Writing makes me feel alive.
It has since my early years in college when I was struck with a strong desire to share stories and ideas with the world.
At the time I didn’t know how to tell my own story and I didn’t have the courage to put my own authentic ideas out into the world for anyone to see.
My solution was to tell the stories of others. I started, msuCatalyst, a website sharing insights and stories about interesting students, faculty and alumni of my university. I could share ideas and stories, help students pick up life tips and keep my own story and ideas to myself where they felt safe.
The first dozen times I reached out to someone asking for an interview I was certain the answer would be no. Why would anyone be interested in sharing their story with some random sophomore? To my great surprise, the opposite happened—people were honored to be asked and excited to share their story. It wasn’t just around campus, either. During a summer internship in San Francisco I started a discussion in a LinkedIn message for Michigan State Alumni and five, five!, people responded they’d love to meet and pass along the wisdom they’d gained since college. The meetings were exhilarating and I loved the challenge of condensing their insights into interesting articles.
As with many college passion projects, it fizzled after the second year; however, my penchant for learning from people did not. With two years of college under my belt and guidance from an exceptional teacher, I decided to tackle a bigger challenge: 52 Cups of Coffee.
My experience meeting 52 new people from all parts of the world was life-changing, challenging, emotional, fun, unpredictable, thought-provoking, rewarding, terrifying, uncertain, joyful and more. Experiencing the ups and downs of the project made me feel alive. I can’t count the number of times I walked out of a coffee meeting on cloud nine, my mind racing with new ideas or my heart full after feeling a deep connection with a person I’d only just met. But it wasn’t just me. 52 Cups readers felt it too, and I’d feel the same exhilaration when I’d read a kind comment or email from someone positively influenced by the story.
52 Cups was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also the most meaningful. I will never forget the indescribable feeling of satisfaction I experienced the day I posted the 52nd Cup.
So why, then, was my next major life step taking a 9-5 job doing very technical marketing for a tech company in San Francisco?
Because when I wasn’t busy writing stories in college, I was getting a degree in Marketing.
Marketing degree = job in marketing after college.
Connecting with strangers and sharing stories wasn’t a real job. It was a hobby. My default assumptions what that hobbies don’t pay bills, degrees pay bills, which meant it was time to find a job in marketing. So I did. I found a great job at a great company with great people—and I was miserable.
When you follow up a year spent doing something that makes you feel alive with a 9-5 desk job (and 90 minute commute) it’s tough to be happy. But that didn’t stop me from trying. I found endless reasons why staying at my job was the right choice and chasing a crazy dream to travel and talk to people was far-fetched, foolish and irresponsible.
There was clearly a void in my life so I subconsciously started looking to fill it. This led me to conversations with good friends and lots and lots of reading. The emerging trend was that true happiness and success came from taking risks and chasing passions. This was the motivation behind this three-post series: advice tells us to chase crazy dreams, but the majority of people aren’t. Why? Are people wrong or is the advice wrong.
I decided there was only one way to find out: I started saving money so I could quit my job and jump back into the world of meeting people and sharing stories. Writing that sentence makes it seem like such a simple decision—like I just woke up with the confidence to trade in a stable, well-paying job for a life filled with uncertainty. I didn’t, I spent weeks filled with anxiety second guessing myself and the decisions I was making.
A major turning point was the night I received a text with a link to the The Risk Not Taken, the personal account for Bonobos founder, Andy Dunn. In the story was a line that echoed what Cup 30 told me about uncertainty and worst case scenarios:
The day after the Decision Elf visited me in the shower I saw a close friend at Stanford. I informed him of my decision — against an intimidating financial backdrop — to start a company instead of taking the job. I’ll never forget what he said because it rang true to the moment:
You’ll never starve, and you’ll always have a place to sleep. Worst comes to worst, you can always stay on our couch.
The post helped me see that I have supportive friends and family looking after me, employable skills, and a tough heart: if I made a decision and failed, I would find a way to pick myself up and make the most of the situation. I realized I would rather fail chasing a something important to me than succeed at a job that felt empty.
So I quit to travel and launch a fresh round of 52 Cups.
And last Tuesday, I sat down at a lovely cafe in San Francisco to drink Cup 1. It was amazing. I left feeling alive. I remembered what it felt like to be doing something you love.
Where will it all lead? I have no idea. But, despite the fear and uncertainty, it feels right. It’s going to be an adventure and I hope you’ll come along for the ride (you can now subscribe to get the Cups in your inbox!). I’ll be posting Cup 1 next week(!) and have fun updates to share soon.
At the end of 52 Cups round one, I shared this take away:
Because I know that if I can continue to figure out what I love to do, find the courage to do it, and do it well— life will work out—and have a lot of fun in the process.
It’s time I took my own advice and start to feel alive again.
Thanks to @jeannineyeah (officially my unofficial editor) for reading this.