What Makes You Uncomfortable?

Last week, within minutes of posting my blog about the “Women’s Choice” Statement Cards, I received an comment about my project. It was from a gentleman I hadn’t heard from in quite some time. We met back in 2011 at a conference that the company we both worked for hosted. He is a great guy, from what I remembered and I was happy to hear from him.

Of course, what he had to say was a not what I wanted to hear, but that comes with the territory when you decide to speak things and of things that no one else is comfortable talking about. I would like to believe that I responded to his email as compassionately as possible. That I wasn’t rude, or mean, or flippant of his views. That was not my intention.

Post launch of my first S2 Awareness Project, I started to wonder why is it so hard to hear things we don’t want to hear. Why do we take this personally? Why do we shun each other or, rather, stop talking about the important things because of our response to criticism or opposing views?

It made me wonder what else are we afraid of talking about? What else makes us uncomfortable? Race is already a given. Abortion equates to going to hell. Politics, I can’t even begin there. Gun violence and control gets the militias on attack.  I know there are countless other topics that are worthy of real, honest conversation, but we aren’t talking about them. So what are they?

A few nights ago on NPR, I was listening to a segment and they mentioned in regards to the topic of racism in education that people need to open dialogue about the real issues behind the problems. To give you more background, they were talking about how in one particularly diverse town, the school system is segregated. You would see White and Black and Latino kids walking around the halls together, but in the class room, all the white kids were in AP/advanced courses and all the regular classes were filled with Black and Latino kids and no one was talking about it. The administrators who could see the problem could not speak out because the parents of the White kids would object. As the writer behind this story kept talking about how the parents in this town need to keep talking, all I could wonder about was how many times have I heard this? We have so much to talk about! When are we going to talk? When are we going to stop worrying about how racist or mean or ugly we seem/sound and speak what we need to speak? How much are we all holding in? What would your truth sound like if you could afford to be vulnerable?

The first part of change is admitting something. So let’s admit to each other, “What makes me uncomfortable…” You can email (saras [at] s2stationery [dot] com) me if you don’t want to leave a comment below. You can tweet me what makes you uncomfortable with the hashtag #Iamuncomfortableabout.

I promise I’m not in this to judge. Nor am I going to make a card for all of our discomforts. Instead, I am going to see how we can break our discomfort and come out on the other side a little bit more victorious. It could be interesting, or disturbing. We’ll see.  I look forward to hearing your truths and discomforts. Let’s build this bridge piece by piece.


Disruptive Ideas + Social Responsible Business

This may seem a bit premature, since my favorite articles of February is due out soon, but the two articles below really struck a chord a few weeks ago when I read them. They relate to social good, which is an important thing to me when it comes to business.

I suppose I should share why I feel social responsibility is important. It stems from having a wide variety of jobs in non-profit and for-profit organizations. My first job was for a smallish for-profit. My next two jobs were with non-profits, both heavy in education, but one for the arts and the other for cancer prevention and nutrition. And my last/current job is for a large corporation. Names will be left out, but what each of these jobs has taught me is that it’s not just about the money, regardless if that’s what the company cares about most. What matters most is that businesses engage in healthy business practices in order to create trust with their customers, continue to stay relevant and in business and finally to make money.

A lot of the time, people will hear about the shareholders of a company and how it’s the company’s responsibility to keep the shareholders happy, i.e., make them money. And while that is the case because they do have an interest in the company, they are not the only shareholder.  Think about it this way…if a company makes money off of the earth, their greatest shareholder is the EARTH. They owe it to the source of their income to be fair and to be respectful. This makes complete and total sense to me.  In many cases, the real shareholder is not the top priority and that’s when companies end up in trouble with their other shareholders…their clients.

When a client buys into a brand, a client is trusting that brand. They’re trusting that they aren’t being deceived, or lied to. In the past couple of years, a lot of information has come out showing that brands that I’ve trusted and known my entire 30 years have duped me. They’ve duped me in ways that can be detrimental to me and my health, not to mention the health of the future. In the past two years, I’ve stopped shopping at traditional grocery stores because I can’t trust “regular” brands. I’ve also stopped using many over-the-counter bath products in favor for aluminum-free deodorants, fragrance and phosphate free shampoos, soaps, mousse, creams, etc. My concern is my health. And the fact that these companies choose to overlook the greater health of their clients for the sake of their “stakeholders” and money.

Now this post isn’t to be a rant, or to try to convince you that my way of living is the right and only way because it’s not. My way is only good for my way, but when it comes down to business and how I want to conduct MY business, it’s important to me that I adhere to my personal values and my business practices must reflect that.  It’s also one of the reasons why I’ve become loyal to brands that actually make a difference, or in rooted in practices that help make a difference.

For example, my first article is actually a blog posting by the creator/owner, Blake Mycoskie, of the shoe company TOMS. If you don’t know about TOMS, well now you’re about to find out…I first heard about TOMS thanks to a coworker who had a pair on. I complimented her and all she said was, “they’re expensive.” So I got curious. That curiosity led me to the TOMS website and then the purchase of my first pair and then the subsequent noticing of everyone in the LES of NYC wearing the brand.  Now, normally, I would be against being part of a movement, or rather owning the same thing that so many other people own. I like being a bit unique (okay, maybe a lot unique), but either way, wearing my pair of TOMS, I experience the same feeling I get when I go to a concert…the awareness that we’re all connected for a brief moment/period in a love of something. TOMS is ALL about the love of a greater good. That greater good being humanity.

The concept of TOMS is simple…you buy a pair of shoes and a poor child in a third-world country gets a pair of shoes. With your $60 pair of shoes, you are giving a child the opportunity to be disease free. Every time I put on my gold sparkly TOMS shoes, I know that a child has a pair of shoes in another part of the world and that makes me feel like I’m doing something good, not just being your average American over-consuming person buying another pair of shoes.

What really struck me about this blog posting is that I completely understand what he’s talking about as a socially aware entrepreneur. My two favorite sentences are, ” What I love about being an entrepreneur are the beginnings of things. I love the act of creating, of figuring things out, and of turning nothing into something.” and “And all the while, we were figuring things out… always asking questions and challenging ourselves to think of a better way.”

Days when I think about not having a business plan, I go back to those two sentences. Sometimes it’s about figuring things out and not always about planning things out.  And so Blake Mycoskie’s posting, “Finding Joy and Inspiration in Ethiopia,” really struck home in more ways than I thought possible. Which is why I’m sharing this now, early, today. I think every budding entrepreneur should read this and hopefully will feel as inspired and ready to do something as I did/do.

The second article, “How To: Develop Ideas That Will Disrupt Your Industry” comes from Mashable.com. Another favorite website of mine. It’s an article that connects to this posting in the way of doing something different to upset your “industry.” In my case, it would be cards/invitations/personalized stationery. So what can I do different to set the industry spin? Of course I’m still thinking about this article, but when I think about it in conjunction to TOMS, I conjure thoughts of a large-scale. I mean, how disruptive is TOMS to the shoe industry? I think very. Some may not agree, but I think they may just be in denial.

This article is a must read because I often times think that people create a business without always thinking outside the box. I’ll take myself for example. I make cards and invitations and personalized stationery. I don’t know that there’s anything innovative about this industry. If anything, the more designers that graduate, the more saturated the industry becomes with cards that are luke-warm funny and warming.

My take, and I’m still building on this, is that I’m out to take cards back to a place where they’re not so heavy on dripping sentiment or witty one-liners/phrases and curse words. They are to focus on YOU, the writer and communicator. Again, not too far-fetched, but this allows me to build on design strategies that are different and unique. And it allows the buyer to think differently about how and what they are willing to purchase to share their feelings.  This article helps to ignite my passion in another direction, in a way, where I need to think outside the box, be creative, and set the industry on its tail. Wish me luck! I’m wishing you luck, too, if you’re out to make a positive change and set the world on fire.

So read both articles, carefully and as many times as you must to let it sink in and inspire you.  The rest of the articles will be out by next Monday.