Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Excess, Mindfulness, and the Path to Joy

As I flip through the pages of GQ, Esquire, and other men’s mags at 30,000 feet, I can’t help but wonder: really, does any of this stuff make anyone more happy, or does it simply serve as a distraction from our own selves?

I recently read a book called "The Art of Power" by Thich Nhat Hanh. And no, this Buddhist monk isn’t prescribing how to get the corner office, but a different type of power - the power of simple mindfulness and the freedom one experiences when released of their cravings. The book helped me understand that many of the things I "crave" aren’t natural, but the product of my upbringing in the United States, in Texas, in a life that’s continually distracted by what outside forces tell me what I should want, how I should spend my time and with whom I spend it.

Now don't get me wrong, I love living on a beautiful sailboat. I love taking trips to far off places, learning new things, and a nice cashmere scarf, but the truth is, I don't really love these things as much as I think I do. What I love the most are those quiet moments of reflection on my boat, the smiles exchanged with children on Shoe Drops, and the feeling of warmth that the scarf gives me. These are the experiences I crave, that help me to be more mindful of the world around me… and that mindfulness is what I think we’re all ultimately seeking, whether we ever stop distracting ourselves for long enough to realize it.

This Thanksgiving, try to really stop. Sit still. Hold a loved one's hand, and simply be thankful. No matter what your situation, positive or negative, sad or joyful, take the opportunity to truly experience this moment. The stillness. The mystery of this life. For this, and no other reason, I'm thankful.

(PS - Thank you Gillian Zinser for taking the wonderful photograph above)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A wedding with a dash of style

Like the shoes that he paints, Tyler Ramsey is colorful, fearless, and never afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Tyler and I first met through our fraternity at SMU and reconnected when I moved to LA after competing on The Amazing Race. At the time, Tyler was recovering from a long battle with alcoholism. It was while he was battling his inner demons that Tyler re-discovered a love of painting and began passionately throwing paint on canvas and using his fingers to create wild designs and textures.

Tyler will forever have a place in TOMS lore. Only Tyler would.... grab the mic at a Style Your Sole party held at the hottest boutique in LA and proclaim himself to be the "ranch dressing of TOMS Shoes".... agree to paint 3000 shoes in a single day outside of TOMS HQ, perhaps setting a world record in the process... get excited about living in a garage for a month and painting shoes on-demand via webcam (this idea got nixed as the last minute, probably for the better for both TOMS and Tyler's health)... splatter his truck and all of his clothing in paint... and insist on leading a "hip, hip hooray" cheer at our buddy Court's wedding in front of Dallas' most influential families.

If Tyler is truly one-of-a-kind, his wedding this past month was no exception. Tyler had everyone in the wedding party wear dark blue ties, seersucker pants, and his very own splatter paint shoes (the outfit was nautical enough that with Tyler's approval, I even wore my favorite captain's hat). Everything about the day had a dash of style about it - from the service being held along the beach in Santa Barbara, to the ring bearers wearing painted Tiny TOMS, to Tyler's open shirt and all-white suit.

If you're reading this Tyler and Jacqueline, I'd like to wish you years of love and happiness together. It was truly an honor to be included in your special day. We're proud to have you in the TOMS Family :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

An inspiring message from Aaron

One of my favorite things about TOMS is giving the joy of Shoe Drops to others. This is such an important part of TOMS culture that after the first full year of work, the company pays for employees to go to Argentina - to meet Alejo, to see where the idea for TOMS started, and to hand place shoes on children's feet.

I love this tradition because it's the ultimate reinforcement of why each and everyone of us does what we do. As TOMS has grown, we've increasingly gone from a team of generalists to a team of specialists. Not too long ago, our Creative Agency was a department of one person. Same goes for the Online Department. Now, the Creative Agency has more than a dozen people and the Online Department has folks that spend all day focusing on things like email marketing, paid advertising and affiliate marketing.

The beauty of going on a Shoe Drop is that you instantly feel how you're individually making a difference. Even though TOMS has many more people working in HQ, it's the individual work of every team member that has allowed us to give away an incredible 1,000,000 pairs of shoes. On a daily basis, we might be stressed out, overloaded with emails, or tying up details that don't seem to matter - but they do matter, because of all of our collective efforts make possible the true joy that is putting shoes on kids' feet.

I got to thinking about all this because I got an email last week from Aaron Meiojas. You probably don't know Aaron by name, but it's possible that you've spoken to him on the phone. Aaron works in the customer service department at TOMS and is a big reason that TOMS has so many fans and evangelists. When a customer calls us because their shoes don't fit right, or their package hasn't arrived in the mail, it's Aaron and his team that calmly listens and makes things right. This takes patience and a true giving spirit.

I thought that I would share Aaron's note because it truly touched me. It's messages like this that keep me inspired on a daily basis...


I would like to personally thank you for the opportunity to participate in my first and the most recent shoe drop in Misiones, Argentina. Although I’ve been back for a few days now, I’m still absorbing this life changing experience. It’s nearly impossible to put into words just what this trip has meant to me and my family but I’m going to try anyway. So here goes.

When discussing TOMS to family and friends I frequently get asked “How does the One for One concept work?” or “Are all those shoes really being given away?” Although I could always explain the answers, I couldn’t quite understand the depth of them because I hadn’t truly experienced it for myself. The day I found out that I had been chosen to be a part of this shoe drop in Argentina, I was beside myself with excitement and most importantly pride. Pride not only because I was about to experience a new chapter in my life, but proud because I was finally going to be a part of something larger than myself and make a difference in someone else’s life. And out of all places in the world, I was going back to the country of my origin where my mother and siblings immigrated from so many years ago.

All of these feelings and emotions I had bottled up came to a head when I placed that first pair of TOMS on a child at a school we visited on that very first day. These were some of the most amazing children I had ever met in my life and I will never forget them. Many of the kids we got to know throughout our trip had badly infected feet and clothing in tatters yet the glowing smiles on their faces spoke of the true innocence they still had inside. Although the obvious visual told the story of true pain and the struggles that these children and their families must go through on a daily basis. I had finally realized why we had come so far and what our mission was. It was simple. We were there to give. Give to those that have little and give more to those that have none.

I’ve returned from this journey with a newfound understanding of what it means to be selfless and a part of something larger than myself. I’ve gained a much clearer understanding to the importance of what we’re doing here and why we must continue to nurture and grow our TOMS family so we can keep giving like this for years to come.

Aaron Meiojas