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why I Do what I dO

Today, I submitted an application for a rather competitive fellowship (wish me luck!).  At first I scoffed at the questions the organization was asking applicants to answer.  It just all felt very…college application-ish.  You know, like when they ask you those annoying questions like…

1) How will you spend your first day of retirement?
2) Is it possible to like everyone?
3) How do you feel about Wednesday?
4) Provide one or two examples of your ability to overcome challenges and adversity
5) In the year 2050, a movie is being made of your life.  Please tell us the name of your movie and briefly summarize the story line

Just to be clear, two of those are real college application questions.  Can you guess which ones?  Answers are at the bottom.  And only one was on my fellowship application.  If you guessed #4, in the immortal words of Bob Barker, you get…a brand new car. Or you just get to hear me talk about why I wasn’t keen on that question.

As I talked about with a friend who was also applying, we both came to the conclusion that this question assumes that challenges and adversity are separate from everyday life when in fact they are life. Life is the challenge and living is trying and overcoming, which brings the reward of success…and by success, I really mean happiness. And yet of course…I was too scared to get dinged for being all new-agey and just described how I overcame biting completely through my tongue when I was 22.  If you can’t beat em, gross em out.

Now whilst you mighteth thinketh I’ve got universal hate for these types of questions, one which did challenge me quite a bit was: Why are you, unlike the majority of people, so passionate about this issue that you are willing to take the risky leap of starting a new organization? 

I started to answer really traditionally.  About how I knew I wanted to pursue the issue out of the womb.  And how I just wanted to help people.  How what I wanted to accomplish didn’t really exist.  How past career experiences were so disappointing that I felt I needed to be my own boss.  And this would have all been very true.  But, as a good friend proofread the answer, she pushed me to go deeper to get to something less boilerplate that really meant something to me.  And I’m glad I did because this is what flowed out of me.

My mother told me, as a Black person privileged to have many opportunities, I had a responsibility to ensure others did too.  And with that, I decided to pursue the simple problem of combating poverty and achieving social justice.  But how?  So I interned at the White House, taught children for a year, worked as an investor in urban small businesses for a couple of years and I tossed around numerous business ideas without pursuing any…until now.  I feel like I’ve finally answered “how?”  I can see that if I successfully achieve this dream, the world will change.  And if not?  I’ve chosen a risky path, but the failure to try far outweighs the potential failure of falling short.  There is a quote by Anais Nin which my friend says captures me at this moment: “And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to Blossom.”   I see no other choice now but to pursue this with all of me.  In many ways, this is me.

I could have written so much more, but damn character limits made me hv 2 strt Twitterizing.  But anyways, yes.  It wasn’t that I solely had a burning desire to solve the Rubik’s cube, as much as it was more important to try.  The journey became so personally motivating that fear of failure took a back seat to fear of feeling unfulfilled.  And to me, that’s when I knew that I was ready to take the risk.  After all that talking, followed by making excuses for why I should do it tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, it became a baby that I needed to birth.  The moment mirrored what an artist friend of mine said recently that certain artists don’t have a choice to be artists.  They think about their visions at all times, so to not get them out of their head and onto whatever medium they use would likely drive them insane…literally.  And the need to make these visions “public” is not necessarily for others, as much as it’s for the artist themselves.  The recognition is just a nice cherry on top, one that, yes, feeds the ego, but also provides the means to do additional work and exploration.

In other words….living is trying and overcoming, which brings the reward of success…and by success, I really mean happiness.

Can you feel me on that?  If not, what drives you instead?

Answers: #3 (University of Chicago) and #5 (New York University)



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