the magic of the baby step (or real g's move in silence, until they don't)
Aimee is one of those friends who has a heart as big as Texas, for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that she's the friend who called us days after our being displaced by Hurricane Harvey flooding, and offered us a place to stay in her garage apartment in her back garden while we got back on our feet. When I hesitated accepting her incredibly generous offer, she said, "Look. Either you're going to take it, or I'm going to offer it to some of the volunteers who have driven in from out of town to help. And honestly, even though I'll totally offer it to them, I'd feel better if you and your family took it, because I know you guys. So, you'll kind of be doing me a favour."* Needless to say, we accepted, and for about 6 weeks, it was the perfect place for us to regroup. I'm not sure how we'll ever repay Aimee and her family her kindness, but we're going to die trying.
As it happens, Aimee is also the founder of and woman behind The Black Sheep Agency, a branding firm here in Houston that works only with organizations who have a strong component of giving back to their work, either as a nonprofit, or as a for-profit company with a strong sustainability ethic as one of their core values. While her agency has been around for many years, I remember several years ago when she sent out an email announcing that she would only be working with sustainable organizations going forward. I thought it was both the bravest and the riskiest thing I'd ever seen. And one early evening last week, when we'd met to catch up over a glass of wine, I brought it up.
"I still can't believe you did it," I said. "I thought that you were for sure going to go out of business by excluding organizations who didn't do any sustainable work. And yet, you've grown your business by multiples, and you're thriving. How the hell did you know?"
"I don't know," she smiled. "I just knew that I wanted our work to be about making the world better."
"I mean, that's cool and all," I pressed. "But how did you know you would end up surviving? It was such a huge risk!"
"Well," she answered slowly. "It actually wasn't a big risk. I knew that I wanted my work to be meaningful, and to do that, I had to make sure my clients were also doing meaningful work."
I stared at her.
"And the truth is," she continued, "by the time I announced to people that's what we were going to be about, we were working that way anyway -- all but two of our clients at the time were either nonprofits, or had strong sustainability initiatives in-house."
"Ooooh," I said. "So you already knew it was going to be a success, before you told everyone!"
"Absolutely. We'd been taking baby steps in that direction for a couple of years. By the time it was announced, we were already there."
I've been thinking a lot about Aimee's words since our wine last week, and it occurs to me that this is wisdom that could be used for any new venture, but especially for moving in the direction of quiet activism. When there comes a time that you realize that you've got some gifts that could be used to help the world, it can be a very vulnerable space: what if people think my idea is dumb? What if people are telling me I'm wasting my time? What if it doesn't even work? But I think what we forget, in this time when we're expected to broadcast everything on social media, from who you're hanging out with to the avocado toast you had for breakfast, is that you don't have to tell anyone what you're doing at first. You can take baby steps toward your brilliant ideas. You can beta test your idea with your war council. You can test the waters before you wade in.
And then, when you announce your dive into the deep end, you can do so with confidence ... because you already know you know how to swim.