This year’s Global Youth Service Day was a special one for me. I haven’t really felt like I’ve been serving since my AmeriCorps VISTA position but I received a special invitation that changed all that: I was invited to be a panelist and workshop host at the C.O.O.L. Kids first annual Young Caring Professional’s Conference and talk about my experience launching a nonprofit, TWIYO.
I’ve done some public speaking and workshop hosting before, but any opportunity to share my experiences on this start-up road is always welcomed. One of the questions asked was, “Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in your path to getting where you are today?”
One thing that I expressed to the audience is that I wouldn’t necessarily change anything that I’ve gone through. As cliché as it sounds, you don’t know what you’re made of until hurdles and struggles come your way. The following lessons have helped me make in through the hurdles I faced since starting TWIYO.
“To thine own self be true” but don’t walk such a rigid line
It takes time to figure out what you want to do and where you want to be. Each panelist at the Young Caring Professional’s Conference, myself included, worked a variety of jobs and researched where those jobs could ultimately put us, what we liked about them, and what we didn’t. The art of being in tune to what you want and taking action is the difference between just going with the routine of your career or taking control.
At the same time, being open-minded to change is key to being successful. For example, with TWIYO I knew I wanted an after-school program that focused on leadership development, civic engagement, arts and international experiences – and I thought I knew how that could be done best. But it was a meeting with high school teachers that gave me ideas that not only would increase our impact but also lower our administrative and program costs. By knowing what I wanted, yet realizing that there is certainly more than one way to get there I was able to change TWIYO’s programming to make it more appealing and get us launched.
“Sum it up in 90 seconds or less” and tell the world
Being able to communicate and express yourself is extremely valuable because, as any entrepreneur can tell you, not only are you selling your idea, you are also selling yourself to those who are interested in what you have to offer. The fact that it should be 90 seconds in length is scary to many people at first, but the reality is it has to be succinct enough to get people a snapshot of what you’re about and where they fit into that.
Of course as with anything, practice makes perfect and the more people you tell the better feedback you can get on how to improve your pitch and make it poignant and powerful. Sharing is caring and the more people who know about what you’re doing the more people who can help or connect you to someone who can help.
Never stop networking—you never know where your supporters are
In building TWIYO, my gut reaction was to try to solve problems myself. However, I quickly realized the power and importance of asking for help and building my network. I met my mentor at a youth conference discussing the future of America’s youth; I learned about potential partner schools through my connection with education professionals; I was able to launch this blog series through a young professionals network…and the list goes on in terms of the real support I’ve been able to get – even when TWIYO was not on track according to my own standards.
While many people see networking as daunting, starting with a simple “Hello, my name is…” and then going from there is usually where I start. To be clear not every single person will have something to offer you, nor you them. But speaking to people is the only way you can figure that out. The key to networking that lasts however is maintaining those connections with emails and other outreach efforts.
Don’t start from scratch
It takes humility to admit that even with your “groundbreaking” and “innovative” idea someone has probably beat you to the punch. So there’s nothing wrong with learning from the best and adding your own spin.
It takes a lot of drive and determination to do just about anything that you think is worth it. In the same vein nothing that is worth it will be easy but if you face your obstacles and try to use these points to revisit and revamp your approach you’ll continue moving past your initial failures as I have and continue to move forward.