Today, more than any other day of the year, I woke up with a desire to create. I woke up knowing that I am supposed to create. And I know in the deepest part of my being that I am designed to help others along the way.
Most people know that I was born in a small town in Iowa, raised with strong Christian morals and an incredibly laid back family. Rules were in place, expectations were met, and I followed the path that many (young, middle-class, white women) follow. There was really nothing remarkable about my life.
It was my junior and senior year of high school that I started having deeper conversations, searching my soul a bit more, and contemplating a lot about life. I was passionate about my faith and social justice. I was attending Christian conferences and playing in the worship band (go keys!) and selling t-shirts with different stories & statistics on them so I could go to Romania for a month over the summer.
This became a huge part of my identity and I loved that time in my life. I was surrounded by the most incredible mentors and friends that challenged me and pushed me to grow in my faith. I lived in a huge bubble and I was happy there.
It was about that time when I was fairly disinterested in college, but strongly encouraged (parents, you know what this means) to look at my options. When push came to shove, Drake had the most convincing sales pitch and my boyfriend at the time went there. Yep, I’m that girl. 😉 I didn’t really want to go to college, I wanted to spend my life being a missionary or something my parents were like ummm, no.
Going to college at a place where people are literally from all over the world helped shift some of the ways I looked at the world. I was exceptionally naive and still very glued to being the nice Christian girl from next door. I skipped out on parties and felt a deep sense of loneliness my first semester. It was cool that folks had other things to do instead of attend a rager, but I found many of those options boring.
Cue an identity crisis.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that living within a box of many rules was mentally exhausting and made me really lame. I was judgmental, boring, and hard on myself.
Like most folks, I wanted to be liked. So I started to bend my self-inflicted rules a little more, explore more of life’s opportunities, and immerse myself more in the college experience (which looks different for everyone, right?). Soon enough, I was going to London alone to study abroad and getting internships at nonprofits and meeting Drake alums for coffee at Mars Cafe.
It was my senior year that really changed everything for me. The reality of adulthood was quickly approaching and I had to figure out what I was going to do. I’ve blogged about this many times because it was such a huge turning point for me and deeply impacted who I am today.
I read a book by Donald Miller. I will tell everyone the rest of my life that he is my favorite author and it’s because of his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The gist is this: if someone was like “hey, i want to make a movie about your life,” would you love the main character? Be engaged in the plot? Be inspired when the credits roll? Here’s his take on it:
“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn’t remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.
But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” – Donald Miller
Donald participated in a bike ride that lit up something so deep in my being that I applied, interviewed and all the sudden was signed up to do the exact same bicycle ride. Across America. I didn’t have a road bike and I certainly wasn’t a biker by any means.
I vividly remember giving a presentation in my marketing class about this crazy bike ride experience and the journey I was taking after college. People didn’t get it. I could read it all over their faces. “What a waste of a college degree.” No, I wasn’t going to go work for Target Corporation or go get my MBA. I was going to go do something remarkable.
That experience in 2012 so profoundly shook up my faith, religion, self-worth, goals, and everything in-between that I tattooed a freakin’ bicycle on my bicep. I’m not obsessed with biking and I don’t do it as often as I would like. However, it was two months on a bicycle during the hottest summer on record in southern America that taught me about persistence, pushing forward, God, love, and believing in myself. It was messy, emotional, exciting, hard, exhausting, and absolutely thrilling.
I came back to participate in 11 months of AmeriCorps and realized how desperately our city needed more champions for our vulnerable populations. I took and essentially created a job right after my AmeriCorps term ended at another nonprofit that wanted to explore neighborhood revitalization.
It was exhilerating to create a campaign that raised/invested $10 million within just a few years and to look at systems and inspire one another to dig deep into how we make a neighborhood more vibrant. I built a website, I met with hundreds of community members, I shared our vision. People were excited. Our approach to change was innovative; it was a comprehensive solution to very complex issues. It required everyone to be at the table and it required real dollars, real time, and enthusiasm.
And then I kept seeing what I see time and time again. Declined grant requests, funding going to the same old same old organizations that are living in their own silo, people on their phone during meetings, no responses to volunteer requests, pointless meetings, disengaged leaders, nitpicking by community members who demanded a different approach but wouldn’t put in the time, boring meetings, and a system that required multiple layers of approval.
For a while, I was like okay, this will get better. People will step up. I kept staying at work late, attending early meetings, and creating new ideas. And then nothing would happen. (Please hear me: we did a lot of good with an amazing group of people. I am forever indebted to men and women who believe in this work and pushed dollars and cents to the movement we were creating. There are strong warriors in our community and they are fiercely dedicated to the cause. Treat them to coffee or a paycheck since they are likely way underpaid if at all.)
I wrestled with this for a long time and kept pushing forward, taking more of the “ask for forgiveness” approach than “ask for permission.” I followed Twitter accounts and read case studies of communities where building healthy, vibrant neighborhoods were working. My focus on the business community started when I realized that small businesses are one of the most important elements of our cities. They build our culture, our experiences, and our economy.
My curiosity of entrepreneurship led to the creation of POP UP YOGA DSM and my love for my city, yoga in unique spaces, and accessibility of yoga both in terms of location and cost. I created a little logo on Canva, messaged my friend Julia to see if she wanted to help, and soon enough we had the bones of a business (a website & a Facebook page). We hosted probably 40 classes in our first year with 1000 people joining us on their mats across the city. It was both thrilling and exhausting. Think: 40 events to coordinate and communicate to people in one summer. Yikes. Everything was free; teachers donated their time, no sound systems, free space. All of it.
This was a tipping point for me. If you have an idea and you share it in a compelling way, people will join your vision. Not necessarily everyone and maybe not right away, but some people will meet you there. We live in a supportive city where people are ready to lift others up, specifically young folks.
And in a day where technology is easily accessible and social media reaches thousands if not millions of people, you can build something in a matter of days that captivates a group of people. Truly. Inspiring.
In case you’re wondering, I quit my nonprofit job to take a position within a for-profit digital marketing agency. This was another “I know this is right” move and it was presented to me by my now boss who is a visionary and is not scared to do and say radical things, and then support each and every one of his people along the way.
People crave experiences that are bigger than themselves. They desire remarkable products, authentic leadership, and visions. Right? We are living in this space where you can be whoever you want and create whatever you want.
I understand that this isn’t explicitly true and realize there are vulnerable populations in our country.
However… we can be the shifters, the shakers, the molders. We can help those populations with our ideas, our connections, our energy. We can lift them up, protect them, mentor them, you name it. My point: if you see problem that bothers you so much, find a solution. You are capable.
If you grew up in a family similar to mine, we never talked about money. Except for the fact that it didn’t grow on trees. Here’s the deal though; money is what’s going to help with literally every single thing I’ve mentioned so far in this post. Neighborhood revitalization, more accessible yoga, businesses to start and grow, bicycles to ride across America with.
I want to be that supporter. I don’t want to start a foundation or anything with structure; I simply want to find a way to make real money that can build a stronger, healthier city and world. And that means 2017 is going to be about the hustle.
It’s going to be about figuring out ways to monetize my skill sets and giving away excess (stuff, dollars, food). I desire a life of generosity and believe I am capable of it. And that’s the first step right? Believing in yourself. Faith. Shutting down fear.
I already know 2017 is going to be remarkable. We have travel plans and a wedding and a calendar filled with amazing local events with some of our favorites friends & family. But I keep waking up with the desire to create, inspire, dream and learn how to share it with others.
It felt like 2016 was a year of being internal. A little quieter, a little less social, and incredibly reflective. My desire is to make 2017 a little louder. To make a little more noise & use my voice. Being remarkable is a choice. Everything in your life is a choice. Your words, your thoughts, your actions.
I know I’m not alone in this deeper desire to ditch the norm and the expectations and the status quo. What will 2017 mean to you?