Ease

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.

Reid






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  :)

Trust

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.

Reid

The wheel of thought

Photo by  Carissa Rogers  on  Unsplash

Photo by Carissa Rogers on Unsplash

Last week I began Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth to better learn how to work on being present with my life. I have written about mindfulness and entrepreneurship in the Weekly Letter (here and here) before and yet it is so dang hard to remain present.

Why is mindfulness particularly important for entrepreneurs? Because starting a business is scary and risky and can cause us to continuously worry about a whole host of concerns: Will my business succeed? Will it support me? How about other employees? What if it doesn’t work? Is this idea crazy? And your body can’t distinguish between the stress from these thoughts versus the stress of being pursued by a dangerous predator or running out of food. So if you are an entrepreneur and you are not mindful, the stress can burn you out.

And yet I have found much of the advice on how to be mindful woefully inadequate. Come back to your breath, come back to your body. When the torrent of thoughts is running, this is like using stick to dam up a river.

Last week, with Tolle’s help, I decided to renew my commitment to noticing my ego (the endless chatter of my thinking brain) and work with it throughout the day. (He argues that this is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and the planet.)

On Sunday I learned something that I would like to share with you in case you are working on this mindfulness business as well. For those of us who succumb to worry, Sunday is a particularly tough day. It should be a day off for most of us, though we start to think about the coming week, worry about it and get into crazy doer mode: grocery shopping, chores, errands, you name it. So I made a commitment Sunday morning to not spend the day thinking about what needed to be done that day or the next week. I did my usual Sunday yoga and came home. When I got home, the thoughts were starting up: what time am I going to go to the grocery store, am I going to wash the floor today?

And then I stopped and saw the thoughts. I pictured the thoughts on a wheel. The more thoughts I have, the faster the wheel goes, the harder it is to slow down. But if I can catch the wheel when only a few thoughts are starting up, I can much more easily slow it down, come back to my feet on the floor, my breath, where I am.

For this reason, starting your day with a mind calming activity like yoga or meditation is super important to start your day from presence. Then you can use the wheel analogy it if is helpful to catch your thinking before it turns into a gnarl of thoughts that holds your work and your life hostage.

When you become lost in your thoughts, and the wheel gets going too fast, that is the time where there is little more important than a 15 minute meditation, going for a run or some other activity that gets you out of your head. That voice that says to you that you don’t have time – play back the tedious hours spent when you are not present and what your work and life quality looks like. I am finding these days that it is never worth it to waste time like this.

Now go out there, be present, and transform your little corner of the world.

Go, fight, win

People sew beautiful garments

Photo by  Volha Flaxeco  on  Unsplash

Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash

As I was working on V2 of the business plan last week, it became apparent that one of the big arguments I make for investing in higher end sewing in the U.S. is that this work will not be replaced by robots in our lifetime. I had confirmed this with a number of experts I have consulted with over the years including Manufacturing Solutions Center and the Center for Applied Research and Technology, Inc., yet, like a good student, I felt the need to track down documented evidence for my business plan.

So I took my search for evidence online. Rather than find resources that had articulated what I had learned in the field, I came across article after article, extolling the elimination of humans from the sewing equation. Here are a few examples:

In a Fast Company article on Sewbo, a sewing robot start-up, Atnyel Guedja–a purchasing manager at a global apparel manufacturer, Delta Galil Industries– comments on the work:

“Guedj admits that a technological advancement such as Sewbo “is very exciting” and a step in the right direction. At a certain point, he admits, the hunt for cheaper and cheaper labor must come to an end. Technology is the only way out. “[Automation] is the only way forward, and maybe the only way for the industry to save itself from itself,” he says.”
 
Or this quote from a Textile World article on automation in the sewing industry from the CEO of Software Automation Inc. CEO, K.P. Reddy:
 
“With time-to-market, customization, and cost being the primary drivers in sewn goods production — especially in relation to apparel — it is only a matter of time before low-cost, technologically advanced robots replace traditional seamstresses around the world.” 
 
Not only did these articles not jive with what I had been learning, but the tone was that the elimination of jobs was as joyful as it is inevitable. It left no room for another possibility. Robots will replace humans for sewing. That is something to be celebrated, now lets start planning for it.

So someone like me comes along with an idea. I think, perhaps the higher end sewing is safe. My partner is really into high-end, hand made knives and he confirms that the best quality is still done by human hands, not by machines. As I begin testing and talk with many different experts about manufacturing and sewing, they confirm that the high-end sewing is not going anywhere. But if you were to stay at the surface of the conversations taking place in the news media you would think that doubling down on sewing expertise in America is like trying to train people to build a boom box with a tape player.

In my most fatigued moments I questioned what I had learned: Am I crazy? Is this really worth investing in only to see a machine do it better, faster and cheaper?  Will other people be willing to invest in something made by a human? Will I find support for this work?

When I dug out of the doubt, I got angry. I am tired of letting the people who want to eliminate jobs with robots dominate the conversation around what the future holds for us, what is worth investing in now. I am not against technology. Indeed, for my made to measure endeavor I see technology as a tool to eliminate waste and create a much more valuable, better fitting garment for women that is more accessible than previously possible. In other words, technology allows us to do more with our gifts and be less wasteful. It is an extremely useful tool. But I think we need to take a serious look at our values around human work and the quality of what is created when people transform things.

I have learned enough over the years to know that what I read in these articles was very likely wrong. Human hands are going to make magic with beautiful garments well after I’m gone. Yet the narrative that dominates the news media about the inevitability of automating sewing jobs entirely is going to make getting support for this work more challenging. The only way to combat the nonsense that says training sewers in the U.S. is not worthwhile is by demonstrating that they are wrong. Going out there and doing something different.

I am cheering you on as you go out there and do something different. If something you read doesn’t sound right, no matter how many times it echoes around the chambers of the Internet, dig deeper. Talk to people who have real experience doing the work. Come at it from all angles. There is a future for us where technology supports people to create revolutionary approaches to sustainability, to create beauty and innovation.  But it is going to take sustained effort to challenge the assumption that technology will make us obsolete so that it does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Go, fight, win.

Uncertainty & the business plan

Photo by  Rosie Fraser  on  Unsplash

The first test of our made to measure womenswear production concept, that finished up last fall, was as enlightening as it was brutalizing (read a synapsis here). I had planned to pause with the endless push to make the business piece of the made to measure dream happen. I immersed myself in the task of learning to sew, understanding alterations, and bringing my designs to life with my own two hands. I figured I would take a hiatus from the big thinking business push for a while and just focus on the small stitches, the way different fabric drapes, how reducing the width of the pant leg here affects the garment. I would come back to the rest later.
 
But no sooner was I comfortable easing along this path, getting cozy with the small details of sewing, did I get a note in my inbox replying to a message I had sent 6 months before, from a woman who lives and breaths the work of helping job-creating businesses get off the ground. And her note led to a visit to West Virginia to meet with people who were creating green, creative, forward-thinking jobs in rural places. Which led to more conversations. One with a job-creating venture capital firm.
 
And then two different groups asked for the plan. How do I plan to build this made to measure womenswear sewing house for the line? Thus I was yanked out of the comfort of confining this work to my small efforts to learn a new zipper type, and into the space of the big picture. I learned every lesson from the made to measure iFundWomen testing about what didn’t work and now I was being asked to put to paper what I proposed would work.
 
As I sat down to write the particulars of the executive summary, the old familiar fear came up: How in the heck do you write a plan for something that hasn’t been done before? How do you plan in the midst of such uncertainty?
 
I want to talk about this from the perspective of a perfectionisty woman, who was trained to always have the answers, to always get those answers right and was rewarded for it. Getting it wrong on the other hand, brought your whole sense of worth into question. She is a good student. She is a bad student. She is a smart team member. She is not prepared.
 
And now we stand in a new place where the planet and humanity demands new ways of doing things. The planet and her people need major change to survive and thrive with the gifts we’ve been given. This situation has us wading out into a space where we have to propose things that might not work. We have to cobble together what we know to plan for a new reality. And so I stand with lots of other entrepreneurs and change pioneers, straddling the old ways of needing to have all the answers and get it right while being pushed to make my best effort to propose a plan, knowing that it will change. It is just a draft. (Perhaps this is true of everything in life.)
 
I was extremely thankful when I realized that I had a lot more expertise to draw from than earlier on in this work. I picked up the phone and called a woman who had a made to measure menswear line and worked in larger scale manufacturing. Then I called another woman who is an expert pattern-maker and had a small but innovative made to measure womenswear business. When it feels like progress is achingly slow, it is those moments when you realize how many gifts have come into your life that make you feel so grateful for the months that proceeded it.
 
Nonetheless, in the moments when fear highjacks my hands, I remind myself of the CEOs of Uber and Lyft, Dara Khosrowshahi and Logan Green, working day by day to build their companies, no where near profitable, because they have convinced people that they are the future. There is part of me that thinks: They must know something that we don’t. They must somehow have some magic power to make foolproof plans out of uncertainty, to spend major coin on driverless cars. But we got to bust this thinking where we see it. What they are doing is taking steps, spending money, building their companies in spite of the uncertainty. They make a draft and get some stuff wrong, and other things right, and then make another one. They know the future will be different than the present and they are planning for it with real numbers and cars and people (or robots). They make sure that they build in systems that will help them learn so that they can check their answers and make new educated guesses for the future.
 
There are a tiny number of women that stand next to these CEOs. Part of the equation to bring the world back into balance includes increasing the number of women who stand shoulder to shoulder with these men. One of the things that will help us accomplish this is casting off our old, outdated ideas of only speaking up when we are 100% certain we have the right answer. When you are building your dream, today, tomorrow or next year, check your need to have all the answers or to imagine that they were known by those who have built the world you see today.

A moment to digest the Durham Gas Explosion

Photo by Courtney N. Danser

Photo by Courtney N. Danser

Wednesday morning I was working at my house when I heard what I thought was something crashing into the side of the basement. We came to learn that a building had exploded from a gas leak in downtown Durham, 2.5 miles away. Life as usual and then death. The community of Durham felt it flicker, the fragility of life. The break in our morning work regimes throughout the community with the reminder that our days are precious. They are not guaranteed and the line between life and death is a thin one indeed.

In those moments we think about our loved ones, we try to connect with friends to see how they are doing, we share a moment with a friend in art class when we realize that we sit next to each other with our fear, our feeling of being on edge, our fascination and fear of death. An explosion happens fast, out of nowhere and thus seems to be the hand of death reaching into our humdrum lives and removing people.

In the case of the Durham gas explosion, the owner of the coffee shop died. Fifteen more people were seriously injured. Firefighters and emergency responders put their lives and wellbeing at risk to do a job at the line of life and death to protect community members. We felt the shock waves of the accident and were united in fear, in sorrow, in the gentleness and tenderness when you become aware of how precious life is. 

I for one, forget about the line between life and death and become very comfortable living out my days as if there were many more of them. Quite honestly, I take it for granted that I have tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next month. At 10 am on any given day many of us have dived into work while we see the work day extending in front of us. We are diligently working through todo lists, responding to emails, pushing work towards the send button. And so a blast stops us in our tracks. It wakes us up. It reminds us that our time is not endless.

For me it sounded a reminder of a lesson I learned more than a decade ago in the Peace Corps, but seem to forget again and again. In the small, West African country of Togo where I was based as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was in what could have been a fatal accident. On the freeway, in a dilapidated Toyota passenger van, accompanied by strangers. Front tire blew and the car rolled and lay blocking both direction of the road. I was in the front middle seat with no seat belt available to me. And somehow I crawled out the front windshield while the car was on its side. And miraculously I was fine. Rattled but fine. A passenger broke their arm, but otherwise we were OK.

And it occurred to me then that there are lots of good ways to die. That we remain alive is purposeful. There is an intention behind it. Because when the Spirit world wants us back, it will come get us.

So when we have moments of waking up and realizing that our being here is intentional, not an accident, what do we do with that knowledge? Well for one thing, if we truly hold onto this and feel the truth in it, we can realize that we don’t need to be afraid of death. We don’t have control over it, and it will come for us when it is good and ready. If we don’t need to fear death and our existence is purposeful, then we can freely honor what time has given us. With can live out our precious moments of life and create something beautiful with them.

When you are caught in moments of fear, of uncertainty, and doubting your worth, of feeling lost on your path this week, come back to the certainty of your existence, right now, of the importance of it, of the power in it. That you are here right now is intentional. Can you stay with it? What is possible in the moments that you hold onto that reality? From our small pockets of creativity, or struggle, of beauty and sorrow we can hold onto that thought together and see how it impacts our world around us.   

Go fight win.
 
Love,
 
Reid