Underwire: December 2021 ‘Friction vs Non-Friction’

I’m in a business coaching program, have been for years. My daughter calls it “the cult”, but it’s not. I mean, cult-lite at the most. There’s a little jargon involved, but we don’t get branded. I was talking with another member last month. She’s a beautiful “woman of a certain age” like myself, charismatic and accomplished, world traveller, owns two companies, holds a double M.A. from Stanford, has homes in Hawaii and Silicon Valley, and possesses a smashingly ‘fittable’ figure (as we say in-house). About a 34F to my eye.

She asked if we had survived the pandemic by selling bras online, and I said definitely not, you’ve got to be personally fitted. She said, in effect, “You’re crazy! Nobody wants to drive to a shop and take their clothes off! You’ve got to make it effortless. Send them a picture on their phone that links to a page where they can buy it in four clicks. Any more than that is too much friction.”

I asked her if she had ever had a bra fitting or been to a specialist bra fitting boutique? She shook her head no and flashed me a plain beige bra strap. “I ordered this from that Third Thing, you know it?” I nodded and asked, “and how’d that go?” “I took that quiz,” she answered, and bought the size they recommended, but it didn’t fit, so I had to return it a couple of times for a better size, and now it works, I think. And when it wears out I can just order the same thing again!”

Artist’s conception of what my friend’s bra might look like.

My business model is in conflict with the frictionless life, and maybe so am I (cut away to husband nodding in vigorous agreement). When I think of the moments of forward movement in my life, many of them are connected with decisions to do things that seemed embarrassing or uncomfortable. I once studied with an interesting rabbi: ex-Marine, Jiu Jitsu black belt, and fellow single parent. He spoke about the hidden relation between knowledge and shame. He said you must let yourself feel the shame: of needing help; of not being smart; of having failed, of being broken–and only then can a deeper knowledge seep in.

In the early nineties I was dropped by my powerful Hollywood agent and I felt the feelings that you feel in that circumstance, which includes, but is not limited to, mortal terror. A conversation with a wise old character actor made me aware that I had abdicated my responsibility for my own career. I had been a pure artist, too fine to engage in vulgar careerism. I had people to do that for me, until I didn’t. With the rabbi’s words in mind, I signed up for a UCLA extension course with a name that made me nauseous: Networking 101. Just to ensure that I jumped all the way off the cliff, I promised myself that when anyone asked what I was “working on”, I would tell them. Not just that I was taking a class. I would have to say the name.

“Your agents are dropping you.”

This humbling work led me to another embarrassing place: a sort of EST-y Human Potential type group, from which I followed a distinctly non-EST-y career coach named Barbara Deutsch, who supported me through several scary enterprises like making a short film and doing a one-woman show.

In 2003, with three kids, my nanny leaving, and my father dying, a friend’s comment provoked me to admit that I needed a life partner. There was a new scary thing: online dating. As before, I promised myself I would talk openly about it to anyone who asked. I met a number of decent, interesting guys, and eventually I met my husband. We started Jenette Bras together, and by the time we opened the third store I could feel that we were out of our depth. I told him about this business coaching cult I had found, and he said “Absolutely not, that is the most hideously embarrassing idea I’ve ever heard.”

And I said “That’s how I know it’s gonna be good.” And it was.