No. 17: A letter to the industry
A revision of my words and my approach.
Note: After some reflection, I have revised this letter and I hope to have a conversation if and whenever it presents itself. What I posted was meant to serve as an acknowledgment, a self reflection, and an apology. It fell short.
Though I have written private and public letters addressing individuals, I have never acknowledged how my entire way of living was an err. The eCommerce industry will be better when people like me are aware of their power dynamics and I hope to be better by acknowledging my own misgivings in the context of this conversation.
One of the holes in this letter project was an acknowledgment to many of those in the eCommerce industry who my story, my behavior, or my way of existing made feel uncomfortable in any way. It wasn’t until the below conversation and a couple of days of reflection that I understood the magnitude of it.
I sat with my wife who has been extraordinarily strong and kind during my months in therapy, reflection, self-improvement, and writing. I asked her one question after looking at a recent tweet, “Did I really make her feel uncomfortable?” And she said, “Probably.” And in that instance, it was a download of context that took me a couple of days to fully process. I realized in an instant how flawed I remained as a human being.
My bar was so low.
I thought about the fact that it took that question and answer, at all, for me to let down my defenses and take the appropriate action within myself and on this platform. Instantly, I was ashamed that I didn’t do a better job of acknowledging your discomfort. I thought about every interaction with everyone in my life, how many of those interactions I’d forgotten about, and how many of my perceived friendships were flawed. By my new standard, many of my old relationships were inappropriate. But even by my old standards, I was comfortable with indecent relationships and suggestive friendships.
The things that I would say, suggest, or tolerate from myself or others were all corrupted. My way of existing was all wrong. My lack of respect for my own family was wrong. My priorities were wrong. For years, I cared more about building my career and support group than I cared about the sanctity of my own marriage. Before the pandemic, there were spans of time that I would be in New York nearly every week just to have one-off coffees, group meetings, and dinners with large groups. And somehow, I thought that my careless behavior at times wouldn’t catch up to me.
Far from finished, this effort was meant to serve as a means of reflection and personal growth and it received a lot of negative attention this past week.
One of my flaws, as it relates to the eCommerce industry, is that I often failed to consider my own power dynamics and how it impacted the people around me. I thought of myself as an outsider trying to work his way into the industry’s most important city. And as a black man in eCommerce, which remains rare, it was easy to feel “less than.” This, by means is no excuse, but it reflects how I viewed myself in the moment.
But my solution to getting people to really know me was equally flawed, your discomfort with me was one of many examples of why it was.
The DTC industry is unique. Many people are, in effect, their own operations. Even when people collaborate, it’s often to build their personal portfolio so they can move toward the next big project. Everyone is climbing for a perceived top, with little personal management accountability.
There is no one looking over our shoulder to manage us or telling us how we can or cannot portray one’s self. The guard rails that contain the corporate world rarely exist in many of the circles that are most celebrated. It’s beautiful and empowering, but it can also be dangerous.
True change can happen, I am asking to be given the ability to prove that. It should not have taken a conversation with my wife to help me see this. This industry is so important to me but if I am done in it, that is the price that I will pay.
From the beginning, I’ve tried to balance this project with tact and a respect for a person’s privacy but even that has fallen short, this week proved as much. In addition, I have tried to protect my marriage and friendship with Lindsey which is my number one priority. It wasn’t always. I have sent a number of private letters of regret or shame. They often go unacknowledged. But I will continue doing the work that began for me in November 2021. That month, I lost important friendships and then, soon after, I was told by a number of women in this industry that they’d received inquiries from Modern Retail’s managing editor. And finally, an email from someone that I considered a friend laid bare how some in the industry felt about me and it brought me to tears. I shut down and left for therapy within two days of that exchange.
I implore all of us men to consider every interaction. Look to this painful ordeal as an example of what can happen when you lose sight of what’s important.
Here are a few examples of systems that I have applied as a man in this industry, in recent months:
My only private conversations are with my co-workers, partners, and industry friends who my wife are familiar with
While group meetings are acceptable, I have decided not to meet with anyone on a 1:1 basis without a strong prior history of friendship
I will take greater care in how I communicate with women and men in this community, both in subject matter and in temperament
And my actions will at all-times reflect my number one priority: my family
I will try to make them proud of every interaction
The last six months reflected these personal relationship changes. But the greatest change in me wasn’t behavioral, it was with regard to my faith. I long used my mental health as a crutch, often unintentionally manipulating people in the process. I was broken though only those closest to me could see it. I pursued friendships to lean on others rather than be that pillar that others could lean on. And as a result, I lost people that really mattered to me. Those behaviors have changed.
I had no peace, I did not like the person that I was, and I was always on edge. I have peace now and my faith is strong. Hurt people hurt people, as they say.
I want to acknowledge the push to begin addressing what was missing from the public portion of my letters project. I want to acknowledge every interaction that I have had that led me to this point. I will continue writing, reflecting, and improving but most importantly, my actions will reflect my words. I know that I have a long way to go.