Monday, January 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - How Can I Best Serve

"How can I best serve?" It's a question that a lot of people are asking on Inauguration Eve. The whole nation is looking up, wondering what is possible, and how they can make what's possible not only probable but certain. I hope they continue to ask that question long after January 20, 2009 passes, and more importantly I hope we will all take action. I'm hopeful that people all around the country are not only making a pledge, but also recording and sharing their pledge publicly to hold themselves accountable for fulfilling it. To see what celebrities are pledging to do - and the range is surprisingly large with some promising to reduce their use of plastic and others promising to volunteer in their communities on a weekly basis - visit  

For my pledge, I am publicly admitting for the first time that it is my wish to open a design firm that creates products to improve the lives of those in the developing world. I am inspired by the work of organizations like The Full Belly Project and One World Health who took skills from their lives in the private sector and used them to help other people improve their own lives. This year I will spend time devoted to learning more about this field, traveling, and serving in my community. 

I thought I needed to go back to school to learn about this new field and my friend, Richard, told me he thought I could learn more by just getting out there and doing it. Today, I dropped 8 letters into the mail, addressed to social entrepreneurs whom I admire, and asked them if they'd be willing to have me visit them and talk to them about their organizations. These letters were also Richard's idea. So we will see what comes of them. 

This time in our history is about knowing who we are, hat we stand for, and where we can have the greatest, most meaningful impact. My best self doesn't live in a grey cubicle at a large corporation churning out product for the wealthiest 10% of the world population, a population I have little interest in developing product for. Someone has to do this job, and I'm grateful for the opportunity, though in the long-run it's not for me. I've been feeling badly about this realization in the past few weeks and I have been more than a little angry with myself for it - maybe I'm too difficult, maybe I'm too contrarian, perhaps I lack commitment, or maybe I'm just too stubborn and egotistical to work for someone else. 

And then I read an article about David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and the Standford, and the same day came across another story about Danny Meyer, the restaurateur. Both of these men realized that after a while they didn't fit the corporate mold so they struck out on their own. David Kelley's exact quote is, "I had an intuition I couldn't survive corporate America. I hated the hierarchy and just wanted to work with my friends." After reading that, I stopped feeling so badly about my latest realization regarding my career and my personality. With David Kelley and Danny Meyer, along with countless other entrepreneurs, I am in good company. 

This whole journey we take in our careers is to learn how we can best serve, how we can make the most significant impact, how we can make this world better for us having been here. I realize that I can't start my own business tomorrow, and maybe I can't even start it next year given the tough economy, but I can begin to move toward it, small step by small step. I can be conscious of making choices and decisions that support this long-term goal and am grateful that I do have a job now that helps me afford to live while also providing me time to work on my future career. So while I've been lamenting the fact that I don't yet work for myself, I recognize that this is all part of a larger plan. 

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