The Next Chapter
I have something pretty big to tell you, but first let me tell you where I’m coming from.
I’m about to graduate from Penn State and, despite being indecisive the entire time about whether or not I wanted to stay, I couldn’t be happier with my four years here.
While many choose to attend college to help achieve their goals, I would argue that my experience proved that college can have a much different, profound impact on an individual’s life.
If I used college simply as a tool to help me achieve my goals, this post might be about how I’m going to become a full time consultant, post graduation. College would be a hammer that allowed me to nail in my goals into a piece of wood.
Instead of a tool, I would argue that college is a playground. College provides you the swing-sets, slides, monkey bars, and sand chips, to explore your self and your passions. I was given all types of tools from classes, to friends, to student groups and academies, to play around with anything I wanted to explore.
I joined a marketing club, did consulting for non profits, started my own company, was part of the Presidential Leadership Academy, did independent research, picked up squash, basketball, and soccer, and spent a perfectly excessive amount of time with my friends. Anytime something caught my attention, I dove in. After being free to explore as much as I wanted, I took away the parts I loved and removed the ones I didn’t.
Through all of this exploration, I found myself embracing amazing opportunities like working in San Francisco for Mozilla and becoming the President of Innoblue, the entrepreneurship group at Penn State.
This past semester — my last at Penn State — I was fortunate to intern at my dream company, Remind.com, an educational tech company based in SF. I was at the end of my college journey, it seemed obvious that I would intern for Remind and join them full time after I graduated.
That is, until one night where the founder of Remind, someone I consider a close mentor, asked me a few probing questions. Bouncing back and forth about my future plans, he asked me to reflect on:
-Who am I?
-What do I value?
-Why do I exist?
Oddly existential for midnight on a Friday.
Independent of life decisions, career choices, or really any specifics whatsoever, I had to decide what mattered me to more than anything.
I came up with 3 core values that guided my life. I looked for one key factor in each of them — when was I my most authentic self and when was I happiest?
The first core value I came to was deep impact. I thought back to an Innoblue entrepreneurship workshop where a student came up after and said “Eli, I’ve chosen this entirely different career path and I’m so happy now, thank you so much”. Making a deep impact on students’ lives made me extremely happy and felt entirely authentic and natural for me.
I’ve found that the way I most consistently make a deep impact on peoples’ lives is through empowerment. In the same way that Penn State gave me a wide range of tools to explore myself, I love — absolutely love — teaching others and giving them the tools to improve their own lives and find happiness.
Even when I made a deep impact through empowering others, I realized there was still something missing . I wasn’t entirely content with the fact that I had helped that one person. I had the urge to help as many people as possible. I wanted to tell everyone about Innoblue or the class I was teaching and I wanted to scale out my methods of helping to as many people as possible. Seeing 1000’s of people attend Innoblue workshops or events in a single semester was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve been able to be a part of.
These three guiding principles in order — deep impact, empowerment, and scale — have become the foundation of my decision making process. With this framework, I created a list of all of the potential things I could with my life (or at least this upcoming year).
While many ideas catch my eye, such as traveling around the world, being a consultant, or working at a cool startup, this framework for my own values helped me filter through what really mattered to me and what would make me the happiest.
From this process, I came to an extremely important conclusion. The only way I was going to find my maximum level of happiness was through starting my own company with the aim of having a deep, empowering impact on a lot of people. With the help of one of my best friends, we decided that we wanted to help middle and high schoolers learn computer science.
As soon as that became clear to me, all the logistics fell into place. I found two amazing co-founders, we started talking with customers, and for the past month I’ve fallen in love with our company, abstractEd. All the excuses I had told myself — my friends wouldn’t accept me or I wouldn’t be able to support myself — disintegrated as they were replaced by the confidence of knowing my core values.
I want to stop here for a moment and recognize that the internship with Remind was one of the greatest opportunities possible for me. I fell in love with education even more than I already was, I got to learn from some of the best in the industry (special thanks to my boss, Rachel, and our founder, Brett) and it only ignited my passion for what I’m doing now. I couldn’t of found a better company to intern for or a better family to learn from.
That being said, I’m so excited for this next step of my life. In May I’ll be moving out to San Francisco with my co-founders to work on abstractEd full time.
Penn State’s playground allowed me to explore a wide array of opportunities. Every twist, turn, and adventure led me to where I am right now, and it all turned out perfectly. With each new step, I had an amazing support network of my friends, family and Penn State faculty that were able to provide me with guidance and help me explore my passions. They gave me the confidence to explore each new day, fail consistently, and discover what makes me tick.
As the song goes, “thou didst mold us dear Old State” and for that, I am ever grateful.