Imperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose By Leaving Comfort and Going Scared
: The founder of the popular fair trade jewelry brand Noonday Collection shares her story of starting the rapid-growing business that impacts over 4,400 artisans in vulnerable communities across the globe and invites readers on a journey of transformation, challenging...
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:The founder of the popular fair trade jewelry brand Noonday Collection shares her story of starting the rapid-growing business that impacts over 4,400 artisans in vulnerable communities across the globe and invites readers on a journey of transformation, challenging them to trade their comfort zones for a life of impact and adventure.
In 2015, Inc. magazine recognized Noonday Collection as one of the fastest-growing companies in America. Years earlier, as Jessica Honegger stood at a pawn-shop counter in Austin, Texas, and handed over her grandmother's gold jewelry, her goal was personal: to fund the adoption of her Rwandan son, Jack, by selling artisan-made jewelry. This first step launched an unexpected side-hustle that would grow into Noonday Collection. She embarked on this new journey and teamed up with her first artisan partner, Jalia, a Ugandan jewelry maker. She saw the meaningful impact Noonday brought to Jalia's community and knew it was the right move. Fear crept into Jessica's heart as she realized her success, or failure, meant the same for Jalia. Refusing to let fear hinder her goals, Jessica found the necessary (if imperfect) courage she needed along the way--the courage to leave comfort and embrace a life of risk and impact. In Imperfect Courage, Jessica invites you to draw a circle of compassion around yourself and leads you through soul-searching aimed at setting you free from shame. Next, she challenges you to come together, risking all for each other and commit to building a culture of collaboration. Finally, Jessica calls on you to broaden your circles of compassion to embrace the entire globe--and to bring that cultivation of imperfect courage to a world that deeply needs you.
JESSICA HONEGGER is the founder of Noonday Collection, a fair-trade jewelry company that partners with artisans across the globe to create unique and hand-made pieces of jewelry. She and Noonday work to empower women from a wide variety of communities and cultures to create their own, thriving businesses by partnering with Noonday as an artisan or ambassador. Jessica lives in Austin with her husband and children.
Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
-- John Wayne
It’s the summer of 2017, and our group has just arrived in Uganda, returning to the place where Noonday Collection all began. I hear the drums beating in the distance, and my heartbeat falls into rhythm with the percussionists’ tempo. Our group has come from all over the United States; social entrepreneurs—at Noonday, we call them ambassadors—who have achieved some serious sales goals to arrive at this moment and finally put faces to the names of the artisans they’ve known only from photographs. The surreal nature of the moment hits me as we step out of the van onto the red dirt road that leads to the jewelry workshop. It’s a journey that seven years ago I couldn’t have imagined, as I sat hunkered in my guest bedroom with nothing but a handful of paper-bead necklaces.
I sneak behind the gate before the rest of my group and I are met with a tidal wave of tight hugs, swishing skirts, and joyful laughter. As the ambassadors emerge and are swept up in this celebratory parade, I tell them to resist the urge to get out their phones and snap photos. “Just be present!” I insist, raising my voice above the music. I don’t want us to miss a nanosecond of this experience.
As I scan the familiar faces of my artisan friends—Mama Sham with her impossibly bright grin, Bukenya with a trace of a joke always on his face, Latifa with her eager smile, Caleb and his sturdy handshake, Rosetta with her freshly cut hair, Mama Jabal with her ever-changing head covering, and Nakato with her shy countenance—I think of the long journey we’ve all been on together. Seven years ago, I couldn’t imagine starting a business that fostered a global sisterhood. My little jewelry business had become more than I had ever dreamed it could be.
After the first trunk show, things really took off—women showed increased interest, I had multiple trunk shows after that, and the business emerged as one that was real. After a few months’ work, demand grew not just in Austin but in cities across the country. I began to dream of what it would be like to work this business with other impact-hungry people like me. If I could multiply myself, then jobs across the world would multiply too, I figured; I was determined to see if I was right. But before I had a chance to start recruiting, I received an email from a woman in Seattle who had gotten wind of Noonday via another mom’s adoption blog. She wrote,
"My name is Sara. I would be interested in hosting a Noonday trunk show, but I’m also wondering if it would be possible to do more than that. I’m interested in working with your company to host Noonday trunk shows in the Seattle area—to earn income toward my family’s own adoption, to help others raise funds, and to make a difference in the lives of women in Uganda and around the world. Like you, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and to volunteer in places such as Argentina, Guatemala, and Pakistan. I’m passionate about the not-just-for-profit business model and would be excited to work with your company. Would you be interested in talking more about what that could look like?"
Why, yes, I would…
Sara and I began to exchange emails, exploring a compensation model for this impromptu arrangement, and within a couple of months, Sara became the first Noonday Collection ambassador and held the first-ever Noonday trunk show outside of Texas.
My vision was beginning to spread, and soon, more women were saying yes to launching their own Noonday businesses. Without realizing it, they had become Noonday’s first official ambassadors. In the next seven years, Noonday Collection would grow to add artisan partners in Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Ecuador, Peru, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Afghanistan, and more; we would add ambassadors in every state across America; and we would sell nearly two million accessories, ship more than six hundred thousand orders, and raise more than half a million dollars for adoptive families through the adoption fundraiser trunk shows we continue to hold to this day.
In Uganda, as I watch my artisan friends dance, I reflect on how hopeful Jalia and I were seven years prior regarding the possibilities for this little endeavor, yet I was aware then that we each had taken wild risks to make it happen. Although the idea had gained traction, to be sure, most of the time I felt utterly incapable of leading the way. While I was passionate about my business’s success, I still had so much fear. I wondered about the outcome, whether that be failure or success, and I lay awake many nights worrying about both. Failure would mean lost livelihoods and perhaps a waste of all this time and effort. Success would mean more responsibility and a dramatic shift in how I spent my time—less Play-Doh and more PowerPoint. Was I really qualified to run a global business? My résumé said an emphatic no. Was I able to be an attentive and caring mom while also leading the company?
During that time of uncertainty, on the other side of the world, Jalia too had taken a leap of faith in our partnership by hiring her first employees, all people who were living in acute poverty and for whom I felt the high stakes of their success. It was painfully clear to me that if I failed in this endeavor, there was more at stake than just my personal success. In moments of despair, that singular thought kept me from caving in. It fueled my earnest belief, and it bolstered my determination that nothing was going to keep me from building this thing I was building—not financial desperation, not mom-of-two-kids-under-three (so far) exhaustion, not direct-sales cynicism, not unfavorable odds of any kind. If I was going to make it, I couldn’t wait around for my fears to dismiss themselves. Courage cornered me, and I accepted its challenge, regardless of what the cost would be.
One of my favorite thinkers and mentors, Andy Crouch, has a saying that my family has adopted for ourselves, which is that “the only thing money can buy is bubble wrap.” Andy’s sentiment is aimed primarily at North Americans who, by being born here, are among the most affluent in the world. Affluence and privilege can be used for incredible good—and I hope that by the end of this book you will awaken to the power your privilege can wield—but it can also insulate us from the best (and worst) things that life may bring our way. I know that being born in a wealthy zip code to two white, resourced parents certainly insulated me from the realities of racism, poverty, and injustices that many people around the world face daily. Truly, no matter how broke Joe and I may have felt during our real estate demise and adoption journey, we were not selling our prized-possession leather-bound Bible to get money for the only meal our family would have that week, which is what Jalia and Daniel once had to do.
I’ve always been passionate about going in life—going out of my comfort zone, going straight through my fears, going scared. And yet even I acknowledge that there are myriad benefits to staying put: comfort, safety, and plush couches, to name a few.
Take Netflix, for example. Is there anything more satisfying than tucking yourself into a comfy couch, remote in one hand, smartphone in the other, binge-watching Friday Night Lights and scrolling through your social media feeds? Comfort. Safety. Security. Alrightness. Call it the siren song of the recliner. When we are seated, we cannot fall. Am I right? My own children, accident prone though they may be, have never broken an arm while watching TV.
It’s tempting to bubble-wrap our lives. Layer upon layer of protection means we stay unbroken, right through to the end. We wrap ourselves in fear. We wrap ourselves in isolation. We wrap ourselves in nightly glasses of wine or in our beloved Instagram feed. We avoid real issues involving real people who live in the real world because, What if I get hurt? And yet what does this approach yield for us? A life of boredom, a lack of impact, spiritual death.
“Amidst safety the world has never before known,” Andy wrote, “the greatest spiritual struggle many of us face is to be willing to take off our bubble wrap.”
We know that outside our front door, something much more fulfilling lies in wait. But instead of pursing the desires of our heart, we spend our energy in defense mode, trying to avoid disappointment, betrayal, and pain. Something in us clings to these places of safety and makes it difficult to stand—even as something deeper within us longs to stand up, to eventually rise.
Here on the couch, you and me, we can’t make a misstep. We can’t break a limb here. We can’t get shamed here.
And yet. (Here is where I may gently tug that cozy blanket off you.) We know down in the marrow of our bones that we were made for something more.
My original motivation for writing this book hinged on a single thought: There is a whole world out there begging for us to use the opportunity we have been given to create opportunity for others so that we—all of us—can flourish. So, while comfort may beckon us, choosing courage will always be the route to impact.
When we first step out of our comfort zones to embrace our larger world, a small but meaningful revolution takes place inside us as formerly invisible injustices are juxtaposed against a bubble-wrapped reality. Even now, when I think back to the day when my teenage eyes were first opened to the harsh realities faced by so many people in our world, I can feel the weight of it hitting me afresh, like being plunged into ice-cold water after spending my whole life comfortably warm.
When I was fifteen years old, I signed up to volunteer on a trip to Kenya with my church. There in East Africa, I would witness the obstacles faced by many people living in poverty and see with fresh perspective just how many resources I had at my disposal. Where I grew up, many kids received new cars on their sixteenth birthday, friends spent their weekends four-wheeling around ranches that had been passed down through generations of Texans, and life revolved around the Fiesta social events of San Antonio. It was a far cry from what I would see in Kenya. My world was about to get rocked.
When my church group landed in Nairobi, I took in the bustling city. Amid the dizzying scene, the image of one woman stood out to me, the contrast of her bright eyes impossible to miss. Set against a backdrop of dusty shanties and corrugated-metal-roofed lean-tos, one crawling on top of the next as far as the eye could see, was a makeshift set of wooden shelves, held erect by sawed-off tree limbs that supported a well-worn tarp. Positioned precariously but with great intention on those shelves were baskets of fruits and vegetables—tomatoes and bananas, avocados and mangos, potatoes and cabbages—their vibrant hues catching my eye.
One of my Kenyan friends explained that this woman was a new entrepreneur, her bustling stand made possible by a microcredit loan she had recently received. Evidently, the woman’s husband, an abusive man who drank any earnings he brought home from odd jobs, was not providing for his children. So she had decided to take matters into her own hands. I was immediately inspired by this woman’s spirit. Though our lives and motivations were very different, I too had an entrepreneurial itch. From the jewelry stands I set up as a kid where I would hawk my handmade banana clips and conch earrings to the no-frills day camp I launched in junior high for grade-schoolers in my neighborhood, I had always been attracted to the idea of multiplying whatever resources I had into something much more. And this woman was taking what she had been given and running with it, transforming simple fruits and vegetables into economic empowerment.
My fifteen-year-old self would have been incredulous had she been told that one day she’d return to those very same streets as an adult, offering up entrepreneurial opportunities for other Kenyans living in the slums. The fact that Noonday now partners with eighty-five talented metalworkers in Nairobi is one of the sweetest serendipities I’ve known in life. And it’s a beautiful reminder that you and I can take the resources we’ve been given and invest them for good in this world. Yes, such investments will cost us something—comfort, security, control. But impact doesn’t come from the couch dweller, right? It comes from those with imperfect courage who choose to go scared. In the same way that a toddler learns to walk by walking, we get our courage legs under us only when we stand to our feet and move.