Etsy UK Captains Summit 2017, London

Etsy UK Captains Summit 2017: The Debrief

Hello, everyone – Tom here. This weekend just gone, I had the pleasure of attending my second Etsy UK Captains Summit, and my first one as the captain of our Etsy team. At the same time as being a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow captains, co-captains and leaders across the UK, and Etsy staff, it presents an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences that allow us to develop both ourselves and our creative communities – and it was the subject of community that popped up more often than not over the weekend, in different ways. After a few days thinking over what was said and what I took away from the summit, I’m taking the opportunity to put down a few thoughts.

A significant part of the weekend focused on community – timely for us, given our last PortsConsort Postcard on community and competition – and encouraged attendees to consider the potential of a(ny) community, thinking about what’s possible when we come together. You can see the results of one of the group exercises below, in which captains were asked to discuss different possibilities and priorities for two communities: their team and their local area. It was interesting to note that many groups ended up with similar ideas – but our group was the only one to recognise how a community can offer resistance and bring about change; this makes us think of our PortsConsort Postcard on creativity and politics.

One of the things that occurred to me after considering the different approaches to forming, developing and maintaining a community is that we’re often encouraged to adopt an idealised version of what ‘community’ means: For many, the critical part of this is belonging to something ‘greater’ than them, to contribute to a ‘greater’ purpose. We realise that, sometimes, this notion of community can result in the sacrifice of the individual, or perhaps the devaluation of an individual’s contribution when compared with either a community’s group consensus or an ethos imposed on this by its leaders.

We acknowledge and accept how communities can – and may – compromise and sacrifice when they form and work; however, we choose to undertake our work from a perspective that recognises the unique personality, experience, expertise and potential of every individual to inform and lead the community of which they are a part. We believe this makes us stronger.

As we all work in and on any community of which we may be a part, recognising that we may be a member of several simultaneously, it’s important to take the time to discover our own values and goals, and try to align our work with those who exhibit the same or similar traits, rather than trying to find what may be simply a ‘best fit’ at any one time. There’s no great urgency to be part of a community, and you shouldn’t feel forced to join one because to do so may be presented as a ‘better’ alternative to being alone or solitary, or remaining an individual.

It’s also important to realise that your own values and goals may change during your time in or with a certain community, meaning that you start to think about whether or not your continued participation remains mutually beneficial. If it’s not, and you feel the need to start looking for another to join – or, indeed, a way to move forward independently – you should feel supported in your efforts; an empathetic, emotionally-aware community will acknowledge and accept this, and help you to make the transition.

The weekend also presented a valuable opportunity to provide feedback to Etsy on their service, and captains have the responsibility of doing so on behalf of their team members. It’s possible that feedback provided contributes to the development of the sales platform in a way that allows each business using it to grow alongside the Etsy brand, and I’m thankful to Emily D and Jennie S in particular for taking the time, both in scheduled sessions and outside these, to connect with me on matters relating to press, public relations, marketing and promotion, discussing ways in which efforts in these areas can be truly collaborative and inclusive, capturing the totality of the diversity and individuality of the wider Etsy community.

Talking about growing our individual businesses makes me think of the sessions relating to coaching and business development in which we all participated. Although it can be said that, through our exposure to the vast amount of knowledge out there in the World on business practices, we may already be in possession of the answers we seek to further our work, we must acknowledge that it’s sometimes necessary to look outside ourselves for the answers we seek to be successful in our work.

Part of being a community isn’t just ‘empowering’ or ‘allowing’ people to lead themselves to the answers they seek; we must also be prepared to answer direct questions and to share from our own knowledge and experience in order to enable others to learn and grow. Not only is it common sense, it’s a compassionate, collaborative and co-operative thing to do – and something we consider one of the right things to do.

We spoke about the importance of focus in developing your business, of self-awareness in where you are against where you want to be and taking those small steps that start you on your journey. Sometimes these are practical and measurable efforts, and sometimes these are more ethereal, more introspective and reflective activities that help you to realise your goals or your destination; we consider each part of this as valuable as the other.

Sometimes, it’s a case of asking questions with which you might not be comfortable, in case they make your chosen path harder to see or prove to you that you should be on a different one. We asked the following questions, but the remainder were many and varied – and none as popular as the one about how to get a husband if you’re working so much (hint: niche marketing).

Touching on business brings me to the last point of this post – although, as a wider community, we’re comprised of all manner of artisans, artists, crafters, designers and makers working across a wide range of ‘purely’ creative processes, projects and outputs, those of us with shops on Etsy have made a commitment to ourselves as businesspeople – as creative entrepreneurs.

We’ve assumed the responsibility of managing a business and are aware of the associated administrative and technical requirements of these endeavours, but can often ignore the necessity to ensure our wellbeing – after all, without the people behind the business being in as good physical and mental health and possible, how can these succeed?

We were encouraged to think about ‘burnout’. For many, ‘burnout’ took on characteristics such as an inability to make rational choices; to organise and prioritise effectively; to withdraw from family and friends; to become irritable, careless or clumsy; to develop poor eating or sleeping habits, and to disregard personal care. The group explored causes such as being isolated; not being challenged; not being supported in their personal or professional endeavours; a stale routine, and an endless quest for perfection in their work.

From ample experience, we can tell you that these symptoms and their causes aren’t restricted to ‘burnout’, and encourage self-awareness in these areas to ensure appropriate self-care. Experiencing any of the above may be indicative of the need to seek professional medical advice, as they may be indicative of an emerging or ongoing mental health issue such as generalised anxiety disorder or depression.

We’re aware of the associations between these, and related, conditions and working in the creative industries; anecdotally, ‘we’ seem to be a particular type of person – susceptible to these. Let’s make sure we’re another kind of person – both alert and responsive to these.

Find the time to reflect on your mental health, and on the ways in which this impacts your personal and professional lives. Look to others on whom you can rely to become sources of advice when faced with problems and questions, and to become those who will tell you when they notice changes in your behaviour.

There are many sources of information online to which you can go for advice and discussion in this area, both informal and formal – and, please, don’t be fearful to approach a medical professional with any concern; sometimes, this can be the only way to find out if anything’s going on and, if there is, the various options for intervention available to you.

Last, but by no means least, a heartfelt thank you to all those other captains in attendance whose insight, influence, humour and critique have contributed in no small amount to what we took from this weekend – proving the point about community, as though that were even necessary by now. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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