Last night, the annual Gather in Kin dinner was held. It's a beautiful evening to bring together people from all different creative ventures, to share our hearts and foster community. I was honored to be able to share with all of the guests a part of our story and our thoughts on success and leadership. Below are the words I shared:
When Joslyn asked me to join the dinner this year and speak on leadership, not sure I should admit this, but I thought “Reallyyy? Did she mean to send this to me?!” My husband and I launched our merino wool children’s apparel business, Chasing Windmills, just over 2 years ago. And basically we still feel very much like an infant- going for it, falling, getting up again. So I do not feel very much like I am leading at anything. But as I thought about it, I realized that we are. It took me a bit to realize this, because I think I was stuck in the mindset that being “a huge success” and “a leader” as the same thing. And that’s what I want to challenge in all of our thinking here tonight.
I worked in the corporate world for 8 years, as an actuary (it’s ok most people have absolutely no idea what that is). I knew I was a leader there. My role as a leader and "success" was very clearly defined and measured for me. To be a fully designated actuary, you have to take 11 grueling exams - basically like studying for the bar 11 times. It takes on average 6-10 years to complete them all, if you ever do. I finished in just over 5 years, and was quickly rewarded with glowing annual reviews, monetary bonuses, promotions, and raises. The checkmarks on my accomplishments accumulated fast and visibly. I had been gifted with great actuarial skills (wish I had been gifted with something cooler ;), but there were plenty of days where I was yearning for something else.
At the peak of my career, I became drawn to photography, and became obsessed with preserving the human connection and emotion of the every day. It’s where I first timidly became connected with other people thirsty for creating and making their own path. While I still do photography, much of my time is actually spent on Chasing Windmills.
It may come as a surprise to you, but Chasing Windmills actually started as my husband JP’s venture and idea. But since he’s colorblind and hasn’t ever figured out how to login into our instagram account :), I’ve slowly become the face of the business (JP is very much here and behind the scenes though, rest assured!). With a world focused on numbers, checkmarks, accumulation, followers - I realized how our thinking habits and society have trained us to see success as a large number, and our worth has some how become defined by these metrics. I do this all the time myself- evaluate other businesses and our own by social media stats, how many packages they’re sending out, etc. In the beginning, I would even view little things like losing followers as a sign that we weren’t doing something right. If a month of sales went down from the previous, I would constantly question if we could ever possibly make it.
I know that starting something from scratch, especially in something that we have no previous background in or knowledge of, takes time. And so, in order to stay committed to the course, I’ve come to realize that I cannot view “success” as we have all been taught to. I cannot be on a constant yo-yo of emotions as we have our ups and downs. Although of course we are a retail business, and ultimately we need to sell our merino products, I’ve been training myself to focus our hearts on the meaning behind this venture of ours.
Yes, we are makers of merino wool children's wear. But our vision does not end there. We will never be content merely to produce a good for consumption. We succeed when we inspire a life of simplicity, intentionality, and appreciation of Mama Nature’s gifts to us. When we capture the adventurous spirit of childhood. When we share the values of the slow fashion movement, resisting the urge of fast production and consumerism.
Before we launched, we wrote a little mission statement, so that we'd always be able to revisit our original intentions, especially on those days when we get hung up on the numbers based definition of success. Which is often ;). So I just thought I'd share a bit of it-
At its core, Chasing Windmills is for those who chase the impossible dream.
For those who embrace idealism in the face of cynicism.
For those who understand that small acts, done with great love, sustain a beautiful world.
For those who feel compelled to live the life they love.
For those who believe that a conscious company must care for, not just its profits, but the lives it touches and the environment it graces.
THIS is where we want to lead. We want to live these values everyday, and our children to live these values. While we have been able to spread our merino goodness to over 25 countries and almost every state in the US, the number of merino garments we’ve sold is not our end, but rather the means by which Chasing Windmills may share its vision and, in turn, inspire its supporters to pursue meaning and happiness in their own lives.
So much of our lives these days is focused on numbers. On getting ahead. On having the “most”. On showing the world how busy we are. Especially since it is so easy these days to compare ourselves to someone else, let us not always get hung up on the definition of success that has always been engrained in us. Remember to focus on what truly makes our hearts content, knowing that our own missions will guide us to where we are meant to be.
In closing, I thought I’d leave us with one quote for all of us to hold tight. Nelson Mandela said the following about leadership: "[A] leader. . . is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all
along they are being directed from behind."
Thanks to so many friends for pouring their love into bringing the table together
Gatherer - Joslyn Griffin, Gather in Kin
Venue - Hotel Teatro
Event Design- Tangerine Room Events
Flowers - Siloh Floral
Photographer- Laura Murray
Rentals- Yonder House
Paper - Brylo Wed
Branding - Andrea Crouse
Music- Bryson Bailey
Other Speakers- Cassie Rosch, Bethany of Flower & Fig
Videography - Vow of the Wild