Rough: A Social Entrepreneur’s Journey

Rough: A Social Entrepreneur’s Journey

I’ve often spoken about my journey in finding my calling. I am so fortunate to love what I do, every day.  And with that gift, I want to vigorously help others.   I am passionate about serving UniversalGiving every day, helping people connect with quality ways to give and volunteer all across the world.

I am equally passionate about helping others find something they love to do.  It lights your life up. You become the best, most sincere, intelligent, fun and delightful person, if you can engage with your calling.

People hear me speak with joy and clarity about my calling.  Yet they think my life to social entrepreneurship was easy.

It was the “Rough” of my life.  It was excruciating. I fought to find work I loved to greet every day.  There were some really, really low times, over many years.  In fact, I don’t like to talk about it, because I enjoy focusing on the positive.

So “Rough” is in response to many people’s request:

“Pamela, tell me what it was like. I don’t know where to start. I need encouragement. I need to know I can make it… or that I can even find what I love to do.”

I write this for all aspiring social entrepreneurs. Persevere in getting to know yourself and carve out your pathway.  You will find it. Even if takes years.  It’s worth it.

Just as we should love who we marry, we should love what we do.  I’m still working on that first one.  So for all you moms who crave meaning, and come to me dying for a purpose, I have that purpose, and I also will be grateful to find what you have too: for precious family and children. We deserve both, and we can help each other.

If you hear me speak or read my writing, I focus on the positive. It’s imperative to be a solid, move forward-and-make-it-happen entrepreneur, and a happy person.  I am grateful for all the good Life has opened up unto me, in conjunction with the human effort and striving I put forth.

But if you need to know my journey, so that you know it is possible for you, I will share. Here is where my story started. But my vision of social entrepreneurship didn’t manifest itself until 14 years later. 

 An Entrepreneur’s Journey 

There are people who are bootstrapping on a vision. And there are people who don’t yet have a vision.  Both are in a glorious battle.

One is striving to achieve and live their vision, to build a new way of doing things in the world. The other, I think is in more pain because they haven’t yet found that calling.  At least the former, despite formidable pressures to launch, maintain finances, is in love. They like their day to day.

I can’t emphasize how important this is. If you dread each day, feel dead in your skills, unappreciated, it starts to wear off everywhere else. It impacts your whole life.  Build towards vision, positive growth, enthusiasm every day. This is in what you do. And equally important in who you surround yourself with. You are building your future right now. No, it is not off two years from now, or 20. Your future is everything you put your thought and energy into, right now. And right now, and now, and…now.

 ROUGH: Try

 So you have to keep trying.

I leave four jobs in two years out of college. I am in sales for a company for one year.  I am out of work for a year.  All my friends are on a track, on track: MBA, Doctor, Lawyer.  I feel embarrassed. I am from a smart school, with smart colleagues, and I don’t feel like I am living a smart life.

I pick up any jobs I can, while still trying to pursue a love-of-my-life calling.

I work for a man who wanted an executive assistant but says I don’t deserve to be paid. He says I’m too green. I work for the experience anyway.

I work as a step aerobics instructor, am hired and pushed out from-a-frustrated-restaurant-owner as a waitress in Venice Beach (my hands shook while I carried the plates).  I volunteer with alcoholic men in Skid Row, helping them with life skills. I interview to sell insurance. I do real estate research for an independent couple, a marketing brochure for a nonprofit.  I do all I can to provide for myself and try to make it.

Still, all the while, I was learning more about our international world, understanding social entrepreneurship and helping pave the way. I studied The Economist, read about the world, prayed, cried and asked for my life to be used.  On my knees I prayed and cried for it. The drive was that strong, as was the depression in not finding it. Ask my roommate at the time – who is now UniversalGiving’s COO. She saw it all, and it was excruciating.

I see an idea.  I get inspired and do the full business plan for a Gift Basket company that would give back to nonprofits, early CSR before I know it.  I sneak into a manufacturer’s conference for Gift Basket vendors of 1000 people, to find out the providers for the goods. I prepared inventory, storage, and then I had to give up. It just didn’t feel right.  I just wasn’t prepared to do this on my own. I needed a partner. I was devastated.

I had started…another nonstarter in my life.

I called my Dad again and let him know I was abandoning the Gift Basket business plan.  What would I do next, he asked?

I thought I might like PR.  That’s the thing…you often just don’t know.

You have to try and believe all the things that don’t work are gearing you exactly into what does work.  So don’t worry. Keep going.   Keep trying.   Learn.

So I tried to get into PR.  I was told I didn’t have any experience. I was told I didn’t have an internship on my resume.

So I went — and got experience.  For ten days.  I got into Chiatt Day, and beat out college teens for an unpaid internship. After a week-plus, I put it on my resume, and was then able to get a job in a PR agency, because I then had ‘experience.’

I entered data for them. I was praised with the company record of stuffing the most press kits. I was so mind-tired, so exhausted by not using my mind, that I had to run up and down the stairwell to stay sane.

So I went from sales, to being out of work for a year, to odd jobs, to a 10-day internship at Chiatt Day, to 8 months at a PR firm, into a Masters in broadcast journalism.  I hopped and hopped.

Then I met Peter Samuelson, and he helped change my life course. He was doing it. And he really lived.

 

ROUGH: Your Calling

How Do You Get There Once You Know What It Is?  

Just because you have a calling doesn’t mean there is an easy way to implement it.

At the age of twelve, I was struck with an early vision. In my post “To Be of Service,” I speak about witnessing poverty in Mexico with my father, and how that changed my life. It set me on a pathway to service and ultimately entrepreneurship.  But the challenges to get there, and to understand my unique path as a social entrepreneur, were many.

 

I’d always been very entrepreneurial.  I loved to create little businesses.  For some, there is a time when we move from being an entrepreneur, to being a social entrepreneur.  Peter Samuelson, film director and founder of Starlight Children’s Foundation, encapsulated that pivotal moment for me.   I first met Peter through the Leadership Institute, started by management leader Warren Bennis at USC Business School.  Here’s how Peter sparked me on my path.

While the thread in my life was about helping, I was having a hard time finding an outlet.  At the time, I was in graduate school, heading into broadcast journalism with the goal of changing the tenor of media news.  I wanted to see a world where we could emphasize positive developments in our world.

It’s not that we ignore the tough situations; but the murder rate is not always going up.  There are places it has gone down and solutions that helped us get there. Why not cover that news?  If you focus only on the negative, you’ll stay there.  Move into the new world you envision.  But news directors told me it wasn’t possible.  “We operate off of eye candy, what will bring the most viewers. What you’re proposing, just doesn’t, Pamela.”

So I was feeling blocked again. Four “careers” in four years. Now what would I do?

Peter got up and spoke about “entrepreneurial philanthropy” or “social entrepreneurship.”  “We need to make a difference in a strategic, business-like way, while serving our communities!” he proclaimed.  He essentially galvanized us with his relentless passion. I’ve never seen anyone speak like that.

My heart dropped. Tears filled my eyes. At that point I was going through my mid-life crisis at age 25.  And in an instant, I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be a social entrepreneur.  Peter brought my vision of how I wanted to serve – with compassion and business principles – to life.

The relief, the joy, the glory…to know… that I was made to be a social entrepreneur.

I left the Leadership Conference and ran to a payphone (yes, a payphone) and called my Dad, “Dad, Dad, I know what I want to do!” I excitedly explained. He listened with joy and support as he always does.  “That’s great, honey!  And…how…do you get paid?”

Rough.

Social entrepreneurship was not a developed concept — let alone a field.  There were NO:

social entrepreneurship job listings

social entrepreneurship programs

social entrepreneurship classes… or

degrees…. or

conferences.

Now try explaining to everyone you want to be a social entrepreneur.

“You mean a social worker?”

“Oh great!  uh… what?”

“Oh… well, good luck with that.”

It was lonely.

What was the next step?

While still excruciating, that year I found the right people and the right idea.  VolunteerMatch came into being. It was a ‘lucky’ confluence of the Web (I love scale), do-gooderism, and providing a solution to people finding quick, accessible efficient ways to volunteer.  Even then, it still wasn’t my full calling, because it wasn’t global.  While grateful, I had more work to do to find my true purpose.

So while I was struck with a wonderful devotion in life, it took years to manifest it.  Four to reach VolunteerMatch.  And then for my true calling, international, through UniversalGivingthat would take ten. 

Ten years.

What you have to remember is, every passionless dead-end is still a precious part of your process.

You must commit to serving and helping others in your current situation, even when you don’t want to be there.

In so doing, you commit to good values and build your strength.  You also meet helpful people. You meet people you can help.

You learn many valuable skills. In my case, sales, PR, broadcast communications, international on the side.  All of those experiences came back into play in my effective governing of UniversalGiving.

This fight to find what I love to do, enabled me to go through my midlife crisis 25 years earlier than most.  I am clear, pure and passionate about what I do and the meaning in my life. It has led me to fight for others, so they can have this too.  I am almost equally passionate about UniversalGiving, as I am about helping people find their pathway in life.

I wake up in love to live each day.  I know what it means to me, and I don’t take it for granted. Every day I get to help others, with my heart and with my mind.  For the community and in business.  And that is what I get to do with a wonderful team.

Every day.

So my efforts to serve certainly start with poverty, but now extend into striving to be a great social entrepreneurship leader; and to be available for anyone who would like to talk about their pathway.  I hope to serve not just my industry, and global social entrepreneurship, but also the entering leaders.  Help them.  One of the greatest joys has not just been being a social entrepreneur, but also helping pave for others, for our social entrepreneurship industry.

ROUGH: Continue Giving

 So in my final notes to all of you who wish so sincerely for this meaning…

Please, don’t give up.

DO NOT give up.

The joy you will find is lovely, fruitful, fulfilling. It is life-giving to yourself and others. It will build you in ways you will never imagine, and bring the right people into your life. And it might be much simpler for you. If so, cherish it.  We all receive our challenges in life, in different ways.

Mine wasn’t an easy journey.   But it was filled with joy despite the challenges. Making it big is not about money.  I am “wealthy” because of the joyfilled, purposeful life that I lead.  I am alive, not just because I breathe.  I am alive because I truly live.  I hope I can help others become “rich,” too.

From Rough to Joy.

Dear reader, I hope this helped you. It wasn’t easy for me to write, but I did it for you.

Love, Pamela

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