Amy Nelson On Why Quitting a Bad Job Was the Most Liberating Thing She’s Ever Done

The Managing Director and Incoming CEO of Venture for America shares her email strategy and her secret life hack.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Amy Nelson: Wake up my children. My daughter bounces out with a smile, my son takes some persuading.

TG: What gives you energy?
AN: Good conversation. I love learning about the interests of our VFA Fellows and partners. It definitely keeps me going when work gets intense.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
AN: Outsourcing as much as possible, ordering everything online, and the Pocket app.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
AN: “Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization ”by Martin Bernal – It’s a very controversial book, but it taught me to question received wisdom. I read it while studying abroad in college, and it completely opened my eyes. I’m very interested in how politics shapes how we recount history.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?AN: It stays on the bedside table, but it’s on silent. I’m sure I check it way too many times a day, but I’m working on disconnecting periodically.

TG: How do you deal with email?
AN: I practice inbox zero, and I’m pretty dogmatic about it. I believe in responding to things promptly and not using your inbox as a to-do list.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?AN: If I’m in on the road, probably look at travel accounts on Instagram to be momentarily transported. It’s incredibly calming. If I’m in the office, probably catch up with a colleague.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
AN: Several years ago, I had a very demanding job at an organization I felt wasn’t being led in the right direction. It was very emotionally taxing. Quitting was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. It made me smarter about identifying leaders I want to work with.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
AN: As a parent, you fail — or at least feel like you’re failing — all the time. It’s very humbling. I had to learn not to be afraid to ask for help. I’m still working on that.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
AN: It’s not a quote exactly, but I often remind myself of how incredibly privileged I am by thinking of people who by circumstances of birth have so much less than I do. I think of former child soldiers or girls who were sold into the sex trade that I’ve met. It stops me from being so upset about minor setbacks. I also tend to ruminate on how I’m only one of 7.5 billion people on earth, a planet with very minor significance in our universe. It’s humbling, but not dispiriting for me. It actually motivates me to do more.


Amy started at Venture for America in 2013, first leading fundraising and now as Managing Director of the organization. She will assume the role of CEO in September 2017. Prior to joining VFA, Amy help senior business development roles with high-growth non-profit organizations, including B Lab, Cambodian Children’s Fund and Relief International. She co-founded the Middle School Public Debate Program, an organization that teaches young people the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond. She holds a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College and an MBA from NYU Stern.