Friday, June 29, 2012

The New Normal

It sometimes seems impossible to me that I have lived in Pittsburgh for what will be 7 years (7!) in the fall.  I think that largely this has to do with the fact that I have moved, and re-defined life here so many times, that even though, yes, I have lived here for the past several years, I have also had what feels like approximately 4 different lifetimes here in that period.

When change comes all at once, it's distracting in its own right, and it's not until the dust starts to settle that you realize just how drastically different your life has become.

Since April I have started a new job, moved, said goodbye to my best friend who I have never not lived in the same city as, spent significant time traveling and surrounded by strangers, and have come face to face with some rather substantial self-realizations.

And for a while, this was all happening, so I didn't really have the time to process it.  I mean, I was starting the new job, and then I was in Boston, and then I was moving, and then I was going to Haiti for 2 weeks, and I was saying goodbye and hello, and so constantly on the move, that I had no choice but to embrace all of the change and craziness, and keep going.

This past week though, has been quiet in comparison.  And while there is still plenty of excitement, I have been in Pittsburgh for a whole 7 days, with no immediate extensive travel plans in the immediate future, and have settled back into a "normal" life, except that it's a brand new normal.

I have started to unpack, and even though it took me about a month finally re-assembled my bed, and am turning my new room into a place that looks like someplace a person would live, and not just a storage unit.

I've done mundane every day life stuff. I've cooked myself dinner, and have gone for runs, and am beginning to remember what spending alone time feels like, because after close to 3 weeks in close succession of what can be compared to summer camp and never having a moment alone, not being around people 24/7 is both wonderful and a bit jarring.

I'm beginning to accept the fact that a lot of my very best friends in the world don't live down the street from me anymore, and that I need to call them and catch up because even though we'll visit each other soon, we need to talk before then.

I am very happy. I am very grateful.  I am very much looking forward to this next stage of my life here in Pittsburgh. Even the banal parts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thread's First Birthday. Or, What Start-up Life is Like. And How to Survive it.

There's a certain glamour that surrounds the start-up world.  Founding a company seems to be an increasingly popular goal, especially amongst my generation. Perhaps because our sense of entitlement pushes us to be our own boss, or perhaps because there aren't many other job options, so we might as well start a business while enjoying unemployment.  There's a lot said about start-ups, and a lot that is left unsaid.  As Thread celebrates its first anniversary of incorporation, here are some things that have I have learned along the way.

It's Terrific.

The first thing I can say about making the jump from a stable job, into working for a company you're helping to start, is that it is the best.  It really is.  A lot of the cliche stuff actually happens; late night white board sessions with pizza, beers in the conference room, coming in when you want, wearing what you want, and sharing an office space with awesome people.  That being said...

Get Ready to Feel the Entire Spectrum of Human Emotion on a Daily Basis.

I have spent the majority of the past couple months vacillating between extreme excitement, and abject terror.  Your highs are massive, your lows are crushing, and you still have to deal with everything in between.  At my former job, putting out fires meant dealing with easily fixed problems like; filling in for speakers who ran late, meeting recruitment goals, and making sure all of my sponsors received all the sponsorship benefits I told them they'd receive.  Things that yea, could be stressful, but wouldn't cause the organization to have to close its doors or anything.

Not so in a start-up.  In a start-up, putting out fires, often actually means coming up with ways to keep the lights on for another month.  You usually only have enough of a budget to get one shot to complete a project, so you can't mess up. Add on the pressure of a social venture, where you know first hand the positive impact you can have on lives, and what's at stake if you fail, and you are dealing with real true stress.

The best advice I can give is to take care of yourself.  It's really tempting to stress-eat junk, live off of take out, give up exercise to drink wine, and forgo sleep for a few more hours of work,  but that kind of unbalance will make you a fat nervous wreck.

Find your sweat-thing - for me its running, and make it a non-negotiable part of your schedule. Push yourself physically, to give yourself a break mentally, and to ensure that you are regularly flooding your body with enough dopamine and serotonin to combat the cortisol that is building up in your system.  Have a network who you can call and say, "I'm freaking out! And I need you to talk me off the ledge!" Drink water.  Go to sleep.  Eat some real foods, that you cook yourself.  This often saves you money too, which is good, because unless you are independently wealthy...

Get Ready to Live Like a Student Again

Boot strapping means learning to live on a serious budget, or with no income at all while you ramp up revenue and investments. You will have to stop buying clothes, cut back on going/eating out, pause your philanthropic giving, and take a break from contributing to a retirement fund.  You may also have to move, drain your savings, borrow money from your parents, and pick up part time work.

All of that sounds like a lot, and it is.  However its a sacrifice that seems totally worth it when you really believe in your colleagues and the idea you're all working towards.

Get Ready to Bond

One of my fellow Threadheads has a mentor who, when first learning of this project warned her that, "Starting a business is like entering into a group marriage."  Disclaimer: I'm not married.  But, I don't think that statement is too far off.  We are in contact every day.  Our group dynamic and relationship is unlike anything else I have ever been a part of.  We are coworkers, but we have become family.  We have hard conversations about money, and values, and what we want our future to look like. We have been through accidents, births, cancer, break ups, and the fear of not knowing how we're going to pay next month's rent together.  We celebrate, we argue, we tease, we cry, and we laugh a lot.  We have very few secrets.

I imagine that entrepreneurship can be very isolating and lonely at times for those who do it alone, and I cannot fathom having this experience without the support of my team.

It's not always good.  Neither is marriage from what I hear.  And I would be lying if I didn't say that there haven't been scary moments where I'm sitting in a meeting and have thought "What am I doing here?" And for a brief second I think about walking out and running away and starting over.  But you don't, and within hours you're reminded of why you love and trust these people and what you're all doing here in the first place.

The other Threadheads are the kind of people I would consider myself lucky to even know.  To have the honor of working with them to create a company, and to be inspired by them on a daily basis is just awesome.

Get Ready to Work All the Time

Yes, you take time off, and you have fun.  You need to - or else you will become boring, and lose your mind, and then you're no good to anyone, least of all your teammates who are depending on you.  What I mean is that work is no longer this thing you need to escape from.  It's something you want to do, and so you do it constantly.

I have happily spent vacation time reading through case studies, and checking my email.  I problem solve and brainstorm while working out.  I talk about trash at parties, and sometimes state composting statistics on dates. I get weirdly excited about subject matter I never thought I would have an interest in.  I can't wait to get asked the question "So, what do you do?"

When you love your work, when you find it fascinating, it infiltrates itself into all the aspects of your life.

One Year Down

I can't believe I'm part of a company that is a year old! A year is a milestone, and this year has flown. We are still so young, and have so much to do, and I can't wait to celebrate this anniversary for years to come.

I can't say thank you enough to everyone who has and continues to support us, invest in us, teach us, mentor us, advise us, challenge us, and believe in us enough to do so.

Mesi Anpil.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nan Ayiti

The key to travel, especially when it’s for work, or for a longer period of time, is to establish routine.  Routine is actually supposed to play a large role in happiness in general, but is not something I pay much attention to during my day to day in Pittsburgh.

Anyways, these first couple days at Cange have been largely about finding a working groove; in a hectic, unpredictable, environment that operates on a different schedule, and language, and culture than anything I’ve had much experience working in before.  I have been overwhelmed, and discouraged, and have experienced both emotions while running on low blood sugar, making me question what about working in garbage was appealing to me. Only to be reminded a couple hours later, after a full meal, when talking with the hospital staff about what we’re trying to accomplish and I see other people get excited about trash too. Then I remember how cool this work can actually be.

Working in Haiti is all about living in the woosh. Constantly.

But, back to routine. So the thing that is fun about routine while traveling is that you do something relatively normal, but in a completely foreign context, which makes it fascinating.

Par example:

-         Ian and I went for a run the first night we came to Cange.  Cange is on the side of a mountain. There was recently an awesome water project put in place providing the village with clean drinking water, pumped up from a lake at the bottom of the mountain. In order to complete the construction for this project, roughly 700+ steep steps were built along the side of the mountain.  We decided to run these steps.  Then, not only are we running up and down steps, amidst breathtaking views, but you find yourself saying things that never get said on a Pittsburgh run, like:

“"Watch out for the goat straight ahead.” Or,

o   “Oh, there’s a snake.”
o   “And that would be a poisonous snake.”
o   “Well, then, I won’t step on it.”

Exercise is taken to a whole new level here.

-       Meals. We eat twice a day. Early morning, and late afternoon, and you would think you’d be starving for dinner, but you’re so hungry for lunch that you eat a ton, and you’re actually fine.  You also sit down at a table to eat. With lots of other interesting people. Who you like have a conversation with and stuff.  Too many of my lunches consist of snacks eaten at my desk.

-       And of course, even though we’re working “in the field” so to speak, there’s still computer time.  Data that needs to be entered, emails that need to get written, notes that need to be organized. However, when your office comes with this view…

It’s not that bad.

In the thick of things, and still loving my job.  That’s a good feeling to have.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bon Vwayaj

Port au Prince from above

It was around this time last year that I went to Haiti for the first time with Thread.  We hadn't officially been incorporated yet, we didn't have a business plan, and we all had day jobs. What a difference a year makes...

It was a nerve racking trip for me, because I was already very committed to the idea of Thread, but had not yet been to the country we were planning to start our business in.  What if I hate it there?! was the thought that kept me up at night leading up to that first trip.

At the end of our first day though, Ian, Thread's founder and CEO asked me what I thought so far.

"I love it! And I'm so happy about that!" I exclaimed.

He laughed and responded, "I knew you would."

I haven't talked much about my experience with Haiti in this space, largely because it's something I feel I am still processing, and because I want to be able to eloquently explain my feelings about the country. Working in Haiti has greatly shifted my perspective on a lot of things; infrastructure, healthcare,  and the role of government just to name a few.

When I get asked the question, "How is it down there?" I don't know quite how to respond.

Things aren't good.  Even though the media attention to Haiti has decreased tremendously since the earthquake in 2010, I think most people have the sense that things aren't good.

It's an easy country to fall in love with though.  And the potential and hope there is palpable.  I'm honored to spend time there.

On Friday I leave for a couple of weeks that will be spent largely in the Central Plateau region of the country.  I am going as a full time employee, of a functioning business, with an intern, to kick off a very exciting project we have been working on for months.

I'm nervous about this trip - but for a whole host of different reasons than last June.  I'm thrilled to be going back to Haiti.

Monday, June 4, 2012

All I Want is a Room Somewhere

I moved into my new room this weekend.  And while it will eventually be great, right now it looks like this...

...a storage space with a mattress on the floor.

Anyway, Thread has a press photo shoot tomorrow, and so today my boss told me to dress "nice" and then "cool" and was confused when I told him those were 2 very different things, and which one should it be?

I don't know what to wear, and all of my clothes are in garbage bags.