Below is a rambling of thoughts – this does not relate to food. It’s just reflections on this past week that I needed to write down. Read it at your own risk.
Friday is the third birthday of my business.
January 18th, 2010, I woke up for the first time since I was 16 years old knowing that the only person who was going to boss me around and give me a paycheque was me.
It was the most exhilarating feeling of my life. And the most terrifying. I can still remember it like it was yesterday.
I’m not big on birthdays. I made note of Fine Lime’s first birthday. Mostly because I was thankful it, and I, were still standing.
I forgot the second birthday completely.
But the third birthday… this one I’ve been anxiously anticipating for a couple of months. This is the F-U birthday.
That’s right. This is the one for all the people who told me how most businesses fail in the first three years. This is for the ones who rolled their eyes. Or who didn’t get it. Or who would say in patronizing tones “how’s your little business doing?” like it was a hobby or a phase. Or those who thought it was foolish to give up extended medical and “job security”. There were a lot of them. Surprisingly. To me anyway.
The whole thing could collapse on Saturday but I made it to 3 years. I did it. So there. Do I sound bitter? I’m not. More like… the last three years are a testament to what you can do if you shut up, work ridiculously hard, quit whining about all the reasons you can’t and instead… make the path you want.
If anything, all those doubters gave me as much drive as all the supporters did. I hate it when people tell me I can’t do something – I have a former boyfriend who was very crafty at getting me to do things I normally wouldn’t by simply employing the “yeah, you’re right, you probably couldn’t do it…” technique.
I guess I’m lucky. I grew up with parents who instilled the “finish what you start” values in me along with the “you’re smart enough to do whatever you want” and the “we expect more from you than this” lessons. Neither of them blinked an eye when I said I was quitting my well paying job to make things look pretty. It was like they’d been waiting for me to figure it out on my own that this was what I was supposed to be doing. My brother said “it’s about time.”
But I remember the doubters. Every single one of them. I remember one senior executive who pulled me into his office to discuss my resignation. Was I sure about this? Had I thought it out? And finally, what did my boyfriend think about this?
The last one stopped me cold. A million thoughts went through my head. Mostly – what was he talking about? I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time. And so what if I did? Did I need his approval to follow my dream? Would I even be involved with somebody who didn’t understand this about me? I laughed it off but it stuck with me and I was a little insulted.
Oddly enough most of the doubters were women. I found this odd, given how many small businesses are owned and operated by women. And yet, there was this huge resistance. How would I manage? There wouldn’t be a second income to help me out if I faltered. Nobody with extended health benefits to lean on.
All I can say is… come on ladies! We’re not helpless! We’re tough and smart and strong. Stop thinking you can’t do it on your own.
This has been bothering me all week – the closer I get to this anniversary, the more I seem to be seeing things around me that upset me.
Yesterday, in Starbucks, a young woman with her baby and an older woman, who I assumed was her mother, sat down next to me. The young mum was pretty, pulled together and with the obligatory stroller the size of a tank with the Coach bag hanging from the handle. She looked like a million other young moms. Hair in a careless but very stylish ponytail, leggings, boots and big sunglasses on her head. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.
The discussion? Whether or not to have a third child. She had two girls – what if she had a third? She’d really like a little boy. Not that three girls wouldn’t be awesome but little boys are so cute. And think of the expense of three girls!
“Think of the shopping they’d want to do!” she said, “not to mention dance classes, grad dresses and parties and weddings!!”
I waited. I waited for the mention of university, or college, or any kind of post-secondary education. Or soccer. Or guitar lessons. Or her opening up a fashion boutique or being a doctor.
“oh yes, the weddings,” replied her mom.
My head wanted to hit the table.
Is this what we expect of girls before they even reach a year old? That they will only want to shop, obsess over grad dresses and limos and finding the right person so they can have a wedding? Not a marriage… but a wedding. So they can be princesses?
I fumed silently for a few minutes and went back to my work.
A few minutes later a gaggle of women came in – obviously part of a running group. These groups are ubiquitous in Vancouver. You see them everywhere – especially on weekends. Little packs of runners gabbing away. And afterwards they hit up Starbucks. Good luck getting a seat on a Saturday morning when they congregate en masse and pull all the tables together and hold court. They look like they’ve all been cloned. Women with perfect ponytails under ball caps with full makeup. Lululemon running pants and jackets. Big sunglasses resting on their hats (you’d never guess this was one of N. America’s rainiest cities based on all the sunglasses that are worn during winter). You really can’t tell them apart.
The noise was deafening. The conversations were empty. Shopping. Spas. A new hairdresser. An engagement party. Gossip. “did you hear what she said to him?” “no? really? she said that” “well you know, she’s always had it in for me” My skin was starting to crawl. Did they even sweat on their run? When I’m done running, I’m a hot mess. Literally. It’s not pretty! Sitting in Starbucks afterwards is really not something other patrons want to see.
And then I saw a photo on my twitter stream. A photo posted by local running group. Of a group of pretty young women in their running gear – the caption said “now to find them all men…”
I snapped. I cannot tell you how angry that made me. So angry I slammed my notebook and iPad into my purse, got up and left. Got into my car and drove home fuming.
Really?? Really world?? Is this how it is? A group of strong, athletic attractive women in a photo and the only thing we can say… that a RUNNING GROUP can say… is “now to find them all men”? Is that the only reason they’re there? To find a man? Is that the only possible reason? Are women so incapable of being a whole, fully formed, interesting human being if there is no man there complete them? We have to put their picture up on-line and say, aww, aren’t they cute? if only they had boyfriends.
It couldn’t possibly be that they’re there because they want to be fit, to be strong and healthy, to have faith in their bodies, to know that they can push themselves and their limits and knowing they are strong enough to respond – on their own?
Maybe they are there to find a man – that’s not my business. But for a running group to imply that this is why you should come running?
I was so angry by the time I got home I dumped my gear on my desk and went and put on my running gear. I left the dog at home. I put on my angry music playlist and I ran. I ran further than I have in months, faster than I have in months.
I ran until I was exhausted, my legs were jello. I ran until the shadows were long. I ran until I thought I might throw up. I ran until my thoughts were no longer a jumble, until the anger stopped spiking. In short, I felt awesome. Exhilarated even. THAT is why I run. For that feeling.
And while I ran with Social Distortion in the background, I thought. I thought about all of us women. About why we perpetuate these stereotypes.
Do you remember the movie What Women Want? Where Mel Gibson can hear women’s thoughts? It’s a funny movie right?
But you know what I remember? I remember Helen Hunt making the presentation to Nike on how to market to the female runner. It’s an image of a woman – it’s early, it’s just her. Her and the trail. It’s her time. The only thing she is competing with is the road. The only company she has is the trail. There are no thoughts of work or kids or home. There is no gaggle of female runners with her nattering away. She is one with herself and her body. She is strong. She can do this.
THAT was a marketing campaign that spoke to me (and it wasn’t even a real campaign!). THAT is what I wanted to identify with. Strength. Forging my own path. Solitude. Time to think. Time to focus. Time to be aware of my body and what it can do, how it feels, and when it thinks it’s had enough but I can make it go further. I can’t do that with all these people around me nattering.
Why are women so afraid of being alone? Of being strong? And even more so… forging our own path?
Why can’t a woman have an interest in something because she finds it interesting? Why does the implication have to be that if it’s not shopping or going to the spa or getting her nails done that she must be doing it to find a man?
Why do we think it’s scary to be different? We’re not 16 anymore. Life isn’t high school. Different is good in real life. Different is what makes the world interesting. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do YOUR own thing. You be the one that everyone copies.
I used to be a closet fan of The Real Housewife shows. I’ve stopped watching. I got tired of watching groups of women catfight. Over ridiculously small things. You know what? You CAN put a strong group of women in a room and have them get along – and accomplish pretty awesome things in the process.
We don’t need to sell ourselves short and underachieve because it maintains the status quo. I can’t stand helpless women. Especially when I know they’re not helpless. Suck it up, stand on your feet and figure out whatever it is that has you stumped. If you need help ask – but don’t expect somebody to do it for you.
The same ex-boyfriend who would cajole me in to doing thing by telling me I probably wasn’t able to do them (he still happens to be a very good friend by the way) once said to me that sometimes he felt like I didn’t need him because I was too capable. “Don’t be ridiculous”, I said. “No… I don’t need you to open jars for me, or tell me what car to buy or how to handle my money. What I DO need is for you to let me make my own mistakes and when I fall flat on my face, I need you to take my hand, help me up, dust me off and push me back out there when I’m ready to try again with faith that I can do it. THAT is what I need. And it’s way more important than you opening a jar for me.” He got it.
And it got me thinking about some of the amazing women I am proud to call my friends.
I think of my best friend, off in Toronto this week judging at the national figure skating championships. I think of her running her own businesses, of her raising two remarkable girls who are pretty tough cookies in their own right.
I think about Blondie, teaching and running a university program, writing a textbook, speaking at conferences across N. America in her field, working on post-grad studies and wrangling a husband, two kids and a puppy at the same time.
I think about the divine Ms N and lovely Louisa, both figuring out how to juggle businesses, creativity, careers and first babies.
I think about my business partner Mardi and her endless energy teaching small children, running a kids cooking club, writing a food blog, teaching macaron classes and working with me and Ethan to run our business and put on a conference.
And I think about my mom, who somehow managed to be a physician, cook everything from scratch and raise two kids with us hardly ever having to see daycare.
I think about how they all embrace doing their own thing and forging their own paths. How they’re not afraid to screw up and when they do, they keep going. I think of the conversations I have with them. YES… sometimes we talk about shopping, or clothes or spas or boys. But mostly we don’t. Mostly we talk about creative projects, our work, running businesses, our plans to see the world, kids, dogs, politics, family, ideas.
All of them but one have daughters. And I know those daughters have much more expected of them than weddings and shopping and grad parties. Those young ladies have wonderful role models to look up to. They won’t be afraid to be different. There will be no cloned sheep here.
And you know what? These women I’m proud to call my friends? They all run alone.
Happy Birthday Fine Lime. You are the hardest thing I have ever done. You have seen me through the toughest three years of my life.
I went my own way. I ran alone. Just me and the pavement. And I’m still standing. Hell ya!