I did everything I was supposed to do. I got good grades in high school, I took AP classes, I went to a good college, I got a great job, I climbed the career ladder.
On paper I had it all. I was making $70,000 a year at the age of 28, I was working for the federal government. I had health care, I had benefits, I had job security. You literally can't get fired from working for the government. Trust me, there are people that should.
My parents were impressed, my friends were impressed, my boss told me I was doing a great job. I would go to Happy Hour and tell everyone I was the Special Assistant to the Director of Global Operations at the U.S. Peace Corps, and everyone thought that was so cool. They asked for my business card. I got to sit in on meetings at the White House.
Everything was perfect about my job except for one tiny, kind of important thing: I was miserable. How did I know I was miserable? Every single morning when my alarm would go off at 6:30 AM to NPR, I'd feel a shooting pain go up and down my back. I felt this pain when I was getting out of bed, when I was brushing my teeth, when I was getting dressed and putting on my shirt and tie, when I was taking the bus down to work, when I scanned my ID badge at the office, when I rode up the elevator up to my desk, when I sat at my desk typing memos, when my boss would invite me to meetings and we'd talk about best practices, and when my boss would email me every night on my Blackberry at 10 PM. The pain was so bad I developed shingles on my side. Shingles in a nerve disease common in people over the age of 70, not 20-somethings.
This was the pain of confusion. It was the pain of climbing this career ladder to success and realizing that I was nowhere. I was somewhere I didn't want to be. I was stuck in a quarter-life crisis. I was spending a lot of time on Facebook overdosing on FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, comparing myself to what my friends were doing.
So there was my friend going off to business school and I was like, "Maybe I should get my MBA." And there was my friend going to teach at a charter school, and I was like, "Maybe I should work at a charter school." And there was my friend opening a food truck, and I was like, "Maybe I should open a food truck, even though I'm an awful driver and a really bad cook."
And so there was a buddy of mine, he'd already graduated from one of the top law schools in the country, he got this amazing job at one of the top corporate firms, making well over six figures, and he's got it all figured out, and there he is traveling with his girlfriend in Peru, getting engaged at sunset in front of Machu Picchu. And I'm like "Man! This guy has got it all figured out. He's got this amazing job, he's going to get married, he's at Macchu Picchu, I hate my job, I hate my life, I can't even get a date on OkCupid, my life is ruined!" I'm a goner! It was only when I met other young people going through the exact same thing that I was able to turn my quarter-life crisis into a breakthrough. So this talk is going to teach you a few lessons I learned on my journey that can help anyone that's stuck in a quarter-life crisis or help you avoid your quarter-life crisis and find meaningful work.
So the first lesson I learned: find believers.
Surround yourself with people that believe in the beauty of their dreams. Because I used to come home in D.C. every night to my roommate Dan, and I'd be like "Dan, I hate my job, I don't want to do this anymore, I want to move across the country, I want to live in San Francisco, I've always wanted to live there, I want to start writing, I want to start being creative, I want to support social entrepreneurs, I want to support young people that are going after their dreams."
And Dan would look at me, stare, roll his eyes, take a swig of beer, and say "Smiley, suck it up." "Everyone hates their job, it's part of life." And I was like, "Man! You know, that's kind of brutal." I was 28 at the time which is old, but it's not that old. I didn't want to spend the next 40 years of my life depressed.
But you know what? The majority of the world thinks like Dan. 70% of Americans are disengaged at their jobs. 70%! 70%! One fifth of those people are so disengaged, they're actively undermining their coworkers' work. They're literally getting paid to mess things up for the company that they work for. And this is a shame. It's a shame because millions of people wake up every day unfulfilled, depressed, not showing up fully for themselves, their families, their communities, or the world at large.
So then I met believers. I went to a leadership program that bring together 20-somethings interested in creating social change, social entrepreneurship, and using business for good. The program was called StartingBloc and at StartingBloc I met believers.
I met people like Debbie. Debbie was starting GoldieBlox, a toy company that teaches young girls engineering skills. I met people like Ted. Ted started MoneyThink, which is a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship to urban youth. I met people like Tom. Tom started Rising Tide Car Wash, a small business in South Florida with his father, that employs people with autism.
我认识了像Debbie这样的人。Debbie创建了GoldieBlox，是一间玩具公司，专教女孩子们工程技术。我认识了像Ted这样的人。Ted创建了MoneyThink，是个非盈利组织，专门向城市少年教授财政和创业方面知识。我认识了像Tom这样的人。Tom在佛州南部创建了Rising Tide Car Wash的一个小公司。与父亲一起创建的，专雇用有自闭症的患者。
So I met these believers and they're like, "Wait a second Smiley, you want to leave D.C., move to San Francisco, start writing, start supporting social entrepreneurs? You have to do that, the world needs you to do that!"
Because a crazy thing happens when you find believers: you find accountability. Normally in the real world, you tell someone you're going to quit your job and they're like, "Yeah dude, you said that six months ago. Everyone's going to quit their job. Whatever. You're not going to do it." You tell someone you're writing a book: "Everyone's writing a book, I'll believe it when I see it." Not when you tell believers, because when you tell believers you have accountability.
I told my buddy Evan that I was going to quit my job at StartingBloc. And you know what he asked me? One simple question: when? When are you going to have the talk with your boss? And he texted me every single week after the program: Have you had the talk with your boss yet? Have you had the talk with your boss yet? I'd be in meeting with senior officials at the White House getting texts and calls from this guy and I was like, "Stop calling me, you're going to get me arrested!" But you know what? The only reason I did have that talk with my boss, the only reason I did quit my job, I did move across the country to a city I wanted to live in, the only reason I did write a book, the only reason I started supporting social entrepreneurs, and the only reason I'm standing here right now is because people like Evan held me accountable. Because when you find believers, you find accountability.
People like Debbie and Ted and Tom weren't talking about making lots of money. They weren't talking about rising up the corporate ladder, getting featured in TechCrunch or Fast Company. They were talking about making the world more innovative, compassionate, and sustainable. They were talking about using their access, their privilege, and their skills to empower people less fortunate than them. Because the success symbol for my generation, for our generation, isn't climbing the career ladder, it's doing work that matters. So we're not the "me me me" generation. 50% of millennials, that's most of you in this room, would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. 90% of millennials want to use their skills for good.
像Debbie、Ted、Tom这样的人，他们谈论的不是赚多少钱。谈论的不是如何在职途上平步青云，不是在TechCrunch或Fast Comany做风云人物。他们谈论的是让世界更加革新、更加有同情心、更具持续性。谈论的是如何利用自己的门路、优势和技能去赋力于不如自己幸运的人。我这一代人、我们这一代人的成功标志不是职途进阶，而是做有意义的工作。我们不是 “我、我、我”一代。50%的千禧一代，即在座的大部分人都会宁愿减薪水去做一份符合自己价值观的工作。90%的千禧一代都想把自己的技能用到有益之事上。
Despite unprecedented levels of unemployment and student debt, our generation wants to work with purpose. So how do you actually find meaningful work? Well, the second lesson I learned is that you have to stop comparing yourself to others and start pursuing what is meaningful to you. I went back and interviewed my friend, the corporate lawyer that had it all figured out, was married, got engaged at Machu Picchu. I was like "Man, you got a great job, you're making all this money, What's the secret?"
And you know what he told me? He told me that after three years of law school, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, and now making all this money at the corporate firm, that he was miserable as a corporate lawyer, and that he was going back to grad school at the age of 30 to become a high school social studies teacher.
Right? Which is great for him, but what's the lesson? What's the lesson? Nobody knows what they're doing. Nobody has it figured out. The grass is always greener. Instead of comparing yourself to others, instead of comparing yourself to everyone on Facebook, start figuring out what it is that you want. Don't climb the career ladder to nowhere; build a career that matters to you. So why are you here? What do you want to do for others? How can you align your own gifts, your unique gifts, with the impact you want to have on the world in a way that supports your desired quality of life?
You know what the beautiful thing about meaning is? The beautiful thing about alignment? There is no one answer. No two peoples' definitions are the same. I don't know what's right for you. I'm still trying to figure out what's right for myself. Now, Debbie, she started GoldieBlox because of the discrimination she faced as one of the only female engineering students at Stanford University. Ted started MoneyThink because when he was growing up in Chicago, he realized he had a lot of opportunities due to his privilege that his peers simply didn't have. And Tom started Rising Tide Car Wash because he saw how hard it was for his own brother to find a job because his own brother has autism. So they had a personal connection to their work. Meaning is personal, so what makes you tick? Not your parents, not your boss, not your friends on Facebook. What makes you tick? Why are you here? How will you create your own path?
大家知道‘意义’的美妙之处在哪里吗？多方结合的美妙之处是在哪里吗？美在可以有很多答案。没有两个人的定义是相同的。我不知道你该做什么。我连自己该做什么都还没想好呢。Debbie创建了GoldieBlox是因为她在斯坦福大学作为极少数读工程系女生的时候被歧视。Ted创建了MoneyThink是因为他在芝加哥长大时，意识自己能有很多机会都是因为家庭条件的优越，而很多同龄人却没有。而Tom创建Rising Tide Car Wash是因为体会过自己的亲兄弟之所以找不到工作是因为有自闭症。他们的本人和自己的工作都息息相关的。‘意义’和人本身一定是息息相关的。所以，你最关心什么呢？不是父母、不是老板、不是Facebook上的那些朋友。你最关心什么？是什么原因把你引到这里来了？你想如何建立自己的道路？
The third lesson I learned is that you have to start hustling. You have to start hustling with intention, you have to start hustling with purpose. A lot of people like to call our generation lazy, "the lazy generation." It's like, are you kidding me? Lazy? I've been working for 10 years since college and I still owe Sally Mae $10,000 in student loans. So Sally Mae if I ever see you on Tinder, I'm swiping left. Debbie, and Ted and Tom weren't working four hours a week, they were working 40, 50, 60 hours a week on something they cared about. Now why would you want to automate something that brings you joy? Why would you want to automate something that impacts the world, impacts others? These people weren't automating, they were hustling. They were working hard on something that matters. I was working four different jobs when I was writing a book because I had to pay rent and pay my loans.
我学到的第三个教训就是你得有所行动。你的行动得有心，你的行动得有目标。很多人都喜欢说我们这一代懒惰，“懒惰的一代”。开玩笑！懒惰？我从大学毕业后工作了10年了。在Sallie Mae（美最大学生贷款公司）那我还欠着$10,000学生债务。Sallie Mae听着，如果我在Tinder上看见你即刻删除。Debbie、Ted和Tom可不是每周工作4小时。他们每周工作40、50、60个小时全为了和自己息息相关的事情。大家想想，能为你带来快乐的事情你怎可以不亲自安排呢？对社会、别人有重大影响的东西你怎可以不亲手创建呢？这几位朋友都没有置之不理，他们都主动地亲历亲为的。对于自己关心的事情他们埋头苦干。我在写书的那段时间得干四份工作。我得交房租、还贷款。
A lot of people hear my story and they're like, "I got to quit my job tomorrow, I'm out! Peace!" That's not my message, that's not what I'm saying. A lot of you may have heard of Debbie and GoldieBlox, but what you might not know is she had a full time job while she was starting that company. She was working as the marketing director for a jewelry company in San Francisco. She stayed on at that job for nine months after she had the idea for GoldieBlox. Why?
First of all, she knew she was going to start her own business so she needed to save money, a very practical reason, but second of all, she felt like she was getting paid to go to business school. Rather than pay a lot of money to go get an MBA, she was earning a paycheck and learning invaluable skills in marketing, retail, distributions, sales. She knew she would be able to apply to her own business when she left and started her own company. So you don't have to quit your job tomorrow. As a matter of fact, you don't even need to have a job.
I'll tell the story of my friend Bernat. So I met this crazy guy once in San Francisco. I'm biking home and suddenly this stranger starts talking to me. He's like, "Hey man, how's your day going?" I'm like, "I don't know, leave me alone, I don't know you." He keeps biking alongside and is like, "Hey, I just got here from Spain, I'm looking for a job." I'm like, "I don't know you, leave me alone." He's like, "I just moved from Barcelona, I'm a really good UX/UI designer, I've had six interviews this week. If I don't get a job I have to go back to Spain, I need a work visa to stay here in the U.S. There's not many jobs in Spain, I really want to stay."
And I was like, "Actually, my best friend was living in Barcelona, it's a beautiful city, let me check out your website," He said, "What are you working on?" I said, "Well, I'm writing this book." He goes, "Do you have a cover designer?" and I said, "No, not yet." So I go home, I check out his website and I was like, "Wow, this guy is a pretty good designer. He's pretty kick-ass, he's awesome." So I was like, "Hey Bernat, maybe you could design my book cover." And then I posted on Facebook, "Hey, just met this crazy guy, Bernat from Barcelona, does anyone need a designer? I know a lot of people in startups, maybe Bernat can help you."
然后我说，“其实，我有个老友就住在巴塞罗那，是个蛮漂亮的城市，我去瞧瞧你的网站吧。”他又问，“你在搞什么？”我说，“在写本书呢。”他问，“找了人设计封面了吗？”我说，“还没呢。”然后我回到家，就去看他的网站。看后顿时， “哇，这家伙设计有点水平呢。很厉害呢。”然后我就说，“嗨，Bernat, 也许你可以帮我设计封面。”然后我就在Facebook上出了个帖，“嗨，刚认识了位奇人，巴塞罗那来的Bernat，谁要找设计师吗？我知道很多人在创业，Bernat可能可以帮到你呢。”
Five minutes later my friend Yi comments. He's like, "My friends are starting a startup in Palo Alto, there's three of them, they don't really know what they're doing, they could use a designer." So Bernat meets with this team, they hit it off, he gets hired as their lead designer, it's a four person team. He's super excited, he texts me, "Smiley, thank you, I got this job!" And I'm like "Thank you, man, you made the ask."
So it goes by, he helps me design this book cover, and then about six or seven months later I got a text from Bernat: He's like, "Smiley, I'm taking you out to dinner, anywhere you want to go." I was like, awesome, I want to get taken out to dinner, great. We went out to dinner and I said, "What's going on man? What's up? Why are you taking me out? I have some money, I'm a writer, I'm mostly broke, but we can split the check or something."
And he goes, "You know the company I started working for after I met you?" I was like, "Yeah." They had just been acquired by Yahoo for 80 million dollars. Right? It's a small team, like four or five people, so Bernat had equity, he was one of the first people on the team. He was thanking me and I'm like, "You should thank yourself." You know why? Because Bernat made the ask. He talked to a random stranger on a bike in a city that he didn't live in, in a country that he's not even from. He made the ask.
So do not let being a beginner limit your hustle. Take a risk, sign up for the class, volunteer, go abroad, work abroad, launch a crowdfunding campaign. Start the blog, build that website, make the ask. People will support you when you start working with purpose. Now this isn't about finding your one calling or your one purpose, because I don't think that that's possible. I think I've already had eight callings, and I'm only 31, which is not that old, I swear. But I am saying that if you find believers now, if you stop comparing yourself to others now, and if you hustle to pursue what is meaningful to you now, you will change your life, you will change the lives of others, and you will change the world.
People like Debbie and Ted and Tom changed my life. They're the only reason I'm standing here right now
and not sitting at home on Facebook depressed, worrying about what all my friends are doing, worrying about my friend, the corporate lawyer that doesn't even want to be a corporate lawyer. Because when you pursue meaningful work, you inspire others to as well. You insure that the workforce of the future will be spending its days empowering girls to become engineers, teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship to urban youth, employing people with disabilities, and ensuring that every single person in this room and those not in this room reaches their full potential.
So you can call us idealistic, you can certainly call me idealistic, I mean my name is Smiley. But we are not the "me me me" generation. We are the purpose generation, and we will be engaged with our work because we have to. The challenges facing our generation are simply too serious to ignore. They're too serious to only worry about on the weekend, or too serious to only worry about after 5 PM. We can't be stuck in a high school crisis, a quarter-life crisis, a third-life crisis, or a mid-life crisis. We can't climb the career ladder to nowhere. The stakes are too damn high.