Written by Tayllor Lemphers
Light laughter, soothing conversation, excited exclamation – the melodic sound of women in community. Another sound is woven amidst the female voices, a steady rhythm: the clicking of knitting needles. A single strand of yarn is looped over and over the metal instruments, adept hands orchestrating them in a well-rehearsed routine. Through the process, that single strand is evolving into a circular form.
All around the room, infinity scarves of every hue are piled. Sitting among the other women, Sarah Sjoberg pauses her knitting and surveys the scene around her – the many skillfully-crafted scarves, the friends surrounding her, and the needles in her hands. A smile alights her lips, only a subtle indication of the joy that is overflowing from within her.
Everything that surrounds her, from the joyful women to the scarves they are crafting, is contributing to her outward expression of delight.
What is occurring before her very eyes is Infinite for India, a project that uses its proceeds from selling hand-knit infinity scarves to help girls in India go to school. What is occurring is nothing short of a miracle. What is occurring is the pursuit of a God-given idea, and seeing where that idea leads.
From a single thread, an intricate scarf is woven. From a calling comes passion, from passion flows obedience, which evolves into something beautiful and complex. Something that has an impact. For Sjoberg, it has taken the form of a non-profit business.
We can have an impact
Socially conscious organizations have sparked a revolution in our capitalist society. Non-profit causes have become a norm in our generation, as we expect companies to think beyond themselves and build a cause into their business models and culture. This innovative business trend has been labeled “cause-centric commerce.” Many prominent brands have adopted this approach today, such as TOMS, Krochet Kids and 31Bits.
We may look at these organizations and feel like all we can do at best is be a loyal customer. The thought of creating something as far-reaching as TOMS may seem nearly impossible. However, perhaps we should consider that we are limiting ourselves. Perhaps anyone is able to start something that has an impact. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, seeks to inspire budding entrepreneurs in his book “Start Something That Matters.”
“If you organize your life around your passion,” Mycoskie explains, “you can turn your passion into your story and then turn your story into something bigger – something that matters.”
When looking back at how these famous brands started, we may be surprised to find that they too had humble beginnings.
Caitlyn Crosby started her company, The Giving Keys, with a discarded key she engraved with the word “love” and wore on a necklace. From this key, she developed the idea of engraving more keys with different inspirational words, such as “dream” and “create.” Rather than having people buy, and keep, these necklaces for themselves, Crosby wanted each key to be passed on to someone else who may need its message, creating a chain reaction. This innovative dream turned into a business, with a variety of keys now being sold on their website.
Seeking to add a charitable element to her organization, Crosby began to hire people experiencing homelessness to make these keys, empowering them through employment and giving them the opportunity to move into permanent housing. Now, keys are sold in over 300 stores and are worn by the likes of Ryan Gosling, Taylor Swift and Kellan Lutz.
Although each of these brands has become widely known and recognized, they all started with the same thing, which is inside of us all – passion. How that passion develops is our responsibility, to both cultivate it and allow it to be cultivated. The process of transforming our passion into an actual cause might be less complicated than we think.
Discover your passion (or let it discover you)
Passion. Almost everyone has experienced it at one time or another. It is that certain thing that wrenches our hearts and causes adrenaline to course through our veins. We have all longed to follow our dreams and make a difference. For the majority of us, these dreams have become merely whimsicals thoughts, beaten down by years of thinking “practically.” Oftentimes, we allow fear to paralyze us – fear of the unknown, fear of risk, fear of failure. However, by allowing ourselves to remain frozen in fear, we may be preventing ourselves from being good stewards of the gifts and talents God has given us.
Arianna Molloy, associate professor of communication studies at Biola University, has done extensive research specializing in work as a calling. She firmly believes that we are to utilize our personal passions.
“God is a personal God,” explains Molloy. “We all have general calling, to be his witnesses to the nations. But if we believe God is personal, then we are obligated to steward the gifts and talents he’s given us to fulfill our specific calling.”
In some cases, it may not be an issue of subduing or unleashing our passion, but simply figuring out what our passion is and what it can be directed toward. That was the case with Sjoberg.
“What gets me going is a blend of business, creativity and ministry,” Sjoberg shares excitedly. “God has so obviously put that passion within me. That’s not how I felt when Infinite for India started.”
In fact, Sjoberg was not looking for her passion when God brought it right to her. During the long weeks of Christmas break her first year of college, Sarah decided to pick up her knitting needles once again since setting them aside in elementary school. After watching a YouTube video tutorial on how to make an infinity scarf, she felt God telling her to knit these scarves, sell them and use the profits to educate girls in India.
The message was so clear, and God’s voice so apparent in it, that Sjoberg could not say no.
“I had no heart for India, I knew nothing about the need for girls to be educated and I didn’t know how to knit,” Sjoberg laughs. “I don’t know how this is going to work, but I’ll do it.”
Through following God’s calling, Sjoberg has gained a set of passions she never realized she had. In responding to his call in faith, she moved forward, stepping into the journey God had for her and Infinite for India.
Go after it
In the face of the unknown, taking your passion and seeking to develop it can appear to be an insurmountable obstacle, too far-fetched to consider. When the only thing you seem to possess is a simple desire to see a change in the world, it is easy to remain paralyzed in your passion and never move forward. Eventually, passion rots, turning into cynicism.
It does not have to be this way. In fact, not knowing exactly where your passion will take you can open you up to a greater realm of possibility. Brit Moore, Managing Director of The Giving Keys, contributes this idea to The Giving Keys’ success. Crosby had no idea that her single key would take off into a thriving business that is transforming lives. To those who have a passion but do not necessarily see how it will play out, Moore advises that we follow her boss’ lead.
“Use what’s in your hands right now,” Moore encourages. “You don’t have to see the end from the beginning. You learn to be okay with seeing your dream evolve and develop over time.”
Molloy agrees with Moore, adding that we need to look at life as an opportunity to acquire skills.
“How are you cultivating your calling?” Molloy challenges. “Are you passive, waiting for something to happen or are you turning over every stone?” Molloy insists that an active response is what it takes to bring our passion to the next level.
“After having [a] revelation moment,” Molloy shares, “there is still walking it out.”
In response to her ‘revelation moment,’ Sjoberg knit a single scarf. She posted it on Etsy, not expecting that it would sell almost instantaneously. She was not prepared for what happened next.
Messages came flooding in, asking when she would have more scarves to sell. In response, she faithfully knitted more, and they were received just as positively as her initial creation. Soon, demand escalated, far exceeding her capacity to make them on her own. By recruiting a few close friends, Sjoberg and her newfound team met the seemingly overnight explosion of demand.
But Infinite for India continued to gain momentum, and soon even the small group of girls could not handle the ever-increasing demand. To find a solution, Sjoberg looked to her broader community, creating Biola’s Knitting Club, which was met with an enthusiastic reception. With 30-35 members, the volunteer-based club now creates all the scarves being sold by Infinite for India.
The open hands approach
We can begin launching ourselves into the process of turning an idea into reality once we realize where our passions lie. However, as we begin to give what we care about a tangible shape, we must realize that our passions are also being shaped. Molloy warns of the dangers of pursuing passion solely. It is so easy to have passion control you, even a very well intended passion, she says.
“There’s a fine line between workaholism and passion,” Molloy cautions. “Your work should be an expression of you, but not define you. It defines you if when you’re not doing it, you feel like you’re not enough, instead of finding pleasure in it because it’s an extension of you.”
Sjoberg is utterly convinced that her passion was given to her, so she is not concerned that Infinite for India defines who she is. She does not fear moving forward in her non-profit, as she knows that her identity is independent of its success.
“As long as [your] hands [are] open to God, just go for it,” says Sjoberg as she explains her approach to her work. “You can run with it, because there’s no fear in it.”
With the combination of obedience to her call and open hands, Sjoberg has witnessed Infinite for India develop from a simple thought to a full-fledged non-profit that is changing lives. Since its conception in 2012, Infinite for India has raised thousands of dollars through its scarf sales alone. All of the profits have been used to send girls to school, providing an education for those who could not afford it otherwise.
It has not always been easy, and there have been many nights where she has been tempted to put down her needles. When she is faced with massive orders that must be shipped cross-country, or she finds herself knitting in the early morning, she remembers the call God has given her, and knows it is worth it.
When we realize our calling and accept it, we are not just accepting the benefits of the calling, but the challenges as well. In those hardships that accompany passion, we have hope.
“Joy is our strength,” reminds Molloy. “We don’t focus on that enough. We think that managing time and being in control is our strength. But joy in God is our strength, serving him and others with our talents.”
Caitlyn Crosby of The Giving Keys. Sarah Sjoberg of Infinite for India. Even Blake Mycoskie of TOMS. They all started with nothing more than a passion. One key, one thread, one shoe. From one step forward, a single object morphed into many, developing a beautiful journey. Take your single strand of yarn, pick up your needles and watch your intricate pattern develop.