Making Things That Make a Difference

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I could never explain what I did for a living to my mother. When I was a young boy I wanted to design airplanes. I was fascinated by shapes and the design of objects and airplanes looked so beautiful to me. I was pretty good at art as well as science, so in my teens I decided that I’d become an architect. What I really wanted to do was design and make things. One day in 1980 a friend's father brought a computer to school. A few of us went to get a demonstration and we were wowed by the black and white 8-bit graphics, and the bleeps and bloops coming out of the tinny speaker. When everyone had left the room I went up to the machine and started to type. Nothing happened but I was smitten. Computers became a hobby, then a passion, and I went on to study artificial intelligence instead of architecture and design.

As a kid I’d been quite shy and the computer was a great escape from the real world into a boundless creative space. At the core of it I was still creating, but rather than things I was making programs inside a computer. I got a programming job out of university and started a career that included working at corporations and eventually starting my own tech companies. Architecture and design were still in me but now were relegated to an interest that was mostly expressed in coffee table books.

My first computer

In the early 90s the company I worked for in London sent me to New York to work on a new system for our New York office. The posting was for two months and I’m still here 25 years later. Moving to New York was exhilarating and I entered the “Bright Lights Big City” phase of my life: jazz clubs, late night bars, an ever expanding social circle of artists, dilettantes and bon vivants . As my career with computers advanced so did my relationship with drugs and alcohol. Success led to the “high life.” Good news? Let’s have a drink to celebrate! Bad news? Let’s have a drink to commiserate? Dealers would call, I’d answer. And the more successful I got the more the substances flowed and the more my circle of “friends” was a circle of people I connected with over drugs and alcohol.

In the meantime computers started to move out of the back room into the mainstream. Technology departments grew and there were fewer pure, deep nerds (my people) around. I still loved computers but I was getting disenchanted after being “promoted” into management and further from actually working with computers and actually creating things.

While I was in the throes of my “high life,” I met a wonderful woman, K, who had been sober for some years. As her tenth anniversary approached I started to think about how to commemorate the milestone. A gift was not a requirement but I like giving and receiving gifts. I couldn’t think of a meaningful gift fort her so I got her a book and she picked up a poker chip at her anniversary meeting.

K eventually decided to move to California (where she found an amazing husband and has a child who is my goddaughter). K’s parting gift to me was to take me to my first sober meeting. As I got into recovery I kept getting invited to anniversary celebrations. The question of what to give as a gift kept recurring. At the same time I was becoming less satisfied with computers and the startup world. The urge to make things had never left me (at one point I even started a company to build a new kind of aircraft, but that’s another story).

It was out of this set of circumstances that Fearless Inventory was born. I decided that I finally wanted to start making things. Not things in computers in the “cloud” but things that you could touch, hold, or drop on your foot. I wanted to make totems, and talismans - meaningful objects to help us stay connected to our journeys of recovery.

From a design standpoint I decided that in order to keep us connected to our purpose Fearless pieces needed to engage the senses; I made things a little heavier so they would nudge you, I made them irregular and tried to give each piece some “fiddle factor” so your fingers would be drawn to them, I made them sonorous so they’d jingle subtly when worn together. The pieces create little moments in the day where we forget the anxiety, and connect with the present moment through touch, or sound.

Some of the first castings of Fearless Inventory jewelry

I started to sell the pieces to people in recovery. Then came people who were not in recovery and were on their own journeys of transformation. Folks going through a divorce, people new to parenting, couples celebrating a wedding anniversary, and people with chronic health conditions. I started to get feedback and fan mail from people who were being helped by Fearless. They told me of the comfort they felt, or how a loved one cherished their Fearless piece. In decades of computer work, I’d never got one piece of fan mail! So I made up my mind: I would focus on building Fearless to help people stay connected to their purpose, to find an inner strength, to fear less, and to slay dragons.

I don’t work much with computers any more and they have returned to being a hobby. I now focus on Fearless Inventory and making jewelry (and other things soon!). I have started to accomplish my childhood goal of making things that make a difference, and I can finally explain to my mum what it is that I do for a living.

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