Working Through It

I was not what you’d call a sporty child.

Other than some halfhearted attempts at tennis and a little time in the marching band, dancing with Boston Ballet was my physical torture of choice. And torture it was — injuries were frequent, soreness a constant companion, and my feet have never recovered from those bloody, broken years of toe balancing.

But if there’s one good lesson to be learned in tolerating physical pain for a reason, it’s this: perseverance. When the going gets tough, the tough gets a pen and paper, makes a lot of lists, devises a plan, and relentlessly pursues every item until (a) the plan succeeds or (b) a better one comes along.

My years as a ballerina (and actor, and musician) also imparted the gift of competitiveness — as an only child, this wasn’t something I’d likely develop independently. While I certainly did compete for solos, orchestra chairs, leading roles, and the occasional bragging rights, I found that artistic competition is centered far more on being better than yourself than your closest competitor.

The way to “win” in the performance world is to distinguish yourself from the pack, offering a tiny spark of something other (rather than simply better) than what the people around you might have. The only way to accomplish this is to become immersed in your own inner process — the artistic soul, if you’ll forgive the expression — and nurture it until it rises up and overtakes the performer entirely.

Working as I have been, with one foot in a technical and business world and the other in pursuit of a degree, has given me somewhat of an inner dichotomy. Until quite recently, the two pursuits have been behaving like lines of counterpoint: always opposing, occasionally harmonizing, but never resolving.

But lately some new ideas have been making their voices heard, which has begun to round out the chorus, paint the backdrop, and perhaps set the scene for an interesting new act. Consider this a teaser trailer, a preview before the opening night. I’m working through things and working up to… something.

I’ll let you know how rehearsals go, and hopefully will set a date for the out-of-town trial very soon. Until then, tell me this: where does your own inner spark come from?  I’d love to hear about it.

Halfway There: Goal Posts

Snow.
Ice.
Boots.
Earmuffs.
Michelin-Man-inspired outerwear.

Remember these things? Other than a useful mental exercise to keep myself cool, I’m recalling the cold December days in which I wrote this post about my personal and professional goals for the coming year. We’re well into the 80s here at the midway point of 2016 (already!), so I thought it was time for some updates.

1. Give a talk/speech/lecture to a crowd of more than 10

Just this past Monday, I did a brief presentation about my company’s newest materials and updates related to the jewelry industry. Somewhere around 40-50 people were present at this event, so I’d say that definitely counts!

This one stays on the list, because one is never enough. I would like to do many, many more of these (longer! bigger! that’s what she said!) but it was a great starting point.

2. Publish something longer than 500 words, with a byline 

My company published my whitepaper on how to sell custom jewelry, complete with photographs and byline. It got picked up and referenced by a few other 3D printing publications, which was really neat.

As with #1, this one is by no means finished. Ideally I’d like to see my words reproduced in a jewelry industry publication, so it’s time to get to work on that.

3. Finish my G.G. 

My home lab setup will be arriving very shortly (note to self: clean off designated lab space) which means I can make even more progress towards this one. I’m aiming for the end of the year. Diamonds, gemstones, and jewelry… oh my!

4. Meet new people 

Possibly one of the most fulfilling goals I’ve ever set, simply because I created it without any real plan to reach it. But with my new job came many new people to meet and get to know, which has been a surprisingly joyful and experience for this high-functioning introvert. My happiness in succeeding here is largely due to the quality of people I’m around every day, but I’m also just a little proud of myself for learning to say “yes!” to a whole lot of new experiences.

5. Talk about what I do, what I love, who I am 

Many people would argue that I usually don’t shut up about what I do, what I love, and who I am, but those people would only have recently met me (see above). Allowing my passion to come to the forefront of my personality (see below) has been a challenge, and not without its fair share of pushback. But I’m working through it and learning more about myself along the way.

6. Embrace my personality 

Perhaps both the easiest and most difficult goal on this list. It’s been so long since I’ve been willing to be my authentic self that it’s taken a little time to figure out just what that personality really is, these days. I consider myself a work in progress — forever — and so have come to embrace the journey of my personality, complete with more attention to its changes and nuances than ever before. Self-awareness is a process, but I might be learning to enjoy it.

 7. Improve the quality of my downtime 

I can hit a tiny bumpy ball with a stick (er, sometimes). I can crack a perfectly-timed joke to a crowd without feeling self-conscious. I can have more than one alcoholic beverage in a day and not feel guilty. I can list five new favorite date restaurants (and about fifty more we want to try). I frequently have plans that might almost resemble a social life, if you squint and tilt your head 20 degrees to the left. Yep, I’d say this one is well on its way to become a great habit.

Satisfactory progress all around! This year has been a big one for changes in every single aspect of my life, and I have a funny feeling I’m nowhere near finished with it (or perhaps it’s nowhere near finished with me). I don’t believe in a lot of things, but karma is a concept I fully embrace. So I’m “putting it out there,” as a dear friend would say, that as long as I’m trying to give the best of myself, I’ll be open to receiving the best the universe can offer.

 

 

 

True (Blue) Tech

Now that I’ve covered the philosophical angle of my recent life changes, it’s time to begin introductions for my exciting new focus: technology & jewelry.

If you’ve asked me about my industry at any point in the last few years, you probably got an earful about my frustrations with jewelry people’s tendency to ignore, withhold, refute, squelch, circumvent, or otherwise deny the demand for the adoption of new technologies. Everything from mining and manufacturing to sales and advertising is in desperate need of an update, of the kind that will integrate all the good stuff of the “old” ways — personal service, strong relationships, gemological & bench expertise — with the many benefits of the new and forward-thinking.

This is not to say that the industry doesn’t already utilize some of the wonders of today. Advances in laser welding, gemstone treatment, pearl farming, metallurgy, CAD/CAM, and e-commerce have been adopted to great effect, though not as universally as I would like. We’ve come a long way, but there is far to go.

Today’s customers are rapidly losing interest in a world they see as a paragon of by-gone ideals, and nostalgia only opens the wallet to far. I want to see an engaged clientele who demand excellence in service, quality, source transparency, and storytelling… you know, all the things we do best.

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Top to bottom: castable resin, rough casting, polished ring

So I have joined a company that is “new tech” to the core, with the goal of bringing their fresh-eyed approach to the world of jewelry. These people are smart, savvy, and looking to make an impact on how we make stuff (all kinds of stuff), which will have a massive impact on how we design, create, advertise, and sell stuff. Replace “stuff” with “jewelry” and you have my full attention and dedication.

What does this mean for my daily life? Well, more denim and flats (and fewer diamonds), for one thing! It means I can turn my focus to the building blocks of the industry, perhaps helping to affect change and influence the direction we take in the coming years. I want to see the jewelry industry emerge from years of tech denial and embrace the power of doing things in new ways in order to achieve long-term stability and growth. I want more people wearing beautiful things that are made well.

Buckle up, people. No more hiding behind half a century of how-it’s-always-been-done. Wake up and smell the lasers, folks — I’m coming for you.

 

 

A Little Reminder

One of my primary roles here at work is to manage the inventory: accurate entry, tags, pricing, photographs, re-orders, show orders, invoice processing, etc. It’s a job that can be tedious from time to time (ahem, the Popular Bead Bracelet Brand era) but is usually rather interesting because it appeals to my inquisitive, detail-oriented brain and allows me to get my hands on every single piece of merchandise in the store as it arrives.

I also attempt what I call a self-inventory every so often, taking stock of my life and its various components and running down a list of places to improve, discard, or enhance. Recently my mind has been occupied with family, health, summer plans (golf lessons, new hiking boots), and of course my gemological studies. I tend to continue mulling over my educational material long after I’ve put it away for the day, which causes a disproportionate mental emphasis on the very technical details I’m currently learning. I end up totally engulfed in the bloodless and unromantic side of this industry, focusing all of my energy on numbers and figures and diagrams.

That’s great for test-taking and fundamental progress, but is ultimately useless in my day-to-day job until I work to distill it down into something I can use on the sales floor. I’ve been feeling waterlogged with minutiae, unable to climb onto solid ground from the watery bog of information overload.

So it was with genuine pleasure that I found myself on the business end of a diamond engagement ring sale just this week — and not a moment too soon.

The gentleman was polite and earnest; his female “helper” lived up to her job and was supportive but not pushy. We discussed settings & styles, diamond sizes & qualities, and priced out a few options. A brief lunch break on the sunny restaurant decks (them, not me) later, and a ring was born. Hooray!

This was not a “big” sale, or a tough one, or a thank-goodness-that’s-over interaction. The clean simplicity of selling a meaningful object to a happy and eager buyer was exactly the refreshing reminder I needed when terra firma seemed very far away. Clearly I required this experience in order to remember what we really do, what the purpose is behind all the numbers and calculations:

Joy. Happiness. Excitement. Love. Hope.

That’s our real business, our own small contribution to the betterment of the world. I am a facilitator, nothing more, as I gently nudge people toward an object that stands to represent all the best emotions we could ever want. And amidst the structure of carbon atoms and lengthy history of mining, I needed a little reminder about why I do it at all.

Just a Girl in This World

I’ve been tapped on the shoulder by an invisible but powerful presence this week. She won’t leave me alone, and she won’t stop pointing out all the things she thinks need some attention. She never did take no for an answer, and she’s not going to start now. The torch has been passed, which means it’s more than time to address the next iteration of a too-familiar topic.

Women. Specifically, women in power (the few) and those who want to be (the more-than-a-few) in an industry that expends vast amounts of time and money marketing and selling to… women.

I found a few spare moments to gobble up the April addition of JCK Magazine, the self-proclaimed (and accurately so) “Industry Authority.” It contained the usual run of interesting articles, personnel updates, and beautiful, glossy images of beautiful, glossy jewels. It also featured their “Annual list of  50 (or so) CEOs, retailers, designers, and tastemakers who shape and innovate the jewelry and watch biz.” Their words. Direct quote, headline, page 78.

Now, the numbers game:13 of the 53 total names are women.

Long before I opened the book, I knew the number would be low. As a proud member of the Women’s Jewelry Association I’m well aware of the industry stats on female leadership, but I’m lucky enough to live in a woman-centric bubble: with our original store owner now slowly working his way into retirement, we are an all-female workplace — owner, Master Bench Jeweler, staff.

So perhaps my current situation, combined with a personal history of female empowerment from strong family role models and a terrific single-gender high school experience, has tucked me into a comfortable little world in which girls really do run the world. I assumed that slightly less than half of those named would be women, because I know so many who embody all those fine traits listed in the tagline. I can’t even begin to describe my shock at the actual results, but perhaps not in the way you might think.

I’m not at all convinced that the poor showing of women on this list has much, if anything, to do with a gender bias on the part of the listmaker(s). While I would personally nominate a handful of women not mentioned in this round, I have come to the rather obvious conclusion that there simply aren’t enough women in leadership positions to choose from. Certainly all of those named deserve to be there, so the sad fact now stands underscored by such a ridiculously poor showing: if there were more lady leaders, they’d be on that list. That’s a painful conclusion to reach.


In an eerily relevant conversation with a friend just this week, I lamented the large gap I perceive in my own ability to influence versus be influenced. I noted that my long-term ambitions involved becoming a “mover and shaker” or “tastemaker” or “respected authority” in this industry, and that I felt the impatience frequently associated with my generation to make progress towards such a goal.

In reality, of course, progress is made in tiny steps every day. But who wants to crawl when skipping and jumping looks like such fun?

Well, this list certainly brought reality calling — wind from sails, and all that. Not that I feel somehow defeated; just the opposite. I’m more determined than ever to increase the number of women on that list, through a combination of strong and vocal advocacy of female leadership and by a more personal degree of… one.

I can stomp and shout, stand on my proverbial soapbox and preach equality and courage (all for one! Vive la femme!), or pen verbose blog posts about my life (#careergoals?) in hopes of inspiring myself and others to work harder, climb the ladder, and shake the tree.

I can also remain steadfast in my vision, work harder, self-motivate, learn more, reach out, and support the women and men around me who work tirelessly to better the world, the industry, themselves.

P.S. You can, too.

Why Not: The Rhetorical Question

Like every other (good) retailer, we aim to please. From goods to services, providing the very best we can to every customer is what keeps us in business.

Go ahead, say it. Duh. Of course that’s what keeps the doors open!

But what happens when we can’t — for whatever reason — satisfy a customer?

It seems to me that in an increasingly instant-gratification-focused consumer world, the inability to meet an immediate demand is an automatic black mark. Regardless of how difficult, unrealistic, or downright impossible the request may be, the potential provider’s perceived lack of ability becomes an issue.

It so happens that occasionally a customer comes in and asks for something we don’t have. We’ve never had it. It’s possible — though unlikely — we’ve never even heard of it. We can probably get it, or our fabulous designer/goldsmith can make it, but none of that is going to happen in the next 10 to 15 seconds. The customer huffs something to the effect of “Everywhere I go, they say the same thing. You don’t have it. Well, why not?”

There’s a brief pause, and a moment of silent mutual understanding arrives: they already know the answer. We know the answer, and they know we know. We don’t have it because the buyer(s) for the store didn’t buy it. The reasoning behind that decision is moot, because it won’t change the status of this customer’s elusive desire.

I was totally bewildered by my first Rhetorical Encounter. Did that customer really just get upset that I couldn’t show those white gold earrings in yellow, rose, and two-tone? Is she seriously asking for a reason why we don’t carry her favorite XYZ designer?

I’ve learned a few things since then, thank goodness. I learned that sometimes a customer has an objection or just wants an easy “out” of the sale or store, and isn’t capable of saying “no, thank you.” I had to learn that a customer insisting on one specific item is well aware that we won’t have it, and they really want some alternatives. I also figured out that some customers take pleasure in name-dropping to employees of stores that aren’t Big Names, either as a test (yes, we’ve heard of that Big Name) or to impress (yes, your Big Name watch is lovely).

I used to feel like a failure when I couldn’t produce, magician-like**, the exact white (gold) rabbit each customer wanted. Thankfully, through careful observation and a deeper understanding of the consumer, I have managed to overcome that feeling and learned to confidently represent the products and capabilities we do have. It’s a necessary skill in an on-demand world, and one I’m happy to say only improves with every Rhetorical Encounter I have.

** Okay, occasionally we’re like real magicians, coming up with brilliant plans with perfect execution for last-minute, do-or-die situations. That’s called… hard work and getting lucky.