Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Brown.
Hi Olivia , so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I started Not So Cookie Cutter on a whim in the year 2018 (with a tad bit of positive peer pressure). The year prior, I had completed a rigorous three-year master’s program in Guidance and School Counseling at California State University, San Bernardino. During that time all I did was eat, sleep, and breathe college course work and a part-time job as an academic interventionist. I had no time for hobbies (or decent sleep – let’s be real here).
Once graduated, I suddenly had less to do, which was a real culture shock for me, and, admittedly, sent me into a downward spiral. I was no longer a student. I had been in school for 21 years straight! What was I supposed to do with the time I once spent studying, writing papers, and completing fieldwork? I decided to commit some time to something I neglected while in college, which was baking. I had experimented with baking different types of cookies for a holiday get together. I, personally, prefer soft cookies, so I researched recipes that concocted just that. I settled with soft, sugar-shortbread in both the traditional and gluten-free options. I became really interested in cookie art using royal icing while doing my research (thanks Pinterest), so I dirtied my kitchen practicing this new craft A LOT.
I never had the intention of transforming this hobby into a business. I wasn’t interested in the fees associated to start it up, the competition I would feel in this realm of business (I’m very Type A, so if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t happening), or how thrashed my kitchen would constantly be from baking. After lots of encouraging words from family and close friends, and unwavering support from my husband, I flipped the switch. I kicked the assumptions of failure, ridiculous expectations of perfection, and premature stress to the curb.
Since then, I have fulfilled almost 100 custom cookie orders. You name it, I’ve either committed to it as an official order or at least attempted it in a practice session. As now a full-time academic interventionist, being “The Cookie Lady” for Not So Cookie Cutter is very part time. Providing supplemental educational and counseling services to students as well as parent/guardian support in the Nashville area for nine months out of the year takes precedent over being a cookier, but holiday breaks and summertime provide me the opportunity to release the creative genius that lays dormant during the academic year.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I lean on my education a lot while running this small business. Before diving into counseling, I contemplated being a writer, specifically an author of children’s books. I think back on the words of my junior year AP Lit teacher saying, “Don’t get stuck on devising ‘the perfect title’ for your work. Write what flows, nameless, first. Then, put a label on it.” I didn’t want to announce that I was starting a business without having the perfect name and logo, but Ms. Ransom’s words kept playing in my head.
So, reluctantly, I baked lots of batches for free to close friends and family using different techniques and made mental notes along the way without putting a name to myself. As practiced in AP Lit, I focused on the body of my work and added a title last. Like any baker or chef, you make things that don’t taste great to some people. You can make the same thing the same way over and over again and it not turn out to be a customer’s cup of tea. My first bad review destroyed me. I let one person lead me into thinking everything I had invested was all for not because I didn’t make them happy. I went through so many emotions! Embarrassment, defeat, irritation, confusion, anger.
I quickly realized that all the energy spent on those emotions took me away from the big picture. I took it as an attack on me as a person, not the product that needed tweaking. It’s in these moments of reactivity that I reflect on what I learned in graduate school practicing Narrative Therapy: “The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.” In the beginning, owning a business took me on this wild ride of perfectionism paired with encroaching worry. I dove into a realm of work so different from my original path that I had to regroup often and really give myself credit for trying. I had to realize that I as a person wasn’t the problem in not doing something perfectly but address the more tangible issue at hand. Since then, my work ethic has changed and my “oopsies” (which are few and far between now) are opportunities for improvement, not a letdown.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Out of high school, I was an assistant at a preschool for five years. It was there that I discovered my passion for helping children socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. Following that job and the completion of a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education I became a part-time academic interventionist for a third-party education company that I am still working with today, but full-time. In addition to earning my bachelor’s degree, I have earned a degree and credential in Counseling and School Guidance as well as collected hours towards clinical licensure.
As an interventionist, I provide supplemental academic and behavioral intervention to students K through 12, hold workshops for parents/guardians in support of their children, and assist in training other interventionists. After almost 30 years in California, my husband and I moved to Tennessee in May of 2020; a time where the world seemed to have stopped turning. Despite the pandemic, my husband and I continued our trek from the coast to the country. Although I am extremely proud of my academic and professional accomplishments achieved in California, I can safely say I am most proud of my response to change and ability to make changes since being in Tennessee.
Change is difficult for lots of people, and it used to be a crippling challenge for me. For a decade of my life I chose to be an academic and immerse myself into a demanding occupation, and, if we’re being totally honest, I (as well as thousands of other students in high school) were convinced that that was what you needed to be to be successful: college-educated and really productive all the time. All my higher education focused on how to talk to people. Literally. As an educator, you truly have no days off, and most of the time the most valuable of moments are those unpaid. The pandemic really allowed for the field of education to shine in a way that was taken for granted previously, and since being a small business owner, that, too, has been given the recognition it deserves.
I guess what sets me apart from others is that I am a self-taught baker. I did not go to culinary school to acquire the skills it takes to produce intricately delicious desserts, which shocks everyone and is humbling to me. Sometimes I question if I went to school for the right thing, but then I remember that I don’t have to do just ONE thing. I am capable of so much more than what was expected of me, and I should share that with the world. What a disservice it would be, from all of us, to deprive the world of our talents and passions. We’re allowed to be “nervicited,” a word a former student used when describing how she felt when starting something new that made her feel nervous and, simultaneously, excited. Another student once told me, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, Mrs. B. It makes permanent.” What I hope to always practice is seeing the art in all facets of life, may that be educating or cookie-decorating, because it is in such things that life really lives (nervicited and all).
Can you share something surprising about yourself?
Most people do not know that I am not a professionally trained baker, but a credentialed school counselor instead. When I was a little girl, I wanted to become an author of children’s books or a food writer. A food writer would have been the closer choice to rightfully inspire becoming a baker, but the journey didn’t take a turn in that direction!
- Basic regular dozen, $35
- Detailed regular dozen, $40
- Elaborate regular dozen, $45
- Gluten-free dozens, $40+
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