Got really vulnerable, y’all.
Last week, I had the fortune of meeting Christina Vuleta, founder of 40:20 vision, a website that offers advice from 40something women who have been there, to 20something women (like me) who are trying to figure it out. Christina was a panelist at a 40:20 Highwater Women panel where she, along with some other incredibly accomplished women, offered invaluable tidbits on how to navigate this thing called life. I feel extremely lucky to have made a connection with someone so willing to pass on her experiences and help the next generation weather through the rocky 20s.
I wrote a guest post for her site about a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: failure.
Read it, but if you’re busy here’s the Cliff’s Notes version straight from the last two sentences:
Embrace failure as relentlessly as you pursue success. One is not better than the other, as they both simply bring us closer to the goal.
Elusively motivational? That’s how I like it.
Also, I haven’t said this before but to all who actually read these meanderings, thank you. I don’t get to see your faces often but simply knowing that there are faces is encouraging. It’s what keeps me typing.
I live right above a Brooklyn Industries store. The company motto, “live work create”, is emblazoned on the brick wall next to my building’s gate, so it stares at me each time I go in & out. I usually don’t return the glance but on occasion, I stare back. Or glare. Depending on my mood.
On the one hand, I think it’s a great reminder to live an inspired life. On the other hand, my schedule is often so stacked with more pressing commitments and responsibilities, such feel-good mantra rather irritates me. Who in their right mind has time to splatter around paint and compose pretty typography? Artists with too much time on their hands! Like Steve Jobs, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Edison, and other rather trivial figures. (Learning typography was exactly what Steve Jobs did and today, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Mac.)
Sure, I proceed, creation is great for the legends but we can’t all be legendary. We are too limited by time and other impending life demands to deal with such high-minded ideals. Perhaps. But deep down, I know cynicism stems from disappointment. Disappointment that, in a glaring way, I have not lived up to man’s highest potential for creation and that my existence thus far has been marked more by consumption than production.
Brooklyn Industries’ specific mission, as stated on its website:
is to live with passion,
is work well-done,
is a constant desire to create.
Being of clear left brain origin (yet always seeking right-brain ingenuity), I often wonder what opportunities, if any, there are for non-artists like me to live with passion and create amazing work. My drawing skills have not evolved much since third grade.
Yesterday, a few women gathered at my place to brainstorm business ideas. It was about as far from an artist’s collective as you can imagine with a clearly laid-out agenda, bullet points, and talk of business models. But the wannabe artist in me saw artist potential (think barefooted free spirits with rolled-up ripped jeans and palettes in hand, of course.) Previously unknown ideas were brought to consciousness, compiled, developed. And with that, something new was created. Created. Yes, analytical, Excel-loving folks can be artists too!
I’m not saying our ideas were brilliant masterpieces. But I’m reminded that creation is not simply pretty art you hang on the walls. If anything, creativity is more about the reinterpretation of thought than any act of making something “different”. It’s about making something unoriginal happen that wouldn’t have if one hadn’t taken initiative. The originality lies in the intention. A new friendship, revised process, or translation of overwrought thoughts – these are creations unveiled.
Knowing that yesterday’s group would not have gathered had certain motions not been set in place is enlivening. To see that creation unveiled is to feel something like life, birth, the wail of a baby – yeah, you can call it inspiration gone mad.
Go out and create something this week. It doesn’t have to be a painting, though if you can make pretty stuff take a picture and send it to me. Our world can seem, at times, to severely lack creation in a culture of mass consumption. But its not hard to plant the seeds for something new. Take time for a conversation if you like people. Build an internal process if you dig logistics. You’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to create and make something new based on your inherent strengths. Before you know it, you’ll be a living embodiment of what you make.
Experiencing inspiration is like breathing a full gulp of air after years of just trying to catch your breath. After that, it’s hard to want anything else.
Eleanor Roosevelt once advised:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
My natural instinct, like any scaredy-cat, is to back off and make excuses.
But something tells me that Eleanor is not telling us to jump off a cliff. Those daredevil feats are nothing compared to the fears we’re most afraid to tackle, those that are deeply embedded within the daily decisions we make.
For instance, I was walking down 14th Street and noticed a small sign with pretty typeface, labeled “paragraph”. The design caused me to peer further and read the fine print: “writer’s workspace”
The timing was uncanny. I had just been wondering if there were places to connect in the city with other writers. Perhaps I should take a peek in. I shuffled closer and saw that the door was locked with a buzzer. Alas, a barrier of entry. Should I try buzzing anyway? Nah, I thought. I’m not even a real writer. I begin to walk away, making a note to google ‘paragraph’ later, knowing full well that I would forget and it would never happen.
2.5 shuffles after, I stopped as Eleanor’s wisdom stirred inside me. “What are you scared of, Lynne?” I jumped to defend. It’s not that I’m scared, I just don’t think the place will be open so it doesn’t make sense for me to buzz only to be turned away and that would be a waste of time and supremely embarrassing because…I’m scared.
Fear is not just “running from grizzly bear” fear. Fear, more often than not, occurs in the mundane. There I was in the middle of a bustling street, having nary a conversation with anyone, yet battling the biggest of wars inside myself. One second walking back to the door, another second turning around to escape confrontation with something I was genuinely curious about! Zoom out and it seemed silly, almost comical. Anyone watching me would think I was mad. Finally, fed up with myself and this silly fear of a buzzer, I pushed the button.
A lady’s voice picked up.
“Um, hi, this is….Lynne.”
“Um, Lynne – um, I just stumbled upon your place and wanted to see like, if I could take a look?”
I had ruined it. Clearly, she knew I was an outsider and had no idea what I was talking about.
And then, I was buzzed in.
I climbed up the stairs, a most interesting set, passing by a a dance studio and a bartending school on my way up. Paragraph’s door sat at the top, and it swung open to the sight of an Asian woman beckoning me in. She greeted me warmly, saying her name was Amy. (For a second, I thought she was Amy Tan, then realized it was highly unlikely Amy Tan would be at a writer’s club welcoming me.)
Amy gave me a tour of the facility, the first writing space I’ve seen. There is a ‘silent room’ where absolutely no talking is allowed. It gives writers the focus they need to bang out words. Outside of the silent room, there is a small kitchen where writers converse and eat. The facility includes free wifi, copy machines, all your basic office stuff.
I didn’t stay for long; Amy tried to sell me a membership which I couldn’t afford. Still, I’m glad I went. What I gained from conquering my stupid fear of a buzzer was:
- a cool view of a writer’s working space,
- a realization that fear pervades even the most common of situations,
- a story for this blog post!
Fear infiltrates the tiniest aspects of our lives. If I received a penny for each time I passed over something because “I didn’t have time” or “I knew it was going to end badly”…well, we won’t get into it. Often fear is bundled so tightly in a web of excuses that we don’t even know it’s fear, mistaking it instead for pragmatism or level-headed reason. As the weekend approaches, lean into the fears, whether it be talking to that “unattainable” guy, or trying something you know you’ll be bad at. When we can overcome ourselves, we’ll surely be able to take on any grizzly fear.
My previous post on failure was not the most sanguine, so I’ll flip the page over for something more motivational today.
Everything will not be okay.
But you’ll be alright.
If you have an important decision to make, remember that.
I recently decided that I want to write and edit for a digital publication, maybe even create my own. Behind the ambitious wordage, I already know there’s a good chance my actions will fail, I won’t make enough money, my writing will be deemed mediocre, and that even after persisting, I’ll face more rejection with the possibility of having to return home with fingers over my forehead in that dreadful L shape. Everything won’t end up okay. Should I go forward?
Yes or no is not really the answer I’m looking for. What we really want when we ask that question is reassurance. Reassurance that something will work out, that everything will be okay. However, reassurance is fleeting. Anything that really matters won’t come easy. God tests to see how much you want something. He sweeps a strong current over the linear road. Along the topsy turvy path, there are chances to turn back. Since everything is not okay, you’re tempted.
But here comes the motivational addendum, the one that can save the day. Amid the mayhem, you are alright. If your core self comes from a solid foundation, the wind can be blowing the hair off your head; though everything is not okay, you are just fine.
My motivation for this week is to find the bravery to shun faux reassurance. The changes we make to seek our dreams may not yield the most ideal outcomes. But it’s not reassurance that we should be seeking anyway; it’s courage.
Free yourself from the need for perfect acceptance, and it will be a lot easier to make a decision and launch work that matters.
Thanks to Seth Godin’s tell-it-like-it-is blog for inspiring this post. Thanks also to my good friend Hanh, whose boldness in pursuing her fashion blog dream, pushed me to critically think about my own life goals.
Yesterday, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Six months ago, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Two times in a row, I’ve been rejected, dismissed as “not a good fit” which in some ways is saying, “not good enough”. Startup pace is quick, if not brutal. So today, here I am, back at what seems to be Square One, trailing behind the offshoots of engines that will jet off to greatness without me. By most standards, I’ve failed. But by at least one standard, I am encouraged. Defeat presents an opportunity to grow. Richard Nixon, a man who weathered a lot of turmoil, said that learning to survive a defeat is when you develop character. Scoff all you want about Nixon being the last person to know a thing about character, but he’s got a point.
“Ultimately what matters most is resilience–the ability to quickly rebound from failures, indeed to see failure as a stepping stone to success.”
- Arianna Huffington
That’s not to undermine the shame and embarrassment I feel. Being let go sucks. Being let go twice doubly sucks. When you think about it too much, you go crazy, believing your life is just pedaling against the current: one step forward, two steps back. You descend into all sorts of belittling comments and emotions. Heart-wrenching pain that leads to tears, sobbing, louder sobbing, and mind-blowing cries because heck – - rejection hurts.
But amid all the pain, there is a voice – small, quiet yet certain – that knows this is all necessary. After all, what is good without bad? Happiness without sadness? And success without failure?
The windows in my living room overlook the corner of a busy intersection humming with people rushing to their destination. It’s a perfect encapsulation of New York City. I usually scarf my breakfast in plain view of Kate Moss, whose Rag and Bone ad is plastered on the building across the street. Her frozen smile stares at my 99-cent Cinnamon oatmeal sprinkled with too much brown sugar. Her perfectly symmetrical face simultaneously captivates and infuriates me. I imagine her passing gentle judgment, with my asymmetrically cut strawberries, crumpled shirts, and pants squeezing too tight. “Nothing tastes better than skinny. Get it together, Lynne. Don’t fuck up today.” Perfection can be motivational.
Today, I looked out, expecting her gaze. Instead, I saw an assortment of black flyers advertising a weekend party. One of them had already been scribbled on. How quickly perfection had been replaced! I was reminded of the Augusteum in Rome, once the center of the empire only now to be a collapsed monument waiting for a reconstruction that will never happen.
My ego is bruised but has learned its lesson. Ruin is the road to transformation. Life is chaotic, bringing changes that nobody can anticipate. So, don’t take it all too seriously. Fall, but get back up. A job is a job, and life moves on. Like a fish out of water flopping about, I’ll find another place to swim.
“The Augusteum warns me to not get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough–but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.”
- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
To the next wave.
Hats off to 2012! Wherever you are, I hope you’re able to reflect on the highs and lows of the year with honesty and humility. Among the many year-in-reviews and recap videos, I found this one particularly gut-wrenching- 2012: What Brought Us Together
With 2013 fast approaching, it’s list time. I love these handy things. They’re the most basic tool to getting organized when one actually keeps track of them and checks consistently. While charting course for the New Year, I’ve started to think about the ways I can make 2013 better – more authentic, challenging, and meaningful – through…you guessed it!…lists.
Charlie O’Donnell, partner and founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, writes a weekly newsletter about tech events in NYC. (Sidenote: If you are new to the space and want a quick way to get acquainted with NYC tech, ‘This Week In NYC Innovation‘ is a great place to start.)
Last week, he included a compilation of list topics to think about for the new year, which I found very useful:
- Three people I’m actually friends with that I would like to be better friends with.
- Ten people I should know, but don’t.
- Five people I’d like to help be successful.
- Three things I’d like to learn.
- A physical goal (a time, a measurement, or just being able to be more bendy, less creaky, etc.)
- An emotional goal.
- Something you’d like to close the book on and move on from.
- Three ways you’re going to try to get more sleep.
- Read a book a month…list the first three you’re going to read. (Might I suggest re-reading the Great Gatsby before summer.)
- Five people you feel like you’re supposed to be friends with, but really don’t like, that you’re going to unfriend/disconnect/ignore.
- Three things that you’ve been procrastinating on that you’re going to get done.
I like this list for its holistic approach. It takes into account practical, emotional, physical, and educational goals. There’s also heavy emphasis on improving relationships, while understanding that not all interactions are created equal (ie. friendships vs. idols vs. mentorships, even un-friendships are included).
I’m sharing a few of my goals from this list because I firmly believe if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Here’s to accountability!
3 Things I’d Like to Learn This Year:
- How to cook (I’m keeping a list of my favorite dishes and recipes to learn – open to additions!)
- Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator – open to help!)
- Bible Literacy (open to fellow faith buddies)
A Physical Goal
- Be able to do this without sounding or looking like a gorilla. (Getting rid of the pooch would be nice too.)
3 Ways to Get More Sleep
- Having a set bed time. I’m setting it for 11:30 – 7:30 (for now) which gives me a healthy 8 hours.
- Completely turning off an hour before bed. That means, winding down and turning off the computer/TV by 10:30 pm.
- (Hm, I can only come up with two.)
2013 Book-a-Month List (in no particular order; open to other good reads)
- The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo
- On the Road, by Jack Keruoac
- The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams
- Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
- Ulysses, by James Joyce
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
- The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone
- Change by Design, by Tim Brown
- Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
- St Paul Trois Ch Teaux, by C. Joybell C.
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
3 Things I’ve been procrastinating on that WILL get done
- Submitting to Thought Catalog
- Calling a loved one..because in this day and age, it doesn’t happen enough.
The full list of notes are currently scribbled in my TextEdit, and I’m well aware many will remain unfulfilled. Life tends to begin (how dare it), pushing these goals to the dusty, untouched crevices of the mind. Hard to say which will stick and which will be thrown to the wind. Life is unpredictable. Either way, it’s here for the love of lists.
“You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
- C. Joybell C.
Happy New Year! I wish you all a fruitful 2013 with many healthy happenings.
Ideation is like a breezy joy ride along the Pacific Coast Highway. With all the smiling possibilities and wind-in-your-hair serendipity, the drive is exhilarating.
I can spend hours bouncing ideas. Things usually end on a high but eventually, like a joy ride, I have to get out of the car. Make moves. Get shit done.
Oh, how I often yearn to stay in the car. After all, who wants to stop and park on a windy road high on the cliffs when the view is just so perfect behind closed doors? But it is all just a sight – or a very good brainstorming session – if you never get out to explore what is actually possible given the surroundings.
Ideas are a dime in a dozen. A good idea that can actually happen takes discipline and a neurotic focus on the “how”.
I have yet to actually drive the Pacific Coast Highway. But I imagine that when I do, the wind will blow my hair into an effortless tussle amid the mind-blowingly beautiful backdrop. I’ll laugh endlessly with the love of my life as we beat on in a red Mustang, not a care in the world, all the while wondering what the crashing surf below is like. Maybe we’ll stop the car and actually hike down. I hear the beaches are inaccessible. Even better. Once there, we’ll build a sand castle and claim territory.
Of course, this is all imagination. I’m a dreamer. I have no idea where to park, how to get down to the beach, or who this hypothetical partner-in-crime would be. Dreams are grand, yet far too easy.
Always dream. Thereafter, execute. Marry inspiration with pragmatism. It’s the only way anything will happen.
It’s tempting to turn cynical in an age when we’d rather send a text than pick up the phone to say thank you. (myself included) Should I even mention the Middle East turmoil, lackluster economy, and our own personal heartbreaks? Life sucks and yet, the world is still a beautiful place.
Sunset in Bali, September 2009
It’s become tradition for me to list the things I’m grateful for on Thanksgiving Eve. Life isn’t rosy, but we still have it good. It’s not that I hope we turn a blind eye to the woes of the world. I just hope that on a day like Thanksgiving, we celebrate the places where these woes are absent, enjoying dutifully and in good taste what we have. If for any reason, because that’s what the damn day is for. (Strong language for a genuinely good holiday – I mean it!)
Pray that peace comes to the Middle East and other war-torn regions, that basic necessities reach those who are starving for these things, and that we may each become a version of our best self. Then put those woes aside and enjoy a nice meal with loved ones. (If you can’t, maybe order good Chinese takeout?)
To whoever is reading this, thank you. Your readership- however distant, frequent, or haphazard – creates a kinship that the most untainted part of me can only believe stems from something true and pure.
Without further ado (and before I turn too Zen)
23 Things I am Thankful for on my 23rd Thanksgiving
1. Me. You. The world. Creation.
2. The number 2. Not being the leader, but the first follower. It is by being the first follower that the lone nut is transformed into a leader.
3. My family, without whom, I would certainly be starving, poor, and (likely) dead.
4. My friends, for without whom, I would certainly be depressed, less interesting, and (likely) dead.
5. Humor, all forms.
6. Unconditional love.
7. The ability and right to think.
8. The ability and right to communicate.
9. God and His unending grace.
10. Food (special appreciation for all things wine and cheese).
12. Good beats, rhythm, and dance.
13. Danza Kudoro- 175 plays and effectively the most played song on my iPod since I danced to it on the streets of Italy last summer. I listen to it almost everyday and am still not tired of it. I’ll be grateful until the day I am.
14. Technology. Love it hate it, you wouldn’t be reading this without it. (so you better love it)
17. New York City. Waking up and seeing the Chrysler Building from my window keeps my head justifiably in the clouds.
18. Beauty, seen and unseen.
19. First-responders, technicians, janitors, EMTs, transit operators - you make our world work.
21. The person who brought my passport to Lost & Found that time I was scrambling to find it 5 minutes before my flight from Singapore back to the US,
22. The fact that ‘itis happens to me on a regular basis – gluttonous proof of my excessive well-being.
23. The future and all it holds. There is much more to learn. Hope abounds and that cannot disappoint.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica McCarthy, actress, producer, and founder of Show & Tell Stories Productions, a boutique video production company based in NYC that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, artists, and organizations share their story. I talked to her about the importance of storytelling for InnerGap (an upcoming interviewing platform for HR professionals and recruiters), for both those being interviewed AND those asking the questions.
Why storytelling? It’s a buzzword these days, but why is it especially important for those on the job market?
M: It’s important these days for anyone who’s trying to get their message across because these days there’s so much information out there with social media. If you’re just spitting out facts it just gets lost in the deluge of information. So, it’s really important when you want to be able to express something that’s unique to you and why people should be listening to you. You need to have a story.
InnerGap caters to HR professionals and recruiters. How can they ask the right questions to draw out people’s stories?
M: One of the main things that I would say for interviewers is that you’re looking for connection. You already have the person’s resume. One mistake that a lot of recruiters make is that they’re taking time to ask questions that they can get the answer to on the resume (ie. Where did you go to school? What was your major?) Instead they should be using the resume as a starting off point…What they’re ultimately trying to do is to get more information than just a fact on a piece of paper.
Recruiters should also ask questions that don’t require just a yes or no answer. Recruiters usually have a set criteria of questions they’re going to ask, but they shouldn’t be afraid to be present in the moment. If someone says something that is very intriguing, feel free to follow up with that. You don’t have to stick to set questions. That way, you can really find out more about that person.
For those being interviewed, how should they respond to more spontaneous questions that don’t directly relate to their skill set?
M: When you’re being interviewed, you actually have a lot more control over the interview than most people think. Celebrities and politicians are great at this. Several things to note:
1. Be empowered.
2. Know ahead of time what your talking points are.
3. Do your research on the company. Preferably find out who will be interviewing you because again, it’s about the connection…don’t be afraid to show some of your human connection.
4. Yes – and (borrowed from the improv world) Don’t give a yes or no answer, even if you’re asked a question that just seems like yes or no. It’s always, ‘yes’ and then add a piece of information. That really keeps the conversation going and again spawns that connection between two people.
Be sure to check out Monica and more of her storytelling tips at showandtellstories.com!
I turned 23 yesterday. In the days leading up, I was asked what I wanted, to which I altruistically responded, “Oh, nothing at all!” Hm. A friend hinted that I write a wish list. Sp I jotted just a few things:
- personal trainer
- the new Mac OS
- iTunes gift card
- leather wallet
- skinny jeans (coral color)
- replacement pair of Gucci sunglasses
- bonus: a handsome smart young man
What a saint.
It’s not difficult to come up with things we could have that could make our lives better. There is always room for improvement. However, the second I start thinking about all the things I need, I start viewing life through a scarcity lens. An entity lacking this, needing improvement in that, and at its core, not good enough. Before I could finish my wish list, I had descended into a spiral of anxiety about everything I did not have and had not become.
I’m 23. There are many things I have yet to see or experience. Thinking about all the possibilities makes my mind whirl! The pressure to “make a difference” seems engrained in our generation. There is even an acronym for this affliction, outlined in this article by Priya Parker, “Millennials paralyzed by choice“. FOMO, or fear of missing out, stems from our hungry ambitions and desire for optimality. It happens when the media shows us cool images of what others are doing and where we could be, which almost always seems better than our own state. This is more than just an evil marketing ploy; FOMO trickles into our social media updates – “look, I”m doing this – how fun!!!” – tapping into our envious desire to one-up each other in life interestingness. Arranging our adult lives in optimal fashion is becoming a generational obsession. How do you get the best job in the best city, while keeping all options open?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to live in New York. But every once in a while – usually while I am stressing about running late or how my dress is squeezing tight in the gut, – I remember an old man in Vietnam. He sat on the side of the road, dirtier than dirt, beaming dimple to dimple, crooked missing teeth and all. While complaining about the heat and voraciously fanning myself, I barely paid him any attention. He smiled at me, which struck me as supremely odd, for what had he to smile about? It was hot and disgusting. He had nothing and I wasn’t giving him anything. Yet in a single moment, ever so fleeting, I realized how wrong I was. Indeed, the man had nothing but he, in fact, had everything simply because he was happy with what he had. My life, ever abundant in tourist pleasures, was intrinsically starved. I continued fanning myself.
That was three years ago. Yesterday, I spent my birthday with my parents. We went grape-picking, ate dinner at a local Italian restaurant, and attended a classical piano concert. I got calls, messages, and cards from a handful of friends. The day was a hodgepodge of simple moments with the people who mean the most to me. There were times when I wondered what I’d be doing if I were in New York. A night out in the city would have surely been a birthday production…and what a shame if it weren’t, with all the options available! The operation would have been documented, yielding picture-perfect moments against a beautiful New York City backdrop (perhaps with a touch of Instagram editing) – - surely worthy of double-digit likes.
Yet back in Tennessee, I was wading through thorny bushes, spider webs, and buzzing bees (only to find rotten grapes). For a few minutes, I yearned for some city grandeur. Then I heard my Mom’s Chinese shrieks. She had found a perfectly ripe batch of grapes. Her cute little visor bobbed in the trees ahead. Lest the vineyard owners call the cops on her for disturbing the peace, I had no other choice but to see what she was referring to. So I stormed through more spider webs, tripped, and got caught in laughter, wondering why I would ever in my right mind trade this comical experience for uncomfortable heels, birthday shots, and exorbitant tax fares.
I was in bed before midnight, which was glorious. As I went to sleep, I came to the conclusion that when faced with choices, I want everything. It’s selfish and causes unnecessary stress, not to mention incredibly self-deprecating. So, what do I really want? To be content with my one life, the way it is, the way I am- simple, true, and loving.
So, that is what I am giving myself: freedom. Freedom from FOMO. Freedom from the should-haves, could-haves, would-haves. Freedom to know I am not missing out and that, in fact, I have everything I already need.
Thank you to all my friends, family, and well-wishers who are shining reminders of life’s abundance.
…go on a run. Or if you’re like me, start running, stop after a block, and evaluate why you’re huffing and puffing like you’ve been running a marathon.
This is more than a story about being out of shape. It’s about dealing with obstacles that prevent you from reaching the finish line. Because when it rains, it pours, and in the aftermath of my most recent personal storm, I emerge completely bruised, battered, broken, and… blessed.
Over the past 90 days, a series of events had led me to believe the world was surely conspiring against me. In chronological order:
1. I was robbed in Providence,
2. I started experiencing hazy vision, due to scarring on my cornea,
3. My computer died,
4. I was averaging less than 5 hours of sleep/night,
5. I parted ways with my job.
Each of these sucked. The last was by far the hardest. There were several reasons for my dismissal from Venture for America, but the largest was that the company wasn’t a natural fit for me. We tried to make things work but ultimately discovered that it was unnatural to continue forcing myself in a position that just wasn’t cut to my shape.
Coming to this realization was difficult because I wanted so badly to contribute to the VFA mission. That was the plan. But when there lacks a natural, comfortable flow, something is probably off. I’ve learned that sometimes you must be willing to let go of what is planned, for the life that is truly right.
I can now focus on my health and peacefully take the time I need for surgery and recovery. I can now return to writing and exercising, which had all but disappeared when work took over. More importantly, I can now unapologetically be myself.
Last week, I whined to my friend about everything I’ve lost: my vision, my job, my health, even my cruddy old license which was stolen in Providence.
”I’ve been ripped of everything. What’s left?”, I cried.
“Family and friends. We remain.”, she said.
And that’s all I need. I was stripped of so many things associated with my ego to be reminded that none of that matters. What matters more than anything else is the love you have and the love you give, and I am blessed beyond belief to have an incredibly supportive network where all of that flows naturally.
For those dealing with similarly “catastrophic” events, remember that you aren’t possibly important enough for the world to plot against you. Think about what you do have and what is meant to emerge will do so naturally. If things aren’t working on a regular basis, perhaps you’re trying too hard to make two pieces of a different puzzle fit. Find another puzzle to solve.
Venture for America was a wonderful learning opportunity, and I am honored to have worked toward such a meaningful mission. Who knows what’s next. All I know is that however many more disasters it takes, I will eventually make it to the finish line.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”
I’m sure the title has you assuming all sorts of things, foremost being that I’m egotistical.
Which is probably true. But in all honesty, the only reason I’m publishing a particular letter I received is because it highlights a common dilemma facing millennials now. In the past year, I’ve crafted a number of responses to similar questions posed in the letter below. For my own clarity, I’ve consolidated my answers into a single post for the interest of anyone seeking life advice from an equally clueless (but well-meaning) 20something.
I don’t know if you remember me, but I feel like I have been following your life for a couple of years through your various blogs (creepy, maybe?) ever since I met you so long ago. I guess I just wanted to tell you that your writing and your life have amazed me as I’ve been following, the travels in Asia, and Europe, and now the adventures in New York. I have loved every single one of your blogs.
I have a few questions if you don’t mind! How did you develop the courage and confidence in yourself to pursue your goals? Being a freshman, I feel as though the future is so daunting and I really have no idea what I’m doing with myself and what direction I’m trying to head in and I’m scared that I’m wasting precious time by not knowing. Also, how are you able to design concrete projects and goals from your passions and loves?
I’d also love to collaborate with you on something one day, if you ever have a space in one of your projects for me in the future. And one day I hope we can perhaps meet up for a great conversation over coffee, when I feel less like a child and whenever we may be able to cross paths one day.
But most of all, I’m just sending in some love and fanmail.
(SN: I think this blog could die happy knowing that in its short life, at least one person didn’t dismiss its babbles as useless. Thanks!)
What a lovely surprise to read your message. It is my first piece of “fan mail”, though I would hardly say I constitute it. However, I do often wonder if I am writing for an audience greater than one (that being myself), so your letter is reassurance that I’m at least writing for two Thanks for reading!I’ll try my best to answer your questions but keep in mind that finding confidence and bliss is a never-ending process. I graduated from college last year and was pretty all-over-the-place with what I wanted to do, though to many my future must have seemed a sure thing. I was a broadcast journalism major from start to finish and really involved w/internships, working at television stations, etc. Now I’m working on digital strategy for entrepreneurs in NYC. Some may say I’ve veered far from my college path. True – I’m not on the news. But people change, as well as the circumstances we’re called to. In reality, I don’t think I’ve veered terribly far. The skills I learned from college journalism are applied often in my job – just not in the exact way I initially envisioned - and that’s okay. You may or may not have heard, but your undergraduate major does not matter a whole lot after you graduate. What matters much more is your skill set.Here’s my general advice:Experiment. There is no other time in your life when you aren’t bound to bills, serious relationships, family, jobs, or illness than now. Now is the time for you to try everything under the sun that suits your fancy (though don’t get too crazy with the drugs and alcohol ). Tinker with shit. Talk to strangers – that’s one way to really develop confidence.Most importantly, don’t think you’re wasting time. Believe me, life works in funny ways. In some way or another, every random, seemingly useless thing you learn will be of use down the road. Even if not in a vocational sense, there’s no harm in learning something for the pure sake of edifying your mind. It just makes you a more interesting person which is actually a lot more important than having a practical use for every single thing.As for developing concrete projects, think about what you want to improve in. Writing? Public speaking? Juggling? Drawing? Your answers should somewhat align with what you’re scared of. Design your projects in that line. The scarier, the better, and the more you’ll grow.
Fairy godmothers do exist. Just meet the women at The Levo League, who are helping Gen-Y women define and achieve their dreams with a sprinkle of what they call ‘Levo Love.’
It is difficult to contain my excitement as I write about this thing called ‘Levo Love.’ Being a Gen-Y woman myself, I am grateful for the plethora of opportunities available to me today, and I reckon the majority of modern-day educated women agree. We are not interested in whining about the plight of gender inequality. The Levo League understands, which is why they stand at a unique position to tackle a new set of dilemmas facing ambitious women today.
Emphasis lies on the the word ambitious, for ambition these days can serve as a double-edged sword. While it allows women to advance further, how often does it also conjure images of suited-up, back-stabbing slave drivers who, by way of coercion, cattiness, and (dare I say?) canoodling, work their way to the top? Devil Wears Prada, anyone?
This cutthroat mentality is not quite what I get as I chat over coffee and delicious yogurt parfait with The Levo League co-founders Amanda Pouchot, 26, and Caroline Ghosn, 25, near their New York office. Pouchot giggles while she reads aloud quotes from her newly-madeTumblr. Meanwhile, Ghosn earnestly exclaims, “How cool is it that our new office is right across from the movie theater?!”
Both exude energy from the carefree California coast where they attended college. While Pouchot was heavily involved as a student leader at UC Berkeley with Panhellenic Council and academic organizations, Ghosn found her passion in social entrepreneurship and begged to take classes at the Stanford Design School (usually limited to graduate students) while she was a Stanford undergraduate.
Their paths crossed shortly after they graduated in November 2008. At their first day of training at McKinsey Consulting, they were the only two women straight out of college in a group of 30.
“I didn’t speak at our first meeting,” Pouchot said. “I was so intimidated.”
The two women gravitated toward each other and soon became each other’s support system. In the competitive male-dominated work atmosphere, they were limited in who they could reach out to for advice, so they started brainstorming ideas for a platform where women could find support. The Levo League was born.
“We wanted to create a platform that democratized mentorship so that women could have opportunities to meet established, successful women and receive advice,” Pouchot said. “Ultimately it was about Gen-Y women [us] building something for other Gen-Y women.”
Since its launch on March 20, The Levo League has created a multimedia website some would liken to a LinkedIn for women. It certainly helps that they have backers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on their side.
But The Levo League’s beautiful ‘virtual corner office’ interface does more than just connect. With the modern office as your ‘home page,’ you can navigate to various sections, including a job search and company database, unique content on young professional lifestyle issues, and a ‘file folder’ stacked with career advice.
Click on the cozy-looking couch and you’re led to one of their most popular programs to date, “Office Hours,” which facilitates a series of live video chats with some of the most powerful women. Speakers so far have ranged from Gilt Groupe chairwoman Susan Lyne toFoodspotting co-founder Soraya Darabi. With a strong foundation in technology, questions to the women can be posed directly on the website or through tweeting and texting. “Office Hours” speakers resonate powerfully with The Levo League’s members.
Maghan McDowell, a magazine editor from Gainesville, Florida, is one of them.
“It is an incredible chance to learn from amazing real women that leave me wondering, ‘Is this real life?’” McDowell said.”It makes them seem more real, and it’s very inspirational. If they can do it, then why can’t I?”
That is what co-founder Ghosn likes to hear. One of her favorite quotes is the famous Jonathan Winters saying: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim to it.”
She modified the quote saying, “Screw that, you don’t need a ship… just start swimming. You can swim toward an undefined goal, and you’ll figure it out as you swim.”
Levo, derived from the Latin root for ‘elevate,’ also aims to provide an upward financial trajectory for women, which is why the group is raising awareness about Equal Pay Day on April 17. On average, women make just 75 cents for every dollar their male counterparts makes.
“We want women to not be afraid to ask for more,” Pouchot said.
As The Levo League grows, more features are set to launch. One of them is The Levo Lounge, a conversation platform where members can message established women professionals on the network to individually connect for mentorship. Eventually, members will vote on “Office Hours” speakers in different fields. For now, anyone interested in becoming a member cansign up by submitting an ‘elevator pitch’ that describes her aspirations. Membership is capped at 10,000 for the month to enhance the experience for current users.
“Our short-term goal is to make these 10,000 women very happy,” Ghosn said. “Then we can focus on our long-term goal of becoming a generation-defining platform.”
Ultimately, it goes back to the simple Levo philosophy of women helping women.
“Our generation’s success will depend on individual successes, and the only way you can get those individual successes is to have a support network, a group that lifts you up,” Pouchot said.
Ladies, start showing some Levo Love. It’s a term you’re going to be hearing often very soon.
I first heard about Alice Lee last month through Twitter. Amid a flurry of 140-character statements, the headline about a Wharton student skipping class and deserving a job at Instagram caught my eye. Instagram? Skipping class? My mouse honed in. I arrived at Dear Instagram - With Love, Alice, a website with pretty cursive typeface floating daintily among clouds on a clear blue sky. Like a love letter, its greeting words expressed unabashed admiration:
“In a nutshell: I am a huge, huge fan of Instagram. And I want to be a part of your team.”
Love in the digital age? Some have called Dear Instagram an over-the-top ode to the popular iPhone photo sharing portal, Instagram, which has been downloaded more than 15 million times. But beyond the cute and welcoming background reminiscent of a day on the Bay (sailboats and sunglasses adorn the four pages), Dear Instagram is a thoughtful collection of ideas from a 20-year old who just really wants to work for Instagram. Within two days of its launch on February 16, it received more than 40,000 hits – not too shabby for a site built from scratch in 2.5 days. Media outlets from The Atlantic to Business Insider were quick to highlight how many classes Wharton junior Alice Lee skipped to produce the viral sensation- four- effectively using this ‘act of rebellion’ as clicking bait. But for Lee, skipping class is no big deal. Never afraid to breakaway, she took the entire fall semester off to work at the start-upFoursquare, build her photo business, and go to Africa.
I briefly met Lee this weekend while she was in New York for a client meeting. She has maintained a flow of design and photography projects, even since before Dear Instagram was born. Lee began her own photo business two years ago, despite having never taken a professional photo class.
“I learn better when I experiment. I started messing around with photography when my Dad returned from China with a Nikon D100, one of the first DSLRs that Nikon came out with. I learned by following people, reaching out to other photographers, creating a photoblog, and posting my photos to Facebook, ” says Lee. “All the gigs I’ve gotten have been through friends, or friends of friends.”
Naturally, she references these experiences in her Instagram application. But more than a digital resume, Dear Instagram outlines concrete things Lee would actually do if given the opportunity to work at Instagram, which includes revamping the developer site and connecting with more photographers. On the final page of the site, which reads like a storybook, Lee concludes with the question “So why me?”, then quickly summarizes her own answer in a concise batch of sentences and graphics. Perhaps the more logical question to ask, however, is why NOT?
The outstanding nature of a website like Dear Instagram begs the question: Is this the new standard for resumes? Do we all need to create a viral website to receive a second glance from respected companies these days? If so, save my spot in the unemployment line now!
Thankfully, Lee offers resoundingly simple advice that doesn’t require coding. In fact, her number one tip for job applicants is to just be genuine.
“Don’t do things for the sake of doing them, ” she says. “Don’t feel compelled to make a resume-y website just because “everyone else is doing it” – because that’s not a real reason to!”
Lee suggests showing, not just telling, how your strengths will add value. Think about what a company is lacking and provide a solution. If you are a writer, write potential copy for the website. If you are a designer, send a potential design, which is what she did. Lee thought the current Instagram developer site could use some improvement so she redesigned it and sent them a mock-up.
Proactivity is a strategy she often uses to much success. While helping a potential client with something unrelated to design, she decided to create website icons free of charge for the team to use. This established a regular collaboration and she is currently working on a major design project with the organization.
Lee’s interest in Instagram stands uniquely at the intersection of her photography and technology passions. With ten employees based out of San Francisco, Instagram is at the center of the start-up revolution – all the more reason why Lee loves the company. However, she cautions that start-up culture is not for everyone.
“I think that it’s a certain type of person who wants to go into the start-up world and it’s really important to be honest with yourself in deciding if you’re that kind of person,” says Lee. “You have to work hard at your traditional corporate job, but in the start-up world, the onus is really on you and you are truly irreplaceable to the organization that you are a part of.”
Start-up or corporate, Lee’s career advice applies across the spectrum. Professionally, be smart and offer valid ideas, but what is equally important is being likable. This is significantly easier when you love what you do. Lee wakes up with a smile knowing she has “a whole day ahead that I can spend building cool things.”
Lee and Instagram have talked but so far, no work arrangement is set. Rest assured, with or without the InstaGig, this is not the last you will hear of her.
Think finding your passion is overrated? Meet Amber Rae and Nathaniel Koloc. They are determined to change your mind.
If you ask for their help, don’t expect a list of interest-based questions. They aren’t trying to figure out what you like to do. Their approach is more intrusive – perhaps a little uncomfortable – but radically honest. With a simple “Why?”, they bypass job titles and cut to to the heart of your motivation, believing that your values say more about you than a formal name plate.
Amber Rae, digitally known as Hey Amber Rae, reiterates this belief on her widely-circulated blog, stating:
No one cares what you do. They care why you do it.
If Amber Rae asks Why, Nathaniel Koloc asks How you accomplish the Why. Using tactics from Simon Sinek’s popular “Start With Why” book, along with their own personal strategies, the working duo is building a structured approach to realizing and channeling potential in the new school they’ve dreamed up, The Bold Academy.
Born out of the realization that too many college students are carrying diplomas that speak nothing to their true potential, The Bold Academy seeks to fill the gap that college may not be fulfilling for some. Purpose-focused and confidence-building, the Academy teaches students the skills needed to make ideas happen or to gain momentum toward ambitious goals.
“I can’t stand it when someone is full of energy and ready to lend that energy to making the world a better place but can’t because they can’t find the right outlet,” says Koloc. “The barriers could be societal or personal, but either way something needs to be done about it.”
Timing couldn’t be better. A recent New York Times op-ed dubbed this generation the “Go-Nowhere Generation”. Boasting a 16 percent unemployment rate among 16 to 24 year-olds, our stagnant youth could certainly use a kick starter.
The Bold Academy, however, is not a vocational training program. Nor is it summer enrichment.
“The Bold Academy is the culmination of all the work I’ve done since graduation in both figuring out my own path and in helping others to claim the lives they are meant to live with The Passion Experiment,” says Amber Rae.
To better understand the Bold Academy, it helps to know the background of its founders. Rae and Koloc are living examples of the can-do philosophy they preach. Though they are only in their 20s, their extensive experience and passion place them at a unique position to lead a generation of self-starters. Through her Passion Experiment, Amber Rae has coached hundreds of potential entrepreneurs, convincing them to quit their jobs and start companies. She also publishes stories of those who take the route less traveled on Revolution.is.
She describes herself not in characteristics but in the world she envisions, one “where human potential is not governed by what we’re told we can and cannot do”. Nathaniel Koloc, the other half of this dynamic duo, co-founded ReWork, a start-up dedicated to connecting young talent to meaningful work. Through working in the world of social impact and sustainability consulting, he has developed strategy for identifying talent and placing individuals in work that inspires them. As a 2011 Unreasonable Institute Fellow, he learned how to turn this idea into a business and is building it now in its inaugural year.
With the Bold Academy, Rae and Koloc join forces, along with a team of three others, to place a new emphasis on purpose. The Bold curriculum integrates this purpose with effectiveness, through six sections: self-awareness, integrity, confidence, risk-taking, resourcefulness, and strategy. The Academy does not emphasize one specific domain of skill or career path; instead, it takes a holistic approach. The month-long program begins July 1 and consists of workshops, skill-building sessions, and extra-curricular adventures in Boulder, Colorado.
Since releasing applications last week, the Bold Academy has already received a significant amount of interest, despite no other advertising than social media. This is exciting for Rae and Koloc, but the scope of their undertaking can also be overwhelming.
“I’m just so freaking excited to have this take place, it can be hard to just take a deep breath and do the next thing required to make it happen,” says Koloc.
In its inaugural year, The Bold Academy’s success will be measured by the feedback from its 24 participants (12 boys, 12 girls). “We want them to feel an intense burst of clarity…as well as a surge of confidence propelling them into action as they leave,” say Rae and Koloc.
Ultimately, there are bigger plans. Depending on how the summer goes, Rae and Koloc plan to refine the curriculum so it can be replicated across the country. Another future goal is to make scholarships available so more can afford the experience. Current all-inclusive tuition is $7,500.
“We envision thousands of students each summer going through the Bold Academy on campuses and in cities from coast to coast,” say Rae and Koloc.
For now, the team is focused on building the Academy’s foundation and selecting a talented group of students for this July. Until then, the team admits there is a lot of work. But what they lack in age, they make up for in conviction.
“One of the only things in this world that I’m sure of is that we all possess massive amounts of potential that, once unleashed, can make any dream, any vision, a reality,” says Amber.
I was at a networking event the other day, mostly for the tasty hors d’oeurves and the opportunity to imbibe free drinks, but figured I’d entertain some awkward conversation so my freeloading wouldn’t be so conspicuous. When someone approached me, I’d hurriedly finish my chewing (lest the silence be deafening) and begin talking mouth full with a load of quiche crumbs tumbling out. I’d chirpily extend my hand, “Hi my name is Lynne! Nice to meet you. What’s yours?!”
Nothing like an overly enthusiastic greeting that labels the “new girl on the block!” title square in the face.
So be it. I’m a Florida girl at heart and if my sunny disposition makes people squint, get some Ray Bans. Being from Florida in a cold city actually works to my advantage because it immediately creates an easy topic for conversation: weather. Inevitably, weather talk leads to the ultimate ‘elephant in the room’ question “What do you do?” which subsequently triggers an incessant chatter up in my prefrontal cortex on how to explain who I am, what I studied, and what on earth I think I’m doing here in the city. I panic, realizing I have no lucid way to introduce myself. So I usually start with, “Well, I drink a lot of wine…” (true story)
I’m not in any position to bestow wisdom on how to create your perfect elevator pitch and I’m not writing this post to pretend like I’m close to figuring it out. I probably won’t ever know how to describe myself in a witty one or two-liner and the day I can, my life will be officially pathetic. We are more complex (and interesting) than titles allow us to be.
That said, all this weather talk reminds me of another time not so long ago when I partook in a lot of chatty mingling, albeit in a less classy environment. Memories of a frenzied freshman year of college when I rushed to sign up for every organization offering community, value, and free food flood my guilty psyche. “You’ll find your best friends here!” “Make an impact!” Back then social situations were more beer pong and club meetings offering free pizza, less wine and cheese with keynote speakers from [insert reputable global organization].
I’m about 9 months out of the old stomping yard (college) and while it’s fair to say I’m no longer a college student, I still feel endowed with a somewhat privileged collegiate mindset. Perhaps even more than I did during my four lecture-sitting years.
I don’t roll out of bed and spring to class anymore, and I don’t bump into people I try to avoid every five minutes. Instead, I dress up, hopstop to work among suited up strangers, and carry a brown tote that looks slightly like an old man’s briefcase (it was the only one at the thrift store that could fit my dang laptop!). During my subway ride, I whip out my cranny nook and read up on design. Trust agents. The digital sphere. Or “how to get rid of that gut!”, which just conveniently happened to be on the latest cover of Shape.
After graduation, the learning doesn’t stop. My current line of work forces me to think digital, social media, and e-commerce while tasting new products and writing about them (which involves wine…what a bummer). It keeps me busy, but the knowledge appetite is still not satisfied. Curiosity widens like the mouth of a hungry child with a bottomless stomach. Now that I don’t have professors to direct my questions to (ironically whom, I barely spoke to when I was actually in college), I am more curious than ever.
As a newcomer to the city, I am still trying to determine the activities and people that are worth my limited time and energy. Of course, in order to play the game, you have to put up with some ‘small talk’. Slowly but surely, in this so very refined adult life, you whittle down the prospects to your truest, deepest interests, one glass – escargot – smooth talking schmooze-at a time.
Tomorrow I begin a wine tasting class called ‘Raise Your Wine IQ’. (Shameless plug- my boss is teaching and you can register here!) I’m also enrolled in a month-long online course called “How to launch your startup idea for less than $5000” which sounds gimmicky, but I’m getting information far more valuable than what I sat through in college without spending a penny. The class is being offered through the education startup Skillshare, a cool company that is trying to revolutionize education. I’m very interested to see how I can apply what I learn to a possible venture. Throw in my dance class and bible study, compounded with the professional life, and I have my own class schedule! I’ve never been more excited to learn in my life!
The Florida sunshine is probably blinding you but before you put on your blockers, keep this in mind:
“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.”
|Kyoko Escamilla (a.k.a Brain-Food)|
Even without a bell tower or quad, the collegiate mindset stays for however long you allow it. I am experimenting and exploring more now than the past four years. Do I regret not doing more of this when I was actually in college? Yes and no, but it’s never too late.