I Ditched My Dream Job To Bake Cookies Full-Time — And I've Never Been Happier

Courtney Cowan, founder of Milk Jar Cookies in Los Angeles, thought she had her dream job. But something was eating away at her, and she realized it was time to pursue a bigger dream.

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Typically, when people quit their jobs, it's because they hate what they do. Not me. I actually really liked my job. I was a post-producer in TV dramas, like Six Feet Under and The Good Wife. It was my dream job; it's what brought me to Los Angeles in the first place.

It was interesting, and fun, and fulfilling — everything a job should be — but on nights and weekends, I had to bake. It was my creative outlet, and as soon as I started learning the science behind baking, I found that any opportunity I had, I'd make cookie dough. I started bringing my cookies in to work, and people thought they came from a bakery. It was the ultimate compliment, and the more people told me that, the more excited I got, so I launched a little business on the side and called it Milk Jar Cookies.

Milk Jar Cookies
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BUY IT NOW: Milk Jar Cookie mixes, $16.95; Williams-Sonoma

Working in TV, you're used to a hiatus between seasons — or being out of a job for a while if your show got canceled — so during that time, I'd go full-time into cookies. Then I'd get a job offer and be like, "oh, I need the money."

Once I committed to the decision, I felt this sense of peace. Sometimes you have to give up something good to go after something great.

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As more and more cookie orders started coming in though, I realized I was at a crossroads: I had been doing cookies on the side for seven years. There were times that I had come to resent my job, and there were times that I'd resent the cookies, and I didn't want to do that with either of them. At that point, I realized I'd never be truly fulfilled if I didn't give this cookie business all that I had, so I made the leap.

Making the transition was really scary. I kept going back and forth. I was like, "What if it doesn't work?" But once I committed to the decision, I felt this sense of peace. Sometimes you have to give up something good to go after something great.

Courtney Cowan
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I immediately bought a bunch of business books and started writing a business plan. All of the books warned me to be prepared to work 12-hour days, and I thought, "Well, I already do that in TV, so I've got this." What I didn't realize was that it meant your brain never truly shuts off. You're always thinking about your business and what's coming up next, but when what you do inspires you, it's energizing. As long as you don't let it totally take over your personal life. I'm working on that.

My husband and I started designing everything, from building the cabinets to creating the logo. We set up a workshop in our backyard, and our neighbors would come over and say, "What are you working on today? What are you sanding and refinishing?" It was a totally DIY effort, but that also meant it was 100 percent us. We had no idea what to expect when we opened. We just knew we were going to go all in.

Milk Jar Cookies

On our first day, we sold out by 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The neighborhood was so supportive, and word of mouth spread. Then, last summer — about three years after opening my little shop on Wilshire Boulevard — I got an email from Williams-Sonoma saying they wanted to try my cookies, but their order was too big for our online form to accept. I quickly sent some their way, and a few weeks later, they requested another batch. I didn't hear anything for a while, and then, one day, they called: They wanted to turn my cookies into mixes! I was stunned. The president of Williams-Sonoma tried my cookies and liked them enough to want to sell them. I had no chill.

Courtney Cowan

We went through rounds of testing with a guy I call the "cookie wizard" — he can turn any recipe into a box mix. It's incredible. From there, I worked with Williams-Sonoma on packaging, so it'd have the rustic, blue-and-white Milk Jar look. They nailed it. I actually teared up a little when I saw the package in stores, and I met the people who set up the displays. It's something I've dreamed of my entire life. I just love baking cookies, and bringing a little joy to people. And now, to know that it is happening on such a large scale is pretty rewarding.

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