I love the fresh start of a new year. There's something about the excesses of the holiday season - from Halloween through New Years, that gives me a craving to simplify, cut back, and reset come January.
It's also the time of year when many of us, myself included, visualize and plan the for the coming year. Over the past week as I've been holed up sick with strep throat I've been bombarded with messages on social media about creating resolutions, setting goals, or starting better habits. It's amazing how many ads and videos I've seen for goal planners, day planners, new morning habits, and systems that will "change my life". And, in some ways this can be a good thing; a fresh start and a new focus can help us reset old habits and focus on new, specific things we want to achieve.
That said, after going down the rabbit hole of watching some of these videos, I felt incredulous rather than inspired.
In one example, I saw someone talk about an "all or nothing" diet and exercise plan for January that left zero flexibility for any deviation from the plan. In another, I watched a "30-day morning routine reset" that realistically would take three to four hours to complete every day. Four hours! While that might be feasible for some people in their current season of life, it's beyond comprehension for me in a season with young children and a lot of commitments to other people, and I think that is true for most people. The concept was wonderful (start every day with an hour of reading - glorious!, then exercise and get ready for the day, make a delicious clean breakfast, take a prayer walk for 15 minutes, work on one big goal for an hour, and on it went), but in execution....I don't think it's realistic for most women to aspire to do this every day. And, you don't need this sort of morning routine to "be your best self" or to "become a better person".
Most of us need simple steps and a little discipline.
Many years ago, I was connected with a mentor who shared his approach to goal-setting that changed the way I thought about life as an adult. I was in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out what to do with myself now that I had checked off the steps on path that I'd envisioned for my life. I'd planned out college, getting a job, and even business school, but not much beyond that and was feeling unsettled.
He helped me set specific and measurable goals in different areas of my life. But, more importantly, he encouraged me to start by writing my own personal mission statement.
Many companies have a mission statement or a purpose statement that explains why they exist or what they are here to achieve. Mine is similar, but it's personal to me. It paints a picture of how I want to live and to serve others in the different capacities in which I interact in my family and society. I go back to this "plumb line" when I set goals so I have a consistent view of where I'm going and who I want to be every day.
As my life has gotten busier over the past decade or so with more responsibilities and many more hats to wear, I've found myself simplifying my goals after making the mistake of expanding them a few years ago. I had so many things that I wanted to accomplish in 2020 and my goals reflected this. While I don't have a copy of the goals anymore, I had set at least three to four goals across seven different categories of goals...so somewhere between 21 and 28 goals for the year. I also had a two year old and a two month old going in to 2020, and no idea that we were about to be hit with a pandemic that would shift all of my plans, in hindsight, for the better.
This year, I am challenging myself to focus on a handful of goals. They are goals that will deliver a big impact on my life and in some cases, they do not require much effort on my end. For example - I set up automatic transfers from the checking to the savings account so we'd hit a savings goal at the end of the year. I've already booked a babysitter for monthly date nights. I have a workplan for every product launch this year that I can now follow step-by-step, even if I only have ten minutes to work on something.
For me, I've found that short, simple goals and disciplined energy spent on a goal every day - even if it's just ten minutes - makes a much bigger impact over the long-term. This may feel small or inconsequential at first, but when you have a clear vision for your life and some organization on how you're going to achieve a goal, you can accomplish amazing things in small amounts of focused time and energy.
It's January 5. If you haven't kept up the new exercise/morning/eating/reading plan you set for yourself four days ago, it's okay. You haven't failed. Take a deep breath, make a realistic plan, and build the discipline to move forward, even if an imperfect start for ten minutes a day. Sometimes, you just have to get started and let momentum take over.Continue reading
During this time of year, I try, with varying degrees of success, to slow down and savor the season. To enjoy the lights adorning homes in our neighborhood, to be grateful for our many blessings and to communicate that gratitude with others, and to give with generosity.
Starting this business has been an honor and a joy. It's stretched and challenged my mind in new ways, it's pushed me out of my comfort zone more than I thought possible, it's shown my children the magic of entrepreneurship, and - most importantly - it's given me an opportunity to meet and build or deepen friendships with so many amazing women. J. Margaret Weaver customers are the best ladies out there - you are kind, gracious, giving of your time, honest with your feedback, and wicked smart. It is such a neat community to be part of and I'm proud to know each of you. Thank you for your continued support, encouragement, and ideas over the past year and a half. It means so much to me.
I wanted to try something a little different this holiday season. As I was going through my closet and packing up suits that are no longer worn (a mix of COVID + two babies), I created a donation pile specific for "Dress for Success" in Kansas City. If you aren't familiar with their organization, Dress for Success provides women in need with free, professional clothing to wear for interviews or for work so they can look and dress the part, which can provide a huge boost of confidence! Typically, women go in to pick out clothes before going straight to a job interview. In my experience, having a great outfit can boost your confidence which is crucial before job interview!
If you'd like to get involved, I've got two options for you:
1. Donate Your Clothing: If you are in the KC area and would like to donate gently-used professional work clothing, I'd love to pick it up and drop it off for you. Simply reply to this email and we'll coordinate a pickup. This option is available through December 24, and as a thank you for donating, you'll receive a $25 J. Margaret Weaver gift card.
2. Donate a Dress: We also have the option to donate some of our bestselling Barbara dresses to Dress for Success. If you'd like to participate, simply contribute using the link below. You can contribute in increments of $25, up to $195 for one dress. As a thank you, I will match every donation dollar-for-dollar so we can double our impact, and you will receive a $25 J. Margaret Weaver gift card. Details on the results of "Donate a Dress" will be shared the week after Christmas.
Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash
What are you going to write next?
This was the last question during an interview for an article about the book I published in 2017. Prior to this, one of my lifetime goals was writing a book. After three years of writing and editing; pausing and restarting; I had not thought about writing anything beyond this book. At that moment, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to never spend another Saturday writing again. I was also six months pregnant with my first child and focused on birthing my real baby instead of another book baby. No. More. Writing.
Compelled for an answer; however, I shared a couple ideas for future books, one of them being about the transition to one’s first leadership role. This phase of my life stands out for me as a particularly painful time. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader and a manager of people is challenging; you have to completely change not only your mindset at work but also the mindset of how other people interact with you. I struggled with this transition for a couple years and only made it through by leaning on mentors and colleagues at work as well as professors and peers in my MBA program, as well as a few good writers and thought leaders for guidance on how to become a good (ideally great) leader, especially at a young age. I'd also be remiss to not mention the grace that many people gave me as I learned to lead.
I’ve thought about this topic off and on over the past few years, debating on the timing to tackle another book (Baby #2 was born almost three years ago, and the idea of starting book baby #2 is even less appealing now than it was two years ago when I write the first version of this article). Instead of diving into another book during this season of life, I decided to start a four-part miniseries to preview the content that I’ve been reflecting on for new leaders. This seems more manageable, it gets the content into the hands of people who are in that season of life, and it opens the door for comments and feedback - both of which I’d love to hear.
As I reflected on all the feedback and learning I had during my transition to a leader and a manager of people, there were four themes that emerged: Character, Credibility, Caring, and Connection. I’ll explore each theme in depth one week at a time; right now, I want to explain what I mean by each and why each is important. Also, I want to clarify that while you do not need to manage people to be a leader, if you are managing people, you should also be a leader. While they are two separate things, both are important. These traits have also been heavy on my mind as habits I have lost sight of between COVID, working from home, having small children, feeling the constant pull of too much to do and never enough time to do it, and a personal lack of intentionality to shift how I live these traits out daily. Virtues rarely surface without a plan or an intent to pursue that path, and I will be the first to admit that I've let these go for a variety of reasons. Consider this my own self-checkup.
Dictionary.com defines character as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. I'd take it further and think about defining it as someone who has integrity, virtue, or perhaps high standards of behavior. As a leader, you must be intentional about defining and exemplifying your character. How do you want people to describe you? Is that the kind of person you would want to follow? Can people predict how you will behave based on your past behavior? The best leaders I’ve worked with have character traits like integrity, transparency, and authenticity. There are many more attributes that make up their character, but these three are fundamental to a healthy leader and team or organization.
Leaders can gain credibility with others when they actively listen to others and take the time to learn how things work, either by doing the work themselves or spending the time to ask questions and gain a deep understanding of the work by the people doing it. This is especially important when a leader wants to institute changes to a team or organization. The idea might be amazing - but if the leader lacks credibility, the implementation will often fail.
Great leaders care about people. Period. That doesn’t mean they are pushovers or avoid tough decisions; sometimes caring about people means making extraordinarily challenging decisions that unfavorably impact some people for the overall good of the organization. During these times, leaders who care about people will execute the decision in a way that shows their humility, conscientiousness, and empathy for others.
Of these four themes, I personally struggled with connection the most. As someone who is competitive and can become laser-focused on finishing the thing in front of me, I tend to focus too much on accomplishing things and not enough on connecting with people. Through feedback from others and by gaining a deeper understanding of myself and my flaws, I have found joy in connecting with people and building relationships with them. One question interview candidates often ask me is what my favorite thing is about my employer, and I always tell them it’s the people. Connecting with people, understanding where they are in life and with work, and finding ways to help make their lives better is part of my “why” and is so important for leaders to practice.
Join me each week as we explore these four themes in depth with stories, examples, and resources to help you wherever you are in your leadership journey. And, as I mentioned, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.Continue reading
To say "mental health" has been a buzzword the past two years may be a understatement. There is so much that could be unpacked within this simple phrase, and probably just as many opinions about how to improve your mental health.
Whether in your professional or personal sphere, I think that most, if not all people would say that talking more about our mental health is a positive. To add flavor to this conversation, I asked Laura Thomas, a psychology instructor with a background in leadership development and counseling, to share some of the themes that she teaches as well as tips on when to seek help, how to better navigate conflict, and how she came back to the workforce after pausing to stay home with her three children. Our conversation is interesting, thought-provoking, and science/research based from a psychology perspective. She also debunks some of the common "pop psychology" that is out there that isn't based in the actual science or research of psychology - who knew?
Recommended Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
StrengthsFinder / Living Your Strengths
About Laura Thomas
Laura Thomas is currently an instructor of Psychology at Central Washington University. She teaches Introduction to Psychology as well as Psychology of Adjustment. She is writing a textbook for her adjustment class this year. Laura was a Career Counselor at Texas State University and Southern Methodist University. She also taught leadership classes as the Assistant Director of the Leadership Center at Texas State University.
Laura was raised all over the world as an army BRAT. The traveling helped create her love for people and learning from others. She married her high school sweetheart and they currently live in Sammamish, Washington with their three children. The family loves to spend their time visiting national parks, camping, hiking, anything outdoors.
She received a Bachelor of Science at Kansas State University with a double major in Life Sciences and Psychology. Her Masters degree was from Texas State University with a focus on Counseling Psychology.Continue reading
Did you know it can take a year or more to go from a croquis or a "quick sketch" of a design to delivering the final production order? While I remember learning about fast fashion giants in business school that consolidate this timeline down into about six weeks (an interesting, though different, business model); small batch, independent designers like J. Margaret Weaver take a different approach.
Right now, I'm toggling between real life where it's Summer 2022 and work life where I'm preparing as far ahead as Fall 2023. Planning so far ahead can be disorienting; while I have to envision timelines and events and demand for Spring and Fall 2023, I'm also reminded that it's still June 2022 when I want to sign a check with the wrong year.
Coming from the healthcare industry, I had no idea how detailed and labor-intensive it was to bring a design to life. That said, the process is always fresh and fun because it brings together creativity, functionality and inspiration with your feedback. For those of you who have completed a design survey or tried on a sample, your commentary has been invaluable toward bringing an initial idea to fruition.
If you're like me and curious how an idea ultimately becomes a piece of clothing in a store, read on or listen on Spotify, Apple, and Anchor. for the 411.
Gather Inspiration: For me, inspiration comes from observing others and asking questions like: What are other women wearing and why? What types of fabric or prints translate best with what they are wearing? What practical needs does our customer have, and how can we meet those in a unique yet pragmatic way? We also send out design surveys with questions about preferred fabrics, fit, and design so that we are making something that you want.
Sketch the Design: Officially called a croquis, the sketch includes a rough draft of the front and back of the design, along with a written description to add clarity for the patternmaker.
Introductory Meeting with Patternmaker: We discuss the sketches, fabric, trim, and purpose of the design. For example, we may talk about how a dress should hang on different body types, how a top will likely be worn under something which informs the fit and fabric, or how we can make pants with as flexible an inseam as possible to allow for minimal alterations.
Tweak 3D Design: Before creating a physical sample, the patternmaker creates a 3D mockup on an avatar. This allows us to tweak the lines of the design without wasting resources on a physical sample - a huge cost and time savings.
Physical Samples: Once the 3D design is finished, we test multiple rounds of samples on a fit model and show them to other women for feedback. Fun fact: the samples are always in white or ivory fabric so fit or design issues are apparent and fixed prior to production.
Create Final Samples: Once the initial sampling process is complete, it's time to give the final "sew by" sample (similar to a "go by" in the business or engineering world) to our atelier to create samples in the production fabric. We evaluate these samples for fit and design as well.
Open Pre-Sale and Wholesale Orders: The most impactful step in bringing you high-quality, ethically-made in the USA clothing at an attainable price is our pre-sale and wholesale ordering step. We open pre-sales for one week to allow our customers to order the exact the colors and sizes they want prior to production. Our wholesale customers (e.g., boutiques) do the same. This allows us to more precisely pinpoint demand and reduce wasted costs from ordering too much of a particular color or making too much in the wrong sizes. The best part is that this translates to better fiscal stewardship for us, and we can pass this benefit along in our pricing.
Start Production: Finally there! Once orders are in, we procure fabric and trim, and coordinate with our atelier in Kansas City to bring everything to life! We also finalize the name of each piece, interview the honoree, coordinate a photoshoot, and start working on sketches and patterns for the next two seasons. Whew!
Ship Orders and Post Webstock: The best step, by far! We pick up the orders downtown from the atelier, pack them, and ship everything out to our amazing customers and stores. This is by far the most surreal step for me as I imagine and anticipate the many memories and events you will experience in your pieces.
I met Lisa Caras when we were both undergrads at Miami of Ohio. We were both in the business school, members of a business fraternity, and were part of a group of close friends. One thing that always stood out about Lisa was her discipline and ability to focus - from the time I met her at 19 or 20 years old, she prioritized the things that matter and focused on preparing herself for the future, even if that meant a Friday night at home studying or going to bed early to be ready for an exam the next day. She's always been mature and wise, and it was edifying for me to sit down with her now, 15 or so years after we met, to dig in to how she's approached her career, education, and life. I think you'll feel the same.
Join me as I sit down with Lisa, now a mom of two young kids, wife, and marketing manager for her family-owned business - Jones Dairy Farm - about being a strategy consultant in the Big Apple, why she decided to go back to business school and how she picked NYU, and how she keeps things going at work, home, and in between. Lisa holds a high degree of excellence and expectations for herself, and she shares advice and experiences she's had that have been instrumental in shaping her along the way.
Listen on Spotify, Apple, and Anchor.
About Lisa Caras:
Lisa Caras is a 7th generation family member at Jones Dairy Farm, a premium breakfast meats company located in Fort Atkinson, WI. She joined the family business in 2017 after working in finance at Intel and consulting at IBM. She holds a BA from Miami University (OH) and an MBA from New York University. Lisa lives in Madison, WI with her husband and two children.
Kansas City, we cannot wait to see you!
What an honor to pop up at Nickel + Suede at their Country Club Plaza location on Saturday, May 21 from 2 - 6 pm. Come and see the refreshed Barbara dress as well as our brand-new Connie top, accessories, paper products, and some fun office essentials. I hope to see you there!Continue reading
When we received a "Name a Design" nomination from Connie for her son Malachi, the words of a proud mom resonated with us. After further contemplation of name options for our latest collection, we decided to secretly reach out to Malachi. Through this, we learned more about the sacrifices his mom had made for him and his desire to recognize his mom. It became clear from our conversation, that we were going to name the shirt Connie to honor the example she's made for her son, and we couldn't be more excited to do so!
As a thank you, Connie will receive a gift of her namesake shirt (she picked the pink floral print - our most popular so far)!
I'll be doing a podcast interview with Connie this summer - stay tuned to hear more of her story and her tips for success in life, work, and motherhood.