Tag Archives: Job

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. 

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

Daily Smiley: Passion > Fear

29 Mar

My friend Burcu Bozkurt is today’s Daily Smiley HERO.  Why?  Because she overcame fear, which is no easy feat.  Burcu moved from Istanbul, Turkey to the United States at the age of eight, and now she is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double majoring in global studies and public health.  She is passionate about public health, maternal and child health, and human rights, and is a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. Yesterday, she turned down the only job offer she’s ever had.  Her rationale:

…would it have meant stability over the summer and post-graduation?  Likely.
…would it have meant getting paid competitively? Yes.
…would I have been bored out of my mind? Yes.
…would I have been surrounded by individuals who ignite my fire, challenge me and/or inspire me? Not likely.
…would it be a job I look forward to every morning because of its mission/impact on the world? Most definitely not.
…am I scared? YES.
but liberated?  HELL YES.  I love the feeling that comes with the possibility of making moves for myself and the world.

It is a bold move for anyone to turn down a job offer, especially in a dismal job market, and especially coming right out of college.  Jobs do not come easily to 30 or 40 year-olds, let alone 21 year-olds.  But Burcu chose passion over fear.  She chose inspiration, motivation, and wanting to make a social impact every day.  A job to her is more than just a paycheck and checking the “I have a job” box.  Let’s all remember to fight the fear that comes with making any big decision in life.  If we listen to our heart and our passions within, they will lead us in the right direction, and leave fear withering in the distance.   Once we do, the possibility and the potential we create for ourselves and those around us is endless.

Burcu at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation in 2012. Photo by Kwirious Photography.

For more inspiration, go to Burcu’s blog about working in community health in Bangladesh from her summer internship in 2011.

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