Life Lessons from Sand Sculptors

russ croft sand sculptor
Last September, I was invited on a press trip to Navarre Beach, Florida.  It was my very first trip like this – where like this means someone paid for me to come visit their destination so that I could write about it.  The trip was a very, very big deal to me in a dozen little ways.

It was on that trip that I learned about people who make sand castles for a living.

OK, they didn’t technically make castles.  They made elephants and alligators and babies and dozens and dozens of things that aren’t in the shape of a plastic bucket, all from the white powder of the Florida beach.

And that is their job.

I have always been intrigued by people who find creative ways to earn a living, so I was drawn to these professional sand sculptors.  I watched them work, took their pictures, and pestered them with questions about their lives.

Who pays you to do this?

Can you really support a family like this?

How did you get into this?

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Turns out that most of them travel all over the world creating sand sculptures for various festivals, corporate promotions and competitions.  The living is decent if not a little volatile (oh, the life of the self-employed) and the way you get started is…

I never actually got a straight answer on that.

All of the sculptors came to the job through a different path.  Some had parents who had done it before them, others had seen competitions and thought they’d give it a shot.  It seems there are a dozen ways to get to the same destination.

There are people who get paid to make sand sculptures.

Whenever I think I’m being ridiculous or immature trying to carve out my own version of a happy life for myself and my family, I remember that.  When I hear people say that they can’t do what they want because they have bills to pay, I think about the people who pay their bills making sand castles.

There must be a dozen ways to get to the same destination.

And I think, maybe, you really can be anything you want when you grow up.

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  1. Momma says:

    “And I think, maybe, you really can be anything you want when you grow up.”


    Poppa and I are still open to trying different adventures, so that we’ll know what it is we want to do when we grow up.

    You are SO fortunate to be open to change at YOUR age! Just think where Poppa and I would be if we’d started when we were your age. But, never too late, I say. ;)

  2. Mandi Bone says:

    I am going to have start reading you in the afternoon. I don’t like to think this much in the morning.
    I think that this is a great lesson for parents that have special needs children. There is a part of you that mourns that they might not take the traditional path in life. But can still do great things like have a life making sand castles on the beach.

    • Miss Britt says:

      My mom told me about a book once that compared having kids with special needs to getting off a plane in Poland – when you expected to be in France or something. You can freak out that you aren’t in France, but you don’t want to miss out on Poland!!

  3. when i was young my parents hired a general handyman kinda guy to fix the wall in the back yard that was falling down. every time someone asked him a question his answer was “wonnerful, wonnerful!!!!” (i felt as though i could hear the multiple exclamation points.)
    “good morning, how are you?”
    “wonnerful, wonnerful!!!!”
    “how’s the job going?”
    “wonnerful, wonnerful!!!!”
    “did you have a good weekend?”
    “wonnerful, wonnerful!!!!”
    “lunch looks good, how is it?”
    “wonnerful, wonnerful!!!!”
    i was a kid who loved to talk to people so i was constantly bothering mr. wonnerful, yet he never shooed me away. his smile was infectious. didn’t matter that he didn’t make a huge salary, didn’t matter that he was short, didn’t matter that he was not white, didn’t matter that he was a handyman…i thought he was one of the best people i had ever met and i knew i wanted to be like him.
    all of this is to say that i think people can do anything they want to do for a living, but miserable people will always be miserable.
    see, there i go again, missing the point of the post.

    • Nanna says:

      You ARE just like him after all – wunnerful wunnerful!

    • Miss Britt says:

      ” didn’t matter that he was a handyman”

      How do you know that wasn’t his passion? Fixing things, making things, using his hands and being able to see tangible results of a day’s work… I know quite a few people who would be thrilled if they could support themselves that way.

      Or maybe he really liked that AND he liked having free time to go birdwatching.

      Heck, who knows.

      But I think it’s interesting that you assume his position as a handyman was something to be overcome. ;-)

      • And now I do believe you missed what I was trying to say. It wasn’t that not having money or not being tall or not being white or being a handyman were things to overcome (none of those are “bad” things), it was that no matter what he was asked he gave a positive response. I could never be short, I could never be anything except white…I possibly could be a handyman and who knew whether I would have money or not…BUT there would always be the option of looking to the positive or negative side of any question. If having a bad day (no matter what, we all have em) I can choose whether or not to ruin someone else’s day by being shitty or I can choose to breathe in, breathe out and tell em “Wonnerful, wonnerful!”

        (I am sick and this may still not be coming out right since I am all about ill and sleepy, but I hope I was more clear.)

  4. Michelle says:

    Even if you don’t grow up, you can still be anything you want to be. You just have to be willing to put yourself out there and risk failure. I’ve reinvented myself several times, and to be honest, I get a kick out of watching other people do it. Just from meeting you a few times, I get the feeling you can do whatever you want to do with your life. =)

  5. mel says:

    I totally need this post this morning/week/month. Seriously. Thanks.

  6. Megan says:

    Of all the ridiculous things to get paid for… I LOVE it. :)

  7. FireMom says:

    Pardon me while I reread this to internalize it.

    “And I think, maybe, you really can be anything you want when you grow up.”

    You and your darn perfect timing. With today’s blog and announcement and launch and first day with no newspaper job, I’m wanting to run to Florida and hug the snot out of you.

    Thank you.

  8. Lisa says:

    You are very wise for one so small. Like Yoda. Except for the green part.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How do I bring more happy into my day-to-day life? I’m in a comfort zone that I’ll admit to being a little afraid of giving up to follow nebulous dreams of being an artist. That whole starving thing is intimidating.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I am not a fan of starving either. I think, as you mentioned, part of it is thinking outside the traditional box of “find a job doing this” or “make enough money so I can do this” and figuring out new ways to bring the happy into your day-to-day life.

  9. Laurie says:

    You are really wonderfully fabulous at this motivational writing. Just saying.

  10. Faiqa says:

    Love this post. On a completely unrelated note, sort of, you know what else is cool, in addition to all that super inspiring stuff that you wrote up there? That they make sculptures out of *sand*… and that their sculptures usually fade away after a few months. Yet, they love to do it. Like the money is just sort of a side effect of being happy. Yeah, very cool.

    • Miss Britt says:

      OHMIGOD that is a whole ‘nother post about the temporary nature of what they do and how they are totally cool with it because they GET that it’s ALL temporary…

  11. Jared says:

    I think this every time I hear about Professional Bowling.

  12. Headless Mom says:

    Britt, I LOVE THIS POST. Especially coming form you. You should be inspired!

  13. the muskrat says:

    I like how, of all the sand sculptors whose work you could have photographed, you picked the Alabama fan!

  14. [...] met Rusty Croft on Navarre Beach when he was competing with other sand sculptors in a contest designed to promote tourism in the area.  It was like an exhibition game for sand [...]

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