Yes, it’s already 2019, but you’ll have to forgive me. The end of Autumn is December 21st and I was on vacation! 🙂
This past quarter has been tough. I felt like I was in a malaise of inaction where I wasn’t executing on what I had intended to do. I didn’t host the #NYCEDU community conversation I wanted. I didn’t apply to be fiscally sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York like I needed to in order to take our fundraising and programming to the next level. I didn’t keep up with my Spanish learning after half a year of being on a complete roll.
But now, looking back in the New Year, and with the help of my long-time and much-loved therapist, I realize hey, just let the fuck go. Maybe what you needed was that period of inaction. I’ve been go go go for so many years, and so independently, that it’s only natural to need the quiet, to need the rest, to need the reset. And, instead of feeling anxious about it, I can lean into it and enjoy myself.
I also have a ton to celebrate. For one, I’ve never had more clarity about #NYCEDU than I do, now. We’ve had #NYCEDU’s vision for a while, which is “ALL of New York City’s young people are equipped with the skills, resources, and community supports they need to flourish as happy, engaged, and impactful citizens of the world.” But what is it that we do? Well, what we do is power New York City’s collective impact efforts by providing the following:
- Information sharing
- Leadership development
- Resource generation, and eventually
I also had the amazing opportunity to travel to Taipei, where I got to eat great food, connect with my history as a Chinese-Malaysian-Taiwanese-American, and most importantly, experience the love and power of community while learning from some of the best community builders I’ve ever met. I was most struck by the infrastructure and leadership they’ve built there, where the number of events they host each year ranges in the hundreds! The specific community event I had the honor of facilitating was Taipei’s first ever Startup Weekend Education. A picture of the amazing organizers below.
This past quarter, I traveled as well to
- New Jersey for the Leadership for Educational Equity New Ventures Fellow Summit where I had the space and community support I needed to so clearly articulate #NYCEDU’s mission
- Toronto for Tamarack’s Community Change Festival where I got to meet my heroes at the Tamarack Institute who authored so many of #NYCEDU’s most referenced papers, and finally
- Seattle where I both facilitated Startup Weekend Education Seattle and attended Strive Together’s Cradle to Career Network Convening
So yes, looking back, I have a lot to be thankful for and celebrate this quarter. All the experiences I had were to set me up for success this year, and I’m raring to go.
Having said that, my focus now in the winter of 2019 is to reimmerse myself in the work that is powering collective impact in New York City. Because #NYCEDU’s work is so local, I need to be here, and I need to be consistent in cultivating the community that I and other #NYCEDU volunteers have built over the past year. That’s my big theme this year, consistency. I’ve lived so long in startup land that I’ve cultivated my ability to act audaciously and try new things, but I’ve been less diligent about cultivating my ability to push through the trough that inevitably comes after running that first test, or setting up that first system. That trough of resistance from the system, and of resistance internally. It’s so much easier to think, “yay! I’ve figured it out!” than it is to think “yeah, I know it’s tough right now, but persist!”
I’ve got a couple of things in place for me to be successful in consistency. The first is that I’ve got a framework for how to work in a consistent way. Many thanks to Sarah Camiscoli who recommended Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport to me. In Deep Work, Newport argues that High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus). Strategies I’ve implemented include tracking how I’m spending my work time on my calendar and keeping a tally of how many half-hours of Deep Work I’ve engaged in via Habitica, a task manager that gamifies task completion. I’m also looking for ways to spend my downtime productively and in a way that rejuvenates. Over the past year, I got into the bad habit of going online to read Reddit, watching shows, or reading fantasy books as a way to avoid Deep Work, but now I’m trying to listen to podcasts while doing my laundry or cooking, exercising or meditating when I feel the need for a break, and just being okay with being bored. After all, that’s when a lot of these breakthroughs come. I’m also thankful to my therapist, who is constantly pointing out that I’m putting too much pressure on myself to perform and that I spend more energy being anxious than I spend doing the work I am perfectly capable of doing, and who is helping me replace that anxiety with healthier thoughts.
That brings me to something I’m really excited about! I’ve found that each winter break over the last several years I’ve learned something really new. After all, how many other times of the year do I get the chance to be completely out of my regular day-to-day? Two years ago I spent hours learning Dvorak, a keyboard layout meant to increase typing speed. It took me about a year from when I started learning to getting back to pre-Dvorak speeds, but now I think it’s awesome. Then last year I spent hours upon hours figuring out my system for learning Spanish. I’m happy to report that I’m still very happy with this system, and it even allowed me to start learning Chinese. This year, I’ve gravitated to learning how to cook cook. I mean, I could survive before, but I’ve never been someone who enjoyed cooking. Things I’ve changed about my cooking life include:
- Purchasing The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Great Cook. I’m in LOVE with this book. It assumes you know nothing and goes from there, so it’s that perfect foundational book. There are tips on how to choose the best of all the common produce (e.g. avoid the super large carrots), how to chop onions (I never knew!), all the ways in which the recipes they give you can go wrong and why so you can avoid mistakes in the first place, and pictures, pictures galore. This book totally appeals to the side of me that wants to know the why behind things, not just the how, so I’ve been cooking up a storm.
- Practicing meal prep. I’ve never really used the freezer before, but now that I know you can freeze a million and one things to be eaten later, it’s removed one of my biggest complaints about good cooking, that it takes so freaking long. Well, if cooking one dish can actually result in 10 servings, 8 of which I freeze for later, then it’s much more time efficient. My favorite resource for meal prep thus far is the Meal Prep Sunday sub-reddit.
- Sharing food with others. I’ve only done this two times so far, once with chocolate covered strawberries and another with beef stew, but it’s really gratifying to see people enjoying what I cooked. I feel like I’m doing some real good, ya know? This is one of the most significant steps I’ve taken to get me closer to the dream of making a home that’s all about hosting and welcoming others.
As proof of my learning, this is the meal I’m eating tonight: Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew. I’m super proud of myself because it totally reminds me of my time in Italy, which was what the recipe was going for!
Finally, I’ve got a renewed focus on funding, not just for #NYCEDU, but for myself. #NYCEDU has been supported thus far by small grants, donations, and volunteer labor contributions, but a lot has come out-of-pocket. Meanwhile, I’ve personally been given a grace period by my generous significant other who believes in me and in #NYCEDU and so has shouldered our household expenses, but it’s time for me to get back into financial sustainability. That’s why I’ve started tutoring and consulting again, this time in community building and collective impact work. I love both, as I get to work with amazing people. My big consulting project right now is providing strategy and project management support to the exceptional community builder that is Natasha Green of WeIntervene. Check out WeIntervene’s Fourth Annual Celebration of School Counselors and join us if you can! If you have leads on organizations that will benefit from my expertise in building community and fostering collective impact, please let me know. You may be the spark that lights a beautiful partnership.