We often make the topic of career more complicated than it ought to be.
What you – or any of us – needs is to find one or two things we can become really good at making or doing. And then do a lot of it.
Sure, you can push yourself to try new things. That’s how you expand. And those new things may even become your main thing. But first, you need to start with something.
Finding that thing can be hard. It usually requires a lot of trial and error, and a few outside voices to affirm you’re on the right track. You also need an expert or two to bring the very best out of you.
And finally, you need to practice. A lot. More than you think.
That’s why education is so important. Helping people learn what they’re good at means they start doing it sooner. And the sooner they start, the sooner they grow in their confidence and understanding of that craft, themselves, and even their world.
Education is the water that nurtures anyone trying to start a new business and you need to channel your business focus into things such as lead nurturing with a company like salesforce and don’t throw it away on a degree in german polka history.
More importantly, if we can teach people how to find what they’re good at, they learn to adapt as the world around them changes.
That’s why experience matters. That’s why community matters.
So if you’re stuck, pay attention to what you can do well and how you can continue growing. And if you need help defining that, come hang out with the crew at Ei. We’re here to help.
PS: One of the things I continue to hear is the need to connect with other bright people interested in learning together. So we just launched two evening events and created a 25% off code (MAKE) if you snag your tickets by Friday:
August 2nd | Build to Think: How to approach your biggest problem through prototyping (tickets here)
Sponsored by WeWork & Bridge International
August 8th | Design Your Career
Created in collaboration with our friends at Lost Arts (tickets here)
Last year, I wrote a letter to my little brother. Experience Institute was about to pilot a brand new 3-month program for college students and Johnny applied to join the very first class.
Our team was thrilled. The program would have been perfect for him. He was a pre-med student heading into his senior year. He was unsure about what he wanted to do after college. And he was hungry to learn about how his skills fit into other industries.
But then our dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and Johnny couldn’t spend the summer away from home. And in December, our family helped dad pass from this life to the next.
Since then, we have spent a lot of time together as a family to find our footing — meals, theaters, museums, discussions about our future. In particular, our older brother, George, and I have shared countless conversations about what Johnny could do after college.
Last spring, he told us about a company he’d been curious about for years. His friend’s father was the owner. The company specializes in creating people-centric solutions to other companies’ biggest challenges. But Johnny was getting his degree in biology and chemistry. What could he possibly offer? Working with them seemed like a long shot.
As spring approached, we brainstormed if and how he could pitch the small team for an internship right after he graduated college in May. He decided to give it a go.
For the next several weeks, Johnny and I chatted about the details of his proposals and interviews. I was so proud of the way he was navigating the ups and downs of the process. We discussed helpful digital tools for him to learn and I introduced him to a few thought leaders in the areas of Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Storytelling.
Finally, at the beginning of May, Johnny received a note inviting him to join the team as an Engagement Coordinator Intern for the summer. He was so excited.
Now, Johnny is in the middle of his internship. We’ve been sharing calls and emails regularly. He’s even taking Ei’s online course in Design Thinking and we’re treating him as part of our program.
All of this has felt like an amazing second chance for us to team up after last summer. And seeing him fly has made our team even more impassioned to support college students and recent grads in gaining meaningful experience that helps them reach their full potential.
Of course, we’re still learning how to grow as a team and company. But every story matters… Kali Lewis. Paul Girgis. Stephanie Kang. Joe Burgum. Christopher Carter. Carisa Leal. Dane Johnson. Muffadal Saylawala. William Ferguson. Batmanli. Alifya. Anna. Johnny…. The list goes on…
Whatever you’re working on today, there’s a good chance you have a sincere desire to improve peoples’ lives — people with real challenges facing how they see the world, make a living, and do their very best work. Just remember that impact starts with one person, and then moves to the next. And that very story is a glimpse.
PS: In the coming weeks, we’ll be bringing our community together for a few helpful events around learning and growth. Our next is called Build to Think and will be held at WeWork on August 2nd. Snag your tickets here.
Two weeks ago, I sent a short survey called Gut Check. Over 250 of you replied.
Why? Because this summer, we’ve been taking time to make sure we’re building things that are truly able to improve people’s lives through education. Your feedback goes a long way in making sure we’re on the right track.
One thing that caught our attention…
Even though “not having enough time” was the most common barrier to learning, it was the time-intensive learning models that you mentioned as your favorite way to learn (ie: in-person and apprenticeships/group projects).
It confirms what we’ve been seeing and hearing in different ways this year — that learning together, even when the learning is self-directed, is crucial. Support and accountability is more valuable than speed.
For those of you who love digging into numbers as much as we do, here is a closer look at the other things we read and lessons we learned:
92% of participants were career professionals (whoa!). The majority were either early or mid-career. And 49% identify as working at an established company.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised here. We sent the survey via email — during the middle of a summer day — which isn’t exactly the best way to reach high school and college students. Still, it was a helpful reminder that a lot of you have either just begun your jobs or are graduating to a new level in your careers.
Also, only 10% identify as being a student but nearly 20% feel like they’re in a place of transition.
The three most common areas people wanted to learn more about were:
Other interesting fields included Cybersecurity, Film, Writing, Community Health.
Time was the #1 biggest hurdle for ongoing learning.
Again, no surprise. People are busy. Especially people around Ei. They’re bold, working on big initiatives, and working to serve a lot of people. So time is tight.
What was surprising, however, was how many people noted the need for a community or accountability. Which tied into the next question:
Nearly half of participants’ favorite way to learn was in-person — which is presumably the most time-consuming way to learn…but the most transformative.
Also, nearly a third of you mentioned apprenticeship/shadowing or guided individual projects and that the role of an expert/mentor is important.
37% Learning in the workplace
26% Future of Higher Education
Even though the majority of the participants are in a relatively traditional workplace, there’s a surprisingly strong interest in the future of formal higher education. Most of you have been down that road, and you want to see it change.
Here are a few threads we plan to follow…
Thanks again for being part of Ei. We love this work and hope to continue serving up helpful programs and tools for you and your community in the coming months.
Hey, I’m working on a couple of new projects for Experience Institute and they’re taking a lot of energy and thought. Before I continue, I need some help to make sure I’m on the right track. Think of this as a sort of gut check.
Can you help by taking three minutes to complete this short form?
You can remain entirely anonymous if you’d like. Your response will be a simple way to hear more about you and your current stage of work & life.
Also, after completing the form will get a code for 15% off any item from our store and your name will be entered in a drawing for a Learning Box – a one-of-a-kind package with books and treats handpicked by the team at Ei.
Thanks ahead of time for diving in with me.
Have a great Wednesday,
A few months ago, a friend asked if Experience Institute had any open spots for an intern. Typically, we don’t work with interns because we reserve those spots for our own Fellows. And with a small team, we only have so much focus and attention.
But this summer, all of the current Ei Fellows were heading to other places. So we agreed. And On Monday our new intern, David, officially started his 6-week stint with us.
David just finished his junior year in high school, so we thought things might be slightly different working with him rather than the college or post-grad students we normally work with.
I know it’s only Wednesday, but we were wrong. David is sharp, driven, and a quick study for anything we’ve thrown at him thus far.
Still, I’ve been reminded that having another person working within our walls is something not to be taken lightly — for our sake and for David’s. So, here are eight lessons from past experience that our team and I hope to remember this summer:
Start well: Celebrate their arrival and make sure to go over any office rhythms, systems, tools, and traditions. We recently had lunch with David and invited him into our weekly Monday Morning Stand to kick off his time with us.
Set clear goals: Take some time to share one another’s goals for the internship. David was open to doing anything, but he really wanted a to chance to own a project or two – and specifically projects that could have clear metrics. So we’ve set up a project for him to re-think how we market and fulfill Ei’s physical products. There are other things that we can’t quite share, but each project has clear weekly goals and can be done within the timeline that he’s here.
In short, give them a clear and unambiguous explanation of what you want them to do.
Provide ample resources: Once you have clear goals, make sure they have the resources to complete them. That may entail technology, software, space, a team, etc.
Set the space: Speaking of space, set a space where they can interact with others. Even if they’re working remotely, consider where they can go (digital & physical) to engage, connect, and banter about their work. Part of David’s compensation this summer is to give him a desk at our WeWork office and it’s been great to have him around so far.
Define consistent checkpoints with a teammate: Here’s the hard part: hold them to what you both agreed upon. This is hard because schedules and goals change throughout a project. So, make sure there’s a clear point person and a clear time to check in weekly. Though I’m working with David, I’m actually not his direct report. One of our other teammates, Katie, has taken that role because she’ll be closer to David’s work.
Give autonomy: Once you give them clear goals, resources, and checkpoints, let them run. Even if they’re not doing it exactly how you would do it, let them finish before you critique/adjust the work.
Ask for feedback: It’s not going to be perfect. Set a time about mid-way through to check in on how things are going. Give them space to talk about what’s working well, and also what’s been disappointing. Having an honest conversation can be tough, but also an opportunity for really rich learning, and talking things through at the midway point gives you time to enjoy the fruits of that learning.
Be generous with encouragement: A lot is about to happen in a short amount of time. Celebrate the progress on the projects AND the person. Kind words, high fives, notes, and quality time go a long way.
Those are a few things we hope to remember.
What would you add?
I know most people, deep down, want at least some comfort, stability, and certainty.
Sometimes, I want want those things too.
But I’m often reminded that hardly anyone remembers the comfortable stories. The ones that stay with us are ones that entail overcoming struggle.
Here’s a glimpse…
Michelle graduated High School right on time.
She went to college and did well in school.
After receiving her degree in business, she found a good job at a local consulting firm.
She got married.
And settled down in her hometown.
That’s a nice story. But it’s missing…something.
Michelle came from a well-educated family.
The one thing her parents wanted for her was to get an ivy league education.
Her mom even purchased a Harvard sweatshirt as a Christmas gift during Michelle’s Sophomore year of High School.
But Michelle wasn’t sure what she wanted to get out of college. So after she finished high school, she took money she’d been saving and spent a year traveling and volunteering. She even found a short-term role with a small tech company.
She became wildly curious about technology and had an interest in helping infuse technology with a greater understanding of things like heart, soul, and passion. She enrolled in college to study Computer Science.
While in school she fell in love, but her partner graduated first and moved home to help with the family business. Eventually, their relationship fell apart.
She finished school and worked to launch her own business right out of college. Her college even helped her incubate her idea. But after two years, she realized she’d rather have the experience of growing within a company rather than continuing her own pursuits, so she put her project on hold. Thankfully, while working on her business, she met a few influential individuals who helped her find a job in her field of study.
Her parents are proud of the woman Michelle is becoming. And though she’s still finding her way, she knows herself better than ever.
Did you feel the difference?
Coming of age
You don’t need to manufacture struggle. You don’t even need to seek it out. The more true and honest, the better…the ones that surface when you are driven by conviction to make a change or when you face an unforeseen situation with courage.
So if you’re struggling to create, build, or just survive – know that this is part of the story. Move through the struggle boldly and share the ups and downs openly.
Chances are, the best parts are just ahead.
Over the past few years, around my birthday, I’ve set a tradition of reflecting on the previous year and writing helpful lessons from life/work.
This year, just before I made another lap around the sun, I added a new constraint by setting a timer and not editing or touching the content once the timer finished.
So here are thirty-one lessons written in thirty-one minutes from my last hours of being thirty-one:
31) Friends are more important than money.
30) Money is just a resource. It is renewable.
29) Time is not renewable.
28) If something temporal is stressing you out, cut it. Life is too short.
27) You can skimp on space only for so long. Make your home and office as comfortable and inspiring as possible.
26) Inspiration is like food. You need it to be full. Consume it in all its forms. And often.
25) A few nice things are more valuable than a lot of not-so-well-made things.
24) No one cares about you and your work as much as you do. This is liberating.
23) People do care about how much care you show. Listen. Respond. And show up.
22) Life is going to take shots at you. From all angles. Keep a thick skin and a soft heart.
21) The way to keep your skin thick is to only have a few close friends who know all aspects of your life. Just a few.
20) The way you keep a soft heart is by spending time with a lot of different people and placing yourself in their shoes as you listen to and work with them.
19) Try to make important functions of life automatic. Auto-withdraw money into your savings accounts. Go to sleep at the same time every night. Wear as simple of clothing as possible – consistently. Routines make space for the important things.
18) Spend a lot of time with your family. Especially your parents. They won’t be around forever.
17) Buy the nicer versions of the things between you and the ground (ie: shoes, mattresses, and tires).
16) Don’t be afraid of saying, “I don’t know.” But try to follow it with a helpful question or a possible solution.
15) Even if you don’t think you’re a writer, write. Getting things on paper is how you learn how to decipher between the shitty thoughts and the truth.
14) If you think something won’t work, test it in the quickest way possible. If it’s not working, don’t force it. Let it go. If it’s still on your mind months later, revisit it. Time away from things creates fresh perspective.
13) Take at least one day a week away from screens. If you don’t know why, you should probably take several days away from a screen. Because chances are, you’re losing touch with what matters.
12) Find one or two things you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with productivity. Get lost in them.
11) The world is messy and kinda scary. But you don’t have to be that way. You can control the way you engage it.
10) Move forward despite your fears and you’ll inspire others to do the same.
9) The best form of revenge is to continue.
8) The best way to honor those who’ve gone before you, is to continue with integrity.
7) You can’t do everything well. Ask for help. The sooner you ask, the less desperate you’ll be and the more others can truly be there for you.
6) When you travel, use packing cubes. They make traveling a cinch.
5) Plants are the best roommates.
4) Just because a leader is loud and brash does not mean they are good and right. Learn to lead with soul and conviction. You’ll know you’re doing this well when those whom you lead begin to hold you to your word and even add their own soul and conviction.
3) Keep good friends close for a long time. They get better with age.
2) There is no perfect formula for dealing with loss. But nature is part of every version of that formula.
1) If you’re unsure of what to write, set a timer and a theme. Then write until that timer goes off.
No matter how hard you try, nothing will be perfect.
I know that may sound pessimistic; but the truth is, most things will go differently than you expected.
No amount of money or resources can change these scenarios.
But here’s the thing: It’s ok.
Perfection is an endless pursuit that leads to heartache, fatigue, and disappointment. If you’re feeling frustrated, redirect your energy from perfection to excellence.
Excellence is the act of practice multiplied by consistency and reflection.
It’s striving to do your best each day and in each moment – paying attention to the times when things went wrong and adjusting to make them better.
It’s hard to remember this in the moment. We are inundated with short snippets of lives that seem perfect. So we build grand ideas of the perfect partner, the perfect home, the right amount of well-curated possessions, the overnight-business success, and just enough unique experiences to seem cultured and adventurous.
Those pursuits of perfection may seem great on the surface,
but they won’t leave you satisfied.
Find simple healthy rhythms and keep to them.
Push through the challenges by pausing to look back.
Lean on your community for advice and support.
Redirect as needed.
You’ll get to the end more healthy than when you began.
You won’t be perfect.
No one needs you to be.
But you can be excellent.
PS: Thanks for all of the support last week. We made it to the very last round, but didn’t receive the grant (quick story here). Thanks for your responses and support!