conflicting values: fast fashion

I have two personal convictions, both virtuous, but often in direct conflict, it seems. This is what is on my mind today. Specifically two personal values that I try to uphold: frugality and avoiding fast fashion. I avoid try not to buy mass-produced (often sweat-shop produced) clothes because of the environmental and social impact this has. I believe that the many of the retailers that sell fast fashion have unethical practices, too. This is a US-centric article, but it does a good job explaining some of the reasons why I try to steer clear.

I’m usually successful in avoiding fast fashion because I’m frugal and try not to buy a lot of clothes. And I kinda suck at fashion. Read on.

My current dilemma I’ve been invited to a work event in a couple of weeks that feels like a big-enough deal that I’m a bit worried about what I’m going to wear. I readily admit that I dress for comfort and warmth in freezing cold offices and so I’m rarely seen in high heels or without a cardigan or scarf.

But for this event, I feel like I really should kick things up at least a tiny bit. The quintessential ugh, I have nothing to wear moment.

Have I mentioned that I hate shopping? I don’t even really like clothes, as I never feel completely comfortable in my skin, and don’t know how to put a great outfit together. My dislike for shopping and my lack of fashion sense has led me to have developed a bit of a work uniform. Pants, simple top, cardigan, and flat. All stretchy and warm.

So, I don’t buy clothes very often. It’s a necessary evil for me, like paying for insurance.

Here’s where the conflicting values come into play. Since I avoid shopping, I tend to do it under duress, like now, when I feel like it’s an emergency. I can either to go to a small boutique, getting the help of a doting salesperson who can invest time and energy into dressing my hopeless self, and likely spend a small fortune. Here’s where my other personal value kicks in and nags at me. My desire to be frugal.

So, to be frugal, I could go to a place like, say, H&M or Zara. A place where I’m left to my own devices, trying to cobble together a good outfit from the racks of limply hanging clothes. These stores are obviously much cheaper than the boutiques, but I’m not a fashionista, and it’s struggle. Not to mention the all the ethical reasons for avoiding fast fashion.

Frugality versus ethical shopping.

OK, I know, I know. I could be frugal and ethical by buying well-made and well-priced clothes at secondhand shops. But remember – I’m terrible at dressing myself and adding the challenge of vintage shopping seems far too daunting to me. And from what I hear, the secret to successful second-hand clothes shopping is to go early and often. Finding just what you need, just when you need it, is probably very, very unlikely.

I might have just talked myself into giving vintage shopping a serious try. Maybe I’ll try an online store? So I can torture myself about the shipping…<sigh>.

on books: always buying, never reading them all

When we moved to our current home three years ago, we moved from a large (ish) house to a much smaller one and it necessitated a lot of purging of our possessions. Before the downsizing project, I knew that I had a – shall we say – book problem, but it really came to light when I faced the possibility of having to move them. The extra bedroom in our old house had really become a library, rather than a guest room, with piles of books everywhere. This is in addition to all the books on the proper bookshelves in my den and the teetering stack on my nightstand that threatened to fall over and kill me in my sleep every night. The guest room / library was overflow.

I had to face the fact that I had no place to store them in my new house and I went through the process of sorting. The categories were:

  1. Books that I had read and wanted to keep because I would probably refer to them or re-read them.
  2. Books that I had read but could bear to give away.
  3. Sentimental books – mostly old relics that belonged to either myself as a child or my parents. I kept these as well. Most of them I had read, though not all.
  4. Books that I had bought and never read.

I was pretty shocked to find that the fourth category was by far the largest. So large that I had to sort that pile again, into a) books that I would defintely make an effort to read one day, and b) books that I knew I would never read. After some ruthless sorting, I realized that category 4(b) now contained the most books. I went about setting up a Facebook list to give them away and donated the rest.

But … how did this happen? I had purchased all of these books throughout the years (brand new, I might add) with the intention of reading them. Was I drawn in by a compelling cover? Did the title sound exactly like something that I needed to read at that time? Was it recommended to me by a friend? Was it a “staff pick” at my local bookstore? Was it retail therapy? Was it an attempt to tip the scales towards life in my quest for “work-life balance” (I kinda sorta hate this term, by the way).

In my new little house, I’ve embraced my minimalism and for the most part and I don’t buy nearly as many (physical) books as I used to. I borrow a lot of books from the library (and oh, by the way, I don’t read most of those either). I buy/borrow a lot of audiobooks and I do read (listen to) those with regularity (yay!). I just can’t seem to stomach ebooks, no matter how logical they seem to be, so don’t even go there. When I do buy a physical book, I try to give it away as soon as I’ve read it, unless it turns out to be a category 1 book, in which case it gets coveted spot on my limited bookshelf space. I’ve been pretty disciplined, I would say.

Until recently, that is.

In recent weeks, I’ve bought a lot of books. By “a lot” I mean about 10, but the quantity isn’t as important as the fact that I suddenly have a backlog of books to read. In other words, I didn’t buy a book, read it, then buy another book. I have a pile on my nightstand again!

And thanks to Facebook memories, I saw that I posted about this exact phenomenon four years ago:

I’m super busy at work right now which often leads to retail therapy. Usually I buy books (cheaper than shoes and electronics and doesn’t involve trying on clothes). But then I don’t have time to read all the books that I’ve bought because I’m working too much. Which bums me out and leads me to buy more books to make myself feel better. It’s a vicious cycle, people.

I’ve decided that maybe it’s an Autumn thing. The back-to-school vibe. The desire to cozy up with a book under a blanket.

No matter what, I’m going to read these books! I’ve already finished the first one: “Money Diaries” by Lindsey Stanberry and I’m about to start “Bleaker House” by Nell Stevens.

I’ll keep you posted!

3. Who are you the Reincarnation of?

Regardless of whether you buy into reincarnation conceptually, this is a fun idea. Think of a person who was no longer living at the time you were born (an ancestor, real or imagined) that you embody. Think about why you’re connected to this person across space and time. They are like your soulmate, only they are more than that – they are your soul. Or rather, you are their soul.

I made a note of this question a while ago and have been letting it percolate ever since. A lot of people remark that I am a lot like my maternal grandmother; however, she was alive when I was born, and so I can’t be walking around with her soul. And those comments are usually centered around our physical appearance, not necessarily our personalities.

So, for fun, I’m going to think of myself as the reincarnation of my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother, or my maternal great-great grandmother. To help me with this imagination exercise, I asked my sister, the family genealogist for her name. It was Annie.

I can assume that Annie lived in England because I know that my mother’s grandmother, Annie’s daughter Elizabeth, immigrated to Canada from England when she was 10 years-old. Whether Annie made the journey or not is unclear, and so I’m not sure if she was born in England or if she died in England, just that she probably lived in England at some point. So, I pretty much know nothing about her.

Here’s where my imagination must take over. How does Annie manifest herself in me?

Given the time that she was alive (mid to late 1800’s, per my estimate) and that she was a woman, I know that her life was by definition difficult. I can be fairly certain that she was married and likely had more than the one child that I know about. She probably worked her guts out day after day, taking care of her husband and children and her house. I wonder if she had any help from older children, siblings, or even hired help. I wonder if she had any free time. Did she read books? Could she read books? Was she passionate? Did she accept her lot in life, yet strive to make it a little better each day, anyway? Did she have a yearning to be creative, and if so, how did this come out? Maybe she was an excellent seamstress, able to fashion beautiful items from rags. Maybe she sang all day as she did her work.

Maybe she was physically strong, chopping wood for the stove and carrying heavy loads with ease. Maybe she was a healer. Maybe she saved a life or two.

It’s funny how making myself sit and think about this person was so enlightening. I am a direct descendent of Annie and yet until today, I’d literally never given her a second thought. It feels like today we were introduced and got to know each other a little better. It’s only right, since I’m walking around with her soul in me.

I’m reminded of how each of us has a very finite amount of time in this realm, and that the vast majority of us are forgotten in just a generation or two. It’s a little sobering and humbling.

Your turn: who are you the reincarnation of?

How Did I Get Here?

How did I get here?

I mean, it’s all good. Life is pretty good. You’d rightfully accuse me of being ungrateful if I said anything different. But I have no idea how I got here. Am I the only forty-something who feels this way? (By the way, describing myself as a forty-something in writing is pretty sobering.)

When I say “here”, I mostly mean my career. I can follow the breadcrumb trail and know how I got to my other “heres”. I can tell you how I came to live in this area in 1998 (funny story). I know the chain of events that led me to meet my husband (fate?). But my profession, my position, and my place of work? That feels much more random. Like I really had nothing to do with it.

After graduating high school, I felt like I was on a path. Then, rather than the proverbial fork in the road, I met a dead-end. Or maybe it was more like a round-about? Regardless, I couldn’t find a map that told me YOU ARE HERE that could show me where to go, because I really didn’t know what the destination was. Sorry for all the bad analogies.

When I started university, I wanted to be a high school teacher. Don’t be led to believe that I had any laser-sharp focus or even a clue, when I say this. I switched from wanting to teach French, to History, to English, flitting around because no subject came easy enough. I even thought maybe I should teach elementary school instead of high school for a moment. All in the space of an academic year. I had the quintessential 18-year-old existential crisis, and it sucked. It didn’t help that I was in a toxic living situation (a topic for another day) and that I wasn’t loving any of my courses. Except linguistics – which I truly loved and exceled at – but what the hell could I do with a linguistics degree?

At the end of that year, when an advisor at my university talked to me about the stark realities of finding a job as a teacher in Canada, the existential crisis became an actual crisis. Would I be willing to come out of university with a big, fat student loan and no job prospects? Would I be willing to live at home or work minimum wage while waiting for a teaching job to materialize, perhaps for many years? The answer as it turns out was no.

Fast forward twenty-four (oh my god) years and I’m a professional accountant. I work in Finance at a major corporation, about to move up the ranks from middle management to senior management. I’m not helping anyone in my work, unless you count making my boss look good, or helping shareholders get richer. There’s lots of stuff I like about my work (the people I work with, mainly), but is it fulfilling and rewarding? Am I doing anything to leave the world a better place? Uh, no.

I’ve come to believe that there are two schools of thought on the topic of fulfillment as it relates to your work. The first is to think of your job as, well, a job. A way to pay the bills, but not something that defines you. The idea is to then find things outside of your job to fulfill you – maybe volunteering, hobbies, or a passion project. This is all well and good if you work 9 to 5. It’s no so easy when your job is demanding and unpredictable. My hours are long and my evenings and weekends are never sacred, plus I travel for business a lot.

The other approach is to find a career or organization to work for that you’re passionate about. This is obviously the harder road to travel. I actually tried this many years ago. I left my current job to work for a nonprofit that I believed in, still working in finance. The organization was very cool and the people who worked there were very passionate about the mission of the organization – so inspiring. The only problem was that my department was a disaster. Disfunctional and toxic to the point of giving me stomach aches on the way to work and putting me in tears on the way home. It made me realize that the only way for work to be tolerable, not to mention enjoyable, is to like and care about the people you work with. The organization itself actually matters less, I believe.

There’s no moral to my story, here. I haven’t figured anything out. I work too much for a company that I really don’t believe in. It isn’t evil, but it isn’t doing anything that aligns with my personal values. Is it okay to have just a job. Especially when it takes so much of your time and energy? Or does this mean that I’m selling my soul a little bit?

2. How Will I Know When I’m a Writer (Artist, Musician, etc)?

I can’t remember the source, so unfortunately I can’t give credit here, but I remember in an article about a creative person, the interviewer asked the interviewee when did she know that she was an artist (it might have been Lisa Congdon, a relatively late artistic bloomer). And her answer was when she started calling herself an artist. Simple as that.

Yet, the simple act of calling oneself an artist (or writer or musician, etc) is a humongous step, am I right?

In my mind, the question is how will I know when I’m a writer or an artist? Because when I know this to be true, then I will confidently call myself one. I don’t think it will work in reverse, like a Field of Dreams situation (label myself and I become). I don’t have the chutzpah.

My first inclination is to say that I could call myself a writer once I’ve been published. Or once my blog gets X number of hits per month. I could call myself an artist once I’ve sold a piece.

But is this myopic? Maybe the title comes with prolificacy. Maybe once I’ve filled X number of sketch books or published X number of blog posts, I’ve earned my chops.

Maybe I could take a baby step. I could call myself a part-time writer or an amateur artist, for example.

All I know is that I have to keep creating. Even if I never give myself the designation, as long as I make creativity a part of my life every day, then I will accomplish the same thing.

What’s your answer to this question?

1. What is My Hobby, My Job, My Career, and My Vocation?

In January 2016, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic, and many other fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction, posed a question on Facebook: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? This post blew my mind.

She addresses those of us “seeking purpose and meaning and direction in their lives” by differentiating how we spend our time into the buckets: Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation. Please, please, please go and read her post, but here’s a very summarized definition of these terms.

  1. A hobby is something you do strictly for enjoyment.
  2. A job is how you look after yourself in the world, financially. Says Elizabeth: “Even after I’d already published three books, I still kept a regular job, because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the responsibility of paying for my life.” Cool, right? She also says “Your job does not need to be how you define yourself; you can create your own definitions of your purpose and your meaning, pulled from deep within your imagination.”
  3. A career is a job that you put your energy, passion, and commitment into.
  4. A vocation is a calling, “a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul.”

Question:

What are these for me? What is my hobby, my job, my career, and my vocation?

Answer:

I have a few hobbies: reading, knitting, writing, drawing, painting, watching Vlogs on YouTube, and fitness. Chris calls me a “dabbler” because I rotate through these depending on my whims and my schedule – pretty appropriate, I’d say.

When I think about job and career, I get caught up in a feedback loop. I work in finance and I’ve risen the ranks into a senior position in my field, mostly at one company. I’ve put my energy and commitment into this, but it’s most definitely not out of a sense of passion, but out of my damned need to please others. In this regard, it’s a job: there’s no passion, there’s no sense of purpose or meaning for me. But, it some ways it feels a lot like a career. I’ve dedicated a lot of time getting my accounting designation and a lot of overtime hours getting to my current position. I’m good at what I do, I like most of the people I work with, but I don’t love it. It doesn’t feed my soul. In fact, it probably sucks a little bit of the life out if it.

When I think about vocation and read and re-read Elizabeth’s essay, I realize that this is the scariest prospect of all. WHAT IF DON’T HAVE A VOCATION? WHAT IF I WASTE MY ENTIRE LIFE MISSING THE SIGNS OF WHAT MY CALLING REALLY IS? She advocates paying attention to your senses, and considering your talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities. She urges everyone to seek. In my case, I look to my hobbies (which represent my talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities) and wonder if my vocation lies amongst the dabbles. I also think about what I gravitated to as a child: drawing, reading, and writing, for sure, but also teaching – my favorite game was to play teacher. I would create syllabuses for the younger children in my mother’s home daycare – I taught everything from math to science to gymnastics. There are also other things I’m passionate about that are currently hobbies, or that I’m not actively dedicating any productive time to: animal rights advocacy, sustainable transportation, the environment.

Follow-Up:

Elizabeth reminds us that we don’t need a career. If this is true, can I ditch mine? Or, more realistically, can I convert my career into a job? That is, can I pull back the time and energy I currently put into it so that I can focus on a vocation and get the sense of purpose and meaning in my life? For me, this is going to take a lot of courage and assertiveness. Hell, it might even take some planning and accountability.

What the heck is my vocation? Dabbling is good for hobbies, but if I’m trying to find meaning and purpose in my life, I think I need to focus on something. What should that be? My gut tells me that if I dedicate myself to this blog, focus the content to something meaningful, I could reach a lot of people, satisfying the writing and teaching urges that I have. Maybe I’m onto something here. Also, what Elizabeth says about not burdening creativity with the responsibility for paying for life is so profound. I feel like I would really start to hate drawing and painting if I had to force it.

Interaction is Fun!

If there’s anyone out there reading this, and if you’re inclined, I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic and your answers to the questions.