Living in a city like New York, surrounded by awesomely talented friends, growing my own company, it can be easy to lose perspective.
Look, I recognize that I’m fortunate – I get to joke about #firstworldproblems, such as when an Amazon Prime delivery takes three days instead of two, or the subway’s delayed and I get to a holiday party’s open bar 15 minutes late.
But there are times when the challenges feel more “real”. Like when I talk to a potential client and what I offer just isn’t a good fit. When I look at my bank account and see my quickly disappearing runway. Or when I hear about a friend getting a $30k raise and think “what the hell am I doing, working so hard just to make that in a year?”
I’m not going to diminish these feelings – they’re legitimate and feel real to me. However, I found myself in a place last week where I was confronted with how fortunate I really am, and it’s been on my mind ever since.
Last Thursday I volunteered to do mock interviews and one-on-one tutoring for an intro level ESL class focused on helping people improve their english enough to get long-term employment. It was my first time volunteering there and the first time I’d met any of these students. Towards the end of the morning I got asked to tutor a woman who needed some extra help with the basics.
After being introduced, we walked to a separate office, sat down and started working on her basic reading exercises:
“This is Pam.”
“Pam has two kids.”
“Pam and her two kids live in the city.”
After this first paragraph she stopped reading, turned to me and started to just talk about herself.
Her english was very basic, but telling her own story brought out her confidence. She told me that she was from Tibet, had been a nun most of her life, and had fled her home country back in the 1980’s after her friends started being imprisoned by the Chinese.
Knowing that she wouldn’t be safe, she described how she and others managed to escape by fleeing to Nepal and then to India. Her story was as incredible as it was heartbreaking – she talked about having to climb over the Himalayas (“it was so cold”), how they had very little food to eat, and how scared she was when her companion’s “leg got ice”, a phrase she used because she didn’t know the word frostbite.
That was just the beginning. After making it through the Himalayas they had to pass through the jungle, where there were so many leeches that “blood all in the water”, and constantly traveled in fear because if they were found in Nepal without a passport then “people shoot us”.
At one point she started to cry. I grabbed her a tissue, sat back down, and waited as she dabbed her eyes. After a minute she looked up – “Work is not hard part. Work as housekeeper for many hours is easy. What is hard is people don’t trust me or won’t give me chance because of my English. I just want to help my husband, help my daughter, but I can’t.”
We finished working on her exercises, said goodbye to each other and I was done for the day. As I walked outside, I got to my bike and just stood there for a minute. I started thinking about my struggles, my fears, my “worst case scenario”.
And you know what? It turns out they’re not really that bad. If for some reason Be Awesome Not Broke doesn’t pan out, I can go out and find another job. My network would come together and support me in finding something. Or if somehow I completely ran out of money, I could go back to the Happiest City in America and live with my parents for a few months while I built back up my savings. No frostbite. No leeches. No language barrier.
I also started thinking – how does this affect what I do in my day to day? Obviously I have a newfound respect for how fortunate I really am. Yet it also made me realize that I’ve been putting off things I’ve considered scary, but really aren’t.
With that in mind, I’m going to share something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so that you as a community can hold me accountable for it. I’ve been wanting to volunteer and give back more, but have never felt like it’s ‘the right time’, from a financial or time perspective.
Screw that. There is literally nothing stopping me besides my own fear and limiting beliefs. Therefore I’m going to publicly commit to what I’ve dubbed ’10 for 10’ – each month I will volunteer at least 10 hours as well as donate 10% of my income. In order to stay accountable I’ll share each month the where/what/when of my volunteering, as well as how much money I made overall and what was donated to charity.
For now, I’ll be donating money evenly to These Numbers Have Faces and Lasallian Volunteers. The first is a charity run by a fellow high school grad that empowers Africa’s brightest students to become leaders, and Lasallian Volunteers is an organization I volunteered with for over two years in Portland, OR back in ’09 – ’11.
While these will be the charities I donate to for the first three months, I’d love your guys’ suggestions on other awesome organizations that could use support. That way it’s not only limited to organizations that I already know, and will help me expand my understanding of different groups/people that are in need.
As I put this into practice and share how I’m going about it, if you think of ways to improve what I’m doing, cool partnerships, etc. please let me know! Again, this is just the beginning and a work in progress, but I wanted to make sure I shared it with you all so I could no longer hide behind fear as a reason for not making it happen.
Lastly, if any of you would like to join me in this – making a commitment to volunteer, matching donations or giving a percentage over a period of time – I’d love to have a team for support and amplify our impact.
Thank you guys for all of your advice, encouragement, suggestions and support so far. It’s helping me gain confidence to live my Awesome, and I’m excited to help others live theirs as well.