BETWEEN THE LINES | PERSPECTIVE

March 28, 2020

Here we are, new day, slightly different view (it’s the weekend, cue the 20 ft. shift from the office to the studio) and rapidly evolving world statistics that change by the hour.  There’s nothing like a week of alone time in the ‘home office’ to trigger a metaphorical drive down the mental super highway at breakneck speed towards introspective reflection. Given we’re all finding ourselves confined to the four walls of #wfh environments these days, I anticipate many reading this might feel the same. This post has a decidedly different flavor from those shared previously on Around the Pound – more personal (notice a switch to ‘I’ instead of ‘we’), no fancy layout or pretty picture collage, and yet, I hope equally inspiring (maybe even more so) as any other morsel of content crafted here over the past 8 years. In case it wasn’t obvious from the frequent flatline of postings over the years, I’ll let you in on a little secret, The Gilded Lobster isn’t my main gig. Shocked? That means I’ve done a really good job of keeping things buttoned up over here, as a very private individual and introvert, it’s what we do best. For purposes of this quite personal post, here’s the abridged back story to provide context of what I’m really here to share today.

I launched TGL in 2012, like one’s go-to accessory, in complement to a full-time career in the fashion industry. A side hustle if ever there was one, TGL offered a much-needed escape opportunity to extend knowledge and experience beyond my 9-5 (if anyone has worked in fashion, you know those hours are irrelevant, but stick with me for purposes of story-telling). Before hours, after hours, on weekends (any free moment, really), at TGL I was working with a small group of clients providing consulting services in creative direction, brand positioning, sourcing, product development, etc., all while maintaining a demanding day job inclusive of a daily five hour (yes, you read that correctly) five hour roundtrip commute to Manhattan from our home in New England. I finally acknowledged life was passing me by faster than the scenery outside my train window, and quite honestly, I was exhausted. In 2014, the captain and I purchased our Gilded Getaway House in Newport. Meant to provide solace from the hustle + bustle of weekday life, we were left clamoring to spend as much time on its sandy beaches and rocky cliffs as our so-called primary life would allow. It was A LOT. In 2015, I made the difficult decision to shutter the business operations of TGL, while keeping the platform you know here as a canvas to continue sharing what inspired me personally as a designer. In tandem, I accepted it was finally time to explore professional opportunities closer to home, a scary venture given I’d be hedging a well-established career in an industry known not to have too many wide-reaching options outside the mecca of Manhattan, at least, not without making major life changes we weren’t ready to explore just yet.

Pre-virus (is that what this will come down to, another defining pre- and post-era in our history books?), I was recently asked to share one of the times I was most challenged as a leader (clearly the universe was somehow preparing me). No pause needed, flash-back five years (hence the back story). I was in pursuit of a career change to be closer to home, polishing up the portfolio, refining the resume and aggressively pursuing leads. Setting: Memorial Day, 2015. Sitting in a Florida airport waiting for a return flight home to New England after a long-weekend getaway, an unknown number rang my cell. It was the boyfriend of one of my team Creative Directors. There had been an accident, (in respect of privacy, won’t share too many details) resulting in paralysis. I don’t remember the flight home or if I even slept that night. However, what I remember as distinctly as yesterday were the weeks that followed. The next morning I was tasked with sharing the news with her team of direct reports – a group of ~ten, young, earnest female designers and product developers finding their way in a dog-eat-dog design world. Tears and quiet silence, followed by questions about what would happen next – lots of them. Next, the broader design department, 45 strong. Then the sales team, the production department – the story repeated within our small-ish company until I had recapped everything I knew 10x over in our office overlooking the bustle of Broadway in the heart of Herald Square. When it was over, I went into my office, closed the door and bawled.

Little did her direct team (or anyone at the company for that matter) know, behind the scenes I was already well into an external interview process that if things went according to the plan I hoped for, would likely remove me, the ‘boss’ boss’ from their world as well. I had hired nearly all of her team personally, traveled with many of them to lands near and far and taught them everything I knew about design and the industry. For the two months that followed, I did everything within me to be the best leader I knew how to be, a source of unwavering strength and poise, while channeling whatever iota of creativity and design DNA I could muster, maintaining timelines (which in fashion, are unforgiveable), answering to client accounts and providing empathy to a team that was starting to accept the sad reality – their boss, but more importantly, colleague, friend and mentor, would likely never return to the office.  In the end, I was offered and accepted the position I was pursuing, and in a conversation equally as difficult as the one that post-Memorial Day Tuesday, shared with the same team that I would be leaving my creative post after more than eight years with the company. Deep down I knew it a decision in pursuit of a well-balanced life, and yet, felt in prioritization of myself, I had in some manner betrayed each of them personally; the individual they were counting on to lead them through this difficult time would soon also be gone. My final day in the office, after a surprise farewell party, I retreated to my office, closed the door one last time and bawled (again).

In the wake of our current state of affairs, it seems there are articles on every professional platform, headlines like ‘Leading in Times of Trauma’ to ‘How to Lead in a Crisis’ flooding the inbox. The truth is, while providing a good point of reference, these articles can never really prepare you fully for how you, or your teams, will react. In the past two weeks, I was transported emotionally to that period five years ago. Thankfully, not due to someone being sick or critically injured on my team, but because in the blink of an eye, people were tasked to process the unprecedented and turned like clockwork to those in leadership roles, myself included, for guidance. Within days, I found myself in an empty office, buttoning up details for the coming weeks while the team was settling in at home for what appears to be a long haul. In quiet solitude, I reverted to this story I’d tucked away to leverage when a call-to-action arose.

As leaders, we each take on this role differently – some rise to the occasion in times of hardship, while others, unfortunately for those they lead, fall short. Their teams will be hard-pressed to forget (and maybe even forgive) how their leaders acted (or didn’t), or what was said (or wasn’t). For leaders in ‘creative’ positions, the expectations often feel higher. In the midst of chaos, we bare the weight of not only acting as a beacon of guiding light to those around us, but are called upon to continue serving as a source of inspiration, tasked with developing ideas and design thinking that will carry the team to the other side. It is this creativity, the heart and soul of what drives us to get out of bed every morning, that can so easily get lost in the shuffle. In retrospect, that team of five years ago lost their leader in the blink of an eye, but beneath the surface, the common thread that brought them together was still there – designing and creating beautiful products. They didn’t need someone to teach them the mechanics of knit stitches or how to pull together a color palette, they needed a leader to reinforce what had already unified them and quench the fear that the unknown would tear them apart.

If you’re a leader yourself, likely you have your own story that challenged you to be something bigger than you may have ever imagined. There are thousands of stories like this one, hold yours close so when you’re required to tap into the reserve, it’s there to guide you. If you’re a team member, acknowledge and show gratitude towards the really good leaders in your life, they may make it look easy, but behind closed doors, there may just be tears (lots of them) of self doubt.

I promise a return to a regular cadence of inspirational spirit at Around the Pound is in process, in fact, several posts are already in the queue (it looks like we’ll all be here for a little while longer, so we’ve got you covered). In the interim, I hope this dietary supplement of perspective (I was completely inspired by this post from one of my creative heroes) provides a new way of thinking about TGL from here forward. xx, D.

Image source unknown, via Pinterest.

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