Hello Nairobi! Hold on, let’s back up for a second.
My “Big” Goal
For the good or the bad, I am a planner. Almost two years ago, I grew a pair and quit corporate, conventional life. To justify it, I needed a plan — some direction, some inkling of a purpose to twinkle through. I dug deep and came up with a “big” goal that I scribbled down in pen — buzzword disclaimer: I will dedicate the rest of my life to fighting multidimensional poverty through economic empowerment, leveraging first the power of social enterprise. It sounds all flowery, cliched and dandy, but it’s something that has stuck for the last two years. And that’s been powerful.
Finding Them “Small” Goals
I had my “big” goal written in pen, and now I needed a bunch of smaller goals written in pencil that would contribute in some way to this mother of all goals. There were a few options I was contemplating — (1) just go to India and start a social enterprise, (2) do your MBA with a focus on social innovation or (3) educate yourself by working around the world in the social impact space.
The India option was a direct, hail-Mary-esque route. Entrepreneurs are generally impatient and joyfully jump into the deep end without a life jacket, so this was tempting. But I did not want to be this slimy know-it-all hotshot who quit New York to start something in India, pretending to know everything.
The MBA was tempting for reasons of glory. An MBA from a top school establishes your ethos instantly, apart from exponentially feeding your already-bloated ego. My mentor probably gave me one of the best pieces of advice on this — do an MBA if you genuinely need it to achieve your goals. Intelligent people are the masters of justifying almost anything. And it’s dangerous because these arguments can be powerful enough to justify delusion. I didn’t want to delude myself — I didn’t need an MBA to conquer my goals.
To be clear, I didn’t default to option 3. Educating myself by working across the globe had always been my preferred option. The other choices had to be considered though if I was going to be logical about this. So, I considered those glorified options and dumped them, deciding to create my own custom, cheaper global volunteer-based “MBA”. I would spend six months working in Latin America, six months in Africa, six months in Southeast Asia, six months in India, and then settle in somewhere in Maharashtra to ignite my social enterprise there. All the “working” would obviously be connected to social impact.
Flexing Them Small Goals
My first hurrah turned out to be Guatemala. I was to spend six months there working for a social enterprise accelerator. The six months suddenly turned to fifteen. And my ambitious custom six-month rotational “MBA” went caput. But that’s the beauty of it. It made sense to spend the extra time in Guatemala. After six months, I had just about established myself. The unpaid fellowship soon became a decently paid job, and I got a chance to really add value while learning more than I could have imagined. Option three gave me reasonable flexibility.
The big goal had still not changed. But, it was clearly time to just adjust the smaller goals a little. Southeast Asia was out. Africa still needed to happen, but I couldn’t afford another fifteen-month stint, at least in my head. Enter Amani Institute. The program that they offer serendipitously landed in my inbox — it was like magic straight out of the wand of J.K. Rowling. This program is a 9-month certificate in Social Innovation Management, but more importantly, it involves a 4-month apprenticeship with a local social enterprise. They believe in learning by doing, and all this had me taking my shirt off and running around yelling hallelujah. I got in, secured an apprenticeship with Livelyhoods, and here I am in Nairobi.
Conquering Them Small Goals
This is my Round 2. In Round 1, I worked with a bunch of social entrepreneurs working in all kinds of cause areas. The breadth was what I wanted but we didn’t go deep enough. In Round 2, I will be working with one enterprise that is trying to fight poverty through job creation, sublimely aligned with what I want to eventually do in India. Add some theory on communication, leadership and management, a network of like-minded but diverse professionals, and I am all giddy right now. The program starts tomorrow. The first week is a quick crash course on biomimicry. We are going on a retreat in the middle of nowhere in Kenya to introspect and connect. Cliched, I know but I love it when you experience why clichés are clichés.
Nothing Is Better
I found out about this while I was in the middle of Bolivia. I still had a month of travel left. I was about to see Colombia and parts of Guatemala that I hadn’t yet. But all the while, I couldn’t wait for tomorrow, for the start of this next round. I feel so spoilt. There I was, travelling the world, but all I could think of was getting to Nairobi to start my apprenticeship. That’s what is so powerful about direction. “Work” becomes play, and conventional pleasures become unwanted distractions.
Find your big goal. And make it happen. It doesn’t get better than that.