Almost a year ago to this very day, I sent a letter that has changed my life forever.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I delayed. I took a shower. Read a book. Checked cnn.com. I panicked like a guy whose wife just went into labor. And finally, the moment of truth.
I sealed the letter, and off it went to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Four months later, I packed my bags for the University of Michigan, in some Midwest town, to this place that I knew absolutely nothing about except that it was cold. I didn’t even know that the school was split into two campuses, or that people were fanatics about football…and what was all this “Go Blue!” nonsense?
And yet—the longer I’m here, the more I never want to leave. I’ve caught the Wolverine fever. Although frustrated by the “college bubble” that we reside in, the campus and its neighboring Ann Arbor community has been incredible. Just three months ago (a lifetime, really), in conjunction with MPowered, I’d organized the University of Michigan’s first Startup Weekend, and it was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.
But this wasn’t the original plan. On March 15th of last year, I thought I was the happiest girl in the world. I’d been accepted to Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, a dream I had long ago given up. By March 16th, I’d all but hopped on a plane to Ithaca.
Why did I do it? Why did I choose a school I’d never laid eyes on, let alone an entire part of the country that I’d never stepped foot in? I could have graduated from the University of Washington at age 19. I could have entered the Ivy League. I could have stayed right at home, right in my comfort zone. And…I could have hated my college experience.
Instead, I embarked an adventure. Sure, I’d miss Seattle, I’d miss the familiarity, the home-cooked food, the friends, and even the rain, but I needed to seek what was beyond my current scope of the world. And I didn’t want to limit myself. I didn’t want to set barriers early, both academically and socially.
I came thinking I would study Business and English. Today, I’m not so sure. Instead, the incredible faculty and friendships I have found here have taught me to explore. To challenge myself. To be unafraid of uncertainty, or failure, or criticism, or rejection, or most importantly, of compromise.
And today, as I write this on the last night in my dorm room (aka messy hurricane of packing supplies), I don’t want to leave. This community of leaders, of explorers, of change agents have impacted me in ways I could have never imagined. In the past four weeks alone with MPowered, with our Center for Entrepreneurship, and with my fellow friends, peers, and risk-takers, I have learned more than ever about leading and building a team, the dynamics of this university, of entrepreneurship education, and much more. But more than anything, I have had to make decisions. As a part of MPowered’s exec team, no longer do my decisions only affect myself. My decisions affect programs, projects, and people.
The University of Michigan has provided an environment in which I have learned, thought, and created. It has shown me my fears, my flaws, my failures. It has enabled me to grow as a student, as a thinker, as a leader of an organization. And it has shown me that with a little bit of smart risk-taking, a healthy dose of invention, and a dash of fearlessness, we can lead our very own action revolution.
It’s a question that’s come up many times in the past month, a question I love to hear the response for.
Throughout my time in higher education, group work has been consistently stressed in all my courses and projects, no matter what the subject. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time working together with others, often people I rarely interact with as soon as the project’s done with. I’ve labored over team homework for calculus, a business plan competition, skits for Chinese class, projects for MPowered, and more.
No matter if you’re trying to drag Danny out of bed to solve derivatives + integrals, or pull Dan to check out a venue when organizing Startup Weekend, you’ve got to be able to spark that motivation to get them going.
Where does that spark come from?
The story. Share it, mold it, shape it together.
Oftentimes the first push is the hardest—navigating unfamiliar territory as a team, whether it’s a new math problem or planning a new Student Business Consulting program is always a murky task. But when you build your story alongside your team, when they are there creating it with you every step of the way, you build ownership and dedication.
Nothing’s more discouraging than working hard on a project without getting any credit for it. But maybe you don’t trust your new team’s judgment, or you can’t stand the idea of them taking the reins. Get over it. Give them a sense of ownership, a sense that they are a piece of the working puzzle, and they’ll want to see the fruits of labor just as badly as you do. People want to feel like they are needed, wanted, and making an impact.
Plan to fail, and plan to fail fast.
Sometimes things just don’t work out. Your project’s progress should be 100% transparent with the rest of the team. Sure, there’s mistakes—but that way, everyone can see where it’s going wrong and learn from it. Everyone can become a part of the driving force that makes your project a success.
Creating genuine interaction.
When was the last time you had a real conversation with your boss, professor, or project manager? When was the last time you weren’t pitching something, persuading, or being sent to do a task? As David Pisor of the Elysian Hotel in Chicago puts it, genuine interaction means you “value authenticity, and you value the the process.” A strong relationship with your team is a multi-directional street that requires cooperation and two-way conversations.
With the launch of Obama’ Startup America and the latest buzz fueling the entrepreneurship bug, the team at MPowered and I sat down to brainstorm something new. How do you impress the importance of entrepreneurship to someone with no exposure, no interest, and no apparent path to it?
We set out first by attempting to define entrepreneurship—but what is it, really? As something so very subjective to one’s personal goals and path, entrepreneurship could mean just about anything.
But that’s part of the glory of it. Entrepreneurship can come from everywhere—from little Lucy’s lemonade stand to the crazy guys at DrunkorChild.com to the awesome energy of Startup Weekends around the world.
It’s a word that’s thrown around carelessly—and it’s time to brand entrepreneurship a little differently. To the average college student, “entrepreneurship” conjures up faraway images of this creature called a “startup,” and is instantly linked with business. On this campus, it’s instantly linked with the Ross School of Business, an entire world of its own—and one on a very different dimension from entrepreneurship.
Here’s our formula:
Character + Action + Thought = Energy
Character—Perseverance, Passionate, Serving a larger purpose, Ethics, Social know-how
Action—Doer, Challenge the status quo
Put those together, and you’ve got little Lucy on a run for her money!