I have graduations on the brain. My youngest son, Paul, the last to leave the nest, is graduating from Hebron Academy here in Maine in just about a month. In August he will be off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York to study physics and embark on his adult life.
A couple of days ago, Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 posted on their Facebook page that they had been chosen to speak at a university commencement ceremony, and posed to their FB community the following question: what would you tell a university graduating class? The response I gave was different than the one I’ll end with here, but this one is still at the heart of it. But first, some context…
Jen and I have been doing a lot of thinking, consulting mentors, and strategizing about the future direction of Parris House Wool Works. This is just what small business owners do. It’s a bit like sailing; as you learn both your boat and your waterway better, and the purpose of your voyage becomes clearer, navigational adjustments must be made. What you can’t control is the wind. The wind is going to work with you or against you as you make your way, and it’s best to pay pretty close attention to which way it’s blowing, and work with it.
You may be thinking that I’m going to say that the wind represents our externals – customers, competitors, suppliers, the overall health of the economy, the size of our market – that sort of thing. But I’m not. Equally beyond our control is something internal and inherent: our passions. What is it we love? What is it we would do even if we weren’t being paid? What gives us energy instead of draining us at the end of the day? Speaking for myself, and I suspect for a lot of people, I can’t control that. When I really love doing something, I could eat, sleep, and breathe it, and there’s no way around that. It’s beyond liking it. It’s beyond mild or even moderate interest. It actually feels as though it’s who I am and if I’m not engaged in it in a significant way in my life, I’m not going to feel whole.
Clearly, fiber art is a passion for me. Hooking is my primary outlet for that passion, probably because it intersects so nicely with other passions I have: New England history, Maine heritage crafts (Waldoboro style was invented here), historical craft and home activities, color (glorious color!), nature, wool, I could go on. I am learning, though, that all things fiber are exciting for me. I love the feel of yarn between my fingers as I knit, the free and color rich process of (newly learned for me) applique, the satisfying evolution of a braid rug as I lace the coils one to another. I love the anticipation I feel as wet wool fabric hits the dye bath and becomes a color that minutes before was present only in my imagination. I love watching a new student discover with awe and delight that YES she IS a creative person and that this creativity is limitless in the context of wool, linen, and her own capacity to bring her project into being.
There’s no help for this. It just is. So while Jen and I work out the details of our journey as fiber art entrepreneurs, one abiding truth is clear: I can’t not do this. Maybe the reason this is so clear to me is because I have done quite a few other things for a living. I’ve been a market research analyst, a procurement coordinator in the aerospace industry, a financial analyst (that was the worst), a family daycare provider (my own business), and, for a decade, a real estate broker. I’ve sold Avon, Longaberger, and quite a good number of houses. Real estate sales had elements of a passion, but ultimately it still felt like a job and after a decade I hit the wall with it…hard.
When I started Parris House Wool Works in 2011, fresh from my latest reminder of mortality after my mother’s death, I never considered the possibility of failure. I still don’t. I am working harder than I ever have in any other career, more hours, more mental and creative exertion, more investment of heart. The difference is I’m sailing before the wind. I am reminded of this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” It was by this philosophy that my husband and I raised our four sons, telling them to find their passions. Now we have a historian, an ecologist/wildlife biologist, an electrical engineer, and a budding physicist in the family. Had we tried to impose our own passions and interests on them, we could not have hoped for such wonderful variety. They set their sails according to their own breezes and gusts.
So to get back to where I began, what would I tell young graduating seniors? Well, what I said the other day in response to Josh and Brent’s Facebook post was that these students are of such a promising generation, so genuine, so accepting, so hard working, that they absolutely must stay true to themselves and to their values, even if others are inclined to quash them. A big part of that is always following that thing that makes you come alive, the things you live for, your passions. It’s about trimming the sails to that wind that simply is and enjoying the voyage.
This advice is not just for our young people. It’s for all of us. Get out there and do what you love. Sail on. – Beth