Passages and New Beginnings
"I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
My childhood was unremarkable and suburban. The mediocrity allowed me plenty of time to appreciate the silence and contemplate the rustic posterity of the New England woods.
Robert Frost wrote that each of us has a landscape where our soul truly belongs. A place where we do not need to strive to be connected--but one that is connected to us. I ran into the woods set directly behind our house almost every afternoon, headed nowhere, without purpose, without any intention. I went into the woods to be free, unafraid and quiet. I found myself amongst knotted crab-apple trees and knee- high barley swaying in the autumn light. I retain that landscape in me, where I am forever a “swinger of birch trees,” of not knowing where I am going; but going anyways.
I left my consulting practice in Silicon Valley one year ago without any other plan but to finish my novel, which took me nearly five years and eleven versions to complete.
I spent forty days encamped in a writer’s shack in the high desert of the Sierra Nevada and took another, more restful and placid time in the Vermont woods over Christmas through to March. In between, I served as Chief Analyst for a developmental fund in London. I have what I believe to be a better understanding of myself as a human being now from all of these experiences-suburban, rural and urban, but my soul still lives in those woods from long ago.
I have been a student of philosophy and letters for long-time now. Like many humanists, I believe that our most worthy and evolutionary capacity is our ability to trust and cooperate with one another, to work together to improve our lot and increase our odds of surviving on this planet as a species. Scientists estimate that we have as little as fifty habitable years left on Earth. Our cooperative nature is the pillar upon which all technological progress stands--and so it befuddles me to no end that we cannot manage to galvanize our tremendous, collective intelligence for the betterment of all beings on this planet before we roar off to another one.
Though we might be prone to forget it—we are intellectually free. Though the machinations of the media and mania of modern existence might dull that sensibility, we are able to direct our energies to the dire matters at hand. We can consider the plight of those less fortunate than we are, and we can choose to help them. We can cooperate with each other, not simply for profit.
I am not a soldier, or firefighter, or everyday hero. My skills are not life-saving. I have been told I have the gift of gab, and that I have a knack for accumulating and net working capital and landing on my feet. However, I am not working on a cure for cancer, or a neurosurgeon. I am not a roboticist or programmer. I have never been good at math. My first calling in life was to be Physician, but organic chemistry proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.
My second calling has been to look for my second calling.
What am I here on this planet to do?
The answer is simple. I can exhibit my version of courage. I can step off the treadmill and shift the focus of my days, draw my network and capital together—for good.
I have only recently decided to pursue a career in nonprofit management, specifically targeting poverty alleviation by providing educational scholarships to the most disadvantaged children on the planet. Raising awareness (and hopefully some funds)—for some of the poorest students in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia through The School Fund.
As Executive Director of The School Fund, I am part of the growing wave of leaders transitioning from the for-profit world, aiming to use our skill-sets “for good.” We tend to reject palliative programs and choose direct development strategies. We demand demonstrable, clear and measurable impact.
To bridge sectors (in my case investment, corporate strategies, and educational philanthropy), it was necessary that I convince The School Fund that I would be a good fit and that my background would not only add value to the organization but grow its endowment considerably. I expected to take my lumps for coming from the investment advisement world. Now I understand that at least part of my new job is to help my founder and board understand the challenges we face as a small fund.
I embrace my role as the new leader in a new (to me) field primarily because there is so much to learn. In some ways, I have a dual mission. First and foremost, it is to educate children in some of the poorest countries in the world. Second, it is to create strategies that are both mission-aligned and capacity-enhancing for our partners and the fund itself.
The move to the nonprofit sector cannot be a whim. It is a huge commitment and realignment of values. Many of us re-careering can demonstrate our commitment to this industry by the personal wealth we have sacrificed—and the new dollars and passion we have attracted to our causes. The nonprofit realm includes a fertile ground for exploring the mutual benefits of stronger links across sectors.
My advice for anyone considering this move is simple.
Only you know best what kind of cause you feel passionate about, your preferred work environment, and how your skill set would best fit—so follow it.
Aligning your network toward philanthropic ends will take more time than you expect. It will require ongoing networking. Be prepared for that. You will need to simultaneously reach out to partner with new organizations and drill deeper to develop relationships with those individuals who are prospects for helping you with growth and funding. However, you will see yourself—and your chosen cause—start to bloom with new life.
My views are expressed most recently in my collection of essays—Vague Apocalyptica which I encourage the reader to consider--should my point of view interest them.