If you’ve known me for awhile, you’ll see I’ve redesigned my website. The old one was done as a senior project for my writing minor – a pretty solid accomplishment at the time. I used Dreamweaver and featured nifty portfolio items meant to tout my credentials to potential employers once I left the paradise of Santa Barbara and was out in the real world where I needed to “distinguish myself” and “get ahead.” It’s been two years since then. I got a job at an organization with goals I believe in, I was promoted, I took on big projects and was even trusted with the professional development of a younger employee. I “got ahead,” and so I figured it was time for a redesign. A new website that felt more true to where I find myself now. One that blends my professional and personal life a bit more, because I figure any potential employer looking at this should get a sense of who I am outside of work too. One of the most important lessons I’ve taken away from the past two years is that the personal relationships in your professional life truly matter. Sure, you need the skills to get the job done, but ultimately organizations are just groups of people. You will do best at a place that takes your skills, inclusive of your personality, and fosters them – pushes and supports you to thrive at what you are good at.
So in the process of reading through everything on my old site, I was reacquainted with a sentence I had on my home page. A sentence I had used in cover letters, on resumes, while networking. It was, at that time, my personal brand. Rereading it forced me to revisit myself; do a gut check. A jarring experience, mostly because I don’t know if I agree with myself anymore, even if I want to. Here’s what it said:
My ultimate goal is to bring together the efficiency of business, the authority of policy, and the passion of the environmental movement to achieve environmental and social sustainability.
“My ultimate goal.” It sounds so final, attainable even. But, anyone who has spent any time in any of the three realms I reference (business, government, nonprofit) knows that getting them to work together to accomplish legitimate, positive change is no cakewalk. Some of my more pessimistic friends might even say it’s impossible. Rereading this made me think. Do I still believe this?
We can pick the sentence apart. Is business efficient? And is efficiency necessarily a positive thing? My mentor, Bill Freudenburg, shared with me this completely simple, but eye-opening idea: if you’re efficient at doing the wrong thing, then that’s worse than being inefficient at doing the right thing. Does policy have authority? We’ve seen what often matters most is who’s in charge of implementing the policy, not the words in the bill. Are nonprofits really effective? Especially when we think of those nonprofits that haven’t figured it out; that are wasting donor money on getting it wrong.
We could get into fabulous debates about my coveted sentence, but at the most fundamental level I think I do still believe with Violetta from 2010, only I’ve re-imagined what it will take to get there. I should first say: what I truly believe our society needs is a revolution. An entire revamping of how we produce, consume, discard, grow, interact, think, play, learn, and understand ourselves. But pending a revolution, here’s what I believe we can do – not shy away from power.
What do I mean? I sometimes daydream about what it would look like were every one of my friends in a position of power. Some as politicians and lawyers, some as CEOs, some leading the next successful campaign against injustice, some as chaired professors at top universities educating the next generation of leaders – telling them to be less stupid, more hopeful, increasing bold with their decision making, while pointing to examples in the real world of people doing just that. And so here is my conclusion. It is the environmental studies majors, the philosophy and political economy thursday-dinner theorists, the tech-savy millionaire by 26, the aspiring urban farmers, the people-charming sociologists who move to Ukraine for two years, the passionate bio majors who pay their dues pouring piss before changing how health is delivered, that we need in the halls of power. We need them making decisions. We need them co-conspiring for a better world. We need them re-framing the debate in the same ways you see republican pundits do all too gracefully. We need these people pointing out the vast disportionalities that exist. 1% of the population should not control 90% of the wealth, in the same way that one industrial polluter should not cause 90% of the pollution in that industry. Good things come from balance and equal distribution. We see this played out in nature everywhere we look.
It’s easy to write this, I know. Now we need to do it. Many of my most brilliant friends don’t want these positions. They see them as corrupt or unappealing. But my point is, we may need to bend in ways we don’t expect to see the change we need happen. Go to the prestigious business school so people will take us seriously, work at a company that isn’t getting it perfect with the hope that we can get them closer, push ourselves to have the difficult conversations with people that don’t agree with us, rather than preaching to the choir. Understanding, that no matter what our career, we can have a positive influence – we just have to take the time to figure out how. All this while trying to enjoy all that life has to offer.
So, yeah I guess I still agree with Violetta from two years ago. The “ultimate goal” is still this, but I think it needs a rewriting. Anyone want to take a stab?