One week ago, I have had the insanely amazing experience of volunteering at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation in Boston. StartingBloc is a self-described “people incubator,” that builds skills and relationships amongst young innovators who value social impact. After becoming an LA ’12 fellow back in February I decided that Memorial Day weekend would be the perfect opportunity for me to tap back into some StartingBloc inspiration, clarity of purpose, and connection.
A significant contributor to our connectedness at StartingBloc is our mutual learning and sharing over the course of the institute. So here is my list of the 10 best lessons learned and shared amongst a group of exceptionally connected people.
1. We are all grasping for guidance.
Whether we are recent graduates venturing into the unfamiliar “real world,” or many years wiser and exploring the ideas and actions that really make us tick, we are all constantly looking for answers, for solutions, for meaning. And it’s difficult, because there is “no road map to our lives”, no clear direction we can follow (Rachel Weeks, see below). The best we can do is embrace the ambiguity, open ourselves to a constant state of curiosity and learning, and trust in our ability to navigate.
2. Place yourself in a “intellectual powerhouse environment.”
This is exactly the environment that exists at StartingBloc, and one that we all hope to maintain as we return to our homes and work places. An environment where creativity is mandatory, hustle is key, ideas are welcomed with no fear of character judgement, and collaboration is inspired by a constant “Yes, and” attitude. By surrounding ourselves with others who value open and creative intellectual exploration, we can build the perfect setting to create impact.
3. You already know everything you need to know to start.
Impostor syndrome is experienced by all of us at some point in our lives. You will never know as much as you “should” know, you will never be prepared enough. Jump in anyway. Start now.
4. First, do no harm.
I know I just said to jump in anyway, but the one caveat to this is that if you’re about to jump, you have to remember that context is everything. Every action that you take in this world impacts another being, and it is absolutely essential that we are in the a mindset of awareness before we take action. This doesn’t mean having all of the answers, it simply means realizing that we don’t. Be mindful and intentional, especially when your plans are big and the stakes are high. Identify your assumptions going in, and be flexible to incorporate the new learning points as you move forward.
5. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
– Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis reiterated by Scott Sherman
I find this equally relevant to broader issues in society and to our own personal lives: shine a light on the areas that need disinfecting. Bring them to attention. Embrace the faults and open yourself to change. As a good friend at Summit Series, Achille Tako, once shared with me, it is our faults that make us human after all. Bring them to light.
6. Radical honesty can be an incredible tool.
With yourself and with others. Being able to honestly separate the ideas from the person, from the identity, allows for unimaginable growth and forward thinking. However, radical honesty must be approached with benevolent intention, and deep-set respect for all parties.
7. Ask WHY, get to the heart, and embrace the “we.”
A concept put into practice at StartingBloc with the guidance of Scott Sherman & Mitchell Wade
It is so easy to fall into the “us” versus “them” mentality. In negotiation, in the workplace, in the home, in friendships, in cultural exchange. We focus so strongly on creating our own foundation, on solidifying our argument, our pitch. Those of us in the business world have been trained to do so, however we are untrained in how to use the pitch effectively. It isn’t always about presenting your point right of the bat. It’s about starting with questions and finding out who your audience is, seeking out their “why”, and then transforming your pitch to embrace a collaborative movement forward. Too often we forget the importance of holding back our opinions, our pitches, and opening our eyes and ears to the multitude of truths and lessons available to us.
8. No Job Too Big, No Job Too Small.
(first heard from David Denberg @ Summit Series)
Sometimes in life we will be flying high in the air, in a first-class arrangement of circumstance whereas other times we will be sweeping the floors and cleaning up messes. Our work will not always be glamorous. But if it leads to the change we want to create and provides benefit to others, to humanity as a whole, it is worthwhile.
9. FEAR is your fuel. Use it wisely.
FEAR can either be Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rejoice. It’s your choice. Far too often we focus on eliminating our fears, eradicating them from our lives. As if that is possible. The reality is that our fears often reveal what is truly important to us. As Ted Gonder so powerfully presented, “Fear can also be a compass that points true north.” Those of us who fear being unnoticed often strive for attention. Those of us who fear being alone often yearn for connection and relationships. By using the concepts of Aikido, and redirecting the energy of our fears, we can channel them to help us grow. If we stop trying to eliminate fear, and instead use it to reveal what it is that we love and value, it can become an incredible source of energy and direction.
10. “How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life.” – Annie Dillard
My personal “life tagline,” this quote is constantly reinforced by my fellow StartingBloc-ers. The Boston ’12 speaker Rachel Weeks frames it as “You’ve got to love the journey as much as the success point.” The way I see it, the destination cannot be the sole determinant of your success; you can’t just plan to retire or celebrate at the end. Especially if the most important change actually happens after you leave, it seems quite ridiculous to celebrate an “end” or “success point”. Instead you have to love the journey, celebrate each step towards lasting change, and derive fulfillment and satisfaction from how you spend your time.
A HUGE and heart felt thank you to my tribe at StartingBloc for providing this connetion, for inspiring me to grow and to be, and for weaving me into the beautiful lives that you lead.
Until next time,
Our Biggest Fear is not that we are inadequate. Our biggest fear is being powerful beyond measure.