April 17, 2015

Magic in the Unexpected

I'm halfway through my second term at Experience Institute and am still amazed that I’ve been in Paris for the last six weeks. Eight weeks ago, I did not know what this term would be like for me. Opportunities were up in the air, and there were very few clues to predict which ones would land. On the surface, it appears that I created this exploratory learning experience using Paris as my campus at the last minute. But when I retrace my steps and reflect on the events leading up to now, I realize that I started writing the experience into the plan for my year just days into the first meetup.

On Friday, September 5, 2014 during a segment of the self-awareness portion of our learning curriculum for Meetup 1, facilitators requested students to make unreasonable asks of the group. The guideline was to dream BIG and ask for the (seemingly) impossible. I shared that I love all things French. I asked for a pied-à-terre in Paris to live in for a few months.

The inspiration for the request was my first trip to the French capital four years earlier. In a cooking class, I’d met a few other Americans who were vacationing here and elsewhere in Europe for anywhere from one to three months. Back then, traveling abroad for that long seemed like a pipe dream. I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) imagine how it could become my reality, much less within the context of a self-directed graduate school program. I had no concept of such a thing. Higher education was no longer even a blip on my radar anyway. My career was growing. I was perpetually plotting my next corporate move. Taking extended time off would have disrupted my plan. Little did I know, a disruption was exactly what I needed.

One of the greatest values Ei holds for me is learning how to quickly pivot when the best laid plans go awry. Our program is fertile ground for the unexpected to occur. As a highly organized person, I gain satisfaction from things going like a well-orchestrated symphony. I was rewarded for it in my past life, so it takes me a little longer than people with different styles to change direction. I’m unlearning this behavior. I’m learning how to receive the magic in the unexpected.

I was able to see some of Paris Fashion Week up close, in person. It helped me to home in on the areas of the fashion business I’m more interested in –– part of what I enrolled in Ei to discover. I initiated contact with retail concept stores, magazine editors, a fashion and textiles curator for a museum at the Louvre, and a global business unit manager for a French fashion house. I have meetings scheduled as a result. I hope there are more to come.

One of the most unexpected treasures of this experience (so far) arrived better than I could have planned it. While researching a premium denim company I connected with, I discovered one of its founders was once an apprentice at a small company in the United Kingdom called Hiut Denim. Curious, I visited the Hiut Denim website and signed up for their newsletter.

Two weeks after I arrived in Paris, I received a newsletter announcing “Open Day,” an event Hiut Denim holds once a year. It’s a chance for the company to meet its customers, retail shops, and share their new products, ideas and campaigns. The event includes a guided factory tour and a workshop with their Grand Masters for learning how to cut, fit, grade, and sew a pair of jeans. I jumped at the chance to see how premium quality apparel is handcrafted, intending to close gaps in my knowledge of the clothing industry.

The timing is perfect. I probably wouldn’t be attending this event if I was back home in the States. I’m writing from my room at a bed and breakfast in Cardigan, Wales, where Hiut Denim is headquartered. Open Day is tomorrow. I wonder what magic will manifest from this trip and how I can create more of it.

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