When paycheck leads to purpose
Let me take a step back so you can understand how I got here. I’ve always been passionate about learning and education. However, when it came to accepting a consulting job or pursuing a career with Teach for America, I had to make a decision based on personal finances and set a goal of becoming a credentialed actuary by 25. At work, though I was very involved in our corporate social responsibility programming, I was frustrated by my inability to see how anything I did at my day job improved the world around me.
I constantly found myself wishing I had pursued a career in education (which I hadn’t), wishing I liked teaching (which I don’t), or wishing I knew someone who ran a trendy startup (which I guess I am now).
After a few years, I finally took a step back and thought about how to take who I am today — an actuary experienced in high-paced corporate transactions specializing in compensation, tax, and accounting — and turn that into something I was passionate about. Like so many other Millennials (Forbes said it best here), I became restless and impatient trying to find the deeper meaning in my life. Eventually, over many sleepless nights and chats over pizza and red wine with anyone who would listen, the idea for ValuED was born.
What if I could financially incentivize kids — particularly in schools that struggle with absenteeism/dropouts — to go to school every day with the hopes of increasing parental/student engagement and decreasing long-term municipal and federal costs?
After all, the government is quick to tax behaviors that have a negative impact (consuming gasoline, smoking, etc.) so why not incentivize behaviors that benefit society? Almost 2,000 schools across the US lose almost 60% of their students before graduation. More than 75% of state prison inmates lack a high school diploma. The average high school dropout costs US taxpayers almost $300,000. We are paying for dropouts right now, whether we know it or not.
Sure, kids are just supposed to place an intrinsic value on education and want to go to school but that is often not the case, particularly if neither parent benefitted from a high school diploma. What if the incentives could eventually be in the form of savings bonds and increase the population of low-income communities in the banking system? And what if in communities where crime was the primary deterrent from attending school, the incentives could be structured as a partnership with UberPool? The possibilities were endless. It was exciting. It was passion. And as soon as I could, I planned on ditching my paycheck and moving onto purpose.
Enter 4.0. After a fantastically scary experience at Essentials down in NOLA (“What if my lack of experience in education discredits me?”) and a Tiny Fellowship application plagued with female impostor syndrome (“What if everyone realizes I have no idea what I am doing?”), I was shocked and thrilled to secure my first source of funding. Far more valuable than the $10,000 was the “Yes and” that came with it. “Yes, your idea has legs and we want you to develop it.” “Yes, we believe in you and we want to see what else you can do.” “Yes, chronic absenteeism is a huge problem and maybe — just maybe — you can be the one to find the innovative solution.”
As if overnight, my productivity and engagement at work increased. By learning to say “yes, and” at work, clients felt heard and mentors appreciated my attitude.
And the more of my nights I poured into ValuED, the more I allowed myself to love my job.
I was using what I learned during the day in client service about employee engagement and effective, broad-based incentives to think about students and the future of schools differently at night. I was no longer torn between keeping my job and launching a startup because here was a way to do both.
When a fellow 4.0 community member approached me about a potential partnership, I jumped at the opportunity to figure out how to implement ValuED better, faster, cheaper than I ever thought possible (a lesson deeply ingrained in every client service professional). Had I not been comfortable working on accelerated timelines and implementing solutions based on my clients’ unique constraints, I would have foregone this opportunity which ended up being ValuED’s first successful pilot.
I’m finally happy at work because I turned paycheck into purpose instead of trading one for the other.
While every entrepreneur’s experience is certainly different, I’d urge anyone debating trading a salary to explore entrepreneurship to take a step back to consider if you are truly at a point where you need to be making that decision.
Explore any flexible work arrangements that your employer offers. Invest in good technology so that you can work from home or remotely more frequently.
I know ValuED is more successful now because I have let it grow organically rather than aggressively chasing funding/partnerships before key assumptions were tested. I can’t wait for the day when ValuED is so successful that I am truly forced to choose between my day job and my social impact venture. But for now, that’s simply not the case.