My path to becoming The Graceful Baker® (aka a full-time cookie artist and content creator) has been anything but straight. But, I do truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Every life choice I made led me to where I am today, and for that I am grateful.
Read on for my story before the birth of The Graceful Baker®.
My Childhood in Vermont
I was born and raised in Williston, Vermont to two loving parents and an older sister.
I come from a very artistic family: my mom is a professional oil painter, my dad has a master’s degree in theatre and my sister is a bassoonist and makes beautiful hand-crafted clay jewelry.
I have always been artistic as well, but leaning more toward the performing arts.
I even tried ballet, but quickly realized my budding 5’11” frame was not meant for ballet.
I dabbled in theater (I have always LOVED the stage) from elementary to high school.
My favorite production ever was my junior year of high school when I was Madame Thénardier in Les Mis.
While I loved theater, I loved music even more. I started playing the piano at age 6 and played 12 different instruments between age 6 and my senior year of high school.
In high school I predominantly played tuba in concert band and baritone saxophone in jazz band (my pride and joy having played in the Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble all 4 years of high school).
I also played viola in the Vermont Youth Orchestra, eventually becoming principal viola my senior year of high school (playing in the VYO even brought me to Carnegie Hall…which is where I ironically worked for my first job out of college).
Growing up I tried my hand at visual arts many times, and often I feel like I failed. My mom even tried to teach both my sister and me how to paint.
My sister caught on quickly: she has always been incredibly skilled with her hands, perfecting everything from origami to calligraphy growing up. She was even great at painting and drawing.
Me? I couldn’t paint or draw to save my life.
I did have an eye for color, but I just figured that visual arts were not my calling.
Ok ok… upon closer examination of these photos I asked my mom to dig up: I wasn’t quite as bad at visual arts as I remembered. I just didn’t have the natural spark and talent to really do anything with it (or so I thought).
While I did find great joy in the performing arts, I was heavily devoted to school and had big dreams for my future in the field of (international) politics.
The College Years
From 2007-2011 I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in International Politics from American University (AU) in Washington, DC. It was my life goal to be a career ambassador in the US Foreign Service and then President of the United States. (As you do, right?)
Even though I spent most of my time on my schoolwork, I still found time to play my baritone saxophone in the AU jazz ensemble and classical saxophone quartet.
I spent my junior year in Paris studying the European Union in French at Sciences Po (one of the most elite universities in France).
It was a whirlwind year that left me basically fluent in French and…depressed.
The pressure I put on myself to maintain my perfect GPA was crippling.
But, I did manage to eat my weight in macarons several times over. Hands-down one of my favorite memories of my time in Paris.
I later interned during my senior year in the Western Europe office at the US Department of State.
(No photos from the State Department… but apparently I did get one in the press room at the Pentagon!)
I was even offered a full-time job in the Western Europe office before graduation. However, I declined the offer, much to the surprise of just about everyone around me (including myself).
Why did I decline what was presumably the stepping stone to the job of my dreams?
Because I was overworked, still depressed and couldn’t imagine working full-time while finishing my degree later than my graduation date.
Was that the beginning of the end of my path to be an ambassador? Well, let’s see…
After College: Quarter Life Crisis #1
Upon graduating from AU in 2011 I experienced what I think was my first of many quarter life crises to come.
Impulsive and lacking direction, I moved from DC to NYC to live with my sister.
I took the first job that was offered to me: government fundraising at Carnegie Hall. Since I had played music just about all my life and studied politics in college, by some stretch this made sense.
During my year working at Carnegie Hall I took the foreign service exam twice (and passed). Unfortunately, both times I wasn’t chosen for the final stage of the interview process to actually join the US Foreign Service.
In so many words my mentors told me that my resume wasn’t enough. Speaking “just” French fluently wasn’t enough. If I were to be taken seriously I would need to learn a “critical” language (e.g. Russian, Arabic, Chinese, etc).
So I zeroed in on Chinese and even considered moving to China to learn the language.
Read that again: I considered moving to China to learn Chinese. I’m sorry… WHAT?!
Quarter Life Crisis #2?
And then it hit me one day: I was enough just the way I was and I wasn’t going to let the foreign service tell me otherwise.
I am smart, went to a great college, speak French, am an excellent writer and have a background in the performing arts, among other things.
Certainly there was something out there that would embrace my talents just as they were…
Given this new realization I spent the next 4 years jumping around from NYC then back to DC. I worked in everything from arts administration to national security to politics to political fundraising and even a short stint in nutrition.
I even applied to be in the Clandestine Service in the CIA (think: James Bond) and seriously considered commissioning in the US Air Force as an intelligence officer.
Now THAT was quite the chapter of my life…
For the first time in my life I had no clear path and it scared the living daylights out of me. Where did my 30-year life plan go?
I had been goal-oriented my whole life and suddenly the options were endless. Having so many interests in my opinion is both a blessing AND a curse.
I had the tremendous privilege of the support of my family to spend these four years experimenting (especially thanks to my aunt and uncle who let me live in their basement for a year in DC).
By the end of it I was left with a long list of things I did NOT want to do with my life.
But when would I find THE thing?
Back to NYC: My One True Love
By mid-2015 I felt I had exhausted my employment options in DC. Nothing felt right. I felt lost, yet again.
Lacking professional direction this time, I decided that I missed NYC too much and it was the one place I wanted to be.
I had no idea what I was going to do there, I just knew of all the places I had lived so far THIS was the place for me.
For the third time in my short life of 26 years I made the move to a new(ish) city without a job and lived with family friends (thank you!!) for a month while interviewing.
I had coffee one day with a former colleague from Carnegie Hall. The stars aligned: she was hiring for a new project, and the rest was history!
I spent the next 6 years working in the K–12 Programs and Initiatives department at The Juilliard School. Our team developed and implemented a global k–12 performing arts curriculum for music, dance and drama.
I found myself yet again in arts administration and for a period of time saw myself living out my professional career at Juilliard. I loved the people that I worked with and the mission of the work that we did.
After all, I was the product of a general performing arts education and I saw the value in making that available to others.
Had I finally found my calling?
The Missing Piece
But as the years passed, I realized something was still missing. I spent most days sitting behind a computer writing contracts and crunching numbers.
What was missing? I am an artist at my core and needed an artistic outlet.
For the first couple years I continued to play my instruments (viola and baritone saxophone) in community ensembles.
But one by one I ended up quitting all of the ensembles for one reason or another.
Coincidentally, at the same time I was playing music less and less, I started baking more and more in my free time. Baking became my primary creative outlet and source of joy.
And then eventually I picked up decorating cookies again after a several year hiatus. Quickly cookies took over all of my free time.
This hobby of mine eventually (albeit somewhat reluctantly) became a side hustle.
And so I often got asked: will you pursue cookies full-time?
I always answered: absolutely not. I loved my job and I loved the life and security that it gave me.
Not only did I prefer the life of a steady salary, paid benefits and paid vacation, but I knew that having a job that allowed for balance was rare. I wasn’t going to let this go.
For years I insisted I would never quit my job to be self-employed making cookies.
Well, you know how that ended up. Clearly, one day I eventually did.
Why did I change my mind? When did things change? HOW did I make it happen?
But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I skipped a whole chapter here: how did I get into royal icing cookies in the first place??
Want the next installment in The Graceful Baker® story? Check out this post on how I got into royal icing cookies.
Saturday 21st of January 2023
Love love love!!!
No Spread Sugar Cookies: Recipe for Decorating with Royal Icing
Saturday 21st of January 2023
[…] then: if you’re looking for more reading, check out my posts on my introduction, my life background before cookies, how I got into royal icing cookies and all of the cookies I made before I became a cookie video […]
Thursday 24th of November 2022
Wow! Just wow! You've done so much and been so many places!
Thursday 24th of November 2022
Thank you for following along!!
Introduction: Meet Grace Gaylord, a.k.a The Graceful Baker
Tuesday 8th of November 2022
[…] About Me: My Story Before The Graceful Baker […]
Saturday 5th of November 2022
Now that I've seen you with Obama, I'm even more envious! First I just had cookie envy, now I'm just a full on fan girl!
Saturday 5th of November 2022
mawwww! yes what a chapter that was for me :)