A visit to CART Inc.–Bluefield, West Virginia

Selfie of myself, Heather Williams, John Browning and Bruce Mutter (left to right) (and yes selfies are not my strong suit :)

Selfie of myself, Heather Williams, John Browning and Bruce Mutter (left to right) (and yes selfies are not my strong suit :)

I sit here writing after my first meeting with the team at the Center for Applied Research & Technology (CART Inc.), an organization that has received funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Bluefield, WV. The team includes Bruce Mutter, CART CEO and professor of engineering management at Bluefield State College, Heather Williams, Office and Project Manager, and John Browning, Project Engineer. To be clear, I had been working with CART Inc. since June, when I was admitted to the CREATE program (Creating Resilient Economies Assisting Technology Entrepreneurs) and Commercialization Station–their manufacturing technology incubator.

We talk a lot about innovation in the entrepreneurship circles so I want to clarify what we are speaking of here. At CART Inc. innovation means problem solving with different tools including electronics and technology to improve upon or create a new type of physical product. One of CART’s goals is to help businesses create prosperity in the region. Not just more profits, or money for taxes, but JOBS as well.

So we sat around a table in CART Inc.’s original industrial design studio at Bluefield State College. Around us were all sorts of products they were working on, including photos of their driverless cars, and an innovative 4-wheeler. Their small team rallied around one driving force–you have to just DO the work, try things out. They spend very little time talking about problems, looking at points versus counterpoints to solving them. They just start working on the solutions.

This struck me as unique right away after meeting Bruce. We had previously had a few phone conversations over the past 5 months. I had shared the information I had on women’s made to measure clothing, what worked and didn’t work, what technologies are coming down the pipeline, the major bottleneck for progress in apparel manufacturing: the pattern adaptation. And he says – “OK. Let’s get started.” This was somewhat mind blowing to me. No long-winded application, with 2 videos and 10 pages of short answer questions? No pomp and pageant showing a board of advisors and how important I look?

No. CART Inc. believes in the work I’m doing and they want to help. So they will. And they are. After agreeing that the 1st major goal was making 100 blouses for different women, we began looking at software and hardware right away. Bruce helped assess the options from an engineering perspective. Last week CART Inc. purchased the software and a piece of hardware we needed to get started. Nothing fancy, just what we need to do the work, to prove our concept with the 1st 100 blouses.

Sitting around the table with their small team, I felt that I had found my team of collaborators, people that believe in technology, progress, problem solving and innovation AND who are motivated by a mission: to make the world better, to create jobs, to make our communities better.

I could feel the winds of change that morning, blowing through towns that had lost so much population, so many jobs, with decades of economic stagnation, followed by a drug epidemic. If you look around this town, that was once at the center of coal mining, you can see the rebirth. The 60,000-square foot Commercialization Station is being renovated, entrepreneurs are moving in with their gadgets and devices, bits and pieces of projects they are building. Intuit, the accounting software company, opened an office downtown and will soon open a maker’s space for entrepreneurs.

What can we build together that creates jobs, that is less harmful for the environment, that empowers people through creativity and problem solving to take ownership for their wellbeing?

We will see. I will keep writing to share what I am learning on this path. It is a blessing to walk it.

Go, fight, win. 

Our WORK

On Monday night last week, I had worked up the courage to bring my blouse prototype to Nighisti Selby my tailoring and spiritual mentor. Nighisti is an Italian trained tailor with more than 50 years worth of passion and experience fitting garments to bodies. I try on the blouse. She looks it over, complements the details, the sewing technique. Then she says to me as she often does. “Look at it in the mirror. What do you notice?” So I start to say something about a wrinkle I notice that goes from the bust up to the shoulder.

She says “we need to take the shoulder apart so I can show you what is happening, so the fabric has room to tell you what needs to change.” I look at her, here with me late after her shop has closed. I look down at my blouse, the first blouse I’ve ever sewn up with the full details, and finished seems, from the pattern that I made at my pattern making workshop, representing countless hours of work and deep emotional growth. I look back at her. I hesitate. My mind looks for a way out: I could come back, I could sew up another, just like this and come back and seem ripper it up.

But the answer comes to me through the emotion. My teacher is here to share her wisdom with me, to help me become better at my craft. The time is now for this lesson. My blouse may be precious to me, but nothing is too precious to forgo learning with my mentor.

So I sit in her chair, with the seam ripper and undo the shoulders, the top of the armholes. I sit with all the emotions: anger, frustration, fear and just a hint of excitement at the quiet part of me that knows that I’m on the path, however fear inducing it may be. In the washing machine of emotions, I also notice that I am not pushing these emotions away. I am allowing them to be. I am letting them take up the space they need in this tailoring workshop.

I put the blouse on and I do indeed see the fabric move away from the seams I had sewn, trying to free itself from the top of the shoulder. Nighisti says: the fabric doesn’t lie. She shows me how to make modifications so that the fabric lays comfortably against the body.

That night I left her workshop exhausted, but knowing that I had learned an important lesson. When it comes to your work, your special path where you build something from love and faith and devotion, the work itself is the precious thing with its own life. We may create things that seem to embody this preciousness, like our first finished blouse from a cherished life experience, but they are just symbols of the WORK. It is the work itself that is precious. On this path, part of our growth is to have the courage to face our emotions around what we have built, acknowledge them, while continuing to form and reform this work with a tireless fidelity to our WORK and not this one artifact.

Reflecting on this experience now, I realize this is yet again another faith building exercise. It is so much easier to believe in something that is tangible–a blouse, than to have faith in the obscure path into the unknown that is our big WORK. But that is what will lead us to the most expansive version of our WORK possible in this world.

Go, fight, win. I am with you.

Ego and our work

Photo by  Nick Fewings  on  Unsplash

This past week I was listening to the NY Time’s The Daily on Gloria Allred and her daughter, Lisa Bloom. If you are not familiar with this news, the podcast was detailing how Gloria Allred and her daughter, longtime defenders of women in the legal system, were hired out by Harvey Weinstein to suppress the stories of women who had been victims of his grotesque behavior. I felt such a sense of betrayal listening to how they worked with him to outmaneuver women with less power and stature, robbing them of their voice and ability to find support so that he could maintain his power and continue his harmful behavior toward his female colleagues.

Yet in listening to this story something crystalized for me that had never been quite concrete. Sins of the ego, like selling your services to silence women who have been victims of sex crimes, in exchange for money and publicity are possible anywhere there are people regardless of how altruistic the profession appears on the surface. It makes no different whether one is a fortune 500 CEO, a lawyer who defends women’s rights, or the founder of a major humanitarian organization, ego is possible anywhere.

Several years back I was beginning a career in public health and did not yet understand this. I had come off of two years living in a village of mud huts out in the bushes in Togo, West Africa with the most intense poverty I’d ever seen. At the first jobs I had after graduate school I witnessed some horrible behavior as a result of ego in the highest echelons of global health. For example, a department head that made decisions that had major global health impacts according to what types of publications she needed to enrich her CV.

At the time it made me so bitter and cynical, people in high places, there to serve others who had wandered so far away from their duty to serve. And now I see it. No profession is devoid of ego, because ego is possible anywhere there are people. An executive at a hedge fund can be generous and giving, just as an executive at a climate advocacy group can be selfish and lack integrity.

This means that if we chose a profession that serves others, like building made to measure clothing for women to create opportunity in rural places, we still MUST be vigilant about our own egos. Our ego can lead us to dark, selfish, damaging actions no matter how “selfless” our work looks on the outside.

Building our strength up against ego is a practice. It happens every day. I believe it has to do with remaining connected with our fellow human. Taking time to slow down and talk to people you don’t know, practicing mindfulness, opening our hearts to diverse circles of people. Building your heart muscle up so that it is strong and louder than your mind, which puts everything in terms of me and mine and you and yours.

Our lives can be powerful beyond our wildest dreams. The secret is a strong clear heart and a quiet mind.

Go, fight, win

Reid



The Basics

Photo by  Katie Smith  on  Unsplash

Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

I have been marveling at the intensity of these times. Last week in the Weekly Letter I focused on juggling work schedules, but then there is everything else. A friend sent me this quote:

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I want to talk for a moment about how difficult it is to just accomplish the basics in our lives these days without getting exposed to toxic chemicals or poisoning our bodies. Many of us are working long hours. I have found that I am in a stage with this work where I can’t really afford to eat crappy food, or not get enough sleep, or not get exercise and meditate. When I do, the stresses come crashing down.

But I’d like us to recognize the fact that it is not easy to nourish ourselves with healthy food each day. It is not easy to do this while also taking more time still to care for our body and mind through meditation and exercise.


We have major societal influences turning a wheel that works against us: many of us work long hours in 1 or 2+ jobs, there are plenty of good reasons to be stressed out about our own lives and the world around us, the food and beverage companies specially design food that we crave when we are stressed and become addicted to, this food is cheaper and faster than anything else available to us.

Most of us cannot eat this food without being on an endless cycle of stress and wipeout, that sucks the vitality from our daily lives and leads to major, potentially life threatening diseases.

An increasing number of us are recognizing this and getting on the healthy living bandwagon, but it is no small matter. There are the few that can afford to purchase pre-prepared healthy food on a regular basis. I am not one of those people. Instead I spend a decent share of each week making healthy meals, coming up with strategies to make big batches of stuff to sustain my partner and I throughout the week (he does the dishes). Though I enjoy cooking, it is a lot.

I’d like to take a moment to honor how freakin hard it is. To say that it is OK if you, like me, feel like it is a lot. It IS a lot. We are individuals battling against the grain. But more and more of us are doing it. If you have a moment to get quiet and look around you, you will notice that the economy IS responding. More organics, more food storage solutions that don’t involve micro plastics in our food, better non-toxic cleaning options. We WILL hit a tipping point where it gets easier. Until we get there, let us support each other. Let us recognize that it is not an easy time. And let us find our way to our breath and peace in each moment.

This is not an excuse to constantly think about how stressed out or busy we are. Rather, I am promoting the opposite. Recognize that it is a lot, that our plates are very full and then find our way back to our breath. Surrender to where we are at.

Mostly this involves not letting our mind interfere with the moment we are living in. I realize I have no choice but to practice coming back to this moment and my breath no matter where I am in my marathon. Only this moment. Just show up. Only this breath.

Go. Fight. Win.

Do we have what it takes?

Me and the boys in front of mural in Princeton, WV, artist unknown, photo courtesy of Drew Marticorena

Me and the boys in front of mural in Princeton, WV, artist unknown, photo courtesy of Drew Marticorena

This past week I am beginning to feel a shift in my perspective on anxiety, fear of the unknown and dream building. For weeks since I returned to Durham I have been feeling the squeeze of anxiety. I have my full time day job, which has its own intensity inherent to a start-up in a highly technical field. And then I have my business, which is experiencing a rebirth through a collaborating with the manufacturing technology incubator­–the Commercialization Station–courtesy of CART Inc. and Dr. Mutter in Bluefield, WV.

In the back of my head I had this thought: Do I have what it takes to work full time and build a complex and technical business in a neighboring state? There is one answer to this: Taking the financial pressure off my business through work with co-workers I love and work that is very interesting IS right. Finding my community of collaborators in WV has brought the theory of made to measure for job creation to life. And this is ALSO right. If my day job is right and my business is right, then the powers that be must think I am capable of the two at once. And yet there is the very real fact that this is a lot to fit into each workday over many months, years even.

With the faith that these two things are right, I am left with a dedication to this mission: to soar regardless of the weight of my responsibilities. I have been pushing myself to find a rhythm with it. And the biggest work I have been doing is reframing my relationship to anxiety. At this point in time I am staring down a whole pile of unknowns: what will it look like to collaborate with a group in a different state on work that requires fabricating products in the real world? What will our process look like for the 1st 100 blouses once we begin work with the pattern making software? What will our workspace look like? How long will it take for me to learn the software? Will I be good enough? And so on and so forth.

And so my brain wants to work and rework these questions until I can find the answers. To bad for my brain, most of them will only be answered over time. As a result questions and fears that creep into my mind during my day job do nothing but distract me and make me anxious. As I found myself tossed around in a washing machine of fears about an uncertain future, my friend sent me a passage about our emotions that included a piece about anxiety:

“Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls said that anxiety is “excitement without the breath.” When people remember to breath into their fear, their anxiety often turns into excitement […] People often get most afraid just before they are about to step out into the creative unknown, into a new possibility. Fear mobilizes your body for action, but if you do not take action the energy curdles in your body.” (Guy and Kathleen Hendricks in Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment).

So I began working with the concept that the anxiety I was feeling was just fine. Rather than medicate with wine or extreme exercise, or Netflix distractions, I let it be. I let myself feel it along with gratitude that I have the energy to take action on the path to build my dream. While we were demoing the software, I had a still moment where I coached myself to breath. So perhaps anxiety is energy we have squeezed into too small of a space. Perhaps if we feel that energy and use it to fuel our work, and make space to feel it, go for a quiet walk with it, we can reframe our relationship to it from one of discomfort to a revered partner on our dream building work.

I will end with a gem from the Ted Radio Hour I listened to over the weekend, “How to be Better.” In Brittany Packnett’s talk: What Are Meaningful Ways To Help Build Your Confidence?, she said something profound about the goal of confidence as being able to: “Redesign the world in the image of your own dream”. In the spirit of “being the change,” I rephrased this as such: “I have the confidence to redesign my world in the image of my own dream.”

You are exactly where you are supposed to be on your dream building path. Practice radical acceptance of the emotions and energy you have where you are now. Make lots of space for them and let go of other people’s expectations about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. (You can dive deeper into learning about reframing your thinking on stress in the segment by Kelly McGonigal.) Be a ruthless guardian of your time. It is the most precious thing you have. If you find yourself spending lots of brainpower stressing about everything you have to do, consider revising your timelines. Dreams get built slowly like the growth of a beautiful tree. If you have already done this, watch Ms. McGonigal’s talk and start revising your thinking about all you have to do. That is life after all.

Learn how to find a rhythm with your dream building work. It is your very own rhythm as precious and distinct as your thumbprint.

Go, fight, win.

Slow Fashion

My classmates returning from our photo shoot in their muslin mock-ups–courtesy of Libby O'Bryan

My classmates returning from our photo shoot in their muslin mock-ups–courtesy of Libby O'Bryan

It has been many weeks. Pattern camp then unexpected life events. I have missed you. I have missed writing. These weekly letters help me find meaning from week to week, digest our world, feel growth and progress. There is so much I’ve wanted to share with you, but for now I will dig back to pattern camp at Penland School of Crafts in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, an extremely intense gift of time where I learned how to build my dream with my own two hands. My instructors were the pattern making expert Giovanni Daina-Palermo and the U.S. ethical garment manufacturing pioneer, Libby O’Bryan.

I arrived on a Sunday and could feel the intensity of the creative energy around me as a tangible thing. Penland is a whole campus with beautiful buildings old and new that look out over a field of birds, bees and butterflies, tucked into a ring of mountains. For the first time in my life, I lived each day in a place, surrounded by people for whom the creative act was their first priority.

Our workshop was on the third floor of the large old wooden textile building, past the floor with all the looms for weaving and a giant stone fireplace. I would spend 12 hours a day in this workshop. Learning the slow, insanely detailed process of pattern making from my teachers.

Penland is a place where people come to learn the art of making a word class craft with their own two hands: ceramics, sculpture, textiles, jewelry, glass work and more. The teachers are famous artists and craftspeople from around the world. Yet there are no artists putting on airs. We are all humbled to the creative act no matter how much experience we have. We are all supporters on each other’s creative journey.

I have noticed over the years as computers have come to replace handcrafts that our appreciation of this work seems to be disappearing. I had an epiphany a few days into my training: the only way to fully appreciate a craft that takes decades to master like pattern making or glass blowing or ceramics, is to learn how to do it. Not all of them. At least one. Only then can you know what is behind the work. The hours of dedication and love, the way a pair of scissors is held and how a ruler is wielded–easy to overlook if you’ve never tried. And then you realize that a whole world exists behind the art. A tireless meditation of creative energy, a refinement of hands, of eyes, of feel that occurs over a lifetime of dances with inspiration.

Pattern makers are disappearing. There are very few of them left in America. There is a serious need to ensure that this craft is not lost. The art of a good pattern maker is the mastery of a number of precise skills with your hands, the way you hold a ruler, the way you hold the scissors, to ensure precision. The way you draw a line, and how the scissors bisect a pencil mark. What you see.

This work takes time. The pace of life made Penland feel like a different world within our world. We worked very very hard. We worked long hours. But the pace of our work was natural. Real time. Not in the future. Not hitting send on an email or text message. Jumping ahead to this next thing or that todo item. Life moved at the pace of life. At first this was excruciating. Nothing was instantaneous. Do you want to know if that change to the pattern worked? Well trace it out, cut it, iron it, sew it, and try it on. There is no way around the work or short cuts. You move at the pace that your two hands can create.

So I want to think about for a moment the bigger picture, the idea of slow fashion. What will it really take to return to quality and craftsmanship? It is to step off the conveyor belt of our fast moving world, our 2-day delivery, or instant responses, demands to know now, and to reach for something deeper and more beautiful. I sit and watch old movies just to admire the clothing. The beauty of how it comes together, the tailoring, the materials. A jacket or blouse a timeless companion for its wearer.

In 2 and a half weeks I learned techniques to make a garment fit, to manipulate a bodice so that I could achieve different designs, and finally how to create a pattern for a blouse I had been dreaming about and sew it up all with my own two hands. I was extremely humbled at the prospect of what it would take to become a pattern maker, capable of working in professional spaces. The effort to make this one blouse and the pattern was at times excruciating, but also the most liberating thing I’ve ever done.

Slow fashion is a devotion to respecting craft and creative energy from the materials we work with to the human hands that transform them. I am back in the world outside of Penland where the frenzy for speed is all around us. I know we need to slow down but the pull to rush forward is infectious. The blouse that I am making is the antidote. It reminds me of the steady energy that it will take to rebuild our world. The old ways of doing things are burning themselves out. Together we will step into timelessness and build something new. I want to leave you with an inspirational quote that a friend shared with me this week:

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Big Heart

Photo by  Dylan McLeod  on  Unsplash

You may have noted that this is reaching your inbox later than our usual date together at lunchtime EST on Tuesdays. It has been quite a week. In the midst of the transitions I mentioned last week, there has been an urgent family medical matter. I have talked so much about the need to trust your life path. In the past week my trust has been really rocked as I face urgent family matters with an uncertain outcome. The fear and the worry can obscure what was once a clear path before me.

I struggled with the question of how to continue to put one foot in front of the other on my life path as I approach an extremely important piece in my path’s puzzle: 2.5 weeks (God willing) with a famous pattern maker and socially conscious apparel manufacture learning how to make my dream uniform and establishing the blouse design for the coming year of client testing for the women’s made to measure blouse.

As you might imagine, in addition to my full time gig and a big conference we have this week, preparation for pattern camp is no joke. Some days over the past week I’ve felt like it was all impossible. How can this all be happening at the same moment? How do I sustain it all? I have a few answers to these questions that I have been able to assemble in the midst of the storm. First off, my wise friend Ryan Carey said: take it with you. Take all the emotion and your love and concern for your family member with you to camp. Just remember to bring your computer so you can write. He gets at a larger point that I have thought about all week­–serious concerns about life and death deepen our presence and expand our hearts. In spite of how exhausted these events make us, they have the capacity to make us more powerful, more present with our coworkers, lovers, family members and random strangers we encounter. That presence IS our power.

I felt that trust lingering under the surface, and yet still I questioned- Have I derailed? Am I going to make it through this without spinning off my path into the stratosphere? And today I got an answer in the form of a motivational speaker at our conference: Jamie Valvano [listen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lBkGjNLS58&t=298s to the shortened version] – one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever had the privilege to listen to and herself a cancer survivor. As I listened to her speak about establishing a vision for living an extraordinary life, not only surviving cancer, but coming out of it filled with life, fists swinging to get people motivated to do astonishing things with their lives. While listening to her I realize that far from spinning wildly off my path, it is with the family emergencies and the incredible number of challenges in the past week that I find myself squarely on my path. It is all exactly where we are supposed to be. We are supposed to love, we are supposed to cry, we are supposed to have big dreams, our heart is supposed to be full. This is all of it. Always. The tough, the heartbreaking, the beautiful and breathtaking.

We are taking our big full hearts and letting that drum beat large and triumphantly as we take sure, clear steps to building the world of our dreams.

Go, fight, win.

Please note: There will be no Weekly Letter until Tuesday, August 13th.

On Transitions

If you look closely, you will see a baby aloe plant

If you look closely, you will see a baby aloe plant

Two weeks and counting until summer camp, a chance to make a pattern for my dream uniform, or in my case immerse myself entirely in the blouse project: a beautiful, simple, stylish and professional blouse that fits perfectly. I have been obsessing about this work, wondering if I am as far as I should be for pattern camp. It has not been easy to make time for preparation while I transition to my full time job. I have had to be kind to myself. And I realized that I have been in transition for so long.  So many of us are in transition right now, from an old way of living or being, old thinking, to a new way of being in the world. Maybe you, like me, have been in transition for so long that you forget about the times when life had more of a routine to it. Where you could settle into your schedule and hold space for your best creative work.

But the transition to the full time office job is where I’m at, and it has me pretty wiped in the evenings. Transitions will do that. And there is part of me that wants to get pissed at myself for not making more time for sewing right now. Pattern camp is almost here! And then the other part, the wiser part, realizes that I have to surrender to where I am right now: in another big transition. Pattern camp is timed exactly when it should be, and so is my transition to my new job. Flow with it. Do what you can before you get there, and know that it is exactly as it should be.

Over the weekend we replanted baby aloe plants that had grown underneath our big mama aloe. We took a tiny little aloe plant and put it in a big, terra cotta pot. I looked at that little aloe plant and realized that this is exactly how I feel right now about my business. Like a tiny little allow plant in a giant pot. I am on the precipice of learning so many things to grow into my role of leading an innovative womenswear company. All of the sudden it seems that my pot has formed, I have people to help me, a place to work and next steps. I have ample space to grow into and I am being called to start growing into it now. In the preparation for my pattern making camp I realize how much I have to learn. Blouses have so many components, each with their own fit and styling issues to consider.

Identifying a beautiful, classic, professional women’s blouse is no small task. But I am up to it. I find solidarity with this little aloe plant with big shoes to fill. We have transitioned to this new playing field and we are ready for it. We humbly accept the next adventure to do something great with this life.

I know so many of us are in transition right now. I write in solidarity with your transitions if you are still “in it”.  We are making the space, building our pot to have the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and reshape our world to one with more beauty, harmony with each other and nature, where we can work every day with the belief that a win for you is a win for me is a win for Mother Earth.

Go, fight, win

Work Updates

My commuter bike lady set-up:  FS Bike  waxed canvas bag the hooks to back rack and  Ortlieb pannier

My commuter bike lady set-up: FS Bike waxed canvas bag the hooks to back rack and Ortlieb pannier

Last week I started my first full time office job for nearly 5 years. Big changes. I am dusting off my public health training and working for a super awesome, Durham based start-up that specializes in clinical research in resource limited parts of the world in need of vaccines, medicines, and other health interventions. For example, managing an Ebola vaccine clinical trial in Sierra Leone. I get to manage proposals, which means I get to learn about how to bring expertise together to ask for big money for complex projects. If you haven’t guessed yet, this skill is very important for learning how to ask the government for big money to train high-end sewers to sew up garments to measure for women. So for those of you worried that the fun ends here with the apparel dream: fear not.

Rather, I am entering a stage in the apparel work that will occur nights and weekends. Many of the readers here will be able to relate to this. Many entrepreneurs build businesses this way. Some of us have children that we raise when we are not at work. I have a business.

And, of course, when it rains, it pours. Reid Miller Apparel was accepted into a manufacturing technology business incubator called the Commercialization Station in Bluefield, WV – the town over from our likely destination for the Women’s Made to Measure Fit Lab and Atelier. I get to work with a brilliant innovator in manufacturing, Dr. Bruce Mutter to apply digital pattern making to made to measure womenswear to make a case for investing in high quality sewing jobs in West Virginia. We hope to make 100 made to measure women’s blouses with digital pattern adaptation software and WV sewers over the coming year, to demonstrate that we have a business concept worth supporting.

I have been talking a lot about trust as of late. I’ve taken a radical perspective recently on trust. Trust that I can share my truth, that I am enough, and that I deserve everything I need to make my dream life come true. Yet it’s not always a peaceful flow of trust. I spent the week before my job worrying about how it would be. Whether I’d like it. Whether it would overwhelm my life, energy and time. Nervous, agitated, running from task to task to avoid the discomfort of facing my fear about the unknown job I was entering.

And then my first week arrived. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged to an office. The team is very smart, and very kind, and fun to work with. People take their work seriously, but not themselves. I get to bike to work everyday. As I get better at sewing I will get to experiment with wearing prototypes to work since we are solidly business casual.  I genuinely feel like my skills are valued. I feel pushed to learn and do my best. I love it. I am dumbfounded by this feeling.

And I was reflecting on why this was so surprising. Many of us older millennials entered the job market around 2008. Our early experiences were of the endless unpaid internships, the scarcity of jobs and the seemingly overabundance of qualified candidates with two masters degrees. Of going back for more and more training, taking on larger volumes of debt to be more competitive.

If we are women, often we ended up as the note taker in spite of advanced degrees and training, or got to witness our ideas attributed to male colleagues during a meeting. I had sketchy instances of supervisors publishing my work without my name on it. Of the drained energy of workers in dysfunctional organizations. Few of you know that I spent 1.5 years looking for a good job that would support me on my long path to my dream. 1.5 years of cover letters, informational interviews, Linkedin page updates and then again, resume update, resume update again. So brutal. At some points I wondered if I had any skills at all that someone would be willing to pay for. Seriously. You likely know the feeling when you get those automated emails (if you’re lucky) telling you that they had so many great candidates and best of luck with your continued search.

So I suppose that it is unsurprising that it was hard for me to imagine a good job situation. The idea of a rewarding job, that paid well, and supported me to live the life I want just defied my imagination.

And yet after shifting my mindset to wholeheartedly trust that things would work out, I found myself in this job.  If you, like me, have walked this tough path of post 2008 recession job market searches, or have experienced the precarious workplace experiences that led up to the #MeToo movement, and you are looking for the next opportunity to support your dream life, I challenge you to let yourself imagine something better and then trust wholeheartedly that it will come.

Solutions Salve

Photo by  Bee Naturalles  on  Unsplash

Last week I was listening to the NY Times The Daily series on the rise of nationalism in Europe. I was fuming about humanity’s inability to break out of the cycle of greed, suffering, fear and violence:

People in political & economic power amass wealth and hoard it away from their fellow human, fellow human becomes angry, is deprived of basic necessities like a way to make a living, a decent education and a way to feed their family, the resentment builds and fixates on targets–other poor people, Jews, people who are different from me and mine. And then there is a match–a stabbing, a rape, some story line that feeds right into now widespread fears of being unsafe in one’s world, and then the flames burn where we can see them. The smoldering coals of fear and anger become visible. And by then, there is something real to contend with. And the people who have been hoarding money, wonder: why is everyone so crazy? These dumb people, it is a shame they can vote. And so on and so forth. And the fear creeps into our hearts thousands of miles away, because deep down we know we have kindled our own fires here.

So how do we respond? What can we do with the fear and pain that we feel when we witness the suffering of humans and the environment around us?

Over the past year my feelings on being informed have evolved. I am a sensitive creature. (I believe that a lot of us are if we get real with ourselves.) Hearing about suffering can have a huge impact on me. There was a period of time where I just needed to take a break and get myself in order, build up my inner strength, resilience and power to be able to respond to this information in a way that energizes my work, not debilitates it.

But once we’ve made the choice to be informed, what will allow us to keep doing so in a way that helps us fuel action to help contribute to something better? What can we do to breaks free from the habit of self medicating with alcohol, bad food and Netflix that keeps us stuck in a self loathing that threatens to further submerge us?

Solutions. Solutions are the salve for the pain. For me it is creating jobs in places that are at risk for this sort of scarcity-induced nationalism, and inspiring other entrepreneurs to build their dreams. I know these are big things, but most of what will allow us to change course will be billions of little things. Signing that petition, writing that email to get your friends to vote, planting a pollinator garden, voting, being a good friend to keep moral high, teaching your children about being a good human, loving each other and embracing the beauty of our differences–these are all solutions. We have to play the long game. None of these will change things over night.

But there is a beautiful peacefulness that you can inhabit when you take on the pain of hearing about or witness suffering. You dust yourself off, and you take responsibility for righting the ship, one tiny step at a time.

I wonder, can we one day break this cycle? Can we live in an abundant, harmonious world? Why not? If enough of us start believing in it, it will be. So when you are ready to be a fellow warrior on the path to a better world, when you are ready to take in the news and do something about it, our billions of solutions to break the cycle will deliver us into a new world, one where no one goes without a way to feed themselves, and people who are hoarding money and power are exposed and allowed to make different choices. I realize that my idealism has reached new peaks here. But I for one am tired of settling for anything less.

Go, fight, win.

Reid