Sarah the least likely entrepreneur.

May 29, 2012 0 Comments

 So that's me there on the left.  Hanging out in Colorado with my friend Lindsey.  I really should've been more professional and chosen a photo of just me, or one with my business partner Donavan - something that's been edited for goodness' sake.  But I liked this one.  

This is the unlikely story of me, and how I came to be working a job that I love more and more everyday as co-owner of Yobel Market. 

Here goes: 

Once upon a time, I was born in the small town of Peculiar, Missouri. "How strange," you say - and you would be right. While we're at it, please understand that it's not Missour-uh mind you.  It is Missour-ee. We Midwesterners can be particular about this. 

I was firstborn in a great family (not without issues of course) and was privy to a childhood filled with summer's out-of-doors, cut-off from television and air conditioning, and spent instead rummaging around in a creek somewhere or destroying an unfortunate neighbor's bale of hay....

On the rare occasion that television was on the docket, I can remember watching those child-sponsorship-style commercials with little African babies, bellies all distended, flies forever stuck in the corners of eyeballs and thinking in my 10-year-old mind 'Why is this happening?'

This seemed to develop into a theme over the next few years. I still think about the evenings spent crying into my pillow about Desert Storm in middle school and being distraught over the homeless population of our nation's capital during a 6th-grade trip to DC.  

In high school, I discovered a lot of things: dancing, boys, theater, dressing-up and Jesus, among others.  That last bit was the best part, and sure did make me a new person. Love changed me from the kid that snuck around lying about why I was late for curfew into the teen who volunteered to do the dishes and invited my younger sister to hang out on the weekends.  That may not seem like much of a serious transformation, but if you doubt me, just talk to my mother.

In college, I volunteered a lot helping out high school kids who struggled with their identities just like I had.  I also studied theatre for awhile until they asked me to take my clothes off on-stage, at which point I turned down a lead role and quit the program.  I came to my advisor quite a mess, bearing the yellow slip that threatened to throw me out of school if I didn't settle on a major (sound familiar?) and was given a novel idea.  "Why not study what you like?" Dr. Browning inquired.  Which classes did I enjoy?  That was easy. I loved anything pertaining to religious, ethical, and spiritual thought.  So I became a Religious Studies major - mostly because I wanted to know why I believed what I believe, and definitely because the Philosophy classes were way over my head.  I mean in a world where there are believed to be thousands of gods, I wanted to put a little research into the one I was going to follow, but I didn't want to spend hours talking about the state of my being. Luckily, my parents never asked what I planned to do with my degree.  

Throughout my coursework, I began to consume the writings and memoirs of activists - Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce among them. I was fascinated with radical living, I think mostly because of a deep rooted fear of living a mediocre life.  These leaders challenged me because they were so completely SOLD OUT in loving others at their own expense, challenging us not to give only out of our excess, but out of our poverty as well.

I wasn't there yet.  

So my junior year of college, I heard what I believed to be God's voice telling me I would spend the year after I graduated overseas.  I thought that meant India at the time, and wrote a letter to the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata asking if I could come.  Being the archaic period pre-dating email (at least in the offices of Kolkata), I received a hand-written letter in reply nearly 2 months later inviting me to show up at a certain bus station at a certain time. I would be picked up by a sister and taken to the birth place of Mother Theresa's lifework in loving the dying and destitute.  

So I graduate in 2003 with a BA in Religious Studies, a mockery of a Spanish minor and a required Global Studies minor (thank-you Drury).  The following September, I did leave for 8 months to travel around the globe and do my idealistic best to "change the world."  Better judgment kept me from traveling to India alone and instead I gained the opportunity to journey with 2 dear friends overseas.  I think my mother started coloring her hair that year as her eldest travelled to East Africa for 5 months, then on to Thailand and Cambodia, finishing up with a partially solo hitchhike around Australia and New Zealand.  In that time I called home exactly once, just before spending Christmas on top of Kilimanjaro.  

That adventure was the third most life-changing event of my now 30 years.  I wrestled with my belief in a good God, I struggled with the lack of human response to poverty, I wept each day as I watched beautiful Thai women selling their bodies to 50 yr-old white men with paunchy bellies and Hawaiian shirts.  I wrestled hard and came home a good deal skinnier, wearing worn out Chacos, and embodying a sense of peace that was noticeably different.  

Three years later, I crossed the ocean a second time with a husband fresh off the altar and a couple of 18-year-old kids from Colorado.  We spent about a month between Uganda and Kenya, and it was there that I met the young Ugandan man that would inspire me to help start businesses around the world.  

Six months later Donavan and I found ourselves becoming re-aquainted over a cup of coffee, discussing a shoebox full of bamboo and a business card from Dave & Morgan Hansow of Light Gives Heat.  The bamboo jewelry was supposed to help fund a youth club in Jinja and Dave and Morgan were going to teach us how.  This sweet couple spent hours on the phone answering our legal-pad-worth of questions (did I mention Donavan and I have one intro to business course between us?) and then allowed us to consign some of their beautiful Ugandan paper beads to help us get going.  Some high school students bought Donavan and I a pop-up tent and a friend lent us some tables and there we were, in business.  A summer's worth of farmer's markets allowed us to buy into 2 other freedom initiatives, expanding our line and adding to our stories.

And astonishingly, it began to grow by the grace of God and the kindness of friends.  In the process I developed an incredible love for our artisan partners globally, and a deep gratitude toward my business partner along with our volunteers and supporters. I also gained less-fulfilling relationships with the Secretary of State, the Department of Revenue, Liability Insurance, and a very nice non-profit lawyer named Dustin. At the end of the day, however, we were able to open a brick-and-mortar in Old Colorado City with a really fun product line made fairly all around the world. My sister Megan is looking pretty good in some some fairly made clothing and accessories below...

My eyes still glaze over when people (aka my husband) start talking about profit and loss statements, branding, Quickbooks, marketing strategy, search engine optimization and merchant services.  Can I say that I hate that stuff? 

I hate that stuff. 

Tax week is literally the darkest 14 days of my year.  Yes that's right, it takes me 2 weeks (slightly above the national average).  

Really, when it comes down to it, I have none of the typical skills required to run a business.  Twelve times a day I think to myself, "now who can I get to do that for me?" Not because I don't want to do it (most of the time) but because I'm just not altogether equipped.  That's where the joy of partnership comes in. We are so loved by so many, and those friends give us their time and gifts and talents to make us much more than we could be otherwise.  

So be encouraged because that old American adage of "Follow Your Dreams" is true!  At the risk of sounding a bit like I'm blowing sunshine you-know-where, if someone like me can run a business, you can build a building, be a famous actor, or raise amazing kids. Most of us were born in the land of opportunity for goodness' sake. It would be a shame to waste all of that "opportunity." Even those of us struggling with deep opposition still have access to clean water, free education, a-not-entirely-corrupt government, and social services.  We are all made for something unique, and as my friend Robin says, we are created to do something so specific that the world literally will lack if we don't do it.  So please, do what you are made to do!  If I have learned anything from 4 years of unlikely entrepreneurship, it is that although ideas are a dime a dozen, very rare are those with the courage to act on them. Those of us who do, need only begin to put one foot in front of the other, and ask for a lot of help along the way.  If you need someone to cheer you on, call me.  I'll be here with pom poms and a pep-talk. Great risk can lead to great reward.