Why Organizing is an Exercise in Real Ground-Changing Hope

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When I first decided to join Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign as an organizer, a friend asked me why. Why Pete, why now, and why as an organizer.

I’ll circle back to Why Pete but I’ve been reflecting on the other two pieces during this strange moment of hysteria. When each incremental piece of news seems to ratchet up our collective anxiety, how do we stay sane and useful? At times, it’s been tempting to throw up my hands in immediate resignation. Yet off the heels of a campaign that ran to the tune of high hopes (literally!), I know I can do better.


A Reflection

5 months ago, my reasons for joining a campaign were pretty straightforward. 2020 is an important election year, I wanted to play my part in electing a new President. And for all my love of city life, I was ready for a taste of life outside the NYC bubble. Nevada, where I was offered an organizing role, was about as far west as I could go before hitting another coastal bubble 😉

Photo Feb 22, 9 11 47 AMAs for organizing, it seemed to be the most realistic entry point into a campaign for someone with no prior political experience. It was also the most immersive. I was told that I’d be talking to people – lots of people – about issues they cared about. This is what I wanted.

Be prepared to operate in 110% extrovert mode”, a mentor and campaign veteran told me.

Never mind that I’m an introvert and that the thought of knocking on strangers’ doors gave me real anxiety.

Signing up for something out of my comfort zone seemed to be the perfect antidote to my own mental malaise and selfishly, a way out of my unproductive self talk when thinking about the state of our country.


Pete’s historic candidacy is now well-known lore: a small town mayor with a hard name to pronounce surged to the top of the field as a leading presidential candidate. He did this by centering his campaign in lasting values – “Rules of the Road” – and never shying away from his identity as an openly gay Harvard intellectual and veteran from the Midwest. Internally, our campaign culture also reflected these values.

When you feel safe, motivated, and know that you’re called to bring all of yourself, you’re in an environment to thrive. That’s what it felt like to be on the Buttigieg campaign.

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Since the campaign ended what seems like forever ago, I’ve been admittedly less optimistic. It’s been difficult to process the influx of emotions that come with being on a campaign so vested in a particular candidate / lifestyle, only to return to “normal life”and realize that “normal life” is turning increasingly “abnormal” with each passing day.

I’ve tried to compile some key lessons and takeaways from the campaign as a means of organizing my thoughts and moving into some new norm meaningfully.  It’s not the most concise or organized, partially because there’s no neat ending to all of this. But if there’s anything I learned so far, it’s to be ok with the discomfort of the messy unknown.

So, what did I do on the campaign?

I was part of the field organizing team in Southwest Las Vegas. Our job primarily was to turn people out to support Pete Buttigieg at the Nevada Caucus and recruit volunteers to amplify our efforts. Nevada is a caucus state, so we were also responsible for training precinct captains. These captains were designated leaders in their precincts, trained in caucus rules and persuasion techniques to convince undecided voters (or those in unviable groups) to join Pete’s group on caucus day. This would then maximize our delegate count. Our win in Iowa is largely attributed to the fact that organizers had successfully secured and trained captains in nearly every precinct.

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Just a small taste of the energy that Team Pete precinct captains brought across the state of Nevada

What did I learn?

Among many things: the hard ask, caucus math, how to cold call, cut turf, seamlessly slide into gated communities (shhh). Perhaps the biggest lesson was recognizing that what happens on the ground is far more important than anything else. Pundits and distant observers of a campaign may use polls and televised appearances to gauge a campaign’s success but only the people who are *in it* know exactly where there is traction and where there isn’t.

This, to me, is the biggest advantage of an organizer: you see the small wins (and gaps) firsthand. You know who is showing up to organizational meetings, and who is noticeably missing. You notice the quality of attention at the doors, how many people know what’s going on, and how many people do not. These micro-observations are not measured or covered by the media, but they are real indicators of how effectively a campaign is reaching everyday people.

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I’ve had my fair share of professional experiences, but the level of unpredictability in campaigns is pretty unparalleled (and would be anathema for most). Uprooting yourself to a different part of the country and knocking on strangers’ doors requires a degree of courage that some would call nonsensical in an overly optimized world. But let’s acknowledge its boldness. Organizing is not for the faint of heart. Learning to find a way forward amid discomfort & disagreement is one of the most valuable skills anyone can learn – and organizing is the best training ground for it.

What was the hardest part?

The hard ask. I remember being petrified the first time I had to cold call and ask people to sign up for a canvassing shift.

One helpful suggestion my regional director Nick offered is to to think of my ask as a gift, and to never assume a no before you ask. A simple but revolutionary reframe! I went from thinking I was asking people for a favor, to giving them an opportunity to get involved in something meaningful. Once I started thinking of the ask as an act of giving (instead of taking), it became much easier.

Though I’m still not great at it, I know that many people gave what they could (especially busy working parents and older people with limited physical mobility), and I’m proud / grateful for their efforts.

What was most surprising?

Empathy shows up when you least expect it. Some of my most fruitful conversations were with people who weren’t the most eager to engage at the outset.

Take Tracy, a former Republican who survived two bouts of cancer. When I first called her, she quickly hung up. Most people on our call lists were registered Democrats, but registered Republicans like Tracy would occasionally slip in. I continued to call her every few days.

One day she called back (with the intention of telling me to stop calling) and I asked for her genuine thoughts about the election. I figured she’d hang up on me again; instead, she confessed that she wasn’t a fan of Trump and wanted him out of office. She’d seen Pete on TV and liked his calm, even-keeled approach but wasn’t sure if she was ready to do anything more. I invited her to a caucus training to learn more about the process. No pressure to do anything, “just come and learn” I said.

Tracy came and brought her sister Teri (a Biden supporter). They were both a bit confused by all the caucus technicalities, but grew to love Pete, his vision, and moral courage. Shortly after, Tracy asked how she could help. She couldn’t knock doors because she had a hip replacement. So she tried phone banking. When that wasn’t quite her cup of tea, she and Teri helped put together caucus training packets.

Though Tracy didn’t talk to as many people as some of our other volunteers, each time she came, she gave what she could. I enjoyed talking to her because she wasn’t an obvious Democrat supporter, and it wasn’t easy for her to carve out time like this.

She told me that her friends would say that it was impossible for Pete to win.

Her response: Of course it’s impossible if you don’t try.

I will remember Tracy for her willingness to choose agency over resignation  — despite it not being the most obvious or easiest choice. Tracy ended up becoming a precinct captain and winning delegates for Pete. Her story mirrors that of many others on our campaign who came, not because we rammed an opinion down their throat, but because we gave them space to reflect on their lives and listened.

What’s next?

As much as I’d like to hole into self-isolation (and we all should physically do so), now is not the time to look away as a community. There are some really big things happening in the world with monumental consequences. In times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to support one another and to stay informed.

“We are struggling for the survival of humanity, and I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way. That’s the struggle against autocracy. That’s the struggle against the climate crisis. That’s the struggle, now, against a fast-moving pandemic.” – Sarah Kendzior, Gaslit Nation 

And this is the only the beginning. At at time of so much disruption, we need leaders who can organize: people who can communicate, reach people with critical information, give time and space for conversations, and keep hope alive. I’m reminded of the wise Krista Tippett’s words:

Culturally, we are the generation of our species that is redefining elemental human fundaments like community and marriage and gender. We are, that is to say, retreating famously into either-or, tribal feeling or productive organizing. – On Hope


One final story: on Super Bowl Sunday, I was knocking doors in SW Vegas and feeling somewhat dejected. Most people weren’t answering and those who did, gave me little time. About to call it a night, I knocked on the door of a woman who graciously stepped out during the game and thanked me for what I was doing. We talked for a bit about the election. She told me she was committed to supporting Elizabeth Warren but would support whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Towards the end of our conversation, she asked if she could pray with me. A bit taken aback but thirsty for some spiritual counsel, I agreed. Together we prayed for the welfare of the world, our nation, collective spirits, and everyone campaigning on ‘the front lines’ – for our energy levels to be sustained, our efforts not to be in vain, and grace no matter the outcome.

Then she bid me goodbye with scripture:

“Never grow weary of doing good.” – Galatians 6:9

I didn’t know how much I needed to hear those words then, now, and well… every day.

Joining a campaign was an act of hope. Choosing to reach out in the face of continual disruption will always be an act of hope. At a time when our system seems to be spinning out of control, it’s easy to forget that in every moment we have a choice. We can either submit to our most primal impulses or pause, draw a long collective breath, and…organize.

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Here’s a photo of some great community organizers. But whether or not you’ve ever been involved with campaign, we can all step up in this time of need.


Some immediate ways we can all help, specific to the coronavirus:

Cross-Pollination

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One of the beauties of the city is its sheer diversity. With more than 3 million foreign-born residents and dozens of vibrant enclaves, New York City’s melting pot is golden lore.

But urban environments are inherently greater than the sum of their individually diverse elements. The advantage of the “melting pot”, arguably, comes less from the stew, and more from the cooks gathered round the brew.

The question then is, how do you rally the cooks? In a place like New York City where so many types of people and industries live,  it should be easy to bump heads across-industry, ethnicity, and income, right? Mix and match, throw a dash of spice, and voila! Cross-pollination.

All possible, but easier said than done. In the span of a day, I could go from work in a government office, to lunch with a friend creating a fashion-tech startup, to a tour of Harlem Biospace (the city’s first affordable biotech incubator), to drinks with a rep at a wine distributor. Across ethnic lines, I have my pick of the pot: dining options in Chinatown, Harlem, Little Italy, or Williamsburg. And across income brackets, there’s no avoiding the homeless person asking for change on the subway.

I could do all of that, but I could also just as easily retreat into a bubble: spending all day at work, occasionally checking Twitter as my portal to the world (90% of tweets on my feed which come from NYT, FT, WSJ, BI [add other elitist news acronym]-reading journalists/techies like myself) and hanging out with my similarly educated, millennial friends after-hours. This happens about 4/5 of my working days.

I’m not saying one scenario is better or worse than the other, but I am saying that one allows for greater exchange of new possibilities. You be the judge of which.

It’s deceivingly easy to be siloed into little cubby holes. Even in a city that prides itself on diversity – by nature of our occupations, orientations, social statuses- it’s natural to find ourselves placed in certain environments, gravitated toward the same types of people, and engaged in conversations that fit neatly into what we already know. This is fine. There’s something to be said about consistency and comfort. But for those who have chosen a city life, ignoring the diversity around us is like having a bunch of fresh ingredients ready for a great meal, and never actually throwing them in the pot to cook. You’re better getting take-out and moving to the suburbs. A true urban environment is made for serendipitous interaction, fusion of opposites, and a little bit of discomfort. We must be intentional about seeking it.

I’ll end with a story that reveals how easy it is to fall victim to our own bubbles. During NYC’s September primary election, a well-known figure in the tech community, Reshma Saujani, ran for the office of Public Advocate. She had started an organization called Girls Who Code and was married to another well-known entrepreneur, Nihal Mehta. She had the backing of major figures including Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who threw a fundraiser for her. I even included her and her husband on a Business Insider list of 16 power couples. So of course, I thought an election win was a sure thing. Everyone on Twitter seemed to think so too.

Well? Apparently I trust Twitter too much. It turns out Reshma didn’t even crack 5% of the vote. Had I bothered to check the polls or venture beyond my Twittersphere/usual tech blogs, I would have seen that the winner, Letitia James, had been ahead in the polls for a while. Now that I work in government, I’m aware of how well-liked Letitia is among government and community circles, making it slightly embarrassing that I had no idea who she was 3 months ago. I also see how few people within government know Reshma, which is also a bit of a shame because her influence through Girls Who Code is significant. Either way, it shows that sometimes, beyond our better judgement, we’re stuck in our little bubbles.

I’m afraid that with the increased emergence of niche-based groups, the population is becoming further fragmented. We stick with what we know. Corporatis in cubed nation, free spirits in their coffee shops. What would our world look like if skills were vetted outside their typical context? Classrooms in restaurants. Bankers in public service. Could be a complete disaster (like the mishmash soup I once created with random leftovers), or a beautiful stew of possibility (when the recipe is meticulously designed to maximize skill sets and tastes.)

Today’s problems cannot be met by government, business, or civil society alone. Yet until we are willing to peek into other worlds, we’ll never know how to create the best mix. We’ll simply remain imagining, instead of living, the possibilities.

5 Reasons Why You Should Read This Awesomely In-Depth Post

For starters, this post is not about crepes. And it’s actually a pretty obnoxious and superficial post. But I can promise that I’ll get you outta here in less than 3 minutes (4 minutes if you’re multi-tasking) , so we can all get on with our merry royal baby-stalking lives.

This post is really about the 5 things I learned from my 2-month journalism internship. In reality, I learned a lot more than 5 things- not just about writing, but about technology, multimedia, and the way we consume information . Most likely, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to read it all (nor I to write it). About 40% of you have already clicked away. Half of you will dart off after this paragraph. And I understand: there are more exciting GIFs waiting to be explored.

For those of you remaining (thank you), here are some lessons I learned from Business Insider that are invaluable not just for writers, but for anyone looking to leverage some influence in our modern, distractible, cyborg world.

I. Inflict emotion. 

Why should anyone care? Ultimately, it boils down to framing: picking a nugget of information that will resonate.

The age of objective journalism is gone. A headline like this will get clicks, Dunkin Donuts Hired Psychotic Credit Card Thief Carolyn Kravetz As Director Of Communications ,

or Here Are The Angry Texts A Mom Sent Her Bonehead Son Before He Ran Across The Field At The All-Star Game 

These headlines sound like bullish statements made at the bar, which is exactly the point. Read them, and you’ll see that they’re actually marvelous stories: the first being a serious piece of investigative journalism, the second a creative integration of new media.

We act on our instincts which are guided far more by emotion than logic. So, appeal to the audience with colorful adjectives , and the way YOU feel about something. It’s not completely PC, but I guarantee it will leave an impression and get people to bite into an important issue worth reading.

II. Simplify simplify simplify.

Humans like to digest information in compact bits, so any sort of list you can compile will be dopamine for the brain.

III. Pictures are (sometimes) more important than anything you’ll write.

I hate to use this story, but it’s a telling example of how superficial we are.

I manned a daily business advice column which averaged about 200-300 views per post. Each post had a picture of the person offering the advice. One particular post came from a businesswoman  who shared an uncanny resemblance to Kim Kardashian. (Before you ask for the link, it wasn’t her.) Within a day, her post received over 1000 views, more than most of these posts receive in a lifetime.

Several commenters admitted the only reason they clicked was because of the “hot picture”. Admittedly, this post was not written better than any other post, but having a fair face certainly got people to care.

IV. Brother, be brief. 

V. And clear.

I love a good story that weaves its way to an unforeseen ending in novel form. But theres a time and place for that, and the web is not that place. Albeit a few exceptions, a modern reader (or friend, colleague, whatever) wants to learn something new (with some context) fast.

The writer’s first job is to help us understand, not to dazzle.

———

Thanks to Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, along with my editors Vivian and Gus, who helped elucidate these insights along the way.

I’m not saying page views are all that matter. I’m going to work for a government agency which isn’t exactly known for provocative, click-baiting headlines. Impact will be measured by relatively dry economic initiatives. But, for every silly story out there, there are a myriad of other stories that matter. If you can figure out how to get people to care about really important issues, you can maximize your impact and maybe, just maybe, increase your chance of doing something truly world-changing.

Confidence in the Face of Failure

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. 🙂

Why I’m Back on Facebook

“You have to get offline. I’ll say it again. You HAVE GOT TO GET OFFLINE. YOU HAVE TO GET F***ING OFF F***ING LINE.”  – advice from legendary E. Jean Carroll, of Ask E. Jean, America’s longest currently running advice column

Better advice could not be more emphatically expressed. I took it to heart for 4 months. 4 months of purposeful separation, living life offline, unplugged…or at least as unplugged as life can be when you have a smart phone and still tweet and email and you know, do almost everything except Facebook + Instagram. Still, give a girl some credit: pulling the plug on Facebook was a big deal, kind of like moving to a desert island. I even wrote a goodbye letter.  (melodramatic twentysomething)

I remained pretty social on the island. Before I knew it, 3 months had gone by. One night I thought about the social network and tried to log back in. There were several tell-tale signs I had been gone for a while; for one, I couldn’t remember my log-in. My web history was clogged with news articles instead of the usual Facebook photo albums and in fact I momentarily forgot who some people in those albums even were. Months before, merely typing www—>> triggered automatic completion of “site-thou-shall-not-be-named”.com, and now… LinkedIn has replaced it as the most frequently visited site. If ever there were a sign of professional maturity (or boringness)…

Upon sailing Home a few days ago, Facebook almost seemed foreign, like returning to college after being abroad for a couple months. Soon, though, the falsely jolly, slickly disingenuous first-world details that had ceased to exist during my time away came trickling back into consciousness. Bloop! There went the little red notification. And here we go again…

Ignorance is bliss, I had told myself. But what I’ve realized is that the problem was never really about Facebook or the technology or all the obnoxious statuses out there; the problem was me. I needed to clear out my own cache of judgement.

——

I deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts on 12/12/12. Since it was supposedly the end of the world, I decided to enter the ‘new’ world with a clean slate. I wanted to return to the root of being social without the distraction of a buzzing phone, without feeling compelled to take pictures of my brunch, and without the aid of a red Facebook notification to alter my serotonin level. I entered detox mode.

My primary justification was personal. I thought that my personhood – the very root of my identity – had been reduced to a set of data points on Facebook. I was living my life out online. How could I allow a single website to simplify my life to a bunch of photos, text, and information? It was naval-gazing for sure, but I couldn’t shake it.  So, I left to return to my offline roots but not before posting a status on Facebook asking people to send me their email; I would write occasionally with life updates, philosophical meanderings, and other angsty Thought Catalog-like topics. Several people did reach out and I was happy to keep my social network limited to these newfound thought followers, family, and close friends. It was my way of keeping in touch.

Life offline was revolutionary & simple. It gave me greater appreciation for things beyond the digital realm such as parks, museums, and coffee shops with no wi-fi. I spent a month at home in Tennessee, a month in San Francisco, another month eating a bunch of really really good food for my job back in New York. Normally, I’d be sharing & posting like it was my job but I restrained. I just ate, just observed, just explored. The ‘justs’ were more than enough. No one was validating the awesomeness of my adventure, so I could focus on the actual act of exploring. It was great. There were moments when I wondered if I was missing out (and for sure, I later found out there was A LOT) but I was aware of the really important things.  In fact I remember secretly gloating that I knew about the new Pope before some of my Facebook-hounding friends did.  (Twitter – 1, Facebook – 0)

Ultimately, however, I discovered a glaringly simple truth through deeper offline conversations : we’re lonely. Some more than others, but at the end of the day, it’s a large reason why social networks like Facebook and Twitter have taken off. Introvert or extrovert, we’re all searching for some form of connection.

Yet connection is thrown around like free lunch these days. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook mission, “to make the world more open and connected” is noble. But just like lunch, real connection never comes free. You don’t amass friends and spit stuff into the never-ending stream of content and expect connection to magically appear. (You also don’t sell that information to marketers, but that’s another topic for another day.) Facebook is not the magic ingredient. If we truly want connection, we must first change ourselves.

When I logged back onto Facebook a few days ago, updating my profile with an affirming Facebook status “They always come back”, I found myself digging back into connections – weak, strong, and the many in-betweens. While catching up with the lives of those I had almost forgotten about, I was reminded of life’s continuous march. Over the course of our lives, things happen, people change. In this digital age, social platforms are there to document it all. While I traveled coast to coast, going from San Francisco to New York, life for others did not stop and wait for me to press ‘play’ to be reenacted. People continued to post, comment, like, and tag whether I was there to participate or not. I had missed a Canadian friend’s trip to New York with her band. I had missed lovely photos from an acquaintance’s wedding. I had no idea the company I worked for had uploaded and tagged an embarrassingly hilarious video of me. (Self-scrutiny commence.)

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that my view of personhood must evolve like the times. I am nostalgic for a Web that no longer exists. I’d like to think of myself, as author Zadie Smith puts it, “a private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and to herself.”  But I am naive. I’ve taken 4 months time (and an entire Facebook timeline of inner sciamachy) to set aside this identity crisis. I come back because I want to write. Truthfully. Part of that means knowing people. Social media is a way to be part of a conversation you’re creating together with fellow beings. For all its clutter, social media can be rich and multi-faceted. On other days, it can be also be self-glorifying, artificial, and so damn annoying that I wonder if I should just disconnect again.

But that’s life. Life is not always beautiful. Take it or leave it; I choose to take it. Not being on social media means I will simply know less about what is going on with other people.  That is not a bad thing. But even so, I firmly believe humans are not made to be fully removed from each other, whether that is physically or virtually. Do you want to participate and steer the conversation toward good? Yesterday’s Boston Marathon terror serves as an example. People gathered updates and news real-time to help those in need.  Coverage through social media was a mix of qualitative and informative, creating a complete (while heartbreaking) picture of the unfolding scene. The Internet, if we choose, really can be a useful tool for good.

For all its good, though, we must be reminded that the data points we generate can underrepresent reality. Living offline is messier and more complex. Walking away from social media, at times, is not necessarily practical, as we live in an age where many of our communities and lives are built on these platforms. So what I’m granting myself is an approach, a mindset: one of connection rather than comparison. It’s easy to look at the filtered photos and artuflly written statuses as gunk that clogs our news feed. But lighten up. On the days you peer into the screen of your laptop and simply can’t find any semblance of relation to your perfectly posed fellow human beings, just remember that what you see is a mere half-reality and carefully selected portion of life. Life isn’t simply the story you tell about yourself on the Internet. It’s merely one of many.

This is my relapse. I’m back to listen, contribute, and document the evolution of our virtual selves. This time, I realize I am not above it all. While I can’t promise zero judgment, I welcome your sharing. In a sense, I agree with Zuckerberg: our selves evolve and like it or not, it’s a story worthy capturing.

New Journalism

I’ve visited three incredible startups in the first 48 hours since being back in New York. Some initial takeaways:

LearnVest – their first live event at the Metropolitan Pavilion on Tuesday night brought hundreds of women to learn about finances and how to live our “richest” lives.  Founder Alexa von Tobel founded the NY-based company after realizing that there was a basic disconnect among young career women on how to manage their money. She kicked off the evening with her 7 Money Mantras, which was followed by two breakout sessions from experts in dining, fashion, investing, and entrepreneurship. The evening was chalk full of helpful tips on how to save money and invest now so we can be prepared for curve balls that may derail financial stability in the future. It was extremely informative in a fun way, which is difficult to pull off for a heavy subject matter like finance.

Narratively – this is a new storytelling platform focused on long-form articles, bringing a level of depth and originality rarely seen in today’s 24-hours news cycle. They are currently based in New York but have plans to expand to additional cities in the future. Contributors have written for the Times, The New Yorker, and other respected publications. The catch? Just one story is published a day. But what Narratively lacks in quantity and distractions (each story demands its own page with zero advertising) , they more than make up for with substance. With substance comes raw and sometimes painstaking detail requiring patience and time to digest; in a nation of news skimmers, is this sustainable? I believe so. A model like Narratively’s will cater to a growing audience that increasingly craves depth and authenticity.

Behance – its goal is to connect creative talent to great opportunities by showcasing their portfolios. The premise is that the more exposure an artist gets, the more (and thereby, better) opportunities he/she will receive. The idea was born back in 2003 and now, almost 10 years later, boasts over 80 million visits a month. Aside from displaying some really awesome art, the site gives artists a way to actually make a livelihood out of their talents.  Schools and companies scour the platform for top talent. Check out all their success stories.

These are three awesome platforms with three distinct but simple purposes. LearnVest educates, Narratively tells stories, and Behance connects talent with opportunities. What happens when we merge the three? As a journalist, I’ve been thinking about how all of this can be applied to journalism.

Journalism is undergoing a seismic shift. Its original purpose was to inform and educate responsible citizens of a democracy.  This is still true but how many people actually turn to the newspaper to read up on the latest City Council action or House legislation?  As technology has changed, the stories have also changed.  We are a generation that finds little connection between journalism and democracy.  This is not criticism, but an irreconcilable truth we must simply live with. For most people under 40, information does not come through traditional means.  Aggregators like Google News use algorithms for choosing what stories matter, so gradually our cultural narrative arises socially from what we collectively follow and not from what newspapers decide to run.

Information is no longer the valuable commodity. The real value comes in networks and communities, our connections. Journalists still need to provide information by seeking the truth, but it is not the primary value-add.  What really matters is what the journalist does with the information and the varying responses to it. Engagement, inspiration, and activation are the goals.

This is a map of our emerging journalism ecosystem, courtesy of the Journalism That Matters blog. What this shows is that news is no longer single-sourced. It’s not a reporter dispensing information through a video stand-up. Multiple voices have their say now: social media, blogs, expert citizens. Talk all you want but it’s useless to spend time trying to discredit one another; a source with a logo is no more authoritative than a person typing at the computer. The savvy journalist spends time pulling all these various voices together, building a niche audience’s trust by providing credible information pulled from various sources, then facilitating a conversation.

Businesses have been successful with this. Look at American Express Publishing. They aren’t a news organization; they’re a credit card company. But AmEx has been effectively branding itself through content like Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, and partnerships with Foursquare. They are successful at 4 things:

informing through helpful articles in niche subjects,

engaging through social media,

inspiring through compelling stories, and

activating by ultimately getting readers to act on what they’re reading (in their case, booking travels through American Express’s travel rewards program and boosting their brand equity/bottom line).

Today’s journalists need to be doing the same. Our product is our individual brand and the knowledge we dispense. We need to sell it by leading conversations in a way that builds loyalty. There are lessons to be learned from startups, because we are essentially our own startup. Like LearnVest, we must continue to inform. Like Narratively, we must find compelling stories to engage and inspire our audience to care. Lastly (and this is probably the most important), like Behance, we must activate latent social networks and interest groups by connecting them to opportunities that help them reach their goals. This will lead to an enriching experience for all: one where journalists do not simply inform, but engage, inspire and most importantly, activate the population to meet its full potential.

However abstract all of this sounds, it’s going to manifest into a more concrete model very soon. Journalism is called to serve another purpose other than report and inform. It’s much bigger than that. I believe that whoever can crack the storytelling code will be onto one of the next big things (second to the cure for cancer and life on other planets, of course). Effective storytelling can awaken latent social networks to come together and tackle issues with a collective learning-through-experience mindset.  How we choose to communicate these emerging narratives and through what forms is an exciting possibility just waiting to be unveiled.

No FOMO

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
  • juicer
  • 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.

Fan Mail

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.

03/14/2012

Hey Lynne,

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!)

My response:

03/15/2012

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.
I’d also add that the best way to boost your confidence and pursue your goals is to break your gods. A friend once told me that the greatest advantage Ivy League students receive is not their education, but their elevated sense of worth (whether false or deserved). Being exposed to so many high-profile “smart” people from the time you enter school gates builds confidence. At first, seeing ‘celebrities’ makes you starry-eyed and useless. However, with increased exposure, you have no choice but to become acclimated and STOP GAWKING. You start seeing “gods” as real people. The ability to interact with another person as a human, not as a god, is a gift; it makes interactions more meaningful.  Ivy or not, learn to break your gods and spend time finding ways you can add value, apart from the hype. Confidence will then come naturally.
Finally, I’d add one more thing:
Never take anyone’s advice too seriously.

A New Job

Life is a book and tomorrow marks a new chapter. I’m starting a new job with Venture for America as their Recruiting and Social Media Associate, and I couldn’t be more excited.

rockin’ our awesome American Apparel Venture for America fitted tees!

I’m excited because the direct mission of Venture for America is simple:  recruit the best and brightest college grads to work for two years at emerging start-ups in lower-cost cities.  Commendable, right? But what ultimately draws me to the organization is its multiple layers of potential impact.

1. Companies in less-recognized communities who otherwise lack the resources for securing top talent, now receive exactly that. (The first class of VFA fellows is pretty impressive.)

2. Communities that fellows are based in benefit from an economic boost with the influx of talent.

3. Fellows become mobilized as entrepreneurs, learning how to create business opportunities for themselves and others. Ultimately they have the potential to launch their own companies and create jobs.

4. As a nation, we reap the benefits of a revitalized economy, more jobs, and a redefined version of success.

At its core, Venture for America is out to create jobs, and rightly so. I’ve said before- youth unemployment is the issue of our generation.  It’s a cause I get incredibly riled about. 54% of Americans between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. A sense of dissatisfaction plagues our youth, mainly because we suffer from lack of ownership in what we do. Unless our country’s employment prospects are drastically improved, America will no longer be the passport to the good life.  People will flock to places that actually have jobs, like Asia.

We need to secure America’s enterprising talent NOW. My job with Venture for America will involve identifying those individuals and engaging with them via digital media.  More broadly, I am out to convince our nation’s best that small but high-potential companies can be viable post-graduate options, if not the best.

It’s crazy to think that just a few months ago I moved to New York City with high hopes, a few contacts, and a tepid bank account. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But thank goodness for instinct. It led me to this opportunity, this chance to work for a company whose mission resounds so strongly with my beliefs. VFA founder Andrew Yang touches on the mission in his well-written post about restoring the culture of achievement.  I am honored to join him and the rest of the VFA team, all of whom boast an impressive record of achievement and belief in the mission.

We will create 100,000 jobs (or more) by 2025. A lofty target, but I am up for the challenge.

——–

A special thank you and shout-out to my friend Sarah Kaiser-Cross who was the first person to tell me about VFA, all the way from Turkey!

Women Helping Women: The Levo League

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.

—————

If you are a career woman and interested in The Levo League, sign up here and watch theintroduction video so you understand what I mean when I say ‘Levo Love’ will be stuck in your head.