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 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.



Last week I gave a great pitch to West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust. With a new sense of abundance in the air, it seems like lots of things that have been so difficult for so many years are shifting. And yet it is difficult for me to trust this. I am 100% programmed to think that every single thing has to be super hard. Because I grew up with: “hard work pays off”, “nothing comes for free”, “you have to work harder than everyone else to succeed”.

And then there were the past 10+ years where it was unclear if there was a benefit to how hard I was working. Work hard in highschool, study hard for SAT,work hard in college, work hard to find an extremely mediocre job after college, work hard in the Peace Corps, work hard to get into grad school, to earn a fancy public health degree, to prove myself at that first job. I just kept working hard, and when the hard work didn’t seem to be paying off in terms of fulfillment or dollar bills, I assumed it was because I wasn’t working hard enough or maybe I just wasn’t good enough, period. I now see clearly that no matter what I achieved, if I didn’t believe that I had value, the opportunities available to me would mirror that belief.

I talked briefly last week about how my mindset has shifted: I am good enough just as I am, I am deserving of resources, support for my dream, a great way to make a living, just as I am and I trust that the support I need is here and is coming. And everything has shifted. Now things are coming easier. And yet I still try to overwork them. I spend Friday, my first free day after many days working on my pitch and arriving at my restaurant job at 6:30am, fidgeting about in a beautiful park in West Virginia because my computer wouldn’t turn on and I’m still convinced, in spite of the shift towards abundance and love and trust, that I don’t have value if I’m not working. I literally don’t have value to Mother Earth. And writing that here it sounds so sad. Impossible! And yet I’m quite certain I’m not alone here.

There are two dangerous forces still holding us back that keep us from resting when we need to and loving ourselves constantly: we only have value when we are working and we have to work hard for everything we need. Sometimes we do dumb stuff to hold ourselves back like not sitting down and making sure we have properly prepared for an informational interview. Guilty. Been there. But often we are overdoing it, trying to work and push harder when that’s not what’s needed. Do you have to show up and do the work? Do you have to put in the time? Certainly.

But what is often most needed (especially among workaholic Americans) is not working harder but changing your thinking. I am enough today. I am enough right here. I deserve to live out my dream. The resources are there. The job that will allow me to live my most fulfilled life is waiting for me. I don’t need to work harder or be better. I just need to believe this with EVERY fiber of my body. And then that big energy will sigh and say FINALLY! Finally you get it.

And why is this so vital: Because life is a long journey. We need to nourish ourselves along the way to sustain ourselves. It will not do to overwork ourselves at tasks that do not require it. It will not do to keep pushing ourselves when we need to rest, eat something healthy and move our bodies. Our goal: 1. No more or less effort than what is required for each task. (It is helpful to check in often on tasks big and small to ask yourself “Am I overdoing this?”  2. To provide the nourishment-food, health wellness, community, movement, sleep-we need to sustain ourselves on this long journey.

Entrepreneurship is just a series of mostly fairly simple tasks. But lots of them. It is thus the perfect playing field to learn about not overworking any one of them. If you spend too much energy on any one task, you will be depleted for the rest. And the trick is to conserve your energy, spread it around to keep the wheels turning across your business. Nourish yourself constantly to fill your tank as you go.

And of course this is all much easier said than done. We have to learn to stay true to ourselves, communicate with each other constantly, and work through discomfort and personal blocks.  I am rooting for you. It is not easy, but we will get there. And our world will begin to look different. If you look closely you will see that the changes are already arriving. What a blessing.

Go, fight, win.


Casting off scarcity

Floral collaboration with farmer-florist, Lee Moore Crawford. Photo by Maria Brubeck 

Floral collaboration with farmer-florist, Lee Moore Crawford. Photo by Maria Brubeck 

In the past few weeks I have broken free from the struggle with scarcity that has spanned the entirety of my adult life.  I would like to do some sharing on how I got here so that more of us can let the cloak of scarcity fall away from our lives.

First of all, what do we mean by scarcity? Scarcity is the feeling that we do not have enough. It is the feeling of tightness and smallness, the big and small panics that we do not have what we need to be OK. That our job doesn’t pay enough, that we might loose our job. The panic that our dental bill is too high, that we’d love to buy those work pants, but what if we need the money for something else – for when the bottom drops out. It is the fear about not having enough. If you sit with it, you notice the tightness, the constriction, and you can feel how it can spiral into more personal doomsday scenarios around scarcity.

I had been reading for years about overcoming scarcity. It may be one of the toughest battles we can fight when there is a very real fear about not having enough to live on. And quite frankly the advice I would read–mostly about thinking positively–would often piss me off. Applying to this job and then that, trying out this strategy to have a side gig while working on my business and then that one. Regularly freaking out about not having enough, not being OK.

But a breakthrough occurred starting back in October. After nearly a year of applying to jobs I broke down and got a job at a donut shop where my coworkers had a positive attitude about life and making a living (versus other jobs where people complain that they are there because they can’t make it doing what they love). I got paid a living wage. I removed a bunch of the pressure to make a living with my writing work or to work faster than my business would allow so that it would support me. I learned to get over my ego about what type of work I should be doing.

I also shifted my perspective on the energy I was putting into work opportunities. In the blog here I wrote about planting lots of seed like mother nature to see which ones come up. No longer would I spend all my time on this job application, or that new skill, or this business accelerator application. I would spread my seeds around, hope for the best and move on. I would be attached to no particular way of getting there. I would spend no time dwelling on a particular job that I wanted and how it would impact my life.

I would state my intentions clearly: I want a job that supports me on my mission to bring my business to life. I want to do this work but I don’t care when and how, but I have a vision for it and I will bring it to life.

And then finally I embarked on a boot camp on trust with the support of an amazing group of women. Trust, trust, trust. And that was the match that lit the flame that caused a cosmic storm of gifts. My intentions were out there, I was showing up for the work, I was planting the seeds, but the trust caused them to explode to life.
I have the job I need, I have the time I need for my sewing, pattern work and writing, I have the resources and a growing community of supporters that are showing up to bring my dream alive in a place that brings my heart alive.

One year ago today, my relationship was cracking under the strain of scarcity, of my fears about not making it. I was stuck in smallness. I could not imagine that one year later, everything I needed would BE. So I’ve put together a short list of things to do to dismantle scarcity in your life if you are still in it alongside so many creative, entrepreneurial folks. Abundance is what we truly are, so why the heck is it so elusive?

As it turns out, those self-help books about the power of positive thinking that really ticked me off were right: You thoughts are everything. Yet it is so hard to dismiss our scarcity thinking when it is based on our very real circumstances. So here are some things I learned to dismantle scarcity thinking in your life, regardless of your life circumstances:

1. Surround yourself with people who do not struggle with money and scarcity. People who complain about not having enough will continue to stir up your fears. We can have some people we confide in and vent to but make sure you are spending plenty of time with people for whom scarcity is not a problem. They will help you see past your limited thinking by example.

2. Get a job that takes the pressure off making a living doing what you love, but only take one where you work with people who have a positive outlook. It doesn’t really matter whether you take a landscaping job, a restaurant gig or an admin job on your dream building path. What does matter is that the job supports the needs you have for your dream building (i.e. that the hours won’t wipe you out), and that the people you work with have a positive attitude. Negativity is infectious.

3. Plant lots of seeds. More on that here. Don’t spend too much time on any one opportunity. Let go of a rigid idea of how you are going to build your dream. This is not the way nature works and we are of nature. Nature plants lots of seeds. Strike a balance between going with the flow and working away at the rocks like the rivers do. Be steady in your efforts. Work at it each day.

4. Make a budget–even if it is a very small one–and start tracking your expenses. Mint is AWESOME for this and can be kind of fun. Be unapologetic about living within your means. After all you are choosing to build your dream so it must be more valuable to you then that fancy dinner with that old college friend, yes?

5. Be grateful for everything. Be grateful for that job where you have to clean the toilettes, but it pays the bills and you can ride your bike there. Be grateful for the modest place that you have that is affordable and allows you to launch your dreams, be grateful that you have learned how to cook on a budget, for those pretty flowering weeds in your garden and the pollinators there.

In short, build a garden of love and trust around you with everything you can get your hands on. It can be modest, it can be cheep (it can be free!). The point is that abundance comes from our thinking and our energy. It doesn’t care if we have a fancy interviewing outfit, or every computer skill, or a 401-K. No, abundance is much bigger than these things. And the only thing that keeps us from the well of abundance that will make our dreams come true is the blanket woven of scarcity thinking, that weighs us down and makes us small.

Why is it important for you and me and our community to stop living from scarcity? Because our dreams will heal the planet. The time is now to do it. Scarcity stands in our way and is not the truth.

I am rooting you on. I believe in you and your dreams.

For more advice on cultivating abundance, check out the feminine economy poster here. While you may respond as I did initially– how the f*** does drinking water make me richer???!!!– I believe you will see the truth in these words over time if you do it anyway  :)


Over the weekend I met with sewers in West Virginia. I looked around the neighborhoods. I went hiking. Perhaps you can relate to the joy and longing when you fall for a place so hard–when it so deeply penetrates the deepest corners of your heart. And the ingredients are there. There is a tremendous need for jobs. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful place with the kindest people I’ve ever met.

But the flip side of the emotion generated when the pieces feel so right and so many people are stepping up to help me build it, is the fear that somehow it won’t work. That it won’t come together. And like falling in love in a relationship, just that thought can cause so much distress.

So I’ve started up a mantra: Trust and love. Love and trust.

Interestingly the “love” comes easier for me. I feel so much love for my work. I feel so much love for the people that are helping me create my dream. Trust, on the other hand, is another matter. Trust causes a gnarl to form in my stomach. Trust causes deep fear.

Over the weekend, we would have these great days, with great people, more pieces of the puzzle coming together. And then I’d get worn out. And in would crawl the fear. How are you going to solve this issue? What if the sewers live too far away? How are you going to support yourself in rural West Virginia on the long road to making this happen? What if you have to take a job that keeps you from your dreams?  And so on. As it turns out, we don’t usually solve our problems at the end of a long day when we are exhausted, by working and reworking every detail.

And so I start up with the mantra. Trust and love. Love and trust. Trust and love. I feel big change coming. Good change. But scary nonetheless. I am working on trusting that it will come together the way it should.

Why is this so hard? Well some of us have been programmed to think that we aren’t deserving of our dreams, or that there is some nefarious force out there hunting them down to squash them if life starts to get too good. Or maybe we think that we can only be who we want and do what we want to do if we are living on the brink of financial ruin and hugely in debt. Maybe deep down we think that we will be not OK if we live out our dream, that we will be deeply unsafe.

If you, like me, are working on rebuilding your relationship with trust, know that trust is the truth. Trusting is what calls forth your dreams. Trust and love.

For further inspiration, follow this link to a beautiful young woman reframing the feeling of new beginnings and the inner turmoil it can insight.

Go, fight, win.

On problem solving in our world today

Photo by Lee Moore Crawford of me preparing for the iFundWomen fundraiser at the Durham Hotel

Photo by Lee Moore Crawford of me preparing for the iFundWomen fundraiser at the Durham Hotel

As I near the date to present the made to measure apparel concept to the job creating venture capital group in West Virginia, I have packed my days gathering all the information I can about how to go about this work, compiling it into a plan. I’ve been talking with people experienced in starting a sewing workshop, in technological innovations for manufacturing apparel, in financing business ventures. And the advice and perspectives I’ve learned from provide so much information, some of which conflicts with each other. People are, after all, walking different paths and have different experiences to share. Some days I will talk to people who hold very strongly to an old way of doing things that makes me question if my dream is possible.

How then do you find the way forward when the conflicting winds threaten to push you off course this direction, then that, fueling the flames of fear with this bit of information and then that?

Part of the thing that further complicates our ability to find our footing is that the confusion and fear exists inside and out. Inside, we have held onto thoughts about what is and isn’t OK. How we should live. How we should think. The world we have today, reveals where that thinking has led us. Yet even though we can see that we need to radically change our thinking and our actions, it is so hard to let those thoughts go: I’m not being productive enough. I’m not valuable enough. I’m not worthy of this dream. I’m not smart enough. Or my favorite–spiritual women don’t accomplish anything. They don’t create value. Their work is worthless as judged by the white male faces that stare back at us on American bills.

If this were not bad enough, on the outside we continue to encounter people who tell us that we can’t possibly get anywhere doing what we are doing, being who we are. We read the news and see the things we value nowhere. We watch our entrepreneurial sisters and brothers struggle to gain traction with their new way of doing things. Struggle to make it worthy in the world of dollars and cents. Nope, this work is not easy.

It was amidst the waves of fear, worry, joy, peace, exhilaration that I’ve been experiencing in response to all that I’m learning right now, that I found myself staring across the register of my restaurant job at the following message on a customer’s t-shirt:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

Wherever the truth lies in the path forward, we can know one thing: we have got to do things differently. This is scary, but we cannot continue to do the same thing and expect to get a different result.

We therefore have to trust ourselves.

And we are being asked to trust ourselves and our world when we have to deal with both the inner muck that says that we are wrong, unworthy, misguided, AND when people around us will reinforce that inner muck­–that’s not how you do things, this is how it’s done.

So when you are reeling from a meeting where you feel that the way you have done something is wrong because it is not the way it is usually done, take a moment to ask yourself, “Has our fidelity to going about the work in this way contributed to the way our world is today? Is it OK to try something different to see if we can achieve a different outcome?” Breath in. Breath out. Sit with it.

I leave you with some words from my yoga teacher, Nina Be, who is an endless source of wisdom: “If you put in the time and do the work, you can expect miracles.” Here, Nina Be was referring to standing on one foot, yet, like the t-shirt quote, the meaning of these words touches every corner of our lives.

The fabric that holds us together

A machine at Kenneth Mackenzie on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, depicting part of the process used to turn the wool fibers into fabric that will last a lifetime

A machine at Kenneth Mackenzie on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, depicting part of the process used to turn the wool fibers into fabric that will last a lifetime

Over the weekend I had dinner with a friend who works in agriculture. She mentioned how important she felt it is that work places exist like farming where people with different political views come together and work with each other. They may disagree on different issues, but they still work together and get to know each other as people, form relationships, come to depend on each other and know each other’s families. I was thinking about this with the apparel work. Apparel, like farming is another opportunity to bring people together across the political spectrum and create work and prosperity regardless of points of disagreement across various political issues.

When I reflect on so many problems we face: the inability to come together on climate solutions, polarization around how to make the economy work for more people, blaming each other–red people, blue people, immigrants–for our problems, or the increasing prevalence of psychological problems like depression and anxiety, I come to a common source: Disconnection. Disconnection from ourselves, from each other, from our communities, from our environment. Disconnection from the connection we all share. And I thought about this with regards to the economy. How many of us get to connect with people with very different views from our own through our work, through what we buy, through the services we use?

When most everything we buy is made in China, or other far off countries, that means two things: 1) We don’t have the opportunity to connect with the producer of the things we are consuming which used to be made in the U.S.  2) The absence of that work producing U.S. made things means that all those connections that would be made across the political spectrum through that work no longer exist.  If very little U.S. manufacturing remains, that means that the opportunity for say a New York designer to work with a Tennessee shirt maker are few and far between.

At what cost? Well I believe that these days we only imagine who we are as a people. We read about how we are voting here and there, what that extreme group is doing. The real human beings we share this country with fall away. They become reduced by voting districts and poll numbers and stereotyped images. And we become more disconnected.

And so I was reflecting on calls to boycott the Alabama economy in the face of the Governor’s signing into law a complete abortion ban. In Alabama, there happens to be an apparel company called Alabama Chanin. They provide high quality jobs in a community that needs them and create beautiful clothing for women. Alabama Chanin is one of a small fraction of apparel companies who make clothing for women and produce it in the U.S. What’s more, Natalie Chanin has inspired countless designers and apparel entrepreneurs (myself included) by bravely building this work in Florence, Alabama, in a community that needed jobs, when the rest of the industry was saying that U.S. production of apparel was no longer financially viable.

Check out a short video here on Alabama Chanin

And yet I say all this knowing that boycotts are often effective. But I wonder if hitting people that have already been knocked down by the economy to make a political point is the answer? Is taking aim at the businesses who provide the few quality job opportunities available the way to come together and make progress as a country? We are after all a democracy. We need most people to come together to make progress.

I believe the answer lies in reconnecting with each other. Again and again. Every chance that we can get. We can weigh the choices we make by asking ourselves: Will the action I take here drive more of a wedge between us or will it bring us together? We must urgently come together.

Part of what I want to do is to reconnect people in different parts of the country and reconnect the urban women to their rural sisters. I want to dismantle the imaginary people we share our country with and expose the real humans that go to work each day, love their children, and do their best with the lives they’ve been given.

Please help me rebuild connection again and again. This can be as small is choosing to sit with someone who is alone and as big as working on a dream that brings people together. I believe that if we make the choice each day to turn our back on the things that divide us and move towards the things that connect us to each other we will one day find ourselves sharing more love, joy, fulfillment, community, and harmony with each other and the beautiful Earth we share together.

On community, leadership and opportunity

Noah Eisenkraft, not pictured here, donated his negotiations expertise to teach us this vital skill at NC State's Advancing Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) event

Noah Eisenkraft, not pictured here, donated his negotiations expertise to teach us this vital skill at NC State's Advancing Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) event

Last week I was recovering from a long shift at my restaurant job in a post-nap daze when I saw an email from the job creating venture capital trust that I submitted an executive summary to a few weeks ago with a proposal for a made to measure women’s sewing workshop for the apparel line. The woman I was in touch with had reviewed my proposal and was requesting that I come present it to her team. My response was a mixture of intense excitement, fear at what it means for this work to be progressing this way and overwhelm at the task before me.

With further clarification, I came to learn that they wanted me to put together a 1 hour presentation on exactly what the plan was to build the women’s made to measure workshop for the apparel line, how much it would cost and what that money would do.

When I came down from a state of freak-out, I noted two big shifts that I want to share here. One is that, while I certainly still had a bit of imposter syndrome anxiety wondering how in the heck I could possibly know what I was doing, I quickly remembered that I don’t need to have all the answers on my own. I have often reflected on how much as a culture we attribute successful endeavors to one individual–the iconic leader: Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs.

It is no wonder that when we are taking the lead to put something together that we get confused and think that we alone are responsible for having all the answers. After all we don’t say that Apple was so successful because of the great community of team members who build it with Steve Jobs at the lead. No, we just talk about the leaders. Journalists love to write about them, and the leaders love to take all the credit.

Or we can shift to something more real: great things are built by lots of people with a few people driving the charge. As I sat thinking through all the things I need to learn between now and mid-June, I was so grateful to think about all the awesome people I have in my community to help substantiate and clarify all the pieces of the made to measure sewing workshop puzzle.

And all the sudden this presentation is so much less daunting. I will be presenting on behalf of a lot of different experts, who’s insights I’ve pulled together, along with my own, to form a vision. It is not personal. It is not about me. It is about the work and what is possible with it. Looking at it from all angles and defining a path that will make it successful from the standpoint of profitability, what it provides customers, what kind of jobs we can create, and how we can promote a more sustainable relationship between fashion and the environment.   

And it is just another draft, which brings me to the second shift. No longer do I see the success of this work as wrapped up in any one opportunity. I used to. Before the Kickstarter, before the iFundWomen campaign and all the accelerator and grant proposals I would think: “This is it! This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for.” I would spend 150% of my energy (note the deficit) on each opportunity with the idea that if I just gave it everything I had, it would work out and that would be what I needed to be successful. Turns out, this is a bad idea for lots of reasons. Depleting yourself, putting yourself and your business at financial risk, setting yourself up for big disappointment. After all, there is no way for you to know which opportunity will be the right one. (No regrets pursuing these opportunities, but it was time for an attitude change.)

So a shift is necessary. This job creating venture capital group may be a good fit or it may not. But the energy I put into answering more of the logistical and financial questions between now and then will be invaluable for any other opportunity to materialize this work. Maybe you have already learned this, but if not: it is hugely liberating to stop believing that your success/happiness/creative expression/livelihood etc. is tied to any one thing working out. I am speaking here for the professional, but this applies to the personal realm as well.

At the end of the day, what do these two shifts accomplish? They lessen the pressure and stress around this work, which kills creativity and drains needless energy, vital energy that could be used to make the most of opportunities before us. I am calling balderdash on the idea that we have to make our lives into pressure cookers to create worthy enterprises. What we need right now is creativity around how to create a new generation of businesses that are more environmentally and socially responsible and stress is a creativity killer. 

We can ease off the pressure by remembering that when we lead entrepreneurial endeavors we are not struggling alone, solely responsible for the success and failure of our work, and no one business accelerator application, or grant application, or venture capital presentation is the gatekeeper of our success. Plant the seeds, make the most of each opportunity and keep moving. Honor your community and remember that you are the dance, not the dancer.

Go, fight, win.