Okay, a budding social entrepreneur... with surely a lot to learn, I admit (in fact I look forward to it). I recognize this word has a buzz to be careful of; nonetheless, I feel confident that this will be - that it is - my niche to find in this world. My role to fill.
"What do you do?"
In this realization, all of my travels these past now almost four years since graduating college; the causes, issues, campaigns and efforts I've been a part of; and yes, even the few businesses I've started or consulted for - made sense.
In that moment this afternoon, my mind flew back over all of the relevant experiences; seeing the intersection of service and initiative in my life - the advocate, the do-gooder, the social with the ideas-man, the project starter, the entrepreneur... then I dropped the soap. Okay fine, I use body wash.
It seemed maybe even a bit strange or rather, almost funny - that it had taken as long as it has for me to now articulate. I am a Social Entrepreneur.
It seems rather obvious now too, when I put it in a bullet-pointed list:
- Last Night's Dream
- Name Your Own Price iPhone Screen Repair
- Katie for Haiti
- Tonight's Watercolor!
- TED Talks & Tea
- ARC of Montara
- The White House
- TOMS Shoes
- BioTour on the 2008 Campaign Trail
- AmeriCorps NCCC
I changed majors a lot in college... about six times. I was all over the place. Still 'am. I just love learning. I never knew for certain what I wanted to do. I still don't and I think most of us don't. I only know I'm not a cubicle person and I won't settle for my work not making a difference. Still, I distinctly remember throughout high school and early college, when asked, I knew I could always count on saying, "at least I know I don't want to be involved in politics." Irony.
This cross-country voyage through our American landscape truly renewed my spirit in the good people of the US of A. Maybe "renewed" isn't quite the best word, because I didn't even know what was missing in the first place until I experienced such warmth and awesomeness from people I had met maybe only 6 hours prior, but who had such connection to our mission and intention.
Campaigns, and more specifically, Candidates that knock doors, win.
And looking back, I realize now I essentially set three informal rules for myself when I graduated college:
- That where ever I work, whatever I do, whatever I'm a part of or working on, it will have real meaning.
- That I would do so while continuing to explore, learn, and hopefully travel.
- If I could do both of those without going into debt... all the better.
I've been extremely fortunate to do cool things. Cool things that matter. And it's taken me to countless cities and states across the country.
Among many social factors born of me beyond my control (a straight, white, middle-class, male, born in the United States in particular), I credit my life thus far in part too, with having graduated from the University of Miami debt-free. And I credit that with a near full-ride academic scholarship that I credit in part to my friend Andrew's older brother, Brandon, who told us at the start of 9th grade - when he was a Senior - to take as many AP courses as we could in high school.
(My parents played a role in that too; I would thank them.)
This is why whenever I would speak with kids in schools (like during BioTour) I encouraged them to do well in school. Because now I enjoy debt-free freedom. And in today's world, that's huge.
"Stay in school kids!"
Still, this chapter would be with another fellow White House Intern colleague / new friend and brother, Matthew Schildkret.
(Also, it was the 1, Jan. 2010. Tonight's Watercolor! was born ...and it would span every night of my whole year forward.)
His was a house that sat at the top of a gorgeous (and very steep) hill just one walking minute off Pacific Coast Highway with an expansive 270 degree view overlooking the West Coast's ocean. Breathtaking.
Now living rent-free in paradise, our plan was to give our benefactor's home an all-around retrofit - put solar panels on the roof, weatherize the windows and doors, install sound insulation, fresh and colorful non-VOC eco-friendly paint, plant a massive organic garden, and give new life to the unused hot tub for greywater capture and irrigation.
We planted that garden and opened up the house as a community center. Two licensed massage therapists moved in and led Qi Gong or Yoga classes almost every day. We meditated regularly.
Lacking a weed whacker, we organized a Montara Tool Share. Obviously, this would spawn the Montara Book and Ride Shares, respectively. The ladies of the house organized a Women's Gathering.
In all seriousness, we probably had.
"I'm glad somebody in the community's doing something."
One big thing I've found is that when you involve yourself in projects with purpose, the Universe responds in kind. Still, Montara is a very quiet and relatively isolated town; after six months it was time to re-enter society and move on.
I learned a lot during my time in Northern CA. In the interest of not making this post that much longer, I'll say this was a chapter in my life in which I feel like I earned, what I would call "a street MBA" worth more than any young budding social entrepreneur could probably garner elsewhere... at least, for free.
SXSW last week was awesome.
So I applied to NCCC just before the Mar. 1 deadline and will hopefully have an interview in the coming weeks.
Most notably, amazing people.
Two, often living with them in tight or strange living situations (like a tiny nook in a Portland kitchen; on a 36 foot 1989 school bus; or in a well-aired Austin sun-room, to name but a few).
Then there's literally living out of really only two suitcases for the past few years. I've become quite the minimalist. (A trait that would probably be appealing to many VCs - I know how to work a shoestring budget). And it feels great.
Also, every time I go back to my parent's house in NY I fill up a few more bags of clothes I realize I never needed and give them to Goodwill. That feels even better; I hate clutter.
And for almost two years now, since my time at TOMS, I've been reading so much of Seth Godin - books and daily blog. Brilliant. Not just about publishing in an industry dying fast, but marketing, access, and art in a world changing faster; he's it. (Google even just the name "Seth" alone and his is the first find that comes up; pretty impressive.)
Bottom line, it's people.
And that is where smart business is going.