Tomorrow night, we look forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues at our 10th Anniversary Celebration event where we will also reveal the selected organization for The UnFundable Project grant.
This milestone has made me reflective of late – on where we’ve been and where we’re going. It has also caused me to take stock of what I’ve learned from a decade as an entrepreneur. Because folks, there have been lessons… so many important lessons. Today I’ll share a few.
Lesson One: Purpose Fuels Action
It may be surprising to know that I was a bit of a slacker for much of my early years, skating by with minimal effort. You know the type: I was the kid cramming for the test or dashing off the book report in the back of the bus on the way to school.
Relocating to Charlotte and starting a career as a social impact consultant awakened something dormant inside me. I had only worked as a practitioner inside nonprofit organizations up to that point. Being on the other side of the table was a big adjustment, but once it was made, I never looked back. I love my job. It is probably the last one I will ever have, and I am perfectly fine with that. The opportunity to work with so many different organizations, to live inside so many disparate missions, is what gets me fired up in the morning. Where some people would see the chaos of colliding priorities, I gain energy that powers each new day.
I’m not sure there was a specific moment when it all clicked into place, but there is no doubt that purpose is at the heart of Next Stage. As a team, we feel a calling to do the work that we do. It urges us forward to continually disrupt what we think we know about how the world works.
I believe that there is a purpose inside all of us, and you are truly lucky if you can make that purpose your life’s work. It is a wellspring that makes everything possible.
Lesson Two: It’s Better Together
No one tells you when you start a company how lonely it can be.
My office when Next Stage was first launched was not an office at all – it was our family dining room table. Each night I would move the stack of paperwork down to one end so my wife Adara and I could eat dinner without getting spaghetti sauce on a recently-signed contract. [Sidenote: My wife has been so patient and understanding throughout this journey. None of this would be possible without her support.]
A big change came when I joined a coworking community and realized how great it was to be around other people. You can forget how important human connection is to maintaining positive energy and hopefulness. That move eventually led to hiring employees and committing to office space – all significant milestones.
Without a doubt, the thing I am most proud of is having built such a talented, values-aligned group of professionals who fuel our work. We recently made a commitment to advancing collaboration as our organizational mission, and that starts with our own team. Next Stage is a movement of people who choose to work together to advance social good. We complement each other with knowledge, skills and lived experience that strengthens everything we do.
It took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually arrived here: If you want to keep your impact small, go it alone. But if you truly want to change the world, the only way forward is together.
Lesson Three: Vision Drives Belief
So much of one’s early years are defined by boundless potential. When you’re young, anything is possible and the options feel infinite. But as time goes on, you start to realize that every choice you have made has led you further down a path. Eventually, the direction of that path begins to take shape.
I’ve described this in the past as a branching tree. Twenty-five years ago, I had no idea that decisions that seemed so arbitrary at the time – choosing that internship, relocating to this city, taking that get-to-know-you coffee – would be so defining of my life. When you are at the start of that branch, it seems like it extends out into forever, and each decision, no matter how small, seems only to take you to the next moment, to the next opportunity.
I am now old enough that I can look back on the branch I’m on and know exactly how I got here. And out in the future, I am also now old enough to know the branch doesn’t actually extend forever. If I squint, I can see way off in the distance where the divergent branches reach their destination.
When we work with our clients on strategic planning, we challenge them to establish a time-limited vision – “where do you want to be ten years from now.” Of late, we’ve been taking our own medicine. I recently wrote about our new strategic plan, which defines who we are and how we want to make a difference in the world. It commits us to a specific branch – one we are choosing for ourselves.
Our ten-year vision is now crystal clear, and every client, partner, contractor and new hire is joining a movement of people who believe the world can be what we want it to be. We look forward to partnering with you on the road ahead.