Myths of Recognition


Last Monday, I received news that I was included in 2015’s Forbes 30under30 for Education. I felt a great sense of gratitude and pride. And, for the rest of the day, I had friends and family from all corners of my world congratulate me. It was one of the most memorable days of my short life and I am beyond grateful.

It seems, however, there are a few myths that develop when something like this surfaces. Here are ten that I’ve heard (and felt) over the past week and some accompanying thoughts:

1. You have it all figured out.
Not a chance. I have grand ideas of where Ei should go, and I’m charting paths to get there, but I’m sure there will be twists and turns along the way. The only thing I know is that my intentions are set and I’m going to give this my best shot. Everyday. And, I’m going to need a team of people smarter than me to get there.

2. Everyone likes you.
Not even close. I’ve received a few pats on the back, but there have been just as many critiques, disappearing friends, and jarring conversations. One of the most memorable discussions was in 2013 with a billionaire who was, somehow, on the board of business schools at University of Chicago and Northwestern. He invited me over to his mansion, where I thought he wanted to discuss a partnership. Instead, he told me what I was doing was foolish. I’ll never forget that conversation and I still revisit his points. However, make no mistake, you should want people to be vehemently opposed to your work. If everyone liked you, your style or your ideas, then you’re actually doing something wrong. Nothing great succeeds without opposition.

3. You make a lot of money.
By the world’s standards, absolutely. But, over the past 2 ½ years, I’ve averaged well below the supposed “market value” for an annual income. I hope to be in a different financial position in the coming years, but for now, I’m constantly reinvesting into Ei and Leap Year Project and exploring where my work meets its greatest value. This is also a testament that money isn’t the only or most important resource. I believe, wholeheartedly, that relationships are the most powerful means for change. I think the work we’ve done thus far is a glimpse of that.

4. You did it alone.
That’s like saying that one kid ate all of the cake at a birthday party. I had a chubby childhood, but not even I could do that. Everything I do is with remarkable people. And, anyone who does anything well is probably in the same boat. So, pass the milk.

5. You never make mistakes.
Pshh…just talk to my students, coaches, staff, friends, parents, or neighbors. And, if you do, make sure to bring a cup of coffee and a giant notepad. It’s going to be a long conversation.

6. You lead a big team in a fancy office.
If by “big” you mean two people and a group of friends, and by “fancy” you mean the amazing co-working space NextSpace. Then, yep…you’re spot on.

7. You are fearless.
I love heights. I think speed is thrilling. I’m more curious about death than afraid of it. But…failure? I turn into a little boy on Halloween in Transylvania. So yeah, there’s that.

8. You dreamt of getting attention.
If that was my dream, I would have started a Youtube channel for acrobatic cat and baby videos. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that Ei and our work gets noticed, but it’s not why I’m here. Attention is a poor target that, when aiming for provokes disdain, and when hit, causes fleeting highs.

9. You have arrived.
Far from it. This type of thing normally catches people mid-build. What you see are blueprints, a foundation, and some framing. Chances are, you won’t see any of us with our feet up sipping on a piña colada after this type of recognition. Our greatest work is yet to come.

10. Now, you have to succeed!
Success has a wide spectrum of definitions. There will always be pressure to grow bigger and reach more people every year. And, if we don’t, then some people may deem this as unsuccessful. But, I can’t (and don’t) think that way. I’m meeting amazing people and working on something full of meaning. And I’m trying to do it with integrity and care for those around me. It can’t fail; it can only change directions. And, in the words of Jim Carrey from his inspiring commencement speech, “You can fail at what you don’t want… so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Of course, all of this is speaking for myself. Look up the other 30Under30 and you may find different cases. They are wildly talented and diverse in their giftings.

But, whatever the case, know that I’m incredibly honored to be included in this year’s group. I’ll explore how this creates new opportunities as Ei opens applications for a 2015/2016 class and prepares to launch LYP 2016.

And my word to you today is simply this: find the problem you want to solve in this world, work tirelessly to make it better, find great people to work with you, beware of your projects becoming your entire identity, and let recognition come and go as it does.

Here’s to turning 30,