Professionals in New York City are met with endless opportunities to connect with their constituency — meetups, happy hours, even midnight mixers. It’s almost impossible to stay at home.
For those of us in the Hudson Valley, however, networking requires effort. Here, it’s easy to fall into the beauty of our surroundings, the comfort of slower living — trees and trails a welcome respite from constant contact with other humans.
At the beginning of this year’s Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley, co-producer Ajax Greene tells us, “There’s no reason to stay home.” And he was right: Omega Institute — with its rolling hills, welcoming facilities and holistic programming — was the perfect setting for a group of bright, enthusiastic professionals to share a safe space and explore better ways to conduct business.
Despite the ease with which attendees spoke, the subject matter was anything but comfortable. So often in business we are told to think with our heads and not with our hearts. And yet we gathered to ask tough questions: How can we make good business decisions with our dignity intact? Our intentions aligned with humanity?
No one present was off the hook: We were settling in for a weekend of deep reflection.
Unearth your why.
True Confessions presenter Marissa Feinberg introduced the business principles of Simon Sinek. In reminiscing on her personal story, she taught us how business can benefit when intentions start with WHY before WHAT. “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it,” she informed us. By defining purpose before product and motivation before service, we create a roadmap that encourages focus, an invitation to actualize meaning without being tied to process.
Trust your values.
The path to success is rarely straightforward; most of us will fall or fail before we succeed. Of his passage toward personal fulfillment, True Confessions presenter Jonathan Rosenthal confessed that for him “social change is a survival strategy.” A commitment to meditation helped him identify core values and knowing them serves as his guide to effect social impact. Values are the foundation by which we make good decisions — for ourselves and the world around us.
Co-producer Scott Tillitt guided us through a visioning exercise: to map out who we want to BE, what we want to DO, and what we want to HAVE in our lives. The power of this practice culminated in written headlines and a personal eulogy that projected future accomplishments and lifetime achievement. (I am pleased to report that SVI attendees will be winning many Pulitzers over the next few decades.) Envisioning your future in a concise format, on display for an imaginary audience, can help streamline a lifetime of motion.
Focus your intentions.
When we dream big, our ideas are often bigger than us — our mental capacity, our physical ability, especially our time and resources. With each idea comes a cycle of strategy, operations and performance — to be refined toward efficiency without loss of meaning. The Case Studies from the weekend illustrated how the vastness of vision is often in conflict with the realistic capability of one person. Focusing intentions, then, becomes an operational affair — center yourself and collaborate often, tap into the strength of others, outsource when possible. Remember: You are not alone.
The most important lesson: learning to listen to yourself.
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”
— Pema Chodron, Practicing Peace in Times of War
My business partner, Ben, recently sent me a humorous infographic illustrating the often-tumultuous track of an entrepreneur. It begins with an awesome idea and slopes upward toward the daily humdrum of actionable steps. We begin here, slowly crawling toward success, met with many small accomplishments and setbacks along the way.
On a similar journey for almost a decade, Ben and I have shared the joy and pain associated with paving our own paths. We’re social people by nature: In the absence of nature, we’ll plant seeds. In a town with no family, we’ll cultivate community. We realized that the road to independence often coincides with a feeling of walking on air, the ground within sight but its firmness rarely within reach. Some days feel like a fool’s errand; other days we break ground. The sensation of uncertainty is never comfortable, and yet it often propels us forward. We keep on doing.
Little did I know this would be the concept that Colette Ruoff would introduce when discussing the coalescence of personal leadership skills: When we learn that the path to success is not a straight line, it is easier to share the discovery process with others. Herein lies an important reminder: While we might often feel alone, true social innovation requires a village, and then some.
What I learned at SVI is fundamental.
Trust your purpose, embrace your journey, and know that stumbling is part of the way. It’s as if nature creates an obstacle course to keep us in check, an uncomfortable mechanism to make sure we’re on the right path. We discover that growth can come from discomfort; we learn how to align intention with activity. A learned traveler will know how to listen and when to pivot.
Throughout the weekend, attendees were encouraged to connect head thoughts with heart feelings. Often heard was one peer asking another: “Where is your why in all this?” As if we were infants walking through the halls of misguided companies, our guts saying, No, no, this can’t be right. There must be a better way — emerging on the other side to discover a room full of like-minded colleagues.
This collaboration indicates that here, within the Hudson Valley, we have an opportunity to connect: the absence of city noise acting as an amplified sounding board for growth and renewal. Our peers within reach, ready to engage and excited to share the vulnerable path toward success in social innovation. Let’s keep on doing, together.
Rachael Mamane was our SVI Hudson Valley 2016 Fellow. She's the chef and founder of Brooklyn Bouillon — a value-added food company that explores ways to minimize food waste at the agricultural level — and is currently finishing a book for Chelsea Green Publishing. The Fellowship was sponsored by the SVI Hudson Valley team (Antidote Collective, On Belay Business Advisors and Re>Think Local) with financial support from Topical BioMedics.