fabulous shoes

Post by Jennifer McDevitt for the Kindness in Business series.

image courtesy of Garry Knight on Flickr

I had the honor and privilege of attending a Fabulous Shoe Night event on Monday, and if any of you love shoes the way I do, you’re gonna want to look into this group of women! At Monday’s event, I got to meet FSN’s founder, the lovely Jen McDevitt, and how we found each other is nothing short of divine, universal planning. Curious? You know what to do! Drop me a line at Dear KOM. ?, Lara

Having never really been “in business” before, I had virtually no idea what to expect when I started my new business. In my mind, at least, Fabulous Shoe Night isn’t really a business, but more an extension of my heart.

In all honestly, Fabulous Shoe Night was never intended to be a business, anyway … certainly not in the beginning. In fact, two years and many, many events later, I still inwardly shudder a little at the word business, and, in the privacy of my thoughts, think of that word as “the B word” … for more than a few reasons. Let’s just say I’ve learned, and continue to learn, a lot of lessons as I traipse along the yellow brick road in my ruby slippers. (Or, in this case, stilettos.)

A little background …

The idea for Fabulous Shoe Night first came to me as a way for my friends and I to get together for a monthly Girl’s Night Out, wearing our fabulous shoes that seemed to just be sitting, unworn, but certainly not unloved, in our closets. You know those shoes … perhaps you bought them for a cousin’s wedding, wore them once, and now they sit on your closet shelf, gathering dust. Or the impulse purchase of the prettiest shoes you just had to have … yet don’t have many occasions to wear. That’s where Fabulous Shoe Night initially came in … we’d get together, wear whatever shoes made us feel fabulous, enjoy cocktails and each other, as well as a reason to wear our fabulous shoes and get them out of the closet.

But then something completely unexpected happened. My friends started bringing their friends, and our little gatherings grew exponentially … and then still more each month. It was at that point I realized we could use our growing numbers as a way to do some good in the world, and I eventually came up with a model that benefited a local charity with each event we held. Before long, I had offers to open chapters in other parts of my area … and then, in other parts of the country. Again, never having been in business before ( I used to be a nurse, then stayed home full-time to raise my three boys), I literally figured it out as I went along, or, as I like to say … “flew by the seat of my Spanx.”

Like a living entity proving to have a life, and will, all it’s own, Fabulous Shoe Night evolved into something that was not only bigger and grander than I had ever imagined, but something that positively affected virtually everyone involved. Yet, despite my best intentions, it also evolved into a business. It wasn’t until about a year after the first FSN seed planted itself in my heart that I came up with our current working model, and, just like that …viola! … I was a proud, albeit inexperienced, business owner.

So, I guess I was pretty naive in thinking that going forward in growing and expanding Fabulous Shoe Night by opening chapters to help even more local charities, things were going to be pretty kumbaya. I mean … here we were, helping local charities, gathering fabulous women together to mingle, network, etc., get our fabulous shoes out of the closet so they could actually be seen, strengthening bonds, building new ones … it was all just so positive! I couldn’t help but feel that if this was a business, being in business was easy!

Um … yeah. Not so fast.

What I didn’t know, but quickly came to learn, was that in business, people can be brutal … and when I started to see that, I was totally and completely blindsided. Issues popped up that weren’t even on my radar … and as each inane, unnecessary and often power-mongering issue bubbled up, I was blindsided yet again at how ruthless, un-creative and vindictive people (women!) could be “in business.” It was as if there were different sets of rules … if bad behavior in any other circumstance fell under the umbrella of “business,” it somehow excused it … as in, “Oh, it’s not personal, it’s just business.” As a novice business owner, I was not happy, and began to wonder … was this actually what being “in business” was all about?

Slowly, I began to learn the ropes around the boxing, um …I mean business, world. I began to see that at times I was perhaps too nice … and that my niceness was sometimes perceived as weakness, or worse yet, stupidity. While I was astute enough to understand that this gave me an unseen upper-hand (please, Darling … if there’s one thing you don’t ever want to do, it’s underestimate me), this realization started a whole new train of thought for me … was it even possible to be kind in business? Can you be kind, and still be taken seriously? And, more important, is it possible to be kind and succeed … in business?

This new awareness of the ugly under-belly of the business world (or, to be fair, certain business people) was difficult to digest, for these were rules I didn’t play by. I think most of us were raised with the “Golden Rules” … play fair, be honest, cooperate, share, don’t hurt someone’s feelings, don’t talk behind people’s backs, don’t lie, don’t steal … in short, treat others as you would want to be treated. Of course I realized that college and nursing school weren’t the same as attending business school, but where, exactly, did the breakdown of these basic Golden Rules occur? I’m sure there are no classes in business school called “How to Lie, Cheat and Steal Your Way to the Top,” “Ten Ways to be Sneeringly Condescending With a Smile on Your Face,” or, my personal favorite, “How to Steal People’s Money While Pretending They’re Your Client.” Were these, in fact, learned behaviors? Or, sadder still, behavior some people were at first on the receiving end of, and felt that, to actually get ahead, they too had to emulate? Did business have to be this way?

Trying to wrap my head around this very issue I found to be so unnecessary, if not downright distasteful, I found myself getting depressed. For a time, I found I was being overly cautious, even distrustful of, really … everyone. I knew it was unrealistic to whip out a non-disclosure agreement from my purse every time I discussed Fabulous Shoe Night with someone, but where did right and wrong come into play in business? It most certainly wasn’t a given, and if being shocked at this truth meant I was naive, well, then so be it. I wasn’t disputing the fact that I was naive, but that didn’t make what they were doing right.

After digesting some of the more serious blows, I came to the realization that while some people will think nothing of outright stealing … from picking and choosing elements of the FSN model (like at a salad bar, for goodness sake!), to a more serious nature of stealing email lists and internal documents … Fabulous Shoe night was still mine. It belonged to me … so much more than in the sense of outright ownership. I created it … with my heart, and my creativity, my desire to help others, with enthusiasm, and more than a little help from God. So things like email lists or taking elements of our model really didn’t matter in the long run. They only had a piece of the overall picture, but they didn’t have all those things in my heart that made Fabulous Shoe Night what it is, and what it will be.

While it was certainly distressing to learn that so many women in business play dirty, that, too, could be turned around and used to our advantage. I decided to let others behave as they chose, as yes … behavior is a choice. But I choose that Fabulous Shoe Night will be different.

Kindness is also a choice, in life as well as in business. And while it may seem like short-cuts to success to “borrow” elements from a successful model someone else created, in the long run it’s short-circuiting true success. If someone is that un-creative that they resort to “borrowing” what they couldn’t come up with in the first place, they’ll never succeed long-term.

While I know I am no where near the end of this journey that Fabulous Shoe Night is teaching me about business, as I continue along the yellow brick road before me, I consciously reach into my pocket and put on rose-colored glasses. Going forward, I will wear these glasses to continue to see the good in people, but not naively so, for the hard lessons I learned were also great teachers. I will be unfailingly kind, and run my business with honesty and integrity, for no other reason than that is what I believe to be right.

Besides … rose-colored glasses are a fabulous match for my ruby stilettos.

A former nurse, with an emphasis on wound care and infection control, Jennifer left nursing 17 years ago to stay home and raise her three boys. With three male dogs as well, there is a lot of testosterone in her world… so much so, that it led Jennifer to see the importance of regular girl-time with her friends. Fabulous Shoe Night was created to fill this void. In addition to the founding chapter in Media, PA, Fabulous Shoe Night has opened multiple chapters, reaching as far west as Las Vegas. To chronicle the exciting journey from idea to execution, Jennifer has a blog called Fabulous Shoe Night. You can follow her journey HERE. For more information about Fabulous Shoe Night or for inquiries about starting a Fabulous Shoe Night chapter in your area, visit the website or email Jennifer directly. To stay connected, “Like” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and visit us on Pinterest.

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