You Have To Start Somewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.    You are already awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.  Happiness and making money do not correlate  

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

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

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

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

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

 7.  Be grateful

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

Author's Note: This post was originally published on my first blog (whatsupsmiley.com) on August 8, 2012.