me I was a terrible writer. When she said that, I realized I had stories I wanted to tell and now my jewelry collection has become my wearable diary. And I love that the women and men who wear my jewelry bring their own story to it.
Jennifer, you’ve been to my home and you’ve seen first hand that I’m a minimalist and my jewelry definitely reflects that. I love clean lines, nature-inspired forms, and subtle finishes and my jewelry is all about those things. Quality and timelessness are really important to me, too: I’d rather have a small handful of really well-made things (handbags, furniture, art, pots and pans, etc.) than a space that’s jam-packed with stuff. I also really appreciate anything that’s well crafted and my current favorites are Blüh Alchemy Skincare, Blundstones, and Village Common candles.
What would you want your epitaph to read? How do you want people to remember you?
Oh, please don’t make me think about death! I’ve got too much I want to do and life is already too short.
A few years ago, I was reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and in it, Steven Covey says something along the lines of “other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.” Reading that, and having heard the same from a completely different source, felt like the rug being pulled out from under me. It’s a powerful concept and one that stands in extreme contrast to everything we see and hear on social media, advertising, and much of life in general. At the end of the day, my opinion of myself is the one that must matter most. I hope that when people think of me they will remember a laugh we shared, a warm conversation we had, a hug, a cry. It’s wonderful to simply be remembered.
What do you think you are becoming?
I’m becoming the very best version of myself.