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What Erin Bagwell and Lindsey Pittman Teach Us About Craft

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 2/03/2016 Meg Seitz
135862826 © Andy Teo aka Photocillin via Getty Images 135862826

I wasn't exactly sure how to move on from the series of posts I wrote about my mom's breast cancer. I didn't want to turn this column into a corner where I continued to mull over it, but I also knew that I couldn't move forward with entirely new material and stories without acknowledging that my vision and voice were permanently altered through the course of this last year because of that experience.
To do all this responsibly, I felt it only right to pluck something or someone from that part of my life story, and bring it (or him or her) with me as a storyteller. Like a real-life fortune cookie musing. I needed something to remind me where I've been or what I've learned as a writer.
Alicia read my first blog column about my mom's diagnosis, and she reached out to me on Twitter. I didn't know Alicia at all. But something about what I wrote about my mom felt familiar to her, and she reached out. What I came to learn was that her dad had recently been diagnosed with cancer. We formed a social media friendship which led to voicemails and texts to check in on each other and each other's family.
When Alicia's father passed away in November, my heart sank. And I knew in that moment that I wanted something about Alicia and her story or her life to be what re-launched my craft here.
Alicia works as a member of a film crew for a documentary named 'Dream, Girl'. And 'Dream, Girl' just might be one of the coolest works of art I've heard of in a while, run, directed, created by Erin Bagwell.
When Erin Bagwell and I talked last year, she told me about how she got started working in New York; she was working in corporate advertising, freelancing on the side, harnessing the dream. And always wanted to find film; felt destined for it. There wasn't really a clear path to get there.
After working in the corporate environment for a period of time, Bagwell noticed something - she wasn't getting promoted. And not only was she not getting promoted, she found herself in an professional environment dripping with negativity; and then worse - that negativity was seeping into her spirit. She started to modify her behavior to get herself out of the spotlight.
From there, she found online forums that reverberated similar professional stories - stagnant, stale careers, negative work environments, failures to promote and support and mentor and coach women.
Bagwell took all that and ran in the opposite direction - she made a personal promise to surround herself with professional positivity. Which is right when she made the decision to launch Feminist Wednesday - a blog she crafted with her full commitment to share those good, real stories of women in the workplace that Bagwell so desperately craved. Through that process, she found her confidence and her self-esteem again - not to mention a powerful network of female entrepreneurs. She was starting to emerge more as a leader and founder inspired by positive women running well-rooted, original businesses.
It was then that it occurred to Bagwell - she could tell these female entrepreneur stories in an authentic, beautiful way - a film, a documentary. It would be the ultimate stand against what she experienced earlier in her career as well as the positive boost of energy she knew the next generation of female leaders needed.
She quit her job; started the Kickstarter campaign; put everything she had into the Kickstarter video - and raised over $100,000 to make the documentary. "I knew when we hit our goal, my life was going to change forever," said Bagwell.
This is a journey she's taking with other women - she hired a female crew to help navigate not only logistics and filming, but also post-production and marketing, public relations efforts. "It's not a journey that one takes alone," said Bagwell. "And with an all-female crew telling the story of other female entrepreneurs, there's a really beautiful energy amongst everyone who cares about this project."
Her goals are clear - make the world a better place for girls and tell the best story possible to do just that. But, what's clear is that this is about so much more than that - it's about re-shaping craft.
When I heard about The Daily Press (TDP) - a coffee bar tucked inside Charlotte's The Evening Muse - I didn't think it was real. I thought he was pulling my leg. The last time I had been to The Evening Muse was for a late night indie rock concert. The idea that daylight seeped into this place and a coffee shop thrived here during the day blew my mind.
So I went. And I met Lindsey Pittman, the owner, manager, dreamer, driver of this business. And I realized this girl knew more about business than some of the blue-shirt-loafer-wearing jokers I went to business school with which I respect. I had a business-girl-crush on her immediately.
To be honest - if you walked into TDP, and you saw Pittman, you wouldn't think she was the owner, manager, creative brains behind the operation. I say that because I think we've been taught or allowed ourselves to believe that the most obvious, biggest personality in the room, is in fact, the one who has the most on the line. That's false.
But you watch her for a little while, and, if you're paying attention, you can figure out pretty quickly that it's her show. Several times during our conversation, she would get up to take care of a customer or gently acknowledge to a barista that someone needed something. Her leadership is calm, cool, and collected.
After years in the coffee business, how'd she get here?
"I noticed a difference between when I made something - like a coffee drink - versus when someone else made something." From there, she wanted to make it her craft - and she did. Why? "If you're going to do something, do it right," she confirmed.
But, it's not just about doing it right.
Pittman wanted to take something that's been standard - like the coffee experience - and change it. And she did just that; "We set out to find what's been set in stone - and throw it out the window," she said.
Like chemists in a lab, her team develops beautiful, artfully-made, handcrafted drinks; they admittedly mess around with everything; they wait to see what works. They aren't as blasé as that initial reads - but, more so, a new level of mindful artist- real professionals who take it seriously, respecting it as a craft that's capable of elevating the coffee business. "Never say no to anyone who wants to go above and beyond for your business," Pittman advised.
As of today,TDP is moving to a different location in Charlotte; Pittman is growing her personal brand and spending a lot of time in Asheville opening Trade and Lore, a similar coffee concept opening this Spring.
Each of these stories standing alone is powerful. But, when you think about them together, you've got this - two female business owners reinventing craft.
Yes, this is a conversation about women in business; BUT, it's also a conversation about craft and art what and how we choose to make our craft - that which is carefully curated, built honestly, born from free space, open air, a blank space - opportunity.
What I like and appreciate and respect about each of them and both of them is summed up well by what Pittman said pretty nonchalantly, yet boldly during our conversation - "We set out to find what's been set in stone for this industry - and throw it out the window."
When she said that to me, she said it in a way that made it sound so easy - like there was no other choice but to take what we're always known, and throw it out the window, flip it on its head, turn it around 180 degrees so it's facing the complete opposite direction. As long as you don't look back, you're changing your vision forever.
Both Bagwell and Pittman are doing that. By re-inventing how we define our craft and what we produce whether that's a blog committed to professional positivity that leads to a documentary or coffee beans soaked in hot water that becomes a experience.
Your craft is when you take what you've been dealt, your industry, your de rigueur - and run in the opposite direction, throw it out the window. And create something entirely new - which then becomes art.
I read Alicia's blog frequently now; she writes a lot about her dad and how she manages and works through how deeply she misses him. She writes openly about that grief which is not something a lot of us willingly choose to do when we're in that place.
Which made me realize that Alicia and Erin and Lindsey are part of a new generation of female artists and leaders and thinkers.
What's your craft? Dream, girl.

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