Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I am not perfect

One of my mentors has a habit of ending almost every conversation I have with him by saying, “Look, I know you’re not perfect.”

He first said this to me when I was just out of law school, desperately looking for any job outside of the profession for which I’d prepared for three years. “Look, I know you’re not perfect,” he said, as he handed me my offer letter to work for The Boston Consulting Group.

I was mortified. I took this to mean, “Look, we’re hiring you because it’s 1997, and all the business school students we really wanted to hire are foolishly joining the internet gold rush (where most of them will suffer and perish, as the original prospectors did in the 1850s), so we’re digging at the bottom of the barrel and we’re left with you. And you’re not perfect, but you’ll do.”

When I started work, I took pains to dodge him in the hallways, taking the long way around so as to avoid passing by his office. After all, he had called me on my secret from the get go.

But despite my best efforts, the day finally arrived when I had to work on a project with him. The toughest SVP in the office. The guy who was reported to be able to reduce even inanimate objects to tears.

I worked harder and exhaled less than I ever had before in my life. No matter how pretty we made things (“Look! Look! Three-dimensional bubble pie charts showing the size, potential, and fit of each market segment with the market share of our client and each of its eight competitors highlighted in different colors!”), he was never impressed.

Because, as I learned the hard way, my job was apparently about something other than impressing him with my mastery of powerpoint and the topic at hand. It turned out that it wasn’t really about me at all – it was about the clients who needed us to help them figure out what really mattered and what to do about it. “D’oh!”

I worked differently after that – and it was much more fun to truly engage with others in fixing a problem than worrying about whether I looked like an idiot. The quality of our work reflected my newfound sense of purpose – so I was surprised when, during my evaluation, I was again reminded, “But look, you’re not perfect. Are there things you could do better? Yes.” There must have been some affirmations that preceded the revisiting of my imperfections, but I can’t recall what they were.

Sometime later, as I sat down with this mentor to tell him that I was leaving BCG to move to Seattle, he was generous, gracious and wise. He empathized with the challenges of loving a job that required so much travel and time away from our families. But I have to admit that I was distracted by the drinking game-like challenge of waiting for the magic words to appear in our conversation. And appear they did. “Are you perfect? Of course not. But I think you could have a bright future here.” I had to smile to myself in hearing these now familiar words.

This same mentor is now an investor in Julep, one of the first people to believe in the vision and my ability to make it happen. Just the other day, I confessed to him that I was paradoxically feeling more and more stressed with each milestone we passed. Now there’s more at stake, something to lose, people counting on Julep in many different ways.

He had a different view. “Look, are you perfect? No. But now you've got a business with some appeal, so you’re in better shape than you were last year, and I figure that you’re going to do a better job than most of the people out there in this space.”

People talk about damning with faint praise, but it turns out that you can also profoundly reassure with the same.

Here is someone whose voice continues to strike such terror in my heart that I have been known to physically fall out of my chair at the sound of it. And he’s been VERY CLEAR on the fact that he is aware of my flaws. And yet.

Now I understand his insistence of my imperfections as a grounding credibility booster. This guy doesn’t blow smoke. Not even the smallest puff. So his vote of confidence matters. Its weight is not compromised by false compliments handed out willy nilly.

And what a relief not to have to waste precious energy on the impossible project of appearing perfect. This has been a huge gift.

Of course, one might observe that there might be kinder, more direct ways of establishing such credibility and trust.

But look, he’s not perfect.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Downtown Parlor: The Pre-Beginning

LEFT: Here it is, T minus 9 weeks and counting. Unfortunately, the coffee bar and computer monitors have yet to be cleared, but they're supposed to disappear this week. . .

BELOW: As will the gold lame wall paper and colorful wall decoration.

We're excited about all the windows and natural light! And great drive by and walk by traffic. And the sexy woman on the side of the building looking up the street.

But mostly I'm excited about the proximity to Banana Republic and the newly opening Aldo shoes.

Thanks Kate MacDonald for measuring the windows to send to Keith (who's covering for Shari, our brilliant Creative Director who's about to have her baby ANY day now!). And for taking these pictures. In this, and many countless ways big and small, we're a better Julep with you.

I'm also so thrilled to welcome Anna and Rosemary - two amazing vernisseurs who contribute as much to our culture as they do to making guests hands and feet beautiful. Every time I think that our team can't get any better - I'm proven wrong.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jury Duty Last Week

Monday 2/11: 10am. Panic after call from husband reminding me I had jury duty this week. I locate my form - it says I should be there by 8:30am. OMG I am going to go to jail because I didn't show up. . .

Monday 2/11: 10:23am. Race into juror assembly room at the Seattle Municipal Court House. Haven’t decided yet whether to fess up about overlooking the date, or to make up some elaborate excuse involving terrorist, axis of evil, etc. But no need to decide – because it turns out I’m 22 hours early, not 2 hours late. Jury duty starts tomorrow.

Tuesday 2/12: 8:30am to 2:00pm: I love doing my civic duty! Comfortable waiting room and free tea and WiFi – I’m getting through my entire inbox while being a good citizen.

Tuesday 2/12: 2:30pm: But now I’m actually selected to be on a jury in a criminal case – despite the fact that, during voir dire, I give a botched definition of assault after admitting that I used to be a lawyer (I think I spent most of Criminal Law writing notes to Ali). And we’re brought to the 10th floor – with no WiFi, and no cell phones.

Wednesday 2/13: Spend the entire day in the jury box – and out of touch with Julep (believe it would be rude to be on cell or laptop while in the jury box. Didn’t ask our lovely bailiff about that for sure (there are plugs in the jury box . . .) but I’ve never seen that happen in a movie).

Thursday 2/14: Drop off red blankets for Valentine’s Day at Jeanne’s house for her to bring to the parlor. Then off to deliberation. Wow we deliberate for 7 hours. I’m so inspired by my fellow jurors. We work through the evidence, read the jury instructions over and over, and walk through each juror’s concerns one by one. We’re all VERY different, but there is something about this civic duty thing that pulls us together and creates an instant bond. And our foreman is amazing. Such a natural leader – able to pull each of us into the conversation, bring out common themes, and challenge weak assumptions without challenging the individual putting them forward. We start off with very different opinions, but gradually come to consensus and then unanimity. I’m really in love with the idea of community, in all its forms.

By now it’s been two fully days in a row that I’ve been out of touch with Julep – and lots of progress has been made by all while I've been celebrating the judicial process with my fellow jurors.

It’s a little distressing that practically every investor I speak with asks me what would happen if I got hit by a bus (and I suppose they’re not asking what kind of flowers they should send). But I am always amazed by the community we have working on building a Julep we can all be proud of. It’s taking a village, and I’m loving that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Commitment to optimism

Starting – and growing – a company like Julep is a journey in optimism. Everyday, I have to ask myself what I believe in, what I care about, and where I draw the line. Everyday I recommit to building a community that brings out the best in our guests and employees.

I am amazed the diversity of challenges we face daily. From our online cash drawer deciding to play hide and seek, to financing, malfunctioning equipment and the inevitable communication issues that arise when you’re growing quickly, I am stretching organizational and emotional muscles that I didn’t even know I had (which is WAY more than can be said for my nonexistent physical muscles . . .).

We are surely not the first, nor will we be the last, group of people to face such challenges. I’ve learned, for example, that schlepping laundry in taxi cabs across the city is par for the course for spas.

But I’m hopeful that we’re different in the way we address these hurdles. With honesty, engagement, and a commitment to making things better for each other in the future.

These were just ideas until the team came along. Now they are actual faces.

I’m learning that building hope together, even in our own small corner of the universe, is a huge responsibility. I am mindful of how fragile trust can be, and how easily miscommunication or lack of clarity can overwhelm the best of intentions.

But I’m also reminded, each day, of how powerful optimism can be, especially when it’s fought for and earned.

I recognize that this earnest pursuit of betterment is killing my ability to engage in cocktail banter. I'm losing my lawyer's ability to deliver cynical zingers from the sidelines. It may also be killing my ability to write in anything other than Oprah-ese. But we’re worth it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Means vs. Ends

I've always been a goal-oriented, ends-focused kind of gal.

But now, more than ever, I'm realizing how important it is to pay attention to the means - the processes and organzation that support our goals.

As we grow, the WAY we do things is becoming as important as WHAT we are trying to do. The way we do things holds as much meaning in defining who we are as what we are trying to accomplish.

This is hard for me.

As Jean Koh Peters, one of my law school professors, once told me, our strengths are the flip side of the coin of our weaknesses. (I think this is a really helpful way to see the world. Our weaknesses are not random holes to be patched - they are often alternate manifestations of the things we're good at).

My strength is my ability to imagine and build a path to an end goal. But my related weakness is my inability to see the path as a goal in and of itself.

As we build Julep as a community - both for out guests and for employees, I am trying to be mindful of the HOW as well as the WHAT. I'm hopeful that this will make me a stronger, more thoughtful human being in other aspects of my life.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Julep - coming to downtown Seattle

Yes, it has been a long time since anything new has appeared on this blog. But it's not for lack of exciting developments at Julep!

We had a very busy holiday season - hosting at least one party a day all through December. Thank you to everyone who celebrated the holidays with us. We loved being part of your special gifts and gatherings. (One of my favorite holiday stories is that we had one mother who bought a gift certificate for her daughter, and the next day, that same daughter came in to buy a gift certificate for her mother! And then they both came in together in January).

And last week we signed the lease for this spot in downtown Seattle at 5th and Pike - next to Betsy Johnson and diagonally across the street from Banana Republic (as well as the new Aldo store). By summer, all women downtown will have their own place to "Julep".

We've also opened our Support Center at the top of Queen Anne Hill. We're sharing office space with JS Backer Company (thank you thank you Fred!) - which has meant that we've been able to move all of our Julep inventory out of my house. (Unfortunately, I hit my husband's new car in the excitement of the move. . . but it's not that big a scratch, so net-net, I believe he's happier).

For those of you who keep checking back into this blog - thank you for hanging in there. I just realized the other day that it's been over a year of entries. This blog has helped me to get through ups and downs bigger than I could ever have imagined - and many more of them in any given day than I could ever have anticipated.

And I'm sure there are many more to come. But the biggest difference between now and last year is that there are so many more amazing individuals on this boat with me. I'm absolutely sure that there is no better team to accomplish what we're setting out to do than the creative, dedicated and passionate people I have the good fortune to work with.