A blank slate is an intimidating thing. After more than two months of living in our new home (dubbed “the forever house” by our oft-moved children), it is still devoid of personality. All of our past homes were older, with previous owners who left a piece of their style through painted walls or interesting fixtures. Our last house even had constellations of glowing stars throughout the entrance foyer, striped walls in Nate’s room and polka-dot floors in Lilly’s room. It had… personality. In our new house, we are the first owners and after the last eight weeks, I am so sick of builder’s beige that I could scream. But when you need to change everything, where do you start? I have a slew of Pinterest boards with dainty entry-table arrangements and thoughtfully composed coffee-table vignettes. But why bother with the details when there aren’t even curtains on the windows? There are boards full of paint colors (dove grey, silvery sands, pops of fuchsia), but we aren’t supposed to paint for the first year (to allow for patching nail pops as the house settles). I sold or gave away so much furniture and decor in the spirit of starting fresh here, but now everything feels a little too fresh and I’m desperate to put my mark on the space. I want to switch out every light fixture and hang art on every wall. I want to extend the back deck and plant several raised garden beds. I want colors on the walls, soft rugs on the floors, bookcases stuffed with my favorite texts and tables heavy with beloved family snapshots in shiny silver frames. I want to do so much that I froze up and did virtually nothing. Armed with the determination to begin and inspiration boards a-plenty, I’m ready to make our forever house a forever home.
A couple of weeks ago Ryan and I got an email from Etsy, asking if we would be interested in traveling to Washington DC to meet with the US Trade Ambassador and the Department of Commerce to discuss some of the challenges we face as a small business exporting globally. The part of me who still feels like a 12-year-old girl cannot believe I just typed that sentence. (Side note: is it just me or do all adults have a sneaking suspicion that everyone around them is a ‘real’ grown up but they are still pretty much the same person they were in 3rd grade, only with more responsibilities and better clothes?) Anyway, back to our trip. We obviously jumped at the chance, not only because it’s an enormous honor, but because we really have some legitimate issues to bring to the table and knew our voice, no matter how small, could join with others and make an impact.
The weekend before DC, Ryan was competing in the Ragnar relay race in the mountains of West Virginia. We brought the whole family and camped out. We decided not to tell the kids about the charging station at the event and declared it a technology-free weekend. This needs to happen more. I don’t think you have to hike into the woods to do it, though the scenery was a welcome distraction to the beeps and buzzes of our family’s combined devices (three ipads, two televisions, two smart phones, three computers, various Nintendo ds games and a wii). The silence was heavenly.
Then it rained. And rained. And rained. It rained so hard they put the race on hold for a few hours because the trails were getting washed out. We all took cover in the dining tent and still got drenched from the wind pushing the rain under the tent. And we still had a blast:
The rain eventually passed and the race resumed, but the temperature had dropped considerably. So much so that I changed into long yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt for the rest of the weekend. So much so that I didn’t think about how sunny it was, only how cold I felt. So much so that I ended up with a second degree burn on my face. Ugh. When I woke up Monday morning my eyes were swollen nearly shut and my skin looked very, very angry at me. I have worn sunscreen religiously since I was 16 years old. Winter, summer, rain or shine. And the one time I forget to use it I get burned to the point of being unrecognizable a mere THREE DAYS before I am due to speak to the US Trade Ambassador and the Department of Commerce!! Double ugh.
After two days of intense aloe therapy, a hearty antihistamine regimen and considerable peeling, I felt normal enough to venture out of the house without scaring small children and I bee-lined to my favorite salon. Project Emergency Bangs commenced. It was the only way we could think to cover the remaining burns on my forehead, and by the time we set out for DC, I was pink, swollen and now sporting the same bangs I had in kindergarten. They’ve grown on me (no pun intended), and now that the swelling has gone away and the pink has settled into a bit of a tan (which I refuse to enjoy- the only tan I want is from a bottle!), I actually quite like them and think I may keep them around for a while.
I’m not sure how much to say about the meetings themselves, because I know that our Etsy contact Althea is planning to discuss them and don’t want to say anything prematurely. I will say that it was awesome to meet other Etsy shop owners in person and the group they gathered for this trip was amazing. Ambassador Froman couldn’t have been nicer and we could tell he genuinely cared about our concerns and challenges. At the Department of Commerce we saw just how far-reaching our shops are when one of the women we met with realized she owned a state-shaped cutting board from the very seller sitting at the table.
It was a great day and showed us just how much the people at Etsy care about their sellers and how far they’ll go to protect our interests, whether we are a hugely busy shop or a brand new seller shipping their first order to Germany (if a seller like that is reading this- be sure the invoice is on the inside AND the outside of the package!!).
I was thinking yesterday while hammering at the bench. That kind of unfocused train of thought which sometimes results in a burst of creatively or the sudden connection of two seemingly unrelated things.
I remembered third grade. Our teacher was an eccentric woman with large black bouffant hair and purple eye shadow from lid to brow. She wore lots of silver jewelry that jingled as she walked through the classroom and she drank chocolate soda at lunch, which to a third grader was the pure embodiment of everything delicious we weren’t allowed to have (and to my adult self is the epitome of the 1980’s food industry). She was intense, with a sharpness about her that was magnified on days when her migraines set in and she wore a tight band (‘Rambo’-style) around her head all day and winced at us when we spoke.
I remember her for all those things, but mostly for an off-handed comment that she probably doesn’t even remember making. As she handed out tests (licking her thumb and index finger between each one), she would go over the rules. Last name first, first name last, use number-two pencils only, and keep your eyes on your own paper. Most of my childhood test-taking memories involve elaborate attempts at preventing cheating. We would hunch over our papers with an arm covering our work, or use the test to cover each row of penciled in bubbles as we went along. There was even one teacher who would construct tri-fold cardboard on each desktop to keep wandering eyes at bay (and unwittingly allow us to count on our fingers with no shame).
But that day one boy managed to get an eyeful of another boy’s test and a quarrel broke out in the classroom. She didn’t waste any time getting to the bottom of it, in front of the entire class.
“What’s this about?!”
“He looked at my test!” (breathless with outrage).
“Why were you looking at his paper?”
“To get the answer.” His voice barely above a whisper.
She wrinkled her brow in what could have been confusion or disgust.
“But…what if he was wrong???”
That stuck with me. Why assume that someone else knows what they’re doing any more than you do? Like a lot of growing-up lessons, it needed repetition.
Fast forward ten years to my first yoga class. I looked around the room constantly to be sure I was doing it “right”. Eventually I found my rhythm and stopped checking to see if I was touching my toes while everyone else was reaching for the ceiling. No longer fearful of doing it wrong, I became interested in doing it better. I wasn’t aggressive or rude, but I spent the class in a silent peripheral-vision competition with whoever was on the next mat.
I was missing out on the entire point of yoga. There was nothing calming about my practice. No inner growth. Not until a beloved teacher started a class one day with the suggestion that the class “keep your practice on your own mat”.
She explained that we were not there to compare ourselves with anyone else (for better or for worse), or even with ourselves. We should instead aim to listen to our bodies and honor what was within us that day.
Heidi Kristoffer said it best, “It is irrelevant what anyone else is doing. No two bodies are in the same place ever. My body is never in exactly the same place ever. Just because something felt great yesterday does not mean that it will feel great today.”
Again that message stuck with me.
Slowly I broke the comparison habit and started focusing on my own body and my own breath. I learned so much by ignoring not only the other people in the room but even who I was last week. Instead of forcing a pose just because I’d accomplished it before, I eased into my movements, listening to the response from my body that day. And I learned to enjoy the ebbs and flows of my practice. I saw my growth from a further perspective, comparing years of work instead of class-to-class.
This mentality has served me well as a business owner. Instead of poring over the numbers as they climb and fall each day, I ignore the bottom line and do what my creative urge calls for. Then at the end of the month, I step back and look at the overall growth. And during the slower retail months (July, especially in our shop), instead of panic at the decrease in work, I look at the whole picture of the last few years and see the annual pattern. Then it’s clear that July is actually a gift. (A welcome respite before the holiday season!)
We are all the products of our own experiences and life lessons. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to trust our own answers and keep our practice on our own mat. Worry less about what you accomplished last year and focus on what you would like to accomplish today. Maybe last year you could run a marathon and today you can only make it around the block. Do it anyway. A year from now you might have the perspective of looking back on today as the day you re-started your training and set the wheels in motion for something fantastic to reveal itself.
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