“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” ~Alexander den Heijer
In a classroom, if a student’s not thriving, our education system too often assumes that there’s something wrong with the child. Imagine what we could achieve in just one generation if we could instead see all children the way a gardener sees flowers: as something we cherish, nurture, and encourage. What a world, right? Let’s change the system so all children can thrive.
Working on my presentation about writing for the 7 Charlottesville-area schools I’ll be presenting to as an author for Virginia Festival of the Book in less than 2 weeks. I’ll be talking about the writing, revision, and editing process, the power of the imagination in world building, and curiosity as the best tool to generate and craft ideas. Drawing wisdom from these sages whose work has inspired mine over the years.
I’m so happy to share this wonderful news with you! I’ve been asked to be a speaker at Monroe-Woodbury High School in the Hudson Valley. They are putting together a 3,000-person event called MW CARES Day that includes 2,400 high school students as well as teachers, staff, district leadership, and community officials.
The theme of the day is to promote compassion, acceptance, respect, empowerment, and success throughout the Monroe-Woodbury Community and beyond. I’ll be talking about my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, as well as my upbringing and the journey that led me to where I am today, all for the purpose of breaking the stigma around mental health challenges.
This is exactly the kind of event I’ve been dreaming about doing, and one of the main reason I wrote my book. Keep reaching, friends. It’s worth the effort.
The documentary screening of 4 Stories for New York gave me hope for our country and our collective sense of humanity during a week when it was sorely needed. The documentary follows four young people who we commonly refer to as dreamers. They were undocumented and Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) has helped them to get on a path through DACA to gain their proper paperwork.
I had to fight back tears watching the documentary, and then I learned that the four young people were in the audience with their families. They came here looking for a better life, exactly as my ancestors did, and these young people want to go to college, find jobs, and work hard to improve their lot in life and make this country the best it can be. I couldn’t have been more impressed with their bravery, dignity, and determination, and with the work that VOLS does to help the neediest people in our communities.
As individuals, we have an opportunity and responsibility to build up our country. Please don’t stop fighting for justice. Please don’t get discouraged by the hate, racism, sexism, and every other horrifying -ism we read and hear about in any one of our non-stop communication channels. There is far too much work to do. There are far too many people who need help. Don’t get distracted by ignorance.
Collectively we can make an enormous difference in the lives of others. Things will change, and they will change because of us. Keep fighting the good fight. It’s absolutely worth it.
I’m so excited to share that I’m joining Cornell Tech as a Critique Advisor for their Fall Product Studio Course. During the course, students answer “How Might We Challenges” posed by leading startups, companies, and organizations. Students use their learnings from the course to develop their ideas and products, demo a compelling product narrative, and validate their product with users.
To aid in this process, students participate in weekly critique sessions with external practitioners to drive momentum and receive validation, feedback, and critique. These practitioners are active, product owners, technical managers, and entrepreneurs in New York City who come to campus to provide practical feedback and instruction, encourage progress, and help address any blockers or risks the students are facing.
I’m so excited to use my work as a product leader and practitioner to help these incredible students. To learn more about Cornell Tech’s exciting new campus on New York’s Roosevelt Island, see my earlier post about the grand opening last month.
One of the main tenants of business and new product development is to develop the least expensive, least time intensive version of your product to test with exactly the people you hope to become your customers. You want to put in just enough money and effort so that the idea of what you’re trying to do is clear and the experience is positive. And you want to keep from putting in too much money and effort on an idea that just doesn’t work. It’s all about using resources wisely and conserving as much as you can while also still giving the idea a fighting chance to show its value. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it has to be done.
With A Can of Coke, my online platform to provide college- and career-readiness counseling for high school students, I can use an easy, light-weight combination of Google Calendar and Google Hangout with a small handful of students to help them in the evening and weekend hours for a couple of months. This way I can see if the idea works and what needs to be improved without incurring a lot of cost.
Fast, simple, small. It’s how all great ideas start.
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.
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.
Last night, I volunteered at 826DC to help teens with their college essays. It turned out that the essays were the least of their issues. The student I was helping turned to me at one point and said, “I’m so overwhelmed. I know I need to do this and I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t have anyone to help me.” She’s the first person in her family to go to college, she doesn’t have a guidance counselor who cares, and she feels a lot of pressure from her family to make this happen.
This interaction brought back all those feelings for me. I was incredibly fortunate to have a guidance counselor, Mr. Weary, who did so much to help me. I knew he was in my corner and he was rooting for me every step of the way. (When I didn’t get into Princeton, my first choice school, he called their admissions office and gave them a piece of his mind. That’s how invested he was!) He was a gift and I knew it.
Not everyone has a Mr. Weary so in that moment at 826DC, I decided that I needed to play that role for this student. We each took a deep breath, and we went through the online application step by step. It wasn’t difficult to explain the parts of the application; this student just needed someone, anyone, to be in this with her.
Then we got to the financial section and she got really nervous. She doesn’t want to take loans. To her, debt is a frightening prospect. And I get that, too. I started working at 14 to help my family, and then I put myself through college and grad school thanks to financial aid of every conceivable kind and a lot of part-time jobs in college. I know debt is scary though when it comes to college, it seems to be a part o every solution in which parents aren’t paying outright for college. I don’t know if I convinced her to reconsider this idea, but at least I could offer myself as an example of someone who was in her shoes and worked hard to get into and through school.
As I walked home, I thought about what I could do to help more students and parents, particularly ones who feel overwhelmed by all of it. And then I got myself caught in the train of thought that senior year is too late. Student need to have their eyes on the prize of college in late middle school and early high school. They need to learn about how to get in, how to stay in, how to graduate, and how to pay for all of it while keeping themselves healthy and sane during an insanely stressful time in their lives. Education, writing, yoga and meditation, finance, technology, and healthcare. I have all that professional experience, and I’ve been where those students are. And I know what it’s like to climb the mountain and then enjoy the view you never even dreamed was possible.
If you have ideas of how I could do more for students like the one I helped at 826DC, I’d love to hear them.