Traverse City Startup Story: Be Afraid, Then Do it Anyway


Fear is a paradox. On the one hand, it’s what prevents some people from living out their dreams. On the other, it’s fuel for a life well lived. We’re biologically programmed to run from fear. But the truth is that many of the best things in life happen when we run straight at it.

Overcoming fear is one of the fundamental threads of the hero’s journey. This construct – recoiling from fear, then overcoming it – is woven into the fabric of almost every great work of literature and cinema. It’s a powerful and compelling storytelling device because it’s a pervasive condition of the human experience.

Last week Heather and I had the pleasure of watching La La Land at the State Theatre in downtown Traverse City. It was the perfect setting to take in a modern twist on old Hollywood. It was a great movie, deserving of accolades and award nominations. Like almost every movie, at La La Land’s core was a telling of the hero’s journey. It just weaves the tale more interestingly and beautifully than others.

[Minor Spoiler Alert!] The movie centers on Mia, the protagonist played by Emma Stone, who puts herself and her art “out there” in pursuit of a dream. She poured everything into her endeavour, only to come crashing down. The lack of external affirmation, and soft whispers of criticism became too much for her to take. Ultimately, her moment of humiliation turned into a moment of triumph. But Mia’s road was a long one marked by great angst and tumult. [End Spoiler Alert!]

This journey? It’s the artist’s way.

“Art” in this sense is a metaphor for any endeavour, creative or otherwise, that involves daring greatly. That involves risk and discomfort. That exposes vulnerability. That requires someone to transcend fear.

Fear is a thief. It robs us, both individually and collectively, of the fruits of human potential. What magic lies buried deep within people’s hearts that we’ll never see because they’re afraid to put it out in the world?

There’s no escaping the paradox of fear. No one is fearless. That’s because fear (of criticism, of failure, of judgment) is inevitable. It can’t be eliminated, only confronted. As Seth Godin says, you can’t escape the fear so you need to learn to “dance with it.”

Put another way: Be afraid, then do it anyway. Live the life you want to live, not the life that your fear defines for you.

The Flip-Side of Fear 

If you’ve read this far, you may have guessed (and you’d be right) that we’re thinking a lot about fear right now. That’s because, these days, it’s a very real and present emotion.

As we announced last month, we’re launching a new business through Life and Whim this spring. We’re designing and making a collection of apparel and other goods for both kids and adults. It’s a brand built for the active, adventurous, outdoor family. All of this is new and scary, but exciting.

Here’s the good news: There’s a flip-side of fear, and it’s joy. As we’ve invested in the discomfort of something new, the happiness dividend has grown larger. Again, that’s the paradox. Almost all that is good and fulfilling exists on the other side of fear. {tweet that} By laying some of our fears bare, through both our blog and conversations, we’ve been nourished by the encouragement of others. It’s rewarding to build something with (and for) our family, friends and community, both near and far.

As we move closer to our launch, we’re excited to start revealing sneak peeks at what we’re working on. We’ll be launching with a small, carefully crafted collection, which we’ll build on over time and through the seasons. Today, we highlight one of our first items of apparel.

As we mentioned in our last “Startup Story” post, our upcoming kids’ collection is, in large part, inspired by the Halloween costume that Heather created for our oldest daughter, Maddie, in October.


Our first product sneak peek is of a “Little Explorer” polar fleece cape for girls that Heather designed, and that is now in production at our “Made-in-Michigan” cut and sew manufacturer.

It’s our firm belief that kids don’t need anything other than their energy and imaginations to have fun outside. But we also believe that a child’s outdoor experience can be enhanced if she’s wearing something that, like Maddie in the corn maze, makes her feel adventurous. Anyone who has observed kids at play knows that, from a favorite shirt to a lucky cap, kids are empowered and energized by things that make them feel special.

From comic book superheroes to Victorian-era fashionistas, capes have held symbolic significance and functional purpose in various societies and cultures throughout history, as well as in literature and pop culture. We hope our capes make kids feel a sense of strength and freedom as they sling them across their shoulders with pride. We want the capes to remind kids of what it feels like to be outdoors – wild and free – where they can unleash their creative and adventurous superpowers. We also want them to be a functional, cozy piece that girls can wear proudly while out window-shopping with mom, or strolling to school with friends.

The photos you see above are a sneak peek at our cape prototype before it went into production. It’s an early sample and we’ve made some further enhancements since, but hopefully this glimpse into the first sample and process gives you a sense of what is to come!

We’ve learned a lot about garment designing and making during this process. In short, when working with a production partner, it’s best to come up with a prototype of your own, and then work with your partner who will create a pattern and then a final sample based on your design. Once the sample is approved, it will then be “graded” up or down in size to the extent additional sizes (for example, our capes will come in S, M, L) will be offered.

Our kids’ capes are made from cozy polar fleece and Minky faux fur in a variety of unique patterns and colors. They will also feature fun “notions” (another term of art we learned during this process), such as pretty jacquard ribbon trims, ruffles made out of polar fleece, wood buttons and toggle closures, as well as a special adornment that we’ll be previewing for your in the next few weeks. Our initial Little Explorer collection will roll out with several different capes – each based off the same design – being offered. Each of the capes in the collection will have a distinctly different look consisting of varying fabrics and notion styles that are sure to inspire kids to tap into their inner “wild child” as they explore the great outdoors.

We’ve had a lot of fun working and collaborating over the last couple of months to get our cape prototype to the point where we could send it off for production. And for all of the rough and tumble, outdoorsy boys out there, don’t worry, we have something special in production for you, too. We’ll be previewing that product in a few weeks.

Do It Anyway 

There’s one more thing about the paradox of fear: It doesn’t account for size or perceived significance. The film student screening his documentary for in-class critique feels the same pit in her stomach that the Oscar-winning director does at the Hollywood red carpet premiere.

In the grand scheme of things, and despite having big dreams for it, our new venture is starting small. But that’s okay – we’re in this for the long haul. When you love what you’re doing, the process itself – as opposed to some distant, uncertain outcome – is the fun part. For us, the process is the passion. Everything else will take care of itself along the way.

Thanks for sharing in our Startup Story. Documenting and sharing our process allows us to stay on track and transcend many of the trepidations we feel about where we’re headed. So in a sense this is an exercise in self-motivation. We also hope, however, to provide a bit of motivation to others who may be considering, or just embarking on, their own creative journey.

Do you have an idea, a piece of art, a short story, or a business venture that you’re fearful about putting out into the world? Do you worry that it’s small and insignificant? Do you ask yourself, “Why would anyone care?”, “Why should I should bother?” or “What will people think?”.

This is normal. It’s the fear talking. It’s not easy to run toward something that others are running away from. But know this: Everyone who has made something, and put themselves out there, cares immensely about what you do. They want to see your contribution. We want to see your contribution. Don’t let fear stop you. Be true to yourself.

Be afraid, then do it anyway.

AdventuresJay Harrington