Hi there! Welcome to episode 6: So why not… turn a hobby into a business? (With Emily Owen). Emily and I worked together as pharmacists for about a year at a hospital in St Louis. I was in my first job after residency and Emily was in her second year of critical care residency. I always enjoyed working with her and she always had such a warm, inviting spirit and I really appreciate her creativity side as well. She has some great tips to share. So let’s get into the interview.
L: So on today’s episode, I have my friend, Emily Owen, of “Roaming Druggist” here to talk about her creative pursuits. So, Emily, thank you for being here.
E: Yeah, thank you, Leigh Anna, for having me.
L: I’m excited to talk to you. We worked together a little bit together for about a year, I think at a hospital in St Louis and I remember talking to you a little bit about all of your creative pursuits but I’ve really gotten to see a lot more on Instagram and I’m excited to learn more about it. So, if you could, tell our listeners a little bit about what you do.
E: So my name is Emily Owen and I’m a critical care pharmacist at a hospital in St Louis and I love that job. It’s very analytical and very fast paced. But I’ve always really loved to do creative things. I’ve been a photographer since I was very young and I’ve always loved to make things, whether it be different crafty things or handmade cards, I’ve just really liked to have that creative balance in my life. So about 18 months ago, I actually started my own business called “Roaming Druggist” or “Roaming Druggist Shop.”
L: So I love to hear the whole picture of creative people/entrepreneurs and how they started. So if you could, let’s go all the way back and tell me about your childhood: where you grew up, about your family, things you were interested in, that kind of thing…
E: So I grew up in St Louis, MO, and I was always very science- and math-based but I also really always loved to do some creative things. My mom is a speech pathologist and worked in a variety of different settings and my dad was a high school shop teacher. He’s since retired but he also was a photographer. And so from when I was at a very young age, he taught me all sorts of things about photography back when everything was on film and so that kind of initially sparked my creative interests. And he was also able to see things and he would make all of these beautiful creations and so I think that just always being around that sparked my creative interest from a young age. When I was a senior in high school, I got my first digital camera—like a really nice DSLR camera—and so in college I made some extra money on the side by taking senior pictures and wedding pictures and engagement pictures for friends. And so that was one of my creative outlets that I did for a very long time. And then when I was in residency, my mom started doing these handmade card classes with people that she knew and asked me to come along. At that point in time it was really busy and so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do a lot of fun things. So this was something that I could commit like an hour or two every couple of weeks to go. And we’d get some handmade cards. We’d get to spend some time together and we’d get to do something creative. So then after residency I continued to create. And one of my favorite things to do is… I think one of my love languages is to give that right gift to somebody and I think that’s one of the ways that I express myself and so I love to be able to make or find that perfect gift for somebody. So oftentimes it would come in the form of somebody having a baby and making a cute little onesie for them or getting a new house and making a cool little sign for their front door, to really find something that was unique and personal to them. So I did that pretty consistently I think when we knew each other and worked together. Oftentimes when I would give these gifts, people would say, “Oh my gosh! Do you have an Etsy? You should make these things. You should sell these things.” I just didn’t ever really commit the time to it at that point in time and had some other things going on.
L: You were busy.
E: Yeah. And about, I’m trying to think, maybe two years ago now, I saw these ads and these things for a laser cutter so I thought that this would be kind of the next step to be able to go beyond some of the things that I was already making to really add a little bit of depth and dimension and something new. And so I saved up some money and was able to purchase this and played around with it during that time. And really about a year ago or I guess a couple months before the pandemic hit, towards the beginning of 2020, I really wanted to take just the random craft and hobby stuff that I was doing and start to turn it into a business. But I didn’t really have any idea what to do. So I got involved with a creative women’s business group within the St Louis area that had some resources available and started just building my brand and building my business and kind of starting from the ground up. So for about a year now, I have started really trying to formalize a lot of the things with business and turn it from a hobby into an actual business. I finished my Masters in December and so…
L: Oh gosh! Good for you!
E: Thank you. So after finishing that, I had a lot more time to dedicate to doing this and so things have been going really well and I’m continuing to learn and to grow as this is definitely not something I ever really got training for. I really just like to be able to learn these new skills as I have built it up over the past year or so.
L: That’s really cool. And it’s really cool to see you grow on Instagram too. I love to follow all of the things that you’re doing.
E: Thank you.
L: So going back to, let’s say like high school, when you were deciding on your career, did you always think you were going to be a pharmacist or did you consider more creative routes or what was kind of your thought process?
E: Yeah, so honestly I never actually considered doing anything creative. I pretty well decided from when I was like a freshman in high school that I wanted to be a pharmacist. I read this article in my freshman biology class about these engineers that had engineered corn to grow penicillin in it to help manufacture drugs at a higher quantity, even though I know that’s not specifically pharmacy but it got me interested in pharmacy and started looking more and more into it. Pretty much the entire time in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a pharmacist. So I didn’t ever really consider a creative career. Really even throughout pharmacy I never would have thought that this would be something that I could or would pursue but it kind of just fell into place and became something that I needed in my life.
L: Interesting. So when you were going throughout pharmacy school, did you always plan on working in a hospital or did you consider retail?
E: Yeah. I considered just about every single thing that I came across. When I started pharmacy school, I really wanted to own my own pharmacy and do independent pharmacy. All of the insurance and billing and struggles that they have kind of pushed me away from that. Then I thought I wanted to do more consulting and patient interaction on the retail side. Honestly I didn’t really know some of the things that a hospital pharmacist did but I worked in a hospital starting from my sophomore year of college all the way until I finished school. But at the hospital where I worked at, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the clinical pharmacists and my job was to fill some of the drug machines throughout the hospital and make IVs and fill specific patient doses, which I actually really loved at the time but I wasn’t super interested in it and it really wasn’t until I started going on rotations and seeing different roles that pharmacists had and really interacting with a clinical pharmacist for the first time that I was like, “Oh, that’s what I want to do.” And then things just clicked into place. And I had a rotation that was supposed to be an oncology rotation and at the last minute the preceptor left and I was switched into a critical care rotation and I was really terrified because I thought everyone got sepsis or got really sick and died and I would be sad all of the time. And then I got there and I realized there were so many times that we would do things to help these patients, give them treatments, and the treatments would work really quickly an we would see them get better. And I really liked that fast paced, fast return on the things that we were doing. And really getting to see that the pharmacist was a key decision maker and helped with all those complex medication decisions that we see within critical care. So that kind of helped me pursue residency and ultimately a critical care residency.
L: I think if you’re not IN pharmacy or even a hospital setting, a lot of people when they think of a pharmacist, they think about retail—the ones you see at Walgreens and CVS—but you are a specialist. Just like a critical care physician, you’re a critical care pharmacist. You did two years of residency and you’re double board certified, right?
L: Can you just give us a general overview, just so that people can understand pharmacists’ roles a little more clearly, just touch on a typical day and what your day is like?
E: Yeah. So I try to help illustrate a little bit about what I do: if you think of the medical TV shows that you see like House or Scrubs, if you’ve ever watched that, where they’ve got a team of physicians that go and see each patient in a consecutive order, that’s kind of what I do. So I have a team of physicians as well as nurses, respiratory therapists, dietitians, and then a variety of different students. And what we do is we go from patient to patient and we talk about each patient and the resident or the med student will present that information and I will work with the team to make sure that we pick out the right medications for this patient as we are determining how we are going to best treat them. And so my role is to make sure that when these patients are very, very sick that we’re taking things into account like how their organs are working, what different medications that they might need in this critical care setting that they wouldn’t need at home, what medications from home that they would need here, how those medications all work together with the changes that are going on in their body right now, and help make sure that we’re on the most optimized regimen for them. So that’s how I spend the majority of my mornings. My afternoons are usually spent doing a variety of more academic types of things. So I do a lot of policy and procedure development throughout the hospital and the healthy system, so coming up with different protocols so that patients are treated in a consistent manner. And then I do a lot of education and presentations. I work a lot with students and residents and precasting them. And then I also do a lot of research. And so all of these various activities fill my afternoons to help get all of the things done that need to be done.
L: Cool. Thank you. So tell me about the name “Roaming Druggist.” I think we’ve kind of seen where that came from. So tell me about your thought process with coming up with that.
E: So that, to be honest, was back, I don’t even know, like ten years ago when Twitter came out and you had to come up with your Twitter handle. I was in pharmacy school at the time and I was trying to think of something that was cute and clever. I love to travel and was obviously training to be a pharmacist and so that’s where Roaming Druggist came from. So pre-COVID, I liked to travel a lot and document that. So it started there and then moved over to Instagram. And when I was developing my business and my brand, it just seemed to go really well with Roaming Druggist and Roaming Druggist Shop. So I am “Roaming Druggist” and where I exhibit all of my creations is on Roaming Druggist Shop, which is my website.
L: Cool. I love it. So what role has creativity played in your life up to this point?
E: Honestly, so many things. I was so focused, you know, knowing from an early age that I wanted to do something in pharmacy. I really worked very hard, as I’m sure a lot of high school kids do that know what they want to do. I did all the clubs. I did all the extracurriculars and that kind of stuff. I got to college, knew that I wanted to do pharmacy, and similarly worked constantly. I worked two jobs during school. The whole shebang. And so I was always very focused and analytical. Pharmacy was a lot of math and science. And residency was no different: working long hours, really very high key focus. And then transitioning into my career as a clinician, that pattern continued for a really long time. I got to the point to where I recognized that I’m focusing so much constantly on all of these very analytical things. I just need something else to balance it out. And it was one of those things that was always a hobby, always in the background, but always the first thing to get pushed off when things got busy. It really took a long time to make it a priority, to schedule in time to do creative things. Whether it be to go out on a little photography excursion around St Louis or whether it be making and designing some things, really that has helped my mental health probably more than anything to just have that balance. Certainly in an ICU setting, and really many hospital settings, sometimes we see things that are just heavy and hard to see and I think that we’ve all seen that in the world the past year or 18 months.
L: That’s a good point.
E: And this has really been something very grounding for me to keep that balance in there that yes, I can have that extreme focus when I need to but I can also have that extreme creativity and kind of like let it all go, let it all flow, and not need all of my lines to be straight up and down. I can have a little bit more fluidity to things.
L: Yeah. I can definitely relate to that. Very similar. So you touched on your laser wood products a little bit. Do you want to go into detail about learning how to use that? It seems very complicated to me. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
E: Yeah. So part of the process has been learning the laser, which definitely has been a learning curve. And then the other process has just been learning how to be a designer and learning the skills necessary to learn and market a business. So from the laser standpoint, probably definitely the first six months to a year of having my machine, it was getting all sorts of different things that I would see different people with this type of machine make and trying them out, seeing what worked, what didn’t work, what I liked, what I didn’t like, and finding the right materials for me. There are tons of things that you can use with it and there are tons of things that you can’t. Each one works differently in the machine. My personal favorite materials are either wood (and I use, for the most part, a 1/8” type of plywood, a high end plywood called baltic birch) or else I use a lot of acrylic as well. And then I sometimes use cork leather or actual leather. But essentially with the laser, it’s shooting a very fine laser beam about the width of a human hair or maybe just a little bit bigger than that through a product. And so with that there’s an air pump system to pump all of the fumes and smoke and stuff out because this product is in my house and it’s probably just a little bit bigger than your average kitchen sink size, just for perspective. And so it sits on a desktop. It’s about the size of a small desk. And so I’m able to put my materials on there and it pumps the smoke out. But some of the materials—my house always smells like a camp fire because of it. For the most part I don’t do leather nearly as much any more because it smells terrible.
L: I wouldn’t have thought of that.
E: To cut, I try to bulk cut all of my material together because it smells about like a nail salon because of that acrylic smell. So definitely not things that I would have thought about. But probably the bigger challenge for me was learning how to design. And fortunately there are tons and tons of designs out there, available on Etsy or on individual people’s websites. And so a lot of times I started with purchasing different designs from other people. And I’ve really transitioned into teaching myself some of the designs that I am inspired by or that I want to make. And so that’s definitely been a learning process but I’m growing in that and learning how to do different things. Recently over the past couple of months I’ve been learning how to draw with my iPad and transfer my hand drawn pictures over. So that’s been really gratifying. But I think it’s so cool when you’re able to take something where you’re truly a beginner and don’t know how to do it and work through that process of learning the skills. And it’s hard because we want things to look how they do on everyone’s Instagram feed.
L: Right. The first time.
E: It’s so easy to get frustrated when you’re like, “No… Why are my letter S’s looking weird every time I draw them?” And we forget that the people that you’re seeing post all of these beautiful things are practicing and practicing and they’re doing it for a long time. But I also think that there’s such an amazing vulnerability to being a beginner because you’re willing to try things and you don’t know the rules yet and you don’t know if you’re doing something that would be breaking a rule. You’re just doing it. And so that’s been really cool for me. And just the trial and error of figuring things out, it’s equal parts gratifying and frustrating. But then you get something and figure it out, I think it makes it even more exciting because you’re like, “Yes! I just had to look up about 12 different Youtube tutorials and redo it four times but then I got it.” And then you’re like, “This looks amazing! This is awesome!” And so I think that that gratification of going through and figuring something out and really learning how to do a new skill has been really fulfilling.
L: That’s really cool. So you talked about the vulnerability. Where do you get that final push, that confidence to share, once you feel good about it? Where does that come from?
E: Yeah. I think that’s a hard one. But I think that at the end of the day, especially with having something like Instagram or different social media platforms, it’s a double edged sword. Because so often you put something out there and you’re concerned that “Oh my gosh. What if nobody likes it? What if I made it and it’s weird?” But I’ve also seen so many crazy unique things that I never would have thought of. This social media connectivity is so large that your people are out there. Your audience is out there. So they may not be in St Louis MO or they may not be in my close friend group but the people that like my things are out there. And so it’s just kind of deciding that I’m going to make the things that I like for me and I’m going to put it out there and at some point in time, I’m going to find the people that also like it. And at the end of the day, I think the other thing that you have to remember, or that I have to remind myself a lot, is if I put something out there and nobody likes it, what’s going to happen? Nothing.
E: I’ll make something else. Maybe somebody will like that. Maybe they won’t. But part of the process is the practice of making and the practice of doing things. One of the things that I struggle with is perseverating on something in my mind: well maybe I should make it this way or maybe I should make it some other way and I don’t want to start doing it until I have the perfect idea for what I want. And so often we find that finding that perfect version of something comes after doing it and then adjusting it. If you’ve ever written a paper in high school or college and you write the first version and it’s terrible and then you sleep on it and then go back and make some edits and then you’re like, “OK, this isn’t so bad.” It’s the same way. But I think sometimes, especially people that are new to creativity or they’ve not done a lot of it but they want to do it, it’s so easy to think: “Well if I make this pottery piece, if I make this sign, if I make whatever, or if I take this picture, it’s not going to be perfect.” And that’s OK because you’re going to take it and you’re going to figure out how to make it better next time. And then you’ll work towards that and then you’ll probably do it about 50 more times and then along the way somewhere you’re going to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t and then you’re going to somehow end up finding that you’re like, “Whoa! This is not some place that I would have ever imagined in my mind but now we’re here and I love it.” But it’s really just taking that first step and saying, “You know what? I’m going to put it out there because I like it, regardless of what everyone else likes it or not.”
L: That’s really good advice. That’s something I have to remind myself of all of the time. I think that’ll be really helpful.
What are some of your best sellers on your website right now that you’ve been working on?
E: Right now, one of my best sellers is I have these little bright acrylic pins with vaccines on them.
L: Oh cool!
E: So my vaccine pins. One says “Thanks, science.” And one says “Science rocks” and one says “Caffeinated, educated, dedicated, vaccinated.”
L: That’s cute.
E: So you can either wear them on your shirt or on your jacket or I have one on my badge tag at the hospital. So just kind of a fun little bright reminder that really what we did over the past year with this vaccine development and rollout has been pretty amazing despite some hiccups along the way but not something that we’ve really ever seen before in the science community and so I’m celebrating that. And so other things are I sell a lot of jewelry (either hand painted or different stained or acrylic jewelry). I sell a lot of little baby milestones, so like 1 month, 2 month…. But I’ve also rolled out a lot of local milestones so like “First Cardinals game” or like “First visit to the St Louis Zoo” for different area locations so that as parents are taking their kids, or as people that are new to St Louis, or as people are exploring after all the restrictions are lifted, they can document with a fun little marker for their pictures when they have their first visits.
L: I like it! Is there anything else creativity-wise that you’re interested in learning in the future?
E: Yeah, so one of my latest creative pursuits that I’ve been working on is teaching myself how to draw and doodle and hand-letter on my iPad and I do not have very good handwriting. And so really kind of working through and practicing and doing these little doodles to add to my different designs in addition to different typography and things like that and so that’s my next creative thing that I have been working towards.
L: Well, your handwriting looks great from what you put out.
E: Well those are fonts but they make many fonts that look like handwriting. But thank you, I appreciate that.
L: Where do you go to for inspiration? What inspires you? What lights you up when you’re feeling a little down or in a rut? Where do you go?
E: So I like to go outside a lot. I have a Missouri Botanical Gardens membership and so that’s been one of the places that I like to go a lot because I can go like every other week and just walk around for like an hour. And different plants are in bloom at different times or I take a different path and see something new. It helps me kind of relax enough to get out of my own head when I am feeling stuck and then it also is so just vibrant and full of life. Even in the dead of winter there’s still things that are thriving. And so I think that that’s really cool. I also love things like Pinterest or when I watch TV if I see something and I’m like, “Oh, I love those earrings!” If I see something like that, I might pause it and take a picture or take a screenshot as I’m looking through things. If I see something on Instagram or Facebook or just out in the world, I might take a picture of it and revisit it later to pull elements from it to try to recreate it in my own way. So just a little bit of everywhere.
L: That’s cool. I miss the Botanical Gardens. They’re beautiful. One of my favorite places to go in St Louis for sure.
So are you in your dream job right now between a combination of being a pharmacist and having a creative hobby? Or if you could do anything, what would your dream job be?
E: So I really do love my job right now. I do not know if I will be here forever but for right now, I think it’s a good place for me. But if money was no object and I could do whatever I wanted, I would be a travel photographer for like National Geographic and just travel the world and go to crazy remote places and take pictures of people and places and animals and nature and eat all the foods and see the world.
L: That does sound like a dream job.
Do you find ways to be creative within your career?
E: I do my best to do that and sometimes I do better than others. One of the things that I was working on prior to COVID (and so this has kind of been put on hold) was working on ways to integrate different little mental health breaks for our pharmacy residents and pharmacy students. And so I never got anything off the ground but I’m in the planning stages and hopefully going to work to starting something like this to be able to provide ways for them to take an hour long break once a month and come and paint something or make something or do a couple minutes of yoga or do something that they wouldn’t necessarily make time for themselves in the day. And so I think it’s a different type of creativity but I remember back to when I was in that spot and I was so focused on work, work, work. Constantly: “I have to get all of these things done.” I knew that I wished that somebody would have told me to stop, take a breath. We’re going to do something that’s not pharmacy-related for an hour. It will not kill you. It will help you. So I think so often people think, “Well, I’m a pharmacist. I can’t do that. I’m not a creative person.” Or “I don’t know how to do that.” So that’s something I’m looking forward to try to bring to where I work a little bit more.
L: That’s genius! Seriously, I think you’re on to something there. I would have loved that. And I hope you’ll keep me updated on that too. That sounds really cool! Very neat.
E: For sure.
L: What advice do you have for someone that’s looking to start a new hobby?
E: My advice is just to do it. If you’ve been looking at something and you’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t have the skills. I don’t know how to do it. I’m too old. I’m too young.” Whatever… is just to do it. What’s it going to hurt? You don’t have to put it out there if you don’t want to. But what you can gain, I think just through building yourself up, through a new skill and overcoming the adversity of failing sometimes and figuring out how to do it again and getting out there. And I know for me, especially starting out, or with things where I’m like I know I need to do this or I want to do it but I just can’t seem to do it—it gets pushed to the bottom of the list—is I really try and make sure that I schedule time in for these things. So just like I would put an hour on the calendar for a meeting that I go to, I put an hour on the calendar for design time or for whatever. When I go for a run, sometimes I put it on my calendar so that I keep that appointment with myself. So what I recommend for people, especially if they’re starting out and they’re having a hard time getting started, is put that time block on their calendar. And start with an hour. And make a deal with yourself that you’re going to work on it for at least 15 minutes. And after 15 minutes (you know, set a timer on your phone), if you’re not in the flow and really doing something or having good work towards it, then stop and change and switch to whatever else you were going to do. But I think so often we get in our own heads and we think “I can’t even get started.” And it’s really that initiation of something that’s the hardest part. And if you can make it past the first 15 minutes, a lot of times what I find is that if I can just get myself started on something, then I’m able to work on it and practice and get myself learning and growing on it versus if I just sit and think about it, then I don’t ever do it and I build up this anxiety about it. So just put it on your calendar. Give yourself 15 minutes to work towards it. If you’re doing great at 15 minutes, keep going for your full hour. If not, stop for the day.
L: That’s really good. Very specific advice. I’m going to have to work in calendaring and scheduling more actual time. That’s really good.
So where can we find you? Where can we connect with you, either online or locally in the St Louis area?
E: I am online. I have a website that is roamingdruggist.com. I am on Instagram and Facebook as @roamingdruggist. And then within the St Louis area, I go to a variety of pop ups and shows. I’ll be actually at Tower Grove Farmers Market in about two weeks and I have another little pop up in Belleville next week. But I try and put that information on social media so you can see what’s available in St Louis but I try and list as many of my items as possible on my website. So if you’re interested in something that I make, you can check there. And I’m always open to either custom requests or collaborations. If you’re like, “Hey, do you want to make this together?”, then I’m happy to do that as well. I have a little Contact Me page on there.
L: Cool. I’ll make sure to link those in the show notes so that we can find you.
E: Perfect. Thank you.
L: Well thank you so much again. I’ve learned a lot about what you’ve done and some good advice that I want to fit into my own life. So I really appreciate your time and spending this time recording a podcast with me. So thank you again.
E: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
That was such a fun conversation. I feel inspired to try something new without fear of failure. It’s just like Emily said about what is the worst that could happen? Nothing. The process of learning and growing and creating is always worthwhile. Make sure to give Emily a follow on social media. Her website and social media are linked in the show notes so you can check them out there. I hope you will find the space for creativity in your life after listening to this episode.
I really appreciate you listening. If you haven’t already left a review, I invite you to take a couple of minutes to do that. You can also share directly from your favorite podcast app; just send the episode to a friend through a text message. I’d love it if you share a screenshot in your stories. Make sure to tag me on Instagram @sowhynot.podcast.
As always, I hope you can use these ideas as tipping off points to channel the ambition, curiosity, and desire to create the life you want to live. Thanks so much for listening. Our time is so important and I am so appreciative that you spent some of it with me.