Taking the measure of a year

I’ve been in transition for so long now that uncertainty and discomfort had become my life’s norms. How strange to be able to look back on a year and notice the extent of my transformation. Where once was a void, there now is a path. No doubt, I am still trailblazing (can I say trailblazing even though it still feels like bushwhacking?), but now I can clear the way for longer stretches at a time. If I had to distill 2013’s biggest lessons into pat formulas, I would say they were:

1. When facing your fears, the immediate objective is not to become “good” at something, but to become better at being a beginner.  Continue reading

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What is the #slowbrood?

The slow brood is a notion that Brian (aka, Cartesian Faith) and I have been toying with here at Chez Guevarowe for a while now. Slow brood is an intentional riff on such catchphrases as slow food, slow brewed, cold brewed—things that are good because they require a significant amount of time and preparation. Brian may write about his own take on the slow brood, but here is mine.

The slow brood is a habit of mind I bring into my business life from academia, where ideas naturally have a long gestation period. The slow brood resists some of the trends that make me uncomfortable about business, specifically within the lean startup industry. Let me be explicit on this point: It’s not that I think that lean principles are fundamentally incompatible with social enterprise, or that lean startups don’t have the potential for spectacular growth and impact. What I take issue with, rather, is a very particular application of the methodology and the culture it fosters.

While I subscribe to the principle that fledgling enterprises should curb their ambitions and start small (I went through a lean startup for social good course myself), the way the method is taught in lean startup workshops can lead practitioners into the realm of the ridiculous. I refer to weekend bootcamps where participants are organized into teams, and each team must “develop its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business.”

Now consider the inspirational anecdotes we hear during these workshops. The general narrative goes like this: Oops, the “problem” we wanted to solve turned out not to be a problem for anyone at all! So what’s next? Pivot, pivot, pivot, ’til…bingo! Not only is the service/product we ended up launching totally different from what we initially planned (that can be a good thing), but the very problem itself has changed. So, ultimately, it’s not the need of your customer that you care about. In this model, who your customers are and what you’re trying to help them accomplish matter much less than finding customers with an actual problem you can solve. Continue reading

Pull up a chair…

Yesterday Nahjee told me that I should be a therapist. I pshawed her: I have no such training! Later on, during my shift at AlleyNYC‘s front desk, I got into a conversation with one of the guests. Within ten minutes—before we’d even traded names—I’d managed to find out about his career dissatisfaction, helped him pinpoint a couple of emotionally-fulfilling aspects of his current job, and recommended two books to him (the same two books I recommend to anyone who even breathes a word of life confusion).

I call this quality of mine “nosiness,” though my husband objects to the term. The reality is that I find myself in these sorts of conversations because I have a very low tolerance for small talk. As cheesy as it sounds, I like getting to know the whole person and peeking into someone’s inner life.

My friend Dale and I share the conviction that there are no boring people in the world, that if everyone’s life story were to be treated by a filmmaker, biographer, journalist, or some other professional storyteller, all people’s lives would seem ever so rich and textured. I love talking to people about their lives. I live for this stuff. And I also believe that more people should be trained in the skill of having real, non BS conversations with their fellow human beings.

Someone actually thought I was an extrovert

[For Nahjee] My husband and I got a big ol’ chuckle yesterday from your assumption that I was an extrovert. If I am the most extroverted person you know, you need to get out more (HA!), because in my not-so-secret life I’m a classic introvert. In fact, I have a stunningly high tolerance for aloneness. When I lived on my own I could go weeks at a stretch before yearning for company. It got to the point where I would force myself to go out three nights a week because I actually started to forget how to talk to people in coherent sentences. Do you know when I joined Meetup and began networking for real? In February. It was a New Year’s resolution to get out of the cave I’d been living in.

All this is to say that anything I do that gives you the impression that I “can walk into any room and talk to everybody” is well within your reach. All of it is an acquired skill that with practice you can master. And, yes, your smiles will be genuine, because in the right crowd—that is, in the company of wonderful individuals—networking will begin to feel less like a chore and more like something you actually enjoy. The generosity of people will buoy you.

I am so excited that you have joined a Meetup group. Since you’ve made terrific progress in the handshake with a smile and eye-contact department, I’m giving you two new assignments:

  1. Enter the bar by yourself without throwing your defenses up. Walk in like you belong there (because you do); walk in believing you are terrific company (because you are).
  2. Ask at least three people how they entered the field of youth-serving work. Remember, the point of inviting you out is so you can get an idea of how people launch their careers.

If it seems like your tasks are getting more difficult, that is totally intentional. Don’t worry—I won’t have you approach strangers yet. You will know a handful of people there, and I promise to be waiting for you inside with bells on. xoxo