Having witnessed the immigrant story first hand through my parents building a new life in here in the States, as well as hearing the countless stories of friends and their immigrant parents, I support this article’s message about the entrepreneurial nature of America’s immigrants across class and education levels. Maybe the incumbent masses are so afraid of immigrants because newcomers are willing to hustle and grind harder to do anything it takes to create a better life. It’s easy to whine on social media from a position of privilege while so many immigrants are working 12+ hour days, often for less pay and against greater systemic obstacles.
“From 1996 to 2011, the business startup rate of immigrants increased by more than 50 percent, while the native-born startup rate declined by 10 percent, to a 30-year low. Immigrants today are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born citizens.
“Despite accounting for only about 13 percent of the population, immigrants now start more than a quarter of new businesses in this country. Fast-growing ones, too–more than 20 percent of the 2014 Inc. 500 CEOs are immigrants. Immigrant-owned businesses pay an estimated $126 billion in wages per year, employing 1 in 10 Americans who work for private companies. In 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales. If immigrant America were a stock, you’d be an idiot not to buy it.”
Perhaps a basic entrepreneurship and life skills curriculum should be a core prerequisite installed into any immigration reform legislation–since America is a global hub for entrepreneurship, we should be able to figure out how to do this at an economy of scale. This solutions seems politically expedient with a good chance of payback, especially as our economy evolves towards becoming more freelance/contractor oriented where people are pulling income from multiple sources and must run their lives as their own business in many ways.
The final round entails producing and submitting a WOW – a creative expression of who you are. While we have learned a lot about you through your responses, this is your chance to get a bit more intimate and literally wow the Selection Committee by sharing your story, talents and true self.
The WOW is something that is produced specifically for this application and that can be completed in any format that you wish. In the past, members have produced official videos and creative songs, blended his own coffee, designed a card game, knitted hats, created the world’s biggest sandbox, staged artistic performances, produced videos and even programmed a fractal.
SID’S WOW: A HERO’S JOURNEY
My life, over the last three years, has taken a crazy series of twists and turns. I broke free from The Matrix (2014), made The Leap (2015), and am now trying to take things to the Next Level (2016). I see Thousand like a “mastermind group” to help me do that. From everyone I’ve met from Thousand, I’ve observed it as a tight-knit global community of amazing people doing amazing things. Thousanders provide support, give advice, share connections, and even create businesses with each other. I’m hungry to join a group of peers like this who will push me to new heights.
I’d like to express my WOW story through the venue of writing, a passion of mine. I’ll walk you through my story through a framework I picked up through my work called the “Hero’s Journey.” It was developed by the American mythologist Joseph Campbell, first described in his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell breaks down a common narrative arc that underlies many spiritual narratives and myths, throughout history and across cultures — Osiris, Prometheus, the Buddha, Moses, and Jesus. The Hero’s Journey framework has been used in many Hollywood films. It was most famously applied in Star Wars and The Matrix (my personal favorite).
To understand who I am, my values, my aspirations… you must know my Hero’s Journey.
1. THE ORDINARY WORLD
The story starts where I started my career, at a large accounting firm in Boston. Let’s call it The Firm. My life at the time consisted of poring through financial statements, and the spreadsheets and IT systems that supported them, to deliver annual audits for big life sciences companies and research universities. I had a well-paying job at a reputable firm — The Firm — and a shiny CPA to boot. I had it made!
Or so I thought.
Quickly, the work became mundane and repetitive. For one, we inspected the value being created by others from afar. While our clients were inventing therapies for multiple-sclerosis, performing cutting edge research, and showcasing beautiful art, I was merely playing fact checker. My colleagues were robotic, unengaged: at lunch, conversations consisted of the latest TV show they binged on. The aspiration at The Firm was complete security, complete certainty. Comfort. Numbness. Thinking differently was frowned upon. I remember getting blank stares when I excitedly shared I was going to a hackathon that weekend.
Deep down, I knew something else was out there. Something greater. More meaning.
The seeds were sown during my senior year of college. I found this wonderful thing called “social entrepreneurship” during my community service learning capstone. Social entrepreneurship seemed like the answer to solving social problems, the bridge between my business and social sciences education. For four years, I had studied all the wonderful things business could do through my School of Management classes. But my other classes across political science, philosophy, economics, physics, and literature taught me where business by itself fell short. Social entrepreneurship became the self-evident path I needed to know more about.
Once I graduated, however, that “need to know more” became a “desperation to know more.” I was already locked into working at The Firm, as I described above. The Firm didn’t do much to nourish my curiosity.
I was fortunate to live in Boston at the time, where some of our world’s greatest universities and most talented thinkers are. I made it a point to learn everything I could about topics like entrepreneurship, social innovation, community, personal development, and peak performance. A year into this quest, I joined a wonderful community called StartingBloc, a “tribe” that propels change leaders from high-potential to high-impact. They helped me show up in the world in a new way as a person who aspired to be a leader of change.
That aspiration met its harshest test during the winter of of 2013-14. Those four months tried to break me–physically, psychologically, spiritually.
The Firm euphemistically called it “Busy Season”: 60-hour weeks for four months straight, often peaking above 80. It started with a trip to frigid Montreal, counting by hand thousands of components for an optoelectronics manufacturer. Then 33 days in a row auditing a Fortune 500 biotech company. My team had a frat boy culture. Conversations centered around fantasy football and television binge-watching; team outings were contests to see how much alcohol could be consumed on the corporate Amex (eg. on the Client’s dime). I felt so excluded that I fantasized about walking into the audit room on fire, bleeding profusely, where no one would break eye contact from their screens.
This “team” torture ended when the audit came to completion, but the barrage of work continued. My next client greeted me with another three weeks auditing stock compensation and journal entries for a startup biotech (their motto taunted me: “Every Second Counts.”). Then it was back to Montreal, where the subzero temperatures came quite literally close to freezing my aspirations. The final leg was the audit of a defibrillator company, where the work, by that point, was giving me chest pains. Lots of stress, anxiety, existential frustration… Little sleep, waning hope…
2. CALL TO ADVENTURE
I made it a point to look within my company for opportunities of higher purpose. I asked myself, What could I do here that gives me the chance to have more meaning in the world? For that matter, any meaning whatsoever?
As luck would have it, I came across a fellowship in Corporate Responsibility, a rotational program for client-facing staff that enabled them to work with the national CR team. I arranged to do this fellowship the following summer, immediately after that 2013-14 winter darkness.
Summer 2014 was The Call. I was given the window to opportunistically explore social impact. Fortunately, I was paired up with a manager at the Corporate Foundation who saw the world in entrepreneurial and human terms. He empowered me to think strategically about our Firm’s grand challenge: “How can we have our CVS moment?” he asked, alluding to CVS’s recent decision to pull cigarettes off their shelves to promote better health. That summer, I was given the space to do work that met my highest aspiration. I developed a strategy for the Foundation to support social enterprise, as well as a grant-making strategy for veterans reintegrating into the workforce. This work reinvigorated me, and confirmed what I unconsciously knew – that I could settle for nothing less than work that had a direct impact improving people’s lives.
3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL
I spent part of Summer 2014 searching for a new job, one that represented a convergence of meaningful impact with work that used my skillsets. The opportunities that were out there at the time didn’t excite me. Or I felt under-qualified.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that I could no longer stay at The Firm. It put a low ceiling on my aspiration and the legacy I yearned to leave. Alas, my Fellowship was only three months long. An extension for another three months would only delay the inevitable, yet existentially necessary separation from the “Ordinary World.”
I didn’t want to leave the comforts of a steady paycheck and a big brand on my resume, but knew I had to do it. My friends pushed me to take make The Leap. They knew my soul’s inner light would be extinguished if I stayed any longer at The Firm. I’d search everywhere for signs… I would often think about the prison escape scene from The Dark Knight Rises — Batman (Christian Bale) knew that he couldn’t escape the well with the safety of the rope; he realized he needed to use his fears to focus him.
And so I made the bold move to give my two weeks notice July 17. My last day was August 1. I left The Firm without a concrete next step planned. I planned a four month period from August to November where I would explore, culminating with my first marathon in Philadelphia. The purpose would be to deprogram myself from the Matrix of my prior life, and reorient towards focusing on connecting my identity to my higher aspirations. To structure my time, I created a “sabbatical syllabus” for myself, listing off principles I wanted to live by, books I wanted to read, and events I wanted to go to.
It was at that point, for the first time in my life, that I let my curiosity lead me. What a powerful thought!
My curiosity led me to some powerful places. One of them was Burning Man, a transformational experience that showed me the power of community and the promise of human potential. It led me to read books like Marcus Aurelius Meditations and Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom.” I felt unbridled by the weight of expectations; I had the latitude to refine the aspiration of the life I wanted to live.
My curiosity ultimately led me to Washington, DC.
4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
In October 2015, I traveled down to DC to mentor at StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation. By that point, I applied for a few jobs, one of them based in DC. Galvanized by the facilitator’s mantra “Uncertainty is overrated. Be bold anyways.” I decided to follow up in person about the job I was most excited about after the Institute ended. So one day I just showed up. The Executive Director of the organization told me they had filled the job, but was glad I came by. He introduced me to another person though, cryptically saying to me, “you should talk to him.” And that’s what I did.
This person asked me what I was interested in. I gave my ten minute spiel. I thought he was just going to give me some career advice. He then went on to describe what he was working on, and that he needed someone to lead “special projects” for his team. My jaw kept repeatedly dropping as he was explaining this. We agreed to meet the next morning for a longer meeting. I remember going on a ten mile run that night, wondering, “Could this city be where I call home? Is this real?”
The next day, we met at Starbucks and told each other our life’s stories. It was a 90 minute long meeting with a guy who said he was so busy he needed to hire someone. He said he’d be in touch about next steps. I might have just found my next job! So freakin’ awesome! What a change from the prior winter of despair.
Three weeks came and went, however. I hadn’t heard back. I began to get discouraged. It was November by this time, and I was four months out of work. What otherwise would be minor inconveniences compiled to make me weary. On the way back from DC to Boston (home), I left my suitcase on the bus and lost half my wardrobe. The next week, I injured my knee during a 21 mile run, putting my marathon hopes severely in doubt. The initial thrill of leaving The Firm and making The Leap into the unknown was wearing off. My parents, with whom I had moved back to live, were getting worried that I had made no progress on securing employment.
Then came the phone call.
5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
One Saturday that November, I was at a event on entrepreneurship run by students at HBS called “Spark,” an appropriate name for what was to come.
My phone was buzzing. Incoming call from The Mentor. Stepping out into the hallway, I took the call, heart racing. Was he calling me to offer a job?
Yes. He explained what it would entail: Build an advisory firm. Deploy capital through impact investing. Meet with 100’s of entrepreneurs. Expand my network. Do something new and innovative. A five year journey that could move billions of dollars towards social and environmental. This all sounded great, too good to be true.
The catch was that I was offered a third of the salary that I made at The Firm. And I wouldn’t be an employee, just a “part-time” contractor without benefits. Clearly, I was facing a crossroads of sorts, where either I: (a) opted in to join him on the journey, or (b) opted out and returned to normal life. I had a week to decide.
“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
– Morpheus, The Matrix
I sought advice from all corners. My parents, other “adults,” my best friends, people who had made similar leaps, and those in the social impact sector. I got all kinds of advice…. Hell yeah, go for it! No, don’t, it seems stupid to take that kind of pay. Well, what’s the worst case scenario? There might be some baller work in store you can’t even imagine. But you could move down to DC and it won’t work out. That would suck. You have to be really careful about working under this person’s wing, who knows what they’re actually like? Advice like this added to the maelstrom of thoughts already swirling through my head.
During this time I learned a pivotal lesson: you have to be aware *who* you are asking advice from, and *how* you ask it. Often times, people will project their own biases into their response, and they’re often prompted by the manner in which you ask the question.
After an intense week of soul searching, I decided to take the job. I’d work the month of December remotely from home, then get a two month trial period in DC to test whether things would work out.
I thought of it like buying a call option, where an investor purchases an option to buy assets at an agreed price on or before a particular date. The investor essentially bets that the underlying asset will rise in value beyond the option + purchase price. It follows that they can sell the asset for market value and make a profit. Essentially, that’s what I was doing — placing a two month bet to move to DC and try the new role out. If it didn’t work out, I only used two months and I could move back home to resume my job search. It it did work out, the upside was unlimited.
I decided to commit.
To do meaningful work, I needed to take this life-defining risk. Now or never. These were the stakes. There was no turning back.
Like Neo when he touches the mirror and wakes up from the Matrix, I crossed the threshold. On January 3, 2015, I flew from the only home I knew to Washington, DC to begin a new journey.
6. TESTS, ENEMIES, ALLIES
During this stage, the Hero is forced to make allies and enemies in the special world he has entered, and must pass certain tests and challenges that are part of his training. The Hero is broken down and then built back up through his experiences.
This is the stage at which I find myself today.
My first test was to organize and execute a “Learning Journey.” This was a highly strategic convening of impact investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and sector leaders in New Orleans, during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. From scratch, in a matter of ten weeks, we scrambled to get twelve people to pay a premium price for a four day retreat, hire a facilitator and design a four day curriculum, and coordinate logistics in a city to which I had never been. The challenge was steep. We managed to pull through. This was only the first test.
Language from our original invitation to the New Orleans Learning Journey:
What might be possible if we grounded the next phase of our work in our deepest sense of inner knowing — and connected with others committed to the same journey?
With this guiding question as our inspiration, we have convened a small group of cross-sector leaders (you!) for self-reflection, dialogue, co-creative work, and collaborative learning. This process will help us understand how we can use our inner knowing to more holistically align our values with programmatic decisions, partnership choices, and organizational purpose.
The field of impact investing illustrates this pursuit. Impact investing presents a tremendous opportunity to change our world for the better, by integrating financial returns with sustainable social impact. While the need to create new products in the space gets much of the attention, the “inner” work of knowing ourselves and learning to trust our guiding voice is equally important. Based on our experience in the sector, we believe that the potential for transformative change is greatest when a deep connection exists between investors’ innermost values and how that manifests in the world. For investors, this means how they allocate their resources– time, energy, and capital.
By helping leaders across sectors connect with their values, their communities, and with each other, we believe we can create a more vibrant impact ecosystem that supports the strategic, system-level collaboration needed to solve the pressing social and environmental issues of our time.
Another test was absorbing the sheer amount of information on the job. Impact investing was a totally new industry for me. Merging money and meaning seemed simple, but there is much more to it. It was like drinking from a firehose. It blends the pace of venture capital and entrepreneurship with the complexity of social sciences. The field makes it more difficult to measure success. Your investments can do well financially, but you also need to consider impact. Some things you can quantify — students served, energy saved — but others are more difficult — level of happiness, access to opportunity.
While I knew I was taking less salary in one of the most expensive cities in the US, there were other challenges of my job that I could not have anticipated. For one, there was a really tricky, complex web of relationships to navigate. One set of nodes brought my work and living situation directly head on — you’ll have to ask me about that one… it’s so crazy you might not believe it if I wrote it here.
It was hard to make friends in DC. Here I was, this guy who took this enormous risk, doing work on the edge of social impact in this highly unusual role. I wasn’t even working for a company, I was (and still am) working for a person. I felt like I was surrounded by bureaucrats and policy-wonks, who all worked deep within the machinery of massive institutions. I’m an introvert who hates superficiality. Besides friends from my prior life back home, there was no one locally with whom I could share this crazy experience with. On top of all this, I moved to DC in the heart of winter. Where I lived at the time, Dupont Circle, was just a concrete, barren expanse of harsh winds. Physical desolation complemented my feelings of emotional isolation.
So far, though, I’ve persevered. Since I started in this role, I’ve supported at least seven impact investing deals deploying around $5 million. I’ve helped organize four additional learning journeys, with at least one more on the way for summer 2016. I wrote a thirty page paper on impact investing in the development sector. I helped deliver a training to a 100 person company on how they could improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within their company culture and translate that to improved outcomes for clients. I’ve even played speech writer, helping my boss write a killer award acceptance speech, where we broke down how to meet Martin Luther King’s call for economic justice and the individual, organizational, and capital/societal levels.
And I’ve made a few good friends since I’ve been in DC. StartingBloc’ers, a few Thousanders, and people within DC’s broader impact community.
My biggest enemy has been myself. Well, actually, some friends of mine:
Ego. Fear. Insecurity. Temptation. Regression towards the mean. That constant feeling I’m not doing enough. That I’m getting the short end of the stick.
There have been a few tools I’ve used to fight these enemies that hold me back from doing my best work, the stuff that helps create transformative change in the world.
One is running.
On the daily, running keeps me aligned in all respects. It keeps me accountable to my health, without which, I could not deliver quality work or be there for friends and family. I make sure to get adequate sleep, and eat better. I use races to stay goal oriented: it takes discipline to meet weekly mileage targets and be in shape come race day. The act of running itself is meditative — my anxieties drift away as I focus in on my breath, my next footstep, and the green space around me. Running has helped form the basis of several friendships too.
When people are cheering you on, it can make such a difference, especially when the going gets tough. In my case, the energy of others literally was the difference between finishing the marathon with a bum knee and not even attempting the race.
Running keeps me resilient. It instills in me the will to keep pushing through discomfort. To keep going when it doesn’t feel like it’s my day. As I mentioned earlier, I was training in 2014 for my first marathon in Philadelphia. Three weeks out, I injured my knee. I didn’t know if I could finish, let alone run the race. A friend of mine was also running it, so I went to Philly to cheer him on, even if I couldn’t run. Well, when I got down to Philly, to my surprise, the energy surrounding the race jazzed me up. My knee wasn’t 100%, but was good enough to run a few miles at a slower pace. I though, why not, I’ll see how far I can go. The thousands of spectators, two of which included my parents, helped me gut through 26.2 miles. Even though I couldn’t walk for days, the feeling of satisfaction was so worth it.
Allies. This is where I bring it home, back to Thousand Network.
Throughout my life, there have been different groups of people who have pushed me to strive, and as a result, I’ve grown as a person.
I feel that now, at this moment, I am at yet again at another crossroads. For fifteen months, I’ve BEEN doing the high-impact work that I was so desperate to do while at The Firm. But what I crave is a community of people outside of work who are also doing The Work to create a better world– wayward thinkers who are constantly innovating, pioneering new industries, striving for personal development, enriching their relationships with each other. In the Hero’s Journey, there are greater challenges that lay ahead, ones that test every fiber of the protagonist’s being. The Hero cannot do it alone; he needs a team to support the greater vision and make it become a reality.
Joining Thousand would give me a set of Superhero allies to learn from and be inspired by. My work of social change requires courage to make progress. It’s entrepreneurial, and inherently a foray into the unknown. It is impossible to have the energy to sustain without a tribe of amazing people–people who strive to make the most of each day, the most of their potential, and the most of the collective possibility.
I agreed to be interviewed a few Fridays ago by a friend of mine, Ryan Steinbach. He reached out wanting to talk to me about my experiences in my current role, Special Projects Lead & Chief-of-Staff to Daryn Dodson of the Calvert Funds. I had a fun time doing this interview: Ryan asked for 20 minutes, and we ended up chatting for over 45 (perhaps an indicator that I should pursue more of these conversations around personal transformation).
My interview with Ryan is part of a larger side-project he’s doing to research what it takes for young professionals to break into the social impact sector. It stems from his passion for helping people pursue meaning and purpose in their lives and careers. If you have a moment, I encourage you to check out Ryan’s blog, Mission Driven Millennials.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
Think back to before you started your job. What made you want to get into the social enterprise space and what was appealing about working with Daryn specifically?
For me the story really goes back to when I was in high school about 10 years ago. My sophomore year, my aunt was part of this organization [TiE] that supported entrepreneurship within the Indian diaspora. She was leading an initiative in Boston — where I grew up — to bring entrepreneurship to young people and enable them to have an opportunity to try out different aspects of it. It was structured as a business plan competition. Since I was in high school and in the target audience, I participated in it. [The program is called TiE Young Entrepreneurs, TYE for short. What started as an experiment hatched in my aunt’s living room is now a global competition, in which teams from 20 cities compete for a grand prize of $10,000].
[TYE] met each weekend leading up to a Spring competition. Each weekend we’d work on different aspects of pitching, public speaking, finance, marketing, and other various topics. That was really exciting for me. Up until that point, I’d been more interested in science and thought that was my future. But entrepreneurship was really dynamic. So I kind of pivoted from there, and envisioned myself getting into business. Perhaps, naively at the time I thought entrepreneurship WAS business – all of business. I would later find out that wasn’t the case.
But I carried that interest through college and did various things, including a start-up-y venture in college where several friends and I started a student advisory board to try to create a more cohesive ecosystem within our undergraduate business school. And then during my senior year at school, the same group of friends and I did a few case competitions. One was actually on socially responsible investing [Here’s the case], so I guess that was a precursor for things to come.
The most important pivot point was my senior capstone class. It was a community service-based learning class where we would go out in the community and carry out projects that different organizations needed. There was also a classroom component where we’d really reflect on what we were learning and go through different readings. It was during this class that I discovered social entrepreneurship, the concept. It really clicked with me. Up until that point my education had been in a business school setting with a more conventional framework for seeing the world. Social entrepreneurship was more about solving problems that are real and affecting people around the world. It also merged what I was seeing outside of the business school, having lots of other interests in more liberal arts type subjects. [You can check out my thesis here].
But then I kind of fell into the recruiting machine of big corporate life. I got a job at a big accounting firm, but still managed to maintain that interest [in social enterprise]. I carried it forward by trying to go to as many events as possible in town. I was fortunate to be in Boston and really took advantage of the universities that were there. As you may know, Boston is one of the densest cities for universities and young people. Having Harvard and MIT there – the best universities in the world attracting the best people in the world – was just a blessing. I was able to meet a lot of bright people and really be a student while I was working, which was incredible and, looking back on it, preparation for what was to come.
How did you find this role working with Daryn? Take me through the process.
That’s a good question. I would say the field… kind of chose me. I had a bunch of interests at the time when I was trying to break into social enterprise. I was interested in entrepreneurship in general, in social enterprise, innovation, what corporations were doing to be more responsible and sustainable, urban development, international, and sustainable development at a global level. So I kind of was interested in everything. I like to say this now — luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And there was quite a lot that prepared me.
So building on my story from earlier, while I was at PwC, I was able to do a rotation with Corporate Responsibility there. It was a fantastic experience. For three months, I got to work with their Foundation and really get to experiment with and dive into the sector. And I was fortunate [a year earlier] to join a community, really a tribe, of current and aspiring social innovators called StartingBloc, while I was still at PwC [during my client service days]. They really galvanized me and supported me in my path. I would say the experience at PwC was so powerful that I was inspired to actually leave the Firm and reflect on what I could do as a next step.
And so I took a three month sabbatical and structured it for myself so that I’d actually live the life I want to live. I was fortunate that I could move home and do this. I listed books I wanted to read, I trained for a marathon, I wrote, and went to events in the area. I was really structured about it, [creating my own syllabus to guide my “semester” of study]. It was the first time that I truly let my curiosity lead me. I think up to that point I had [yielded] to the influence of society’s expectations and the expectations of people around me. This was the first time that I was living more in an honest way.
By the time I happened to meet Daryn, being at a StartingBloc related event down here in DC, I had done all of the leg work necessary — whether it was the learning, whether it was the network building — to be able to tell a story about myself that was genuine. But I also could connect all these dots in a way that actually made sense. I painted a portrait that I was the exact right guy who was ready for that job at that particular moment.
How did you land this role? Was this even a formal process?
It was less formal. At the time when I was in this sabbatical period, about half-way through I felt I was ready to start looking into roles I should apply for. I applied for a role that was at a company based here in DC… It was basically to be the special projects associate, chief-of-staff, for the director of the organization. I applied for it, didn’t hear back, but thought I was a good candidate. My manager in CSR at PwC had a great relationship with the director and gave me a really strong recommendation. So I thought I had a great shot. When I didn’t hear back, I was very confused.
Since I was down here in DC for a social innovation institute run by StartingBloc, I decided I might as well just take a risk, follow up [with the organization] in person and see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen? So I hung out a few extra days after their Institute and came up to Impact Hub [where the organization was based].
I ended up meeting the Director and his team. Unfortunately, they’d gone in a different direction and hired someone else in the interim. Which was fine. I was glad just to have closure and I just ended up hanging around Hub that day. They had wi-fi I could use. The Director of that same organization, at the end of the day, he comes over to me from across the room with another guy beside him. And he says “Hey Sid, I want you to meet Daryn. You should talk to him.” Really cryptic. Didn’t say much else. So I thought okay, maybe this guy Daryn has some career advice or something.
Daryn asked me what I was interested in and a little bit more about my background. Then he starts describing the stuff he’s working on and my jaw is continually dropping. I thought, “Woah! I can’t believe I’m talking to you. This is so ridiculous.” He invited me to meet with him for a longer meeting the next day, which ended up being an hour and half. He was looking for somebody similar to the job I had applied for. Basically a special projects / chief-of-staff type of guy who could be an operational Jedi who could really get things done in a smart way. And someone who was willing and able to learn at a rapid clip. After a couple weeks of correspondence, he gave me an offer. An offer I couldn’t refuse.
So to answer your question, it was kind of a serendipitous encounter that had come about because of the relationships I had built and the emotional energy I’d put into those relationships and the trust that came out of that. But once I made the connection with the person who was looking for someone with something like my skill set, he did take the time to interview me and really vet me to make sure that, beyond the skills, I had the right frame of mind and the right orientation holistically as a person that he would want to work with.
So would you say that between your skill set and then that frame of mind, those were the two most important things that separated you from other people he could have been talking to or looking at?
Yeah, I would say so. I had a pretty strong set of experiences and a more technical background coming from PwC, with the professional services polish. And also just having that right orientation. I think someone who leaves a comfortable job that pays well to take three months off when he’s 24 is pretty unusual. I think that was a point of inquiry for Daryn – “I want to learn more about this guy. He thinks differently, stepping outside of the box of normal convention.”
Now that you’ve been in the role for over six months, how would you describe your role?
I think there’s two sides and they’re overlapping and inter-related. One is being a chief-of-staff for Daryn. The other is being this covert agent for change where I’m doing the work needed to push the field of impact investing forward and to try to evolve it.
On the chief-of-staff side of things, a comparison I love came in a podcast I was recently listening to on the The Tim Ferriss Show. He interviewed Stan McChrystal, an army general who commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from 2003-2008. They did a lot of work in Afghanistan on behalf of the United States military. But Stan McChrystal had an aide-de-camp, basically the military version of the chief-of-staff, Chris Russell who’s a former Navy SEAL, a very capable person himself and basically McChrystal’s right hand man.
[Russell] would help McChrystal reduce friction in his role leading JSOC, but also display agility, be someone who could represent that organization if needed and correspond with others. So that’s the approach I take. I’m really concerned about making Daryn more effective as someone who’s demonstrated himself as a change leader and [has so much more] he can do even in the next couple years in terms of making change. How can I make that easier for him and clear that path?
And then [as far as being an agent for change], I see it through the lens of using business as a force for good and really changing the way capitalism works at a fundamental level so we can address the world’s most complex challenges that humanity has played quite a large role in creating. And really it’s humanity’s role to figure out a way to address those issues.
So we’ve done a couple things, like hosting convenings — I’ve played a role in helping to organize those. We’re also looking into how narrative and storytelling can be a way to shift the hearts and minds of people with capital and with other resources and really call people to action in a way that quantitative analyses and data alone cannot. [Overall, we’re] really trying to see the forest through the trees, seeing strategically how we can move systems and identify the lever points in those systems. That’s how I’d describe my role in a large nut shell.
If someone had to take over for you tomorrow, what would be the two skills or pro-tips you’d recommend for being successful?
I’m going to combine several different things into one idea, or at least attempt to. One pro-tip would be, having agility towards new experiences and being super flexible. I think one thing for me that illustrates that is a quote from Morihei Ueshiba, who founded the martial art Aikido. A student asked him once, “Master how do you stay centered all the time? Ueshiba responds, I’m not centered all the time. I simply recover faster than before.”
That, as well as this image that Marcus Aurelius describes in The Meditations, which is basically his personal writings that have now become one of the core writings of the philosophy stoicism, and you can look that up, there’s a ton of great stuff online about that. Basically it’s the image of a wrestler being ready to respond to anything that comes his way and always maintaining a stance of readiness. [The exact quote: “The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets which are sudden and unexpected.”].
I had a conversation with Daryn just yesterday and one of the highest valued skills that I bring that really helps him is my ability to adapt to change very fast. Things in this sector can change very fast. Whether it’s larger trends, whether it’s your own company, or your own initiative or venture. Looking at that as an opportunity to learn something. And it takes a lot of courage and discipline to view the world that way and to view your experiences through that lens because it can be painful sometimes. But I think you become better overall for that. So that’s one pro-tip.
The second one, I would say, is really focusing on growing yourself holistically as a person through the work. I think there’s a common trap or misconception that, and I see this online and it’s frustrating to me, where a lot of the content out there is “Five tips to improve your career” or “Ten highest paying jobs in the next ten years.” At the end of the day, when you look back on your life, you’re not going to say, I won the game of life because I took #3 on the Yahoo.com list of most growth potential careers, right? You’re going to look back and reflect on whether you were a good person and how your experiences shaped you into becoming that good person.
A part of growing yourself holistically starts with an inherent curiosity about the world, as well as a desire to become self-aware, and looking for opportunities to explore both of those, the curiosity and the self-awareness. By learning about yourself, absorbing the world around you, both the ideas and institutions, as well as relationships, and putting energy to all of those, [you can] then really start connecting dots and creating ideas. Identify people that you just enjoy being around and you aspire to be like and surround yourself with those people and put energy into those people… If you’re trying to set yourself up to excel… you want to work with people you enjoy being around so it doesn’t feel like work… I love the topic of growth, so I could go on, but I’ll end there.
Thinking back to the first question, how have your expectations of this work and working in social enterprise changed since you first started, if at all?
I think that I can consolidate my learnings by looking at it through the lens of entrepreneurship. What’s been surprising my first six months has really how long it takes to build something meaningful. I think nowadays in 2015, it’s so easy to look at these so-called “unicorn companies” with $1 billion-plus valuations and say, “Oh, they came out of nowhere. They must be so easy to build.” But really some of these things are ten years in the making. Recently, Etsy, [an online marketplace for handcrafted goods that also happens to be a B-corp], IPO’d and they’ve been around for ten years. Picture trying to build a house or some kind of large structure. Since we’re in DC, the image that I like is the Washington Monument, one of the tallest structures in the city. Before it was there, nobody visualized a tower there, but somebody had to in order for it to exist. Someone had to lay it brick by brick, stone by stone. It takes awhile. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of learning and failing, but it can be done.
I would also comment on the hero worship of the entrepreneur as if they’re some Übermensch or whatever. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s quite a bit of “right place, right time” luck involved, in a Malcolm Gladwell Outliers sort of way. And some of these folks have gone through a lot. When they tell their stories it’s easy to minimize that and really focus on the big success. These are humans. These are not perfect people. And they’ve had to work through and improve their flaws.
But also in addition to them being human, they’re not doing it alone. It really takes a whole network. It takes teams to make these things happen, and it takes a lot of collective effort. And so I think that my experience has really underscored the necessity to approach everybody as if they’re enlightened and try to discover within each person what lights them up, and how to empower that. I think looking at things through that superman-entrepreneur lens, you may miss that opportunity. And there’s a lot of untapped potential in a lot of people.
If you could have a magic wand and be doing anything in 3 years, what would it be?
Being someone who is talking to leaders from all sectors — CEOs, politicians, you name it — on how we can really take a coordinated approach to solving problems, and really get to know them at a human level. Building relationships like that. I think that would be pretty awesome. Meeting a Richard Branson or a Paul Polman, and just saying “Hey, what do you enjoy doing?” and building from there by translating it into the work and understanding how we can collectively tap our wisdom and our ability.
From a lifestyle perspective, in an ideal world, I’d be in this retreat mode where I’m just waking up, going on a run, reading for an hour, doing some writing in nature and maybe spending my afternoon reading a little more, spending evenings socializing, going to some event or salon in the classic renaissance sense. Just living life to learn — that being the constant thing and striving for self-improvement, but also having the presence to enjoy life just as it is. There’s probably a way over the long-term to combine all these things. And so if I start making decisions based on that dream, maybe it’ll actually happen.
On a scale of 1 – 10 (1 = Absolutely not. 10 = With all my heart), Would you recommend the social enterprise space to family and friends who are just starting their career? Why?
To justify my own decisions I’d say ten. [Laughter.] But I think, for one, [those just starting their careers] have the advantage of youth on their side. I think I do and we all do, so it’s a fantastic time to just experiment with it, and just ride the wave of social enterprise which is really proliferating around the world. There are now institutions building up a more cohesive ecosystem around it. There are ways to try it without diving in head long. Although if you’re the type of person who needs to dive into it in order to really understand it, do that.
I think we tend to underestimate, because we’re so young, our ability to recover from errors or mistakes. But really any experience is an opportunity to learn. Even if you have a job or are committed to a full-time gig after school, you can do what I did and go to events, and just talk with people and shadow people… You can offer your time and contribute a couple hours a week. I think one thing that most social enterprises have is a shortage of resources and a shortage of man-power. So if you’re a smart, motivated, humble person who just wants to learn, you can probably find an opportunity somewhere and really get a taste of what the social enterprise world is like.
For a longer term scope of whether I recommend social enterprise, I’d say it’s a very personal decision. Before I dove into this, there was quite a bit of self-exploration and soul searching that was done. I would advise that people really examine what’s important to them, what their values are, what kind of life they want to create for themselves, and look at what they’re energized by, because I think this work is worth doing for a lifetime, but it requires consistent, sustained effort. To try to change the world and shift hearts, minds, systems, and behaviors, takes a lot of energy, a lot of emotional energy. It’s quite a bit different than if you’re working at McKinsey hammering out [Powerpoint] decks, which is a one-hundred-percent intellectual exercise. You have to bring your whole self to this work. Bringing your whole self is necessary for this work to be impactful. That’s what I would say — it is really a personal decision, but ten [out of ten] just to tell myself [I did the right thing].
Do you view PwC as a formative experience to get to where you are now?
I mean… everything [was a formative experience] in some sense. For the role I’m in, PwC was immensely helpful and I think there is a lot of value in having worked in a professional setting that’s serving Fortune 500 companies because you learn all the skills that are associated with that. You can really deliver in a very professional manner. I think this sector is hungry for talent and top tier talent. Envision Navy SEAL teams being assembled around different problems in society and having the best people who are elite caliber conduct these special operations missions. If [the social sector equivalent of] BUD/S training is a couple years in professional services or some other really intense experience, so be it. For me it was valuable, although looking back there were some dark moments.
Any final words of advice?
I think as a final word of advice maybe for folks just starting out. Just be excited. If you’re looking into social enterprise it’s a fantastic field that’s changing fast but changing for the better and the work its doing is reverberating to the rest of society slowly. I think the tectonic plates of change are shifting. You may not see it with the visible eye, but it is happening and you have your whole life to figure this shit out, so look at it that way. You don’t have to make every right career step. You’re not trying to make you’re college application look perfect. [Just roll with it and treat it like an adventure.]
This Saturday morning I awoke. It was still dark outside. My mind began meandering within its reflective ether…
What time was it, I wondered? I checked the time on my phone: 3:40 AM.
Hmmm. It was quite early. I couldn’t fall back to sleep. My mind kept racing.
I then fired off a series of texts to a friend. The following is an adapted synthesis of this morning’s SMS meditations:
It would have been reallllly neat to build an informal Studs* group across UMass. Like a SEAL Team 6 of student TBs**. Connect with the best of the best. People with the DNA of excellence and ambition, not posers who were impressive on paper, but did not exhibit ambitions to change the world. I’m talking folks who were getting Rhodes Scholarships, crazy research posts, etc. This would have been hard to do at UMass since it was so big and its colleges were rather siloed (especially SOM). But totally worth it. I may have a hindsight bias that makes me blind to this sort of network we had already built. What if we were more intentional about this for more than just our senior year? What kind of organic serendipity would have manifested if we did it for our entire college careers?
The 4:00 AM thought came up because I realized at 3:45 AM that I am pushing myself harder now that I’m immersed within a group of high performers (my team at work, folks we invited to New Orleans, the amazingly diverse people who come to our apartment for Junto-style gatherings, etc). Since I’ve been working / hanging out with them, it’s changed my perception of self. I see them as peers now and therefore benchmark my performance accordingly.
It was very difficult to believe in this sense of self-imposed excellence at points in my life where mediocrity prevailed around me. I have a dangerous tendency to become complacent when the people around me have their own sights set low.
When I think back to UMass, I operated with this same desire for excellence when I was most intensely surrounded by it. The two best example were senior year with Studs and my freshman year floor–those two years, I forced myself to raise my game because of the people around me. I worked my ass off, and it paid rewards that have compounded over time.
However, I think at UMass, when I saw excellence in others outside of those two peer groups I mention above, I got jealous and insecure and envious of their prestige markers (scholarships, awards, internships, etc). And so I didn’t engage with them. What an untapped opportunity!
I feel like now, at least, I’m a little more mature, in that I desire to seek out and learn from the excellence of others. I am much less intimidated by fear– fear that my self-worth would get crushed if I tried my absolute 100% best, and failed to be “as good as” someone else. What counts for me nowadays is that I’m putting in the effort to improve and having faith that the resulting progress will speak for itself.
It is so important to connect with people whose ambitions are at a similar stratosphere as yours. This might be uncomfortable at times, because it threatens the individual’s ego, but the tradeoff of learning and inspiration and serendipity is totally worth it in the end.
For example, recently, I reached out to someone to appreciate their excellence, and did so without expectation of anything in return. To my surprise, I was offered to work with that person’s company. Kindred spirits meeting each other gives rise to intense serendipity (see: Studs, and everything that ensued with our case team and the Student Advisory Board we formed). The key is to not defeat ourselves by letting fear paralyze is from taking action at all. Let us try anyways, and others can reject– that is their choice. They don’t know what TB-ness they are missing out on.
I now appreciate how important being a part of networks of TBs is, having seen these networks in action literally everywhere. Through experiences I’ve had since graduating, people who are changing the world surround themselves with the best people, preferably those who are better than them. Those that are changing the world.
Today, I’m trying to live up to a self-imposed standard of excellence as I was back in college, but now am courting peer pressure (perceived and real) to push me, even proactively seeking it out, instead of running away or hiding from it, like I did at times in college. Call it maturity, call it strength, call it whatever: I want this to be my new normal.
* “Studs” is my friend group that coalesced during my senior year at UMass over the course of a seven-month entrepreneurial odyssey. We’ve remained steadfast friends three years since graduation. And counting. ** “TB” is a term used by Studs to succinctly describe someone so impressive that it inspires awe. It’s etymology is a whole other post altogether.
Before I moved to Washington D.C., I made sure to read The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo. I wrote down the most inspirational quotes, and wanted to share them with you.
When I face trying times in D.C., I think back to the challenges that The Alchemist‘s protagonist faced. When he put faith in the process, and began believing in his power to affect his own destiny, he began to unlock the powerful treasures that life had to offer. I believe I can do the same.
I first heard of The Alchemist a few years ago from the actor Will Smith. Fast forward to 4:32 in the video below, and you’ll see for yourself.
From that point several years ago, I made an intention to read it. And this past December, that intention was fulfilled.
Q ~ U ~ O ~ T ~ E ~ S :
(10-11) Whenever he could, he sought out a new road to travel. He had never been to that ruined church before, in spite of having traveled through those parts many times. The world was huge and inexhaustible; he had only to allow his sheep to set the route for a while, and he would discover other interesting things. The problem is that they don’t even realize that they’re walking a new road every day. They don’t see that the fields are new and the seasons change. All they think about is food and water. / Maybe we’re all that way, the boy mused.
(11) It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
(15) “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.”
(15-16) When someone sees the same people every day… they wind up becoming a part of that person’s life. And then they want that person to change. If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
(18) “What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. / “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
(21) “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. / At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”
The King of Salem explaining the mysterious force (22): “It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your Personal Legend. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the should of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.”
(22, 40) “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
(114) “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”
(27) For her, every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.
(28) The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.
(29) “In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.”
(32) “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”
Upon having his money stolen by a thief (39) He was so ashamed that he wanted to cry. He had never even wept in front of his own sheep. But the marketplace was empty, and he was far from home, so he wept. He wept because God was unfair, and because this was the way God repaid those who believed in their dreams. / When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed me, he thought. But now I’m sad and alone. I’m going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine. And I’m going to hold on to what little I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.
(40) “I’m like everyone else—I see the world in terms of what I would like to see happen, not what actually does.”
(42) He realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure. / “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,” he said to himself.
(52) “Because we have to respond to omens… / It’s called the principle of favorability, beginner’s luck. Because life wants you to achieve your Personal Legend.”
(54) “We have to take advantage when luck is on our side, and do as much to help it as it’s doing to help us.”
(57-58) Crystal Merchant: “I’ve had this shop for thirty years. I know good crystal from bad, and everything else there is to know about crystal. I know its dimensions and how it behaves. If we serve tea in the crystal, the shop is going to expand. And then I’ll have to change my way of life.” / Boy: “Well, isn’t that good?” / Crystal Merchant: “I’m already used to the way things are. Before you came, I was thinking about how much time I had wasted in the same place, while my friends had moved on, and either went bankrupt or did better than they had before. It made me very depressed. Now, I can see that it hasn’t been too bad. The shop is exactly the size I always wanted it to be. I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I’m used to the way I am.” The boy didn’t know what to say. The old man continued, “You have been a real blessing to me. Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.”
(62) There was a language in the world that everyone understood… it was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
(65) I know why I want to get back to my flock, he thought. I understand sheep; they’re no longer a problem, and they can be good friends. On the other hand, I don’t know if the desert can be a friend, and it’s in the desert that I have to search for my treasure. If I don’t find it, I can always go home. I finally have enough money, and all the time I need. Why not?
(68) He still had doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
(72) The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.
(74) The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s written there.
(75) No matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved toward the same compass point. Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a star that indicated the location of the oasis. When the people saw that star shining in the morning sky, they knew they were on the right course toward water, palm trees, shelter, and other people. It was only the Englishman who was unaware of all this; he was, for the most part, immersed in reading his books.
(76) “People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want. / We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world by written by the same hand.”
(78) “When you want something with all your heart, that’s when you are closest to the Soul of the World.”
(81) “The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves.”
(84) “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things… His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our Personal Legends, and I respect him for that.”
(85) “If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living in right now.”
(87) He knew that in the caravan there was a man to whom he was to teach some of his secrets. The ones told him so. He didn’t know the man yet, but his practiced eye would recognize him when he appeared. He hoped that it would be someone as capable as his previous apprentice. / I don’t know why these things have to be transmitted by word of mouth, he thought. It wasn’t exactly that they were secrets; God revealed his secrets easily to all his creatures. / He had only one explanation for this fact: things have to be transmitted this way because they were made up from the pure life, and this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words. / Because people become fascinated with pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the Language of the World.
(89) Meanwhile, the boy thought about his treasure. The closer he got to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became. It seemed as if what the old king had called “beginner’s luck” were no longer functioning. In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his patience and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.
(92-93) Finally, a young woman approached who was not dressed in black. She had a vessel on her shoulder, and her head was covered by a veil, but her face was uncovered. The boy approached her to ask about the alchemist. / At that moment, it seemed to him that time stood still, and the Soul of the World surged within him. When he looked into her dark eyes, and saw that her lips were poised between a laugh and a silence, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke—the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force whenever two pairs of eyes met, as had theirs here at the well. She smiled, and that was certainly an omen—the omen he had been awaiting, without even knowing he was, for all his life. The omen he had sought to find with his sheep and in his books, in the crystals and in the silence of the desert. / It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. He was more certain of it than of anything in the world. He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed. But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language. Because, when you know that language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning.
(103) “The future belongs to God, and it is only he who reveals it, under extraordinary circumstances. How do I guess at the future? Based on the omens of the present. The secret here is in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”
(111) “Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”
(111) “You must not let up, even after having come this far… You must love the desert, but never trust it completely. Because the desert tests all men: it challenges every step, and kills those who become distracted.”
(115) “It’s not what enters men’s mouths that’s evil,” said the alchemist. “It’s what comes out of their mouths that is.”
(115-16) “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense.”
(128) “Wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”
(117) “Life attracts life.”
(120) “You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love… the love that speaks the Language of the World.”
(127) “Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”
(130) Alchemist: “People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly.” / Boy: “My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.” / Alchemist: “Tell yourt hear that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart as ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
(131) “Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him,” his heart said. “We, people’s hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them—the path to their Personal Legends, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.”
(132) “What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’ / Every search beings with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”
After encountering armed tribesman, the Alchemist tells them he has a Philosopher’s Stone and Elixir of Life. They laugh at him, and leave him alone. (134) “One of life simple lessons… When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.”
After the Alchemist stares down two armed tribesman (136) “Your eyes show the strength of your soul.”
(138) “Anyone who interferes with the Personal Legend of another thing never will discover his own.”
(141) “Don’t give in to your fears… If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
(141) “If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
(142) “Usually the threat of death makes people a lot more aware of their lives.”
(150) “This is why alchemy exists,” the boy said. “So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life… That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
(156) “Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
(158-59) “No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”
(160) The boy told himself that, on the way toward realizing his own Personal Legend, he had learned all he needed to know, and had experienced everything he might have dreamed of.
(162) “What good is money to you if you’re going to die? It’s not often that money can save someone’s life.”
Ben’s acceptance speech laid out his vision for business as a force for social change. “Corporations have been granted the right to become the major depositories and bestowed of wealth in our society. With all of this power, there is just no way businesses can walk away from the world’s pressing problems… the narrow view of maximizing profits is simply unacceptable when business is directly and indirectly responsible for so many of our problems… business must be part of the solution, or there won’t be a solution.”
On New Year’s Day, I will deactivate my Facebook account.
January 2015 marks the start of a new phase of my life. After two years of struggling to escape the matrix, I finally start a new job in a new city. It’s meaningful work with smart people in an entrepreneurial environment– something I’ve intentionally been looking months for. It’s a potentially breakthrough opportunity. I want to put my best foot forward. I want to be so focused that I dominate.
So focused that I dominate.
Facebook has been a tremendous asset to me over the past two years since graduating from college. It’s allowed me to stay in touch with friends who I’d otherwise have trouble keeping up with. By seeing the posts of others, it’s given me a portal to explore the world. After “unfriending” some folks I never talk to or who have consistently pessimistic posts, and replacing them with Pages of organizations and new media, the quality of information I consumed improved significantly. The ideas from my reformed News Feed pushed my thinking in a number of areas. Facebook also made staying in touch with StartingBloc Fellows much easier. While dispersed around the world, their collective presence has been invaluable in my personal journey to this point.
This year, however, I began to notice the value-add that Facebook offered me reached a saturation point. Facebook’s News Feed algorithm clogged itself with redundancy and advertisements. I kept reading the same type of articles and kept seeing the same people’s updates over and over and over again. Since my last Facebook Friend purge in 2012, I’ve re-reached a bloated number of Facebook Friends, some of whom I’ve never had a meaningful face-to-face conversation with (although, I am sure that I could, if given the opportunity). During my Fall 2014 period of transition and exploration, Facebook became an impulsive thing to check, a bad habit I’ll fall into from time to time. I let this happen despite my call to use stoic mindfulness to combat the impulse. I check Facebook out of restlessness– for the notifications, for new curated News Feed items, for a new article to distract me. I manically check for likes. Facebook on my iPhone has been especially addictive. It’s far too easy to whip out the phone and surf News Feed to fill dead time. I’ve even checked Facebook while driving.
The last couple times I’ve logged into Facebook, I began asking myself whether I derived any value from the current session (“value,” to me, means: meaningful correspondence with a friend, a link that opened up a new world of thought… something along those lines). The answer was no. It was at that point I realized I needed to make a change.
If I had to name triggers for this deactivation, besides starting a new job, I would name three: Burning Man, a recent Tom Brady article, and a friend’s Facebook status (ironically).
Burning Man stripped me of all digital communication – there is no internet, out there on the Playa, let alone cell reception. My iPhone became a point-and-shoot camera. Human interaction was, for once, unmediated by technology. All connection was face-to-face. I made stronger connections with strangers I met than with people I’ve been Facebook Friends with for years. A week straight of this was quite refreshing. This digital detox contributed to a three week Burning Man afterglow that came after returning to the “Default World.” There is power in disconnecting. In some ways, it forced me to use social intelligence that had fallen latent (or that I didn’t even know I had).
The Tom Brady article is a Sports Illustrated profile of his meticulous health regimen, and how it’s evolved over the course of his career. Brady is 37 years old – ancient for a professional football player – and is still at the top of his game. While I knew that Brady is a preparation maniac, reading this article took it to new heights. His competitiveness, his mental toughness, his desire to get better, his attention to detail… results in a carefully crafted routine that pushes his body and mind to deceive Father Time. I encourage you to read the article – there’s so much gold in there. It’s insane.
As Brady’s excellence is something I aspire towards, I had to question myself: what am I doing currently to get to that level? Am I really trying to squeeze everything I can out of my god-given ability and the time I have left? If I had to answer myself honestly, I would say “no.” Would Brady impulsively surf Facebook and wallow in FOMO? Fuck no. He would realize how it would affect his mental sharpness, his preparation, and qualify as wasted motion. Quite simply, if I am to get to Brady’s level of the top 1% of the top 1% of mastery, I have to eliminate all non-essentials.
The third trigger was a friend of mine who took a one month Facebook hiatus in the lead up to her law school finals, which are notoriously preparation-intensive. She identified two situation when she has the impulse to check her Facebook– (a) when in the middle of an intellectually challenging task, and (b) when she wanted to feel connected by know what’s going on outside her life. I empathized with both, observing personal parallels. She remarked that “after days of not seeing what everybody else was getting up to that [she] felt a real peace about wherever [she is] and whatever [she’s] doing.” In lieu of checking Facebook, she’s been able to read books, articles, and short stories, which “satiates the same need to think about something else and be inspired.” My friend also observed that she still stayed socially connected through other means, i.e. email, phone calls, and meetings.
Deactivating Facebook is not an unusual move for me. I’ve done it five times. I deactivated once during my senior year of college because I felt I needed to redouble my focus on school. Originally an indefinite break, I came back after a few months because of “Studs,” a group of friends who were overhauling our undergrad business school from inside out. They used Facebook as the primary means of rapid group communication. I’ve also deactivated two weeks prior to each of my four CPA exams. Deactivation prodded me to stick to my rigorous study schedule. This tactic was worth it. I passed all four CPA exams in one try.
So yeah, I’ll be off Facebook for at least a couple of months. I need a buffer period to purify and reinvent. To become sensitized to the world around me. To immerse at a new job in a new city. To push myself to meet new people. To become so focused that I dominate.
All instead of hunching over my phone to check Facebook.
I’ll still be posting on The Fireside Chats and will be active on all other social media. If you need to reach me, email me at email@example.com. Or surprise me with a phone call. Better yet: send a handwritten letter.