September 06, 2020 7 min read

While transitioning into a new 1500 sq ft headquarters, slowly being built out in my adopted hometown of Burlington, VT, I replaced this extremely heavy vintage sliding door, circa the early 1900s, with more accessible glass doors. This old door was destined for some dark storage space or worse, until I recognized how it could be transformed. I adapted it into a super cool “window wall” of sorts, opening up the heart of our newly established in house production facility to the outside world.

It got me thinking about the walls we routinely encounter in our lives, and how we can find ways to break through. How do we go about transforming our walls… into space for new windows?

With the lines between work and home now blurred that much more amidst the uncertain new backdrop of this pandemic, the syndromes of fear and overworking (and other numbing tactics) have become even more prevalent for us all. Throughout my 20-year tenure in t-shirts, one of my biggest walls has been centered on cultivating a work/life balance that allows for the sustainable growth of my business within a calm, uplifted state of being. 

As my good friend Brando Rich, founder of cashortrade.org succinctly summed up, “If you can’t enjoy it, what’s the point?” So how do we keep up with all these core life obligations, while making more consistent time for the things we love? How do we work less and live more? How do we infuse more love into our labor?

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The answer I continually return to is… awareness and attunement. By acknowledging where and how these walls show up in our lives, we begin to recognize where and how new windows can be carved for light to filter through.

As the saying goes, “The first step towards any change is acknowledging the problem.” To take this further, by enhancing our awareness we make more space to attune to the calling of our heart, and in so doing align more effortlessly with our most purposeful path forward. Subtle work indeed, but often the most profound transformations in our thinking result from the most subtle shifts in perspective.

 

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Ironically, the cultivation of new awareness to see our way through these walls, requires boundaries to be built. Boundaries that protect our time for self-care (i.e. saying "no" to someone else is saying "yes" to yourself), along with the discipline of daily practices in service of our nourishment and awareness. Fence building and carefully crafted structure in our lives empowers us to take on greater challenges with less effort, ultimately affording us more freedom.

For me, I had to establish a blueprint for seeing through my longest standing wall, the misconception that scaling up the size of my business inherently implied scaling down the time I’d have available to do the things I love.

After a lifetime of being let down in one way or another by those closest to me, along with the lingering trauma of burnout from overworking in a less than supportive environment in the past (prior to my Hurricane Sandy awakening of sorts, a whole other story), I had no way of trusting that expansion could... or would be any different this time around.

So why did I still feel so paralyzed to take action towards truly changing my approach?

What I failed to realize then is that by avoiding the risks of growing my business (or changing) out of this fear of potential overwhelm, I was leaving that much more work for myself. In this way, by sticking with the status quo, I was actually holding myself back… not only from the things I love, but also from materializing my full potential.

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Now that I’ve seen my way through to the other side, I understand how trauma from past experiences, and the lack of worth and fear I subconsciously associated with this new path forward, kept me clawing at the wall of perpetual overwhelm  more than the actual work itself. I guess JFK had it right, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Having the courage, faith, and fortitude to face our fears is the only way for tangible change to be materialized and new awareness to be integrated into our underlying approach.

Beyond unraveling deeply ingrained fear and trauma, there is a Goldilocks scenario at play in any new endeavor to which we aspire. There is a sweet spot, that’s not too cold or too hot, too small or too big, for incremental, sustainable progress to be built upon a foundation of patience, self-care, and mutual support in service of our dreams. I just hadn’t acquired the tools as of yet, logistically, emotionally, or psychologically (buzzword: emotional intelligence) to set the stage for enjoying an evolution that’s “just right.”

I also had to learn the hard way how my slowly rehabilitated philosophy of sustainable growth, or "just-right-ness," runs counter to the credo that most entrepreneurs unknowingly live by, not to mention the underpinnings of our capitalist society.

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This overdoing, overcompensating, over-consuming mentality of external striving hijacks our inner systems, misleading us into taking bigger steps before their time is due, and often sinking the ship on our dreams before we’ve truly learned to sail.

Case in point, take my starter boat. A 1967 Sunfish in retro yellow and orange which I’ve dubbed “Puff Pastry” after binge-ing too much of “The Great British Baking Show” (highly recommended) around the time of purchase (and the double entendre of her golden yellow hue and the wind puffing at my sails of course… as a t-shirt guy, you know my penchant for double entendre).

I bought her from the original owner, who at age 16, sailed her back and forth on her little lake, waiting for her future husband of 50 years to show up for their first date, because he was an hour and half late due to a bee-keeping emergency (only in Vermont:), and her Mom told her she had to be doing something when he finally did show up besides waiting for him. (A lot of lessons in that anecdote.)

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I’ve dreamed about sailing away my whole life. The dream of “escaping my reality” fueled much of my over-exerting at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I could have rushed out and bought my dream boat out of the gates. I could have run off chasing (and flaunting) this misalignment of “living the dream” with a margarita in hand and my feet in the sand.

But I’ve come to recognize that slow incremental steps in pursuit of our dreams, are truly what satiate our deeper sense of longing. The emptiness we feel inside cannot be filled up by anything outside of us. It stems from within and the filling up process materializes on its own time for each of us through patience, persistence, and faith.

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This is not say that “biting off more than we can chew,” as Alanis Morrissette so passionately expounds in her classic tune “You Learn,” does not have it’s place. But smaller bites allow us to prolong the enjoyment of the meal, while the risk of choking dramatically goes down.

With our new Headquarters situated around the corner from the wonders of Lake Champlain, I not only now have a show piece for our soon to be re-opened Sneaky Boutique, to be hung from a cool boat hoist being installed across the ceiling, I can also be sailing in 10 minutes or less, whenever I so desire, and the winds and weather agree.

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All without taking on the other risks and costs involved in big boat ownership. My time will come for that, but my point is, I’ve come to learn there’s a lot more to be lost than gained when things are forced into place before the time is right.

Moderation is more likely to lead to sustainable change and a "glamorous" well-being, than “going big or going home” ever will be.

“Success” in our modern-day society has somehow become predicated entirely on growth, extremes, and superficial snapshots surrendered to an endless news feed. While health and well-being, both of ourselves and our planet, are sacrificed in the name of “progress.” It started with societal shifts during the Industrial Revolution and has compounded on overload ever since, reaching ludicrous speed with the advent of modern technology.

The insidious nature of this all too common misconception, that growth at all costs is the only answer and external possessions will somehow satiate our emptiness inside, hides within our overworked "everything-now" delusion.

But I digress. I felt inclined to clarify the pitfalls of this sociopathic growth-at-any-cost syndrome, less you intrepid readers (who've made it this far in the post) misconstrue this tale about business growth as an endorsement for that short sighted approach. Back to the story of sustainable growth and facing my fear.

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In the beginning, this dramatic shift in my approach did require a great deal more effort and time devoted to work - my biggest materialized . However, what I didn’t realize prior to this change, was that by leaning into the fear of this more difficult path and bringing all of my production and operations in house, I’ve slowly been afforded more freedom and space for balance than ever before.

Taking on this added responsibility, has forced me to learn how to build a supportive team and work culture, allowing me to dictate all touch points of the Solid Threads brand experience for my valued customers, collaborate more fluidly with inspiring cohorts, deliver higher quality products and services in a more eco-friendly way, and ultimately, concentrate on more creative components of my work - all the while evolving my overall story in a more purposeful, uplifting, and steady manner.

It hasn’t been a direct path forward, with repeated side steps, retreats, and re-evaluations required throughout this transition, but a new path forward has become clear.

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It wasn’t until I faced this fear, and slowly took action towards rewiring these deeply ingrained misperceptions, re-writing my story on my own terms, that new windows slowly started to appear.

The actual practices I’ve enacted towards implementing more awareness for the balanced growth of my business, amidst a steadier state of being, are daily and never-ending. This is a whole other article at the very least and I look forward to sharing more about these actual tools in the future, so sign up for my newsletter below if you have interest in learning more.

What  fears and misconceptions are holding you back? What small actions can you take in your daily routine to make more room for your deepest desires, lying in wait beyond your highest walls?

It takes a lot of labor, love, faith, and resilience to make windows from our most painful, harrowing walls. But I have come to believe the potential for new light breaking through becomes much stronger with our backs against the wall, than when things are moving along swimmingly, or so it seems. Go forth and make windows!

Entrepreneurship is the art of materializing resilience into Creative form


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