For me, June 2023 marks 10 years as manager of HumanKind, and a total of 13 years working for fair trade enterprises in various capacities. Spending my career in fair trade has taught me countless lessons. Here are three of the most significant.
1. There is a time for hustle and a time for rest
I am all about working hard when there are big things to do, especially when those things lead to big growth for our organization, like starting an online shop, managing a remodel, or moving to a new location. These are projects that energized and inspired me, but they also contributed to a belief that all work needs to be done with intensity and I must constantly be filled with new ideas and energy for new growth. But learning from experience, this is not sustainable in the long run. Burnout happens, and it is not fun.
I am noticing that productivity comes in cycles. Not only is it important to take vacation time and fully detach from the work world (we offer paid vacation for all of our staff), it is also valuable to take time at work to focus on something other than what might be considered “productive” and does not lead to major growth. For the past few years, we have closed the shop for a week in January following our very busy holiday season. Our team likes to use this time to refresh our displays, organize our stockroom, deep clean, and treat ourselves to takeout lunches. Are we bringing in any revenue during this time? Not much, but we need this time to slow down and reset after the holiday hustle. Sometimes this is what rest looks like.
2. Approach every new task with the mindset of practice
I am a recovering perfectionist. By my nature, I don’t like to do anything new until I feel 100% confident in my abilities. However, as a manager of a growing organization, I am quite often operating at the edge of my abilities and outside my comfortable bubble. When approaching new tasks and responsibilities, I am learning to see it all as practice. Organizing a new event for the first time? I am just practicing for the next event. Feeling uncomfortable giving feedback to staff? I am practicing. Writing vulnerable blog posts? Just practicing. Viewing it all as a practice helps me take away the pressure to make everything perfect the first time. I am free to try new things, see what works, and adjust for the next time around. Even if the “next time” doesn’t come around, I gain new skills and feel a sense of accomplishment for trying something new.
3. Address blind spots when they become apparent
In over a decade of working within the fair trade space, I am constantly learning new ways we can create a more just, equitable trading system. In other words, we still have blind spots. One of the most blatant blind spots illuminated in the past few years is how our messaging can contribute to racism and the white savior mentality. Seeing yourself as part of the problem is painful, but it is part of the process. We have made changes to our language around how we talk about the artisans and farmers around the world that we aim to support. Rather than telling personal stories of the artisans—stories that often contain trauma—we are focusing on celebrating the craftsmanship of these skilled makers. Our messaging should not tug on the heartstrings of our customers and entice them to purchase because they believe the producers are in desperate need of our help. Instead, the stories we tell will speak to the industriousness, skill, and creativity of the artisans we support. Our customers choose to shop with us because they appreciate the craftsmanship of the product and want to create an economy that values the work of skilled human beings.
I am constantly looking to improve the way we operate that is more ethical, genuine, and true to our fair trade values. Of all the things I am practicing, this is the most important.