Yesterday I took the best trip to the grocery store I’ve ever taken because I had the opportunity to buy groceries for Keith Polite, a man impacted by the government shutdown. He’s been a security guard at one of the Smithsonian museums here in New York City for 4 years, and the museum is closed until the government reopens. Because he’s a contractor, he won’t receive any back pay. I heard about his story through the local CBS broadcast, and decided I had to help. Another viewer also helped and was able to meet with Keith about a possible job opportunity. I’m really hoping that works out for him.
I hope this one small act inspires all of us to help one another during this difficult time. There’s so much we can do right where we are for the people around us. We’re all walking each other home. Here’s the news piece that ran about Keith if you’d like to see it:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.” -Fred Rogers
I keep coming back to this. I’m so glad we had Mister Rogers. I wish we still did. I’m so grateful for his example. The helpers help us to keep going. And we can follow their lead. No matter how bad things are, we will always feel better, be better, and make the world better if we decide to be the helpers we’re looking for. Nothing gets better unless we get better, and we have the power to do that. Right now, right where we are, with exactly what we have. There is always a way to help. So let’s find it.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately. I’ve been listening to the anxiety and sadness of my friends, and of the world. I’m struggling a little to find the best ways to help as many people as I can, as well as I can. And sometimes that desire to help, that feeling that I’m just not doing enough to that end, overwhelms me. So a poem like this that reminds me to find comfort in nature, seen and unseen, and always felt, helps me breathe a little easier. Once I have my breath again, I can keep going, doing as much as I can with what I have. And knowing that that is enough.
“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~Ram Dass
This week I spent time with graduate students at Cornell Tech, helping them with their product development portfolio projects, and with a friend who needed some advice about how to move forward in a difficult professional situation. In both these instances, I felt alive being able to offer help, support, and advice. These circumstances reminded me of this quote by Ram Dass. If we aren’t helping each other through this life, then what’s the point, right?
Monday night I met with the team over at Notion Theory, a fantastic design shop that specializes in being a CTO for-hire (among many other amazing specialties!) I spoke to them about my virtual guidance counseling idea. They could have quoted me an outrageous amount of money to build a proof-of-concept. Instead, they said it could be done for $0 and I could do it myself in a few hours with free online tools. Sure, it will be a little manual but for MVP, it can be hacked together. What I really need to focus on is finding a couple of schools with a small amount of students who are willing to let me test the idea on them. I think it’s pretty amazing for a design shop to tell me that right now I don’t need to pay them a cent. The time for a slick seamless interface will come, but right now I just need to find people who want my help. Given how much need there is, I can get started right away with what I’ve got.
I’m so tired of the acceptance that zip code is destiny. My entire life is a rejection of that belief, and I will keep rejecting it until I’m out of breath and out of strength. Somewhere along the way, our society decided that a child born into difficulty on the south side of Chicago won’t have the same chance to rise to their potential as a child born with every privilege on the south side of Central Park. Is the life of that child in Chicago any less valuable that the life of that child in New York? I don’t think so. I know you don’t think so either. So let’s change that, together. Let’s stack the odds in favor of all kids everywhere.
There are too many kids who are cold, and tired, and hungry, and frustrated. There are too many kids who don’t see a way up and out of their circumstances because no one they know ever got up or out. Imagine what our world would be like if every child alive right now got everything they needed to grow up healthy, educated, kind, and confident. That’s the image I hold in my mind as I think about ways to offer virtual and on-demand guidance counseling to kids across the country, and eventually across the globe. It’s a big vision, a big dream, and our kids deserve nothing less. They have to know that somewhere out in the world, there is an adult who believes in them, who is holding a light for them so that they can find their way forward even in the darkest of times. To that child, that one light can make all the difference. And that’s worth fighting for.
F*ck it. I’m going for it. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a new business I’d like to start, and after several months of gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands, I decided I’m just going to do it. As I’ve mentioned several times, I was lucky to have an amazing guidance counselor, Jim Wherry, when I was in high school. I’ve learned over the last few months that I was luckier than I thought. In some schools, the ratio of guidance counselors to students is 1:500. And though we spend thousands of dollars every year per student on educating them, we spend the equivalent of a can of Coke per student on guidance counselors. A can of Coke. Bill Symonds, Director of the Global Pathways Institute, calls this “the black hole in the American education system.” I can’t get that idea out of my mind so I decided to embrace it and do something about it.
My therapist, Brian, once said to me that the best way for me to make my past mean something is to pay it forward. I think about how hard I worked and how much I struggled as a student and as a young adult. I think about the free lunch program that I was simultaneously grateful for and embarrassed by. I worked, and worked, and worked so that my life as an adult could be more secure than my life as a child. I think about the fact that despite my many hardships, there are far too many kids today who are in the same boat or even worse off. The boy I met on the streets of D.C. a few nights ago is a prime example of the people who need me to make this business a reality. Every student deserves to have a Jim Wherry. And I’m going to find a way to make that possible while also creating a company that creates jobs and has the kindest, bravest, most passionate, and most respectful culture imaginable because our work is something we should love to do. Our kids all across this country need us to stand up for them and support them as they make their way in a world that is becoming an increasingly difficult place. This is my act of resistance.
That’s my side hustle for now that I hope becomes a full-time venture over time. I’ll still need to work full-time in another job I enjoy (and let’s face it, the world is now full of opportunities for me to do good work) so that I don’t have to worry about money while I build this new idea. And that’s A-OK with me because I want to do what’s right for our kids without making choices based on my own personal finances.
So here we go back into the world of entrepreneurship, and this time a little older, hopefully a little wiser, and just as determined to use my business skills to build a passion project that builds a better world.
If you’d like to offer advice, help, ideas, or encouragement, I’ll take them.
This week I’m in Arizona immersed in the innovative work they do in this state to help those with mental illness and their caregivers. It’s an incredibly eye-opening experience. There are so many people out there who need community, support, and hope—people struggling with mental health issues and the people who love and care for them. Their issues are chronic and intense, and yet so many of them could be healed with proper care.
My job is to think about how technology could help them and the people who care for them—whether those caregivers are family, friends, teachers, community members, or clinicians. And then I need to go build those solutions. I look forward to digging in further and finding opportunities where technology can help all of us be better together.