Eventually, you’re going to find yourself in a conversation where some say, “That’s really cool.” The follow-up will be more surprising. The follow-up, when they invite you to share your experiences on some platform. Panic is the first response, but in such cases vanity relieves that. You now know how I’m approaching writing this.
At first, it was difficult to talk about what I’d done, because it didn’t seem planned. When I looked back and dissected the experience, I realized it was the result of practices that had become a part of my identity, number one among them being “talk about it.” I’m writing this because I first used every social media platform and bent countless ears to promote my trip to India.
My work on the trip was also a result of talking about one of my passions. I’ve been talking about sewing most of my life. After sharing this ability with my team, I was asked to teach a group of women who had survived human trafficking to sew. The hope was that sewing would eventually help them support themselves and the mission that fights trafficking.
This is not the first time that discussions of sewing have helped me find a way to serve. While living in Syracuse, New York, I used sewing to connect with refugee seamstresses from around the world. I had long given up on my thought of pursuing a career in fashion. However, my hobby turned out to be what I could offer others and contribute to my community.
Talking about it also forces action. Once I’d made my plans known, I felt much more pressure to be successful, but I also had support. Of course, the trip would not have been possible without financial contributions. However, the necessity of encouragement cannot be quantified. Perhaps the most meaningful encouragement came from people who had seen me fail. When my small business venture in Syracuse did not work out, I felt like I’d let countless people down. Their encouragement proved that the failure loomed larger in my imagination than in reality. Furthermore, had I tried to hide my failure, I’d have missed an amazing trip and an opportunity to share my skills.
I do not sew as much as I would like. However, even after my first failure, I never stopped. Before going to India, I thought I’d teach the ladies some basics of sewing: hand sewing, basic seams, buttons–all the boring things I had to do before I was allowed to make real garments. When I met them, my plans changed instantly.
When you make something you can use, it is a daily reminder of your capabilities, your worth, and your independence. Those things are crucial elements to any plan. I decided to teach them how to make messenger bags. Since I was fifteen, I have made hundreds of these bags. I know every step. Thus, it was easy to tech even when we had issues with the machine. The ladies were clearly proud and excited about their finished product.
Practicing sewing enabled me to teach with ease, but I learned so much more from time bent over my machine. The ability to adapt quickly and dispassionately came from countless mistakes on my own projects. So, I knew how to instruct my students when they faced a problem. While the machine was being fixed, I quickly turned it into an opportunity to teach more hand sewing techniques. Adaptability is not just an ability but a mindset. Learning to see every challenge as an opportunity has improved my creativity and leadership.
I am not running a social enterprise. I am far from a great seamstress. I’m sure there are loads of people that could have taught more lucrative skills or taught better, which is why the most important habit is showing up. We all have insecurities, but the more you chose to act, in spite of them, the less power they hold. Sometimes, being good enough is enough. Six messenger bags later, it was clear that my skills were good enough for my first trip to India, and I’m inspired to make myself better before I return.
Emma Voigt is a Washington D.C.-based associate with ICF, a Global Consulting group. Previously, she was an advisor for International Students and Scholars at Syracuse University, NY. Emma was also a member for AmeriCorps VISTA for New Venture Development, where she collaborated to develop and implement a business incubator model for the Northside Community in Syracuse. In her role, Emma conducted extensive research on local regulations, social enterprise, entrepreneurship training, and business development models. Emma advocated for local entrepreneurs and worked with local legislators to find creative solutions to business development challenges.