As a Woman in Business
Since starting my business journey, I have come to realise that as the platform through which I express my experience, creativity, growth and perception of the world, it has been the most sensational catalyst for discovering who and what I truly am, and where my place in the world is.
Tea is my greatest teacher, and I its ever-humble servant. Early on this path, Tea moved beyond being a business and simultaneously became my practice. It is multilayered and multifaceted. It has been through this vehicle that I have come face to face with the questions of what it is to be a woman in business, again and again. It has allowed me to take my preconceptions; my expectations and my ideas, throw it all away, and discover it anew, in so many different forms. The incredible mirror that is this business and tea experience reflects many aspects of myself back to me. And the scariest, hardest and most challenging part is facing what I see.
When I first started my business, people looked at the idea of the Tea Caravan and thought it was “quaint” and “cute”, as if the business was just a fun craft project, because I was a woman. No one had done the food trucks in South Africa before and so convincing people of its viability and long standing potential was even harder. Not to mention I was now selling Tea in a completely Coffee mad culture. I certainly appreciate the feminine / masculine metaphor in that image alone. I still face challenges as a woman in business, especially being in Agriculture or more formally, agri-processing. Farmers, processing companies and resellers are 99% male and have a preconditioned idea that women are incapable of managing anything to do with agriculture, let alone business in itself. Being taken seriously is challenging, and setting up long-term relationships is something that ticks over only in the long term. For men these relationships happen quicker, there is less to convince, and the brotherhood stands stronger. It’s as if you have to prove yourself as a viable partner just because there is inherent doubt if you are a woman.
As a woman in business, I have had to not only compete in a man’s world, but to compete with its principles and manner of function, the technique of which goes against my very nature. We live in a world of high expectation that glorifies destruction and self-destructive sacrifice. I work as hard as the next person, but there is a limit. Balance is so important. It is manly adrenal overload and hardness at its best. This world of 8 to 8, instant gratification, overnight millionaires and tech-heroes throws us into the chaos of inevitable burn out and depletion. The workweek ethic expects consistent effort, immediate turn-around and unending energy through every minute of every day, without ceasing or fluctuating. No wonder it’s a world addicted to coffee; it’s the only thing that numbs you into overdrive with no time for seatbelts or scenery, only A to Z and nothing in between… well, coffee and crack cocaine.
As a woman in business, if you are to partake in this paradigm and meet its contenders head-on, best you be a ‘Devil Wears Prada’, or of course you can always be a “creative”: because those are the only two boxes women are perceived to fit into. Be hardcore in order to effectively and equally compete with men, it is the dominant expectation after all, another thing that goes against my nature, despite being cultivated in such a way when I worked in the film industry for 6 years. One of the reasons I left this 20-hour day, 7-day week lifestyle was to get away from it, and yet I found myself immersed in it. I tried to keep up, I tried to be the man, flash my muscles, growl and rush into battle, facing my foes and slicing heads with fury. It didn’t work and I quickly found myself with a stomach ulcer, Stage 3 adrenal fatigue and a very unhappy business. Beyond all the infinite reasons to explain these imbalances, on a fundamental level, a woman’s body in particular is not physically designed to deal with consistent levels of stress (cortisol overload) in the same way a man’s is. I’m not saying men don’t experience stress or that stress is good at all, in fact it’s a major contributor to early death. Men have in fact been conditioned to just accept it, the same as men are conditioned not to cry as children. When your body isn’t happy, your mind take a toll, and then eventually your business reflects it. I tried going the other way of course, being only soft and gentle, amenable and nurturing. This didn’t work either, I was quickly flattened and my business again suffered.
If you don’t compete you perish, if you don’t fight you perish, if you don’t spend every moment with your fists up, you perish. And of course external judgment, expectation and competition perpetuate this insane drive. The conditioned way of running and functioning in business is one of general dominance and aggression. I find no joy in this. I don’t resonate with the standard manner of how the world runs business; it requires certain hardness, aggression and intensity that for me as a woman, just does not resonate. I don’t want it to resonate. Clearly something about it does not work, just look at the irreversible environmental damage, mass starvation, wars, and then some. Surely there has to be another way? As a woman in business, I choose to do things differently, not just for my sanity but because I have observed the interconnectedness of all things. Every cell makes up the body. What happens when cells go rouge and are out of balance with the rest of the body, they turn into cancer. Every person contributes the world and how we experience it. If you interact with aggression and dominance, dominance and aggression will be its essence. It’s not just about me, it’s not just about you, it’s about all of us. The responsibility I feel I have as a woman is to nurture and recreate business and how I run business as a whole, for the benefit of all. Just as women took on this role in the communities of old, and they did this with the support and engagement of the men. Call me idealistic, call me ignorant, I choose to challenge myself to be the change.
I now strive to find and experience joyfulness in the “what” and “how” of business, and I choose to spread that joyfulness with everyone I work with and everyone my business effects. Otherwise what is the point? We have to think about tomorrow in the sense of cause and effect. What will my choices today create tomorrow in my body, in my community, in my world? Your previous thoughts, words and actions became your present moment, and your present thoughts, words and actions become your future moments. As a woman in business, I want to consider myself, and more than myself simultaneously.
Being a woman, in business, has informed my process and created the strengths of my business and of myself today. I am strong not because I try to be like a man, I am strong because I am a woman. As a woman I am fluid and I adapt to my changing environment and respond accordingly. I nurture, I cultivate, I support, I want all to thrive. In saying that, I have to harness a level of firmness and find a middle way in order to assert myself and have boundaries. Just as a mother does with her children. I believe my power lies in being a woman and all the traits that come with it, and so I run my business and interactions in this manner, utilising these inherent superpowers. If anything, I would say being a woman in business is a strength that allows me to overcome my challenges.
As a business owner and managing director, my challenges never cease, especially as I strive to grow, expand and scale my business, a business that is redefining the common model. Nothing is ever certain, things could fall apart in a heart beat. Those moments of stress and anxiety are constant, competition is ever rife, I am trying to design a new model in a world that rejects it at every turn, and I have to navigate those things always. Doing business ethically is harder, doing business ethically is less successful in the short term. It requires deep resolve, it requires unwavering faith and certainty in your foundations and it requires you to constantly be as transparent and honest as possible. I thought I had to fight to prove its worth. Now I know its worth and I strive to support it’s every branch that grows from strong roots. Just as I know my worth. I have found the most effective way to do this is when I tap into my most feminine aspect, where I can both flow as yin and yang, the inner feminine and masculine. It is adapting and being fluid according to my circumstance and finding the delicate balance between my inner and outer environment. Ichigo Ichi – for this moment only. It is a Japanese saying that loosely translated refers to the impermanence of things; no two moments are the same. Within each moment lies infinite potential; if you are not present within any given moment you will miss the opportunities that lie hidden in it.
Your mind, your body and your environment are never the same, nor are they ever the same in conjunction with each other. So how can you ever be able to respond the same? Things are impermanent by their nature, just look out the window, the weather changes every 10 minutes, the seasons are ever in motion, and you think you are any different? The feminine in me has taught me to read every situation from the in to the out with precision and spontaneity in order to adapt accordingly to what is going to serve me, from a solid and stable foundation. This then serves the whole. I have learned the hard way that if I don’t serve myself I cannot serve anything else. If I do not allow myself to flow with the flux of life and respond according to each and every unique moment, and my unique inner state, I will very quickly be consumed by it. Every woman knows too well we are bound by daily and monthly fluctuations that often override our intentions. It is better to flow with it instead of fighting to overcome and dominate it, as is the male way.
I take many a leaf out of the Way of the Samurai. They were considered the most formidable warriors, unmoved by the prospect of death. What many don’t know is that they became this way because all they practiced and incorporated was serenity. Serenity allowed them to be present, it allowed them to be clear-headed, it allowed them to be immediately responsive with anything life, or a battle, threw at them. Serenity is a feminine trait. And what did they use to attain such serenity? Well, Tea of course. Wabi Cha – The Way of Tea, allowed them to take time and absolve themselves in the present in order to contemplate their place in the world, their interaction with it, their fluidity, their interconnectedness with themselves, others and the environment. This lead them to the outcome of being able to flow with, adapt and efficiently respond to their outer world. They were the ultimate warriors, the ultimate men, and they used the ultimately feminine way to achieve this.
Of course I find it very apt that tea is my business, my practice, and ultimately my teacher. It is the ultimate feminine, harnessing both yin and yang in a never ending dance where neither one is the leader or the follower, only a united flow.
A Chinese Martial art known as Wing Chun is considered one of the most lethal and effective martial arts. It was the initial martial art Bruce Lee learned and later based his martial art form on. Wing Chun is essentially Yin, not because it is Yin alone, but because it incorporates the Yang in the Yin, and finds a delicate balance between the two. When an opponent strikes, the energy and movement of the strike is taken within and redirected through softness and fluidity to result in a stronger and more intense counterstrike. Strength lies in the sinews and tendons of the body, not the muscles like it’s flashy counterpart Shaolin Kung Fu. The strength of resolve comes from ones stance, rooted and as immovable as a strong tree. This is where the constant flow of force remains, the masculine. The strength in attack comes through softness and fluidity, the feminine. If there were not the softness of relaxation and stability of strong roots, yin and yang, this would not be the sensationally successful martial art it is. It shows us that strength comes from the harmony of both masculine and feminine, in one liquid, effortless and ever-changing harmonious dance.
What I have come to learn is that being a woman in business, or even just a woman, is the perfect incorporation of yin and yang, feminine and Masculine all in one. It is not one or the other, not not one or not not the other, neither both at the same time, and yet it is absolutely all of the former singularly or simultaneously. I still haven’t perfected it, nor do I think I ever will. I don’t think you ever get to the go-to place, but as a woman, I am committed to honouring my innate essence and adapting to the current and ever impermanence of things. I know nothing and I dedicate myself to always discovering.
It is from softness that you find the greatest strength. Softness isn’t weakness and it isn’t surrender, it is force and it is fervour. To be a woman is to be both masculine and feminine. It is to be whom you authentically are, according to what allows you to function, adapt, flow and interact with the world in your own very perfect harmony. To be a woman is to adapt to finding your ultimate joy, without definition, preconception or expectation, of even yourself. To be a woman is to be like water and flow with the softness of every drop, and yet the strength to carve mountainsides.