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Notes From a Facebook Sabbatical

18 Sep

And, we’re back. My apologies for not posting in so long. Between mid-August and mid-September, the entire What’s Up Smiley office (myself, 3 Moleskines, pair of dancing shoes) took a sabbatical from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—to get my introvert on, and write the second draft of my book. So, while I missed one wedding, one engagement, 13 inspiring TED talks, 92 YouTube cat videos, 213 Buzzfeed gif-montages, and thousands of pictures of what my friends were eating for brunch; I was able to write 35,000 words (about 95 pages) and give my second draft to my editor, on deadline, with five minutes to spare.

A few things I learned from my Facebook sabbatical—that I will continue to remind myself from time to time, now that I’ve returned to the Blue-and-white Menace.

1.  Facebook is addictive  

Facebook is a drug. It’s not easy to go without Facebook—it’s almost as hard as going without coffee. The first few days I was off, I caught myself clicking on my Facebook bookmark tab, without even realizing it. It had become second nature for me to “check my Facebook,” whenever I opened my computer. I deleted Facebook from my bookmarks tab, so I wasn’t tempted to check my News Feed.

I got the sense that Facebook knew I was trying to get off—it started sending me daily email notifications of “what I was missing”—which I had to turn off. On Day 4, after staring at blank tab for 30 seconds, I realized that the only reason I had even opened my computer was to look at Facebook, and I closed my laptop, and picked up a book to read.

2.  Avoiding Facebook added 2-4 hours to my day

During the month of July, I ran a crowdfunding campaign for my book, relying heavily on Facebook to spread the word about my project. I probably had the Facebook tab open on my computer for about 10 hours a day for nearly four weeks straight; the site was the single largest driver of traffic to my Indiegogo, and a main reason my campaign was successful. However, in August, after my campaign was over, I still found myself on Facebook for over 4 hours a day—except now I wasn’t running a campaign, I was just avoiding the one thing I knew I needed to be doing: actually writing my book.

I used the time I wasn’t spending on Facebook (or consuming the infinite number of blog posts, photos, articles, and videos, I click on via my News Feed), to write.

3.  I felt happier off Facebook

I’d like to pretend that I don’t check my Facebook after I post something to see how many likes it got, but I do. I’d also like to pretend that it doesn’t faze me when I see other people doing cool things on Facebook or Instagram, but it does. My first reaction is, “I’m happy for my friends—that’s so awesome they’re at the beach.” But there is an indirect effect, as well, and maybe it’s just me (but from conversations with numerous friends, I know it isn’t): I get jealous or start doubting my own decisions—“I wish I was at the beach today…” Regardless of the science behind Facebook-induced FOMO; not having to think at all about whether to post something on Facebook, what to post, how people react to my post, and how I react to their posts, is a liberating sensation—you feel empowered to enjoy whatever it is you are doing, wherever you are.

4.  I was more focused, confident, and productive, sans-Facebook

This feeling of being present during my Facebook sabbatical was most noticeable during my writing process this past month. In August, I would alternate between writing a few paragraphs and checking my News Feed—realize that someone had just written an article about exactly what my book was about—in words far more eloquent than I had—and I would feel worthless and self-critical, and think to myself: why am I even bothering writing this stupid book

Instead, during my Facebook sabbatical, I would focus on the task at hand: writing a chapter or a section of a chapter, and without distractions or comparisons, I would judge my day based on the quality of what I wrote, not the quality of what other people were writing for their projects. My own creativity, not my News Feed, became my priority.

5.  Facebook is all about balance

Lord knows, I have posted more than my fair share of captivating New York Times articles, as well as inane YouTube videos, and Seinfeld quotes, but there is nothing happening on Facebook that is more interesting than what’s happening in real life. Over the past four weeks, I spent time with my family, danced with old friends, and had lengthy phone calls with people I hadn’t talked to in months.

Social media is an incredible tool to get the word out about a project, cause, or event (and self-publishing my book would likely be impossible without it), but every now and then—especially during the creative process—it is worth taking a short vacation from listening to what the world is saying, to listen to yourself.  

Smiley's Moleskines   

Say No To Mediocrity, and Yes To Loving Your Life

25 Feb

10 Things I Learned at The Bold Academy

by Smiley Poswolsky, Bold Academy Director

I Will...  Bold Academy San Francisco.  Photo by Nate Bagley.

I Will…  Bold Academy.  Photo by Nate Bagley.

“Who you decide to be and whether you decide to stay true to yourself—is the only thing people can’t take from you—unless you let them.”

–Bold Academy San Francisco, February, 2013

Between February 8-18, 2013, 16 emerging leaders from three countries joined an inspiring team of entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors, do-gooders, and go-getters, and we all lived together in a house on Alamo Square Park for ten days, forming The Bold Academy San Francisco.  Together, we built a community of intention, engagement, passion, and love; with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.

This post compiles a tiny portion of the wisdom I gained from the Bold community this February.  In sharing this, my ask is that you share it as well, and encourage others to do the same, ensuring more and more people unplug from The Matrix, as we support each other in living the lives we were meant to live. 

1.  Vulnerability is Power. 

At Bold Academy, every participant, mentor, and speaker has the opportunity to tell their story.  You’d think that bringing together a group of talented Bolders and world-class mentors—some of whom have started multi-million dollar companies—that most people would tell stories of achievement, excellence, and success.  This was not the case.  At Bold, we listened to story after story of failure, of fear, of humility, of embarrassment, of a project gone wrong, of an idea not turning out as planned or desired.  Yet, time after time, these so-called “failures” were in fact life-defining lessons, teachings that led to a transformative experience, a new life purpose, and hard-earned success.  It’s only when we expose our darkest fears and our greatest mistakes that true growth occurs. 

Impactful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers, and artists, are similar in that they are at one with their own vulnerability; their dark side has been exposed, their dark side forms the core of their work or business, their dark side is what makes them powerful.  That which makes them weak, that which keeps them up at night, that which scares them, also energizes them, and fuels their passion and their desire to create.  Moreover, it’s what makes them relatable, and makes their story so powerful.  Nobody wants to work with someone who knows everything or doesn’t need help.  Why?  Because all of us, the CEO and the intern, have something to learn, and all of us need help.  All of us. 

Be true to your own story, who you are, and what you need, and your story will resonate with others.  The world will come to your aid.    

2.  The journey is the journey.  Embrace it. 

A lot of inspirational books or blogs tell you to “find your passion.”  It’s like, “No shit, if I knew what my passion was, I wouldn’t be reading your blog.”  Instead, at Bold Academy, we focus on creating a community of intention and collaboration, a supportive environment where multiple passions and interests can be explored and shared.  Rather than stressing about finding the elusive “passion,” embrace an attitude of experimentation, of being open to trying, open to failure, open to mistakes.  Focus on living in the present and embrace the journey to explore many passions (or interests, hobbies, instincts, and fears) and be ok with changing course, finding a new passion, or coming back to a passion you haven’t thought about for ten years. 

The journey is the journey.  There is no mountain top or finish line or final award (when you get that award, you’ll still have to go out and do something the next day), there is just this moment, so embrace it, live your life today, right now.  As Bold’s yoga teacher, Julia Winston, reminded us one morning, “We run forward, we push, we have goals, we dream, to get to the present.”

3.  Fall in love with your life.

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”Annie Dillard

At Bold we encourage participants to find the daily rituals and habits that lead to fulfillment and success.  If yoga makes you feel strong, centered, and confident, and you love doing yoga, and yet your current job only allows you to do yoga once a week, then you don’t need to quit your job, but you definitely need to make more time for yoga.  If writing makes you happy, then write daily.  If you love teaching other people and working with kids, and your current job consists of listening to music in headphones and filling in an Excel sheet, you need to make a change. 

Take time to discover the things you personally love, the little things that make you smile, and the rituals that make you better, and incorporate them into your daily life.     

4.  Lean Into Fear.

Smash Fear talk by Ted Gonder at Bold Academy.  Visual storyboard by Whitney Flight.  Photo by Terri Simon

Smash Fear talk by Ted Gonder at Bold Academy. Visual storyboard by Whitney Flight. Photo by Terri Simon

“If I’m not afraid to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.”Ted Gonder

Ted Gonder, founder and CEO of Moneythink, a nonprofit that teaches financial life-skills and entrepreneurial thinking to high school students, which is an Echoing Green Fellowship semi-finalist, gave an inspiring talk at Bold on smashing fear.  Ted’s personal credo is one all of us can aspire to:  fear is a tool, fear is fuel, fear is to be partnered with, we can listen to our fears to point us in the direction we need to walk. 

Let me practice what I preach and get vulnerable for a moment.  There is not a single day that goes by that I am not scared shitless of the life I’ve embarked on; I do not know where I’ll be in five years career-wise, whether I’ll be making income from writing and inspiring others, or how I’m going to raise a family one day.  However, I do know that I must do those things, I will find a way, at all costs, precisely because it scares me shitless.  As my friend Ted says, “Flinching is not a luxury that excellence can afford.” 

5.  Take your ideas seriously.  Share them.

“A lot of people never use their initiative because no one told them to.”Banksy 

One of our Bold Mentors, George Zisiadis, led a life-changing session on taking your idea seriously, in which he implored us to use our initiative and tell our friends to use theirs.  If you have an idea, however big or small or crazy or epic or ridiculous, write it down, pursue it, and most importantly, share your idea with others

Why?  Well, take the story of one Bold mentor, social entrepreneur and engineer, Debbie Sterling.  Around three years ago, while eating brunch, she told some friends in San Francisco about an idea she had to make a toy company to get young girls interested in engineering, motivated by the fact that nearly every engineering toy at the toy store catered to the way boys learn.  Her friends loved the idea, and told her she had to pursue it. 

Eventually, she left her job and she started working full-time on building a business and prototyping the toy.  She told more people about her idea at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and the enthusiasm in the room was palpable, so much so that other StartingBloc Fellows started working for her.  Within a year, GoldieBlox raised over $285,000 on Kickstarter and was a big hit at this year’s Toy Fair in New York City.  In short, Debbie was able to launch a business that is starting to inspire young girls all over the world, all because she got vulnerable, shared her idea, it resonated with others, and people came flocking to support her and her vision.    

6.  You can’t do this shit alone.  (Seriously, you can’t do this shit alone.)

As Debbie’s story illustrates, sharing your idea and asking for help can change everything.  At Bold Academy, we practice sharing our needs and gives.  One ask, one email, two minutes spent walking up to a random stranger and asking for help, can change everything.  You have to make the ask.  We can’t help you if we don’t know what you need.  Don’t be shy, this is your life.  Make your ask, and make it often.

Conversely; give, give, give.  Tell your friends and community what you’re unique value-add is, what skills you have, who you are connected to, and how you can help them achieve their goals.  Giving will empower others, who in return, will help you soar to new heights.    

7.  Community is everything.  Find an intentional one. 

Anyone that’s built a thriving business or led a successful project knows this already; you need to surround yourself with people that make you fulfilled, that make you smarter, that support you when you succeed and love you when you fail, that constantly push you to be the best you can be.  This is as tough for me to write as it is for you to read, but if the people you are currently living with, hanging out with, or working with, are not making you better, then as soon as possible, you need to change living situations or find new friends and co-workers.  It’s sad, but I’m sorry, it’s true.    

Intentional communities like Bold Academy and StartingBloc provide a community of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, innovators, artists, teachers, mentors, and friends, united in the pursuit of self-potential and social impact.  Your community has your back, your community makes sure you’re following your dreams, and holds you accountable to your goals.  Your community looks at your goals and says, “I think you can do better.”  Your community, your tribe, talks about ideas and dreams.  Other people talk about bullshit.   People that make you have a good time, believe in you, give you soul talk, and inspire you to reach new heights; those are very special friends, hold onto them at all costs.  

8.  Fuck mediocrity.

“If you feel the need to justify what you are doing, you probably need to change what you are doing.”  –Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of The Unreasonable Institute

Life was not meant to be driven at cruise control, placing your dreams on hold until sometime in between age 60 and 75 when your back aches like hell, you can’t even remember what you did every day Monday through Friday for 40 years, and you have a nice 401k and a bag of golf clubs.  I’m not hating on having an office job—don’t get me wrong, I love office snacks, office crushes, and The Office—but I am hating on working a job you hate for a company or organization you don’t believe in.  I’m hating on living a mediocre life.    

Sometimes, yes, we need to work jobs we don’t love to support ourselves and our families, and much of the world’s population simply does not have a choice to pick what they do for a living.   Yet, I know plenty of people who have savings, who actually do have the special privilege to take a pay cut to work on something they believe in, but they don’t, because they are scared, scared of failure, scared of giving up their nice $2000/month apartment, scared of giving up fancy Sunday brunches, scared of admitting they are 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years-old and still finding out who they are.  My friends:  you are not alone.  All of us are still figuring it out.  That’s why we’re alive.  The journey is the journey.    

Your job and your lifestyle should reflect your personal interests, passions, and values.  If you don’t know what you want to do, that’s totally fine, explore internships and apprenticeships and activities and opportunities in areas that do interest you.  Above all, don’t settle for mediocrity in anything you do.  If you need help matching your skills with a meaningful job that has a social impact, check out the resources provided by ReWork, or email me and I’ll do my best to help. 

9.  Once you make an impact, you can’t go back.    

I cannot tell you the joy I experienced this past week knowing that the work we put into Bold Academy directly impacted the way participants (and myself, and other mentors and staff) see their lives and what they are capable of achieving in this world.  I cannot explain that sensation in words, that feeling of gratitude that the solar system has conspired for you to be in that exact moment doing that exact thing at that exact time, that you were actually born to do something in this ridiculous thing we call life, but that’s what it felt like. 

And now that I’ve felt that, and having known 1000% what it feels like day after day to NOT be making a direct impact in anyone’s life, I know that I cannot go back to a life without meaning.  I refuse to, I am physically unable to.  I don’t care if it means I make tens of thousands of dollars less than my friends, live with roommates till I’m 37, never own a car, and have sub-par health insurance until the United States becomes civilized, fuck it, I’d rather make a difference in someone else’s life than waste my time doing something I’m not passionate about.

10.  Life is precious. 

“Do not waste time.”Amit Gupta

You have a finite amount of time on this planet.  Make it worthwhile.  Do want you want to do, maximize your personal potential.  If you need to save up money before you do what you want to do, awesome, save up some money—use that time to experiment and plan your next move—and then take the leap.  But set a date and jump, the world is waiting.       

Please share this post with your friends! 

The Bold Academy is a life accelerator program designed to maximize your performance and empower you to live the life you were meant to live.  The next Bold Academy will take place later this year in San Francisco.  For more information, check out boldacademy.com

Welcome to The Bold Academy- The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

19 Feb

Between February 8-18, 2013, 16 inspiring leaders from three countries joined an incredible team of entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors, do-gooders, and go-getters, and we all lived together in a house on Alamo Square Park for ten sunshine-filled days, forming the Bold Academy San Francisco.  Together, we built a community of intention, passion, and love; with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.  It was one of the greatest pleasures of my life to help curate this transformative experience and be a member of this family, and I am forever grateful to everyone who made it possible.   

Never stop dancing.  Bold Academy SF 2013.

Never stop dancing. #boldsf

Below is the welcome speech I wrote and delivered the first evening at Bold, just after all of us arrived to the house.  I hope it can serve as a perpetual pep talk (thanks, Kid President!) for the Bold community, as well as the world at large.

The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

Smiley’s Bold Academy Welcome Speech

As prepared for delivery

Chalkboard room @ The Bold Academy

Friday, February 8, 2013

“Welcome everyone to San Francisco.  Welcome to the Bold Academy.  WOOOOOT! 

Let’s all pause for a second and close our eyes.  Take a long deep breath.  Relax.  Ponder for 30 seconds about what this moment means to you, and how you feel.  Cherish this moment; whether you feel excited, exhausted, scared, nervous, stressed, or sad.

Keeping your eyes closed, take another deep breath.  Let it out.  Once more.  Let it out.  Really let it out.  AHHHHHH!  SCREAM THIS TIME, AHHHHHH!!! 

We have come here today from as near as four houses down the block, and as far away as Germany and Brazil.  We have come for many different reasons. 

To grow.  To learn.  To reflect.  To challenge ourselves.  To overcome our deepest fears.  To master our strengths, and acknowledge our weaknesses.  To start projects, to finish projects.  To laugh.  To love. To play.  To breathe.  To stretch.  To eat well.  To practice daily.  To work.  We are not sure where this journey will take us, but we embrace its course and its beauty.  

The journey is the journey.  The journey is the journey.  We are here!  Think about that. 

In all the cities and all the towns and countries of the world, in all the bars and restaurants and cafes and forests and offices and sandy beaches, we have come together in this space, in this beautiful home, next to this glorious park, in this magical city, today, here, now, at this very moment. 

And while our reasons for coming here might be different, we are bonded in a common passion– a passion for life.  A passion for making ourselves and those around us the best we can possibly be, a passion for knocking down walls and barriers and living our lives to the fullest, and thus changing the lives of those around us. 

But, that doesn’t mean it will be easy, that doesn’t mean each of us won’t have to struggle, to fail, to try, to try again, to try another time, to try harder, to challenge ourselves and each other, every single day, now, and in the future. 

This is a special moment.  The future is uncertain, the possibilities are infinite.  Over the next ten days, come back to this moment of excitement, of beginning, of renewal, of possibility and openness, of embracing fear and the unknown, of embracing this journey, whenever you need to.  Come back to the present, for that’s where we are. 

Remember:  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be BOLD

The ceiling can’t hold us!  THE CEILING CAN’T HOLD US!   Everybody up!” 

[BLAST “CAN’T HOLD US” by MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS feat. RAY DALTON >>> EVERYONE STARTS DANCING…]

***

Speech written and delivered by Smiley Poswolsky, Academy Director at The Bold Academy.  The Bold Academy is a life accelerator program designed to maximize your performance and empower you to live the life you were meant to live.  For more information, check out boldacademy.com

Bold SF 2013.

So much love for Bold Academy SF 2013.

Why You Should Make A Vision Board

10 Dec
Smiley's Vision Board for 2012

Smiley’s Vision Board for 2012

 

Back one evening this spring, in Mt. Pleasant, Washington, DC, I came home to find three of my roommates, Katie, Elisabet, and Leslie.  They had laid out a huge pile of (mostly women’s lifestyle) magazines, scissors, glue sticks, and colored construction paper, on the dining room table.  

“Smiley, join us,” they said, “We’re making vision boards!” 

In my typical, cynical, dude-like manor, I laughed at them—“I’m not cutting pictures out of a magazine, what is this, 4th grade?!  I’m too busy for this Oprah-induced foolishness, I’m gonna check my email for the 58th time today.”

So they proceeded to make vision boards without me.  Even my other roommate made a vision board, although his consisted of only a koala bear, a rotisserie chicken, and a giant bottle of beer.  I kind of felt left out, so I sat down, and awkwardly started looked through the magazines, anxious, not choosing anything to cut out.  After five minutes, I got distracted, and gave up.  But my roommates pestered me for a week about not making a vision board.  Finally, I sat down, alone, deep in serious thought, and perused the pages of Cosmopolitan.  

My vision board for 2012, which I kept taped to the door in my room, featured pictures of places I wanted to travel and spend time (Barcelona, the woods, the beach, San Francisco), things I wanted to eat and drink (avocado, coffee, popsicles, bowls of ramen), activities I wanted to do a lot of (run, read, hike, sun salutations) and emotions I wanted to feel (freedom, change, growth, passion, movement, relaxation, risk), and some random shit (Michael Jackson dancing).  Yes, I cut out a picture from Glamour of two people kissing.  (“GlamourGlamour???”)  Yes, Glamour

You may think this sounds pathetic; a man nearly thirty years old cutting pictures out of a ladies magazine and gluing them to green construction paper.  Maybe you have already thought about your visions for the year.  Or, maybe you are scared to think.

Using scissors and a glue stick has a strange way of taking you back to when you were a kid, and creating and dreaming were second nature, part of your daily routine.  It was difficult for me, as I imagine it is for most men, to get in touch with my emotions.  It was difficult for me to take myself seriously. 

I’m proud to report that I accomplished all my “visions” on my vision board for 2012, so I am especially grateful to Katie, Elisabet, and Leslie, for being mindful, inspiring women, and for Katie’s affinity for Glamour and Cosmo.  I should say I accomplished all my visions, except for love—yes, don’t worry, I got the kissing thing down (holler)—but love escaped me.  However, my buddy Dre has already deemed 2013 as The Year of Love, so things are looking up.  

I’ll be putting together my vision board for next year in the coming days, and in 2013, I’m trying to focus on focusing.  I too easily get distracted with distractions, and say yes to engagements when I want to say no. 

Writing and meditating daily, and prioritizing projects I care deeply about, are my major goals.  Also, no email on the weekend unless it’s an emergency (“Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest”), and no using my computer for at least an hour every night before bed, to leave time for writing and reading off-screen.  As well as exploring the unreal beauty that is the Bay Area.  And of course, love.

What’s on your vision board for 2013? 

-Smiley Poswolsky

You Have To Start Somewhere, So How About Right Now

8 Aug

(And other wisdom gained during a summer of transition)

StartingBloc NY ’12 commitments. Photo credit: Jeff Wenzinger

At the end of May, I quit my job with the intention of not living one more day failing to live up to my full potential in life.

It sounds so simple when you spell it out, as my friend Evan did for me one evening back in February on a Santa Monica rooftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean:  why would you do anything in life other than maximize your unique impact on the world?  Why would you ever stay in a job you don’t like and live in a city you don’t like?  Yet so many of us, including myself for several years, get stuck; we get stuck in jobs that don’t make us happy, we get used to mediocrity, and grow so accustomed to the routine of exercise/work/happy hour/party/Facebook/sleep (repeat), that we stop caring or trying, and we completely bury our passions, our creativity, our art, our unique voice.  Sometimes television and the news and alcohol and social media or even relationships help us forget, because they take the focus off our own selves, and allow us to forget who we are and what we are truly capable of achieving. 

 When you leave your job without 100% knowing what’s next, it’s really hard and really scary, and sometimes people laugh at you and sometimes you laugh at yourself.  “You left a job paying WHAT and job security for the next gazillion years to be a freelance writer?!  You’re nuts!  Wake up man!  It’s 2012!  Have you heard of a little thing called the recession?!  Writers can’t make money, journalism is dead. You’re moving to San Francisco— rent there is 450 times what it was two days ago— haven’t you seen the infographic?!  You’re competing for jobs with 2,000,000 other 29 year-olds with bachelors degrees from New England liberal arts colleges and no hard skills, you’re so screwed.  THE BUMS WILL ALWAYS LOSE MR. LEBOWSKI, THE BUMS WILL ALWAYS LOSE!”

The goals I set for myself when I left my job were to pursue my interest in writing, support social entrepreneurs, make others happy, and to empower people to live out their full potential in life.  To this end, I am succeeding so far, as this summer has given me time to travel, to explore, to learn, to grow, to write, to meet emerging social changemakers, to be inspired, to network, to find a tribe of people who believe in what I’m doing, and build the confidence necessary to move forward.

Tomorrow I finally fly out to San Francisco.  It’s been a long time coming, I’m only just getting started, the journey is only beginning, and I have so much work that lies ahead.  So I thought I’d offer some wisdom I’ve gained thus far, a few things I’ve learned this summer, for anyone else out there is going through a similar transition, or who is thinking about quitting their job or making a major change in their life. 

The beautiful thing about wisdom is that it comes from within, but it is sparked by the experiences you have with others; to that end, I am grateful for all of those who have touched my life this summer in such magical ways.  I’d like to particularly like to recognize the bold, inspiring, unreasonable, friends I’ve met this summer while spending time at StartingBloc BOS ’12, The Bold Academy, and StartingBloc NY ’12 as well as brief visits to The Unreasonable Institute and the Dell Summer Social Innovation Lab; communities of people whose passion for social change is so fierce you can’t help but become a better version of yourself.    

1.    You are already awesome.

 “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”  -Steven Pressfield

I used to think that finding out who you are or what you’re going to do next came from talking to your friends and reading self-help books and seeing self-help counselors and doing lots of yoga and going on a pilgrimage to a temple somewhere in Asia.  While all of these may help, it’s easier to just look in the mirror and holler at yourself.  Who are you?  No, seriously, who are you?  What do you care about?  Where do you want to live?  Where do you not want to live?  What do you like to do?  What do you absolutely hate doing?  What are you good at?  What makes you happy?  What makes you upset?  What do you want to change in the world?

I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week in July at The Bold Academy in Boulder, Colorado, a real-life school for superheroes (if you don’t know, now you know!), created by Amber Rae and Nathaniel Koloc, which brought together 20 young people for a month-long journey in unlocking individual purpose and collective human potential, where I learned a simple but essential truth:  All of us are awesome and all of us have a unique, essential contribution to make in this world.  YOU.  ARE.  AWESOME.  Repeat it four times.  And then tell your friend so she knows she’s awesome too.  My brilliant friend Denise calls this self-love.  It will set you free. 

2.  Don’t front on the unstoppable power of someone with an idea and a passion.

“Look in your own heart.  Unless I’m crazy, right now a small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, that calling that is yours and yours alone.  You know it.  No one has to tell you.”  Steven Pressfield

When people look within, find their interests and passions and unlock their human potential, it’s magical.  It’s unstoppable.  It’s contagious.  If you need any motivation, like I did, check out how StartingBloc Fellows are using social innovation and entrepreneurship to change the world, or check out the brilliant Unreasonable Institute Fellows.

Unreasonable Institute Fellow Sheikh A. Turay’s passion was so electric that his company, Liberation Chocolate, a social enterprise that employs former child soldiers in Liberia to revitalize cocoa plantations there, was re-launched in one afternoon in Boulder, Colorado.  At the Unreasonable Scrimmage, an all-day event hosted by The Unreasonable Institute and ReWork to engage Boulder community members in rapidly protyping social business models, eight people came together in the span of four hours to help Sheikh establish a U.S. distribution channel for his product, find a local chocolate producer, develop a new branding plan, and create a new website.  Why?  Because passion is power. 

3.  Gain wisdom from people younger than you are; they hustle harder

Prior to leaving my job I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder when it came to taking advice from young people in college or just out of college— sort of “I’m in my late 20s dude, you’re in college, you don’t know shit, talk to me after you’ve had a real job or two, after you’ve paid rent and had to pay off loans for a few years”—basically, I thought I was above listening to someone younger than me.  Not anymore.  Some of my most important mentors and the people I look up to most in life are 7-10 years younger than me.  Ted; he’s 22, he founded a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy to urban teenagers, he’s taught me infinitely more about smashing fear and setting audacious goals and being hungry and tenacious than any 30-80 year-old I’ve ever met.  Sam; she’s nine years younger than me, she has about 10 business projects going right now, knows everyone in the world of social entrepreneurship, and she inspires me to hustle harder.  Burcu; she worked at The Bold Academy this summer and made magic happen, she just graduated from college, and has already made a profound impact on the lives of so many people.  

Young people are tenacious, they are bold, they stop at nothing to get what they want, and most importantly, their deepest motivations come from connecting a personal interest with a social problem bigger than themselves.  As we get older we tend to immerse ourselves in the minutia of own lives; we should all spend more time listening and learning from young people, and following their lead for how we can make the world a better place.  

 4.  You have to start somewhere, so how about right now.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.  Begin it now.” –Goethe

 I used to love imagining the future.  “One day, I’m going to live in San Francisco.”  “One day, I’m going to write whenever and whatever I want to write and not just write at work.”  I kept putting off my dreams for some perfect moment, some perfect time when the stars were going to align and bagels and lox were going to start flying down from the sky.

You know what?  The stars are aligned right now.  That perfect moment is now, the future is today.  You have to start somewhere.  “But I don’t really know what I’m doing.”  Nor do I, nor does anyone.  So start right now.  Start writing, start the blog, start the new venture, buy the plane ticket, begin now.  What are you waiting for? 

I had the honor of meeting Alex, aka DJ Doce Luna, at The Bold Academy in July.  Alex is a Grammy-nominated jazz musician, and he’s launching a new career as a DJ/producer.  In the span of several weeks, he launched a new website and social media platforms, recorded an album and multiple other tracks, incorporated his business, found several business partners and is starting to book gigs.  In other words, he’s killing it.  Why?  Because he started. 

5.  Happiness and making money do not correlate  

It’s very nice to earn money.  There are millions of people in the world living in poverty who would like just some of it, while a very small number of people have way too much of it.  But, from my experience leading two “job/career change” discussion groups at StartingBloc this summer, making money and being fulfilled do not usually go hand-in-hand.  I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had this summer with young professionals working well-paying, impressive jobs at notable corporate law firms, management consulting companies, government agencies, investment banks, nonprofits and smaller companies, who are miserable at work and in life because they are not being challenged and because their heart and their passions and theories of social change are not connected to what they do every morning at 10am.  

A paycheck is important.  It’s cool when someone sees your resume or your business card and is impressed.  But happiness comes not at happy hour when you’re bullshitting with someone and pretending to be happy while you are really miserable, but only when you are actually impressed with yourself; that is, when you are doing what you love.  I’ve gotten more personal joy in the last two months from sitting down and typing a few words that came from my heart, taking a risk by putting my words out there into the world (which I had rarely ever previously done), and then hearing from a reader that the words were inspiring and made him want to do something different with his life, then I did from countless months of direct deposits in my bank account.  Obviously, we all still need to make a living, we still need a job, but it’s not about the money; it’s about finding a job that works for you, your unique skills and passions, and the impact you want to make on the world. 

6.  You can’t do it alone, you need a tribe

Putting yourself out there is not easy.  Anyone who tells you that it’s easy to make a major life transition or quit your job or start your own business, is full of shit.  You simply cannot do it alone.   You need to find your tribe; a group of people who believe in what you are doing, who will do everything in their power to help you succeed, and will bring you back up when you fall down or start to doubt yourself.  Communities like those at StartingBloc and The Bold Academy; communities of love, communities of support, communities of affirmation, communities of “I got your back,” of “I feel you,” of “I can help,” of “you need to hustle harder” of “let’s hold each other accountable.”

When you find your tribe, victory is a constant because when one person in the tribe accomplishes something, whether it’s launching a new website or winning a fellowship or getting press recognition or raising money or writing a blog post or recording a new song, the rest of the members in the tribe also win. 

 7.  Be grateful

 We only get to where we are because of those who carry us.  Thank you to my tribe and my friends who continue to carry me through this challenging transition.  You have helped me become a better version of myself.  I love you and am forever grateful.  Time to hustle, ready, set, go. 

To Spain With Love

6 Jul

AND, WE’RE BACK!  My apologies for not posting in so long.  The entire What’s Up Smiley office (myself, Moleskine, dancing shoes) took a siesta from social media and spent most of June traveling around Catalonia and Andalucía, Spain, laying on the beach, drinking vino tinto, and watching the Euro Cup.  Several highlights from the trip included: 

Cap de Creus Natural Park, Catalonia. Photo by Kevin Haas.

-Driving along the Costa Brava, the rugged coast of northeast Spain, parking along the side of the road, and walking down a cliff to a desolate cove near Tossa del Mar to jump naked into cool, crystal clear green water, followed by a picnic lunch on the rocks of Penedès vino tinto, pan, tomate, queso manchego, olives, and jamón serrano so delicious my Jewish self wondered why the hell I had been avoiding ham all these years.  Turned out the cove was not so desolate, and was a featured stop on a local boat cruise, so at least fifteen people were fortunate to see three (handsome) young men enjoying themselves—that a woman snapped a photo of my pale white buttocks was reaffirming. 

 -Waking up with the sunrise after falling asleep with the stars, camping in the woods near Cap de Creus Natural Park, and reading The Hunger Games as daylight broke in our makeshift tent (which consisted of a transparent plastic paint tarp tied by rope to two trees for shelter—Katniss would have been proud), followed by a morning swim in the soothing Mediterranean Sea and breakfast on the beach (crackers, queso manchego, tangerines).

-Enjoying an evening sunset throwing a frisbee with my friend Kevin in the company of Gaudí’s tiled love seats in Parc Güell in Barcelona, only to run into a kid I grew up with that I hadn’t seen since high school—he was in town for the Sonar Music Festival and kindly put us on the guest list for his DJ set the following day.  The next night, it was two in the morning and I had been dancing on the beach for about five hours to Soul Clap, and received an invitation to attend a music festival in Budapest later this summer (no, I don’t play music at all, but my new Hungarian friends insisted I did or should and told me I had to come to Budapest in August, all expenses paid). 

-Standing in awe while drinking “cerveza birra amigo” in a plaza in Barceloneta as a baby (seriously) not more than one year-old, who five minutes after breastfeeding from his mother, proceeded to throw fire crackers several feet away from me to celebrate Festival de Sant Joan, Barcelona’s summer solstice celebration.   There were at least a half dozen moments that night when I nearly hit the deck scared shitless, having to remind myself that the constant explosions were not bombs or gunshots and I was not in a war zone or season four of The Wire, but children (and their mothers and grandmothers) were lighting off the loudest fireworks I have ever heard to celebrate the longest day of the year.  With all due respect to the Fourth of July, Sant Joan puts Independence Day to shame—with constant (literally constant) lights exploding on every block and in every plaza in the city from dusk to dawn. 

-Falling asleep under the cool afternoon shade of a palm tree in the pristinely beautiful gardens of La Alhambra in Granada, dreaming of the geometry of ancient civilization, water dripping slowly from the fountain of life, turquoise mosaics, stars and crescents, artists carving stories into arches, and endless fields of Andalusian orange trees. 

La Alhambra, Granada. Photo by Smiley.

While daydreaming in Granada, I imagined about living in a world that once was, and how we would live our lives today if today were like back then, so intricate and so precise and so enchantingly beautiful.  What would we design?  What would we build?  How would we live?

Perhaps time would move more slowly, perhaps we would move more slowly, perhaps we would pay more attention to detail, to ourselves.  Often on my trip, whether at La Alhambra or La Sagrada Familia, I noticed American (and Chinese) tour groups being shuffled, hastily, from photo op to photo op.  I constantly wondered why they were moving so fast.   Where were they going next? There is no “next” after La Alhambra, that’s it.  It’s the encore.  It’s perfection. 

These people were not even taking composed or thoughtful pictures; they were being shuttled from guide book highlight to guide book highlight so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of their photos were blurry, and had the tour guide or other random tourists in the foreground.  “Honey, this is La Sagrada Familia.  Antoni Gaudí started working on it 1883 and they are still working on finishing it and will be for at least another fifteen years—and we were there for about twenty-five minutes, and here is a photo of some overweight dude named Jack (or was his name Barry?) wearing a hideous ‘NASCAR’ T-shirt, completely blocking Gaudí’s sun-kissed stained glass windows.” 

I think if he were around today, Gaudí, or the 14th century builders of La Alhambra, might tell us to slow down and stop moving so quickly.  Stop looking at your phone.  Turn off your phone.  Be quiet.  Be still.  Breathe.  Listen.  Listen to the arched walls of this place, listen to the space and the light and the math and the design and the wisdom and the greatness and the blue blending with the orange connecting with the green intersecting with the star with the water with the trees.  Listen to yourself. 

Travel quenches a thirst for life that nothing else can provide.  It allows you to experience ancient civilizations and beautiful landscapes for the first time, as if you were the only person on the earth, as if the entire universe existed just for your pleasure.  Hopefully I can create travel’s powerful sensations of slowing down, being present, living in the moment, listening to my surroundings, and listening to myself, in the course of my day-to-day life back in the brutally-fast-moving Estados Unidos.  Or maybe I’ll just move to Granada, eat free tapas, and daydream under the palm trees until the polar ice caps melt or the World Cup begins.  

Mosaic in La Alhambra. Photo by Smiley

 

Embracing Fear

6 Jun

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”  -Yoda

Uncertainties are ok, they are healthy in a way, I get that shit all the time.  I stopped trying to get rid of them, cause I always have them, it’s part of my DNA.” -Smiley

Ted Gonder inspires StartingBloc BOS ’12.

The topic of fear has come up a lot recently, talking to my friends and talking to myself in my Moleskine.  Fear can be especially brutal when you’re going through a major life transition, and has been a constant presence through the process of leaving my job and beginning anew as an unemployed yet optimistic I-can-fucking-make-it-as-a-writer, don’t-fucking-tell-me-I-can’t.  I had the fortunate opportunity to hear Ted Gonder, a 22 year-old graduate of the University of Chicago, speak last week on the topic of “Smashing Fear” at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and in the course of 90 inspired minutes we watched YouTube videos of the honey badger (motherfucker can run backwards!) sticking his head into a swarming bee hive to get the larvae, Mike Tyson calmly taking endless jabs to the head only to use his impregnable defense to knock-out his opponent with one perfectly-timed, perfectly-placed punch, and then we stood up with 100 other people and bit into a whole lime to suck all the juice out (don’t eat the peel!). 

Gonder, who received his college diploma last weekend, was recognized this spring by President Obama as a Champion of Change in the White House Campus Challenge, for being the co-founder and director of Moneythink, a Chicago-based nonprofit that empowers urban youth through financial life-skills and entrepreneurship mentoring.  This past week Moneythink became the recipient of the $25,000 Chase Community Giving Award and was featured in Forbes.  Gonder lives by the simple, yet powerful mantra:  “If I’m not at least a little scared to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.” 

Rather than a sign of encouragement or motivation, fear all too often becomes a red light that makes us put the breaks on the very ideas, dreams, goals, and journeys that we know we need to take.  Why?  Because the most epic life decisions naturally involve risk and the potential for success or failure—if they didn’t involve risk, you wouldn’t be thinking about them.  However, our fears are rather lame and paltry when we actually say them out loud or spell them out on paper.  Exhibit A:

My friend Shira Bee:  Smiley, what’s your biggest fear right now?

Smiley:  That I’ll suck as writer and never get published or make a living and have to go back to an office job that doesn’t 100% fire me up in the morning.

Shira (looking disappointed): a) You don’t suck as a writer.  b) Even if you have trouble making money from writing, you’ll be doing what you love and have gone for it, and worse-case scenario, worse-case scenario, you go back to an office job that would be pretty much what you were doing before, so… that’s really not that bad is it?

Smiley:  No, I guess it’s not that bad. 

Our fears are not nearly dramatic as we conjure them up to be in our heads.

“If all my friends give me money on Kickstarter for this documentary film and it doesn’t end up getting into Sundance, everyone’s going to think I’m a loser.”  False.  YOU MADE A FUCKING MOVIE, YOU’RE A ROCKSTAR!  How many people in this world have actually written or directed or starred in a film?  Like 0.00001% of the world’s population—you’re basically famous. 

“My parents will be worried or upset if I leave my paycheck to travel the world or be a Peace Corps volunteer or start a nonprofit with my best friend.”  Your parents love you dearly, but they care most about your well-being; following this urge will shape the course of your life and in the end, actually earn your parents’ respect. 

“If I take a gap year to write a book before graduate school, employers won’t hire me because of the gap on my resume.”  Any employer worth working for should value personal growth and exploration and should judge you based on what you did in your time off, not by whether you took it. 

When we spell them out, our fears are actually quite manageable and you don’t need Mike Tyson’s psycho-superhuman abilities to conquer them.  As Marianne Williamson said,  “Our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our biggest fear is being powerful beyond measure.”  Despite this fact, anyone going through a major life decision knows that uncertainty and doubt creep in.  Every run I’ve gone on in the past four months, every yoga class, every time I’ve laid down to sleep, there is some amount of doubt or uncertainty or “what the hell am I doing?” that finds it’s way into my brain.  For months, my approach was to escape this sensation as fast as possible—go away fear, get away, get away get away, leave me alone, alone I said, shoo, fly!  You know what?  Didn’t work—doubt came back the next day.  Then I had a revelation; uncertainty and doubt are part of my DNA, they make up part of who I am.  I have a loving Jewish mother (who I love dearly)—there is no way, no fucking way, whether I want to or not, that I’m living a life without questions or uncertainty or doubt or guilt or worrying should I be doing something else instead or is this a good idea or should I have taken an umbrella?

So instead of running from fear, I embrace it and use it as fuel.  I say to the doubt, directly, “Ok doubt, I see you, I see you doubt, and I raise you ten; I’m gonna run a little faster, gonna work this downward dog a little harder, gonna write some more today, gonna call three friends who live far away today, gonna hug five new people today.”  As my friend Shira writes, “If we stop trying to eliminate fear, and instead use it reveal what it is that we love and value, it can become an incredible source of energy and direction.”  Instead of a dreaded menace to escape from, fear has become fun for me, and embracing it has unlocked a renewable energy source I’m just beginning to discover.  

Just For Life (Why I Quit My Job)

27 May

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”Annie Dillard

Friday was my last day working for the federal government.  I had been working in government a little more than two years, so several colleagues took to calling me “short-timer” before I left.  Two years is far less than the long federal careers most people usually have, who are attracted to public service, long-term job security and benefits.  However, bureaucracy is not kind to anyone, let alone a twenty-something with a creative spirit that likes to ask tough questions.

It is never easy to quit your job; it is especially difficult when you truly believe in the mission of the organization you’re working for, and even harder when you don’t have another job or grad school lined up.   I told someone last week that I was leaving and moving to San Francisco, and she replied, “Oh, wonderful, where are you going to be working?”  “I don’t have a job yet,” I replied.  “Oh, great, where are you going to graduate school?”  “I’m not going to school,” I said.  “So you’re just going…for life???” she said, dumbfounded.  She looked at me like I was from another planet.

Just for life.  As if life was not good enough.  Is there a better reason to quit your job than the fact that you are not happy, that you are not fulfilled, that you are not living out your full potential in life? I want to do something different with my life.  What that is—I’m not exactly sure—but I want it anyway.  I know it will involve me pursuing my personal interests (writing, supporting social entrepreneurs who are creating positive change) and being the best version of me; a passionate, creative me that wants to make others happy and empower people to live out their full potential in life.   

In his book Walking on Water, author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen refers to the concept of fittingness, that is, how well your actions match your unique gifts, match who you are.  He says we should all be asking ourselves the question:  “What’s the biggest and most important problem I can solve with my gifts and skills?”  ReWork, an innovative company that tries to connect exceptional professionals with positions in organizations with a social or environmental mission, emphasizes the importance of finding where you as an individual (your skills, your interests, your passions) fit best with an organization.  While I deeply respect the work my organization does, and am grateful for my tremendously kind and passionate colleagues, who will remain mentors and close friends, I personally was no longer inspired by the day-to-day work I did there, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

You can work at the most impact-driven social enterprise, an innovative non-profit or company that is changing the world, the place where your friends or your parents or your career counselor think you should work, but in the end, it’s all about whether the particular job itself within that organization is a good fit for you.  You’re the one that has to be happy.  I remain hopeful that I’ll find a job where I feel passion, happiness, and excitement about what I’m going to do tomorrow morning at 10:15am.  Maybe not every single day, but at least the majority of the time.  As I enter the next phase of my life, there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road and moments of fear, frustration, and failure, but the challenge excites me, and waking up knowing that I’m spending my days listening to my heart will keep me going.  

Smiley’s Moleskine

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