Wednesday, November 2, 2016

23

I realize that I have owed you all an update for a while, as I've recently embarked into a phase of my life that even thinking about has made me very anxious for, for a very long time now. Since before college began, I was afraid of leaving it. There was something there about losing "the best four years of your life!" and there was something there about saying goodbye to youth.

The update I owe is that this new stage of life couldn't be better designed for what I genuinely love: work that deeply interests me and contributes to the value I want to add to the world, a balanced lifestyle with space for wellness and reflection, time with friends and loved ones, and white space to explore and create and wonder. Many a tortured moment could have been avoided had I known what awaited me in New York post graduation!

Life is silly and pretty these days. I have my own writing desk. And bed. And bedside lamp. And desk lamp. And futon. And armchair (the love of my life). The list goes on and on. And I have the time to admire them, and go to sleep every night feeling grateful for all that I can provide for myself and enjoy by myself. The simple satisfaction of curating and tending an environment that makes me feel calm, and makes me feel me, is one of the most underrated feelings in this world.


The philosophy and spirit of my workplace align perfectly with the philosophy and spirit I aim to embody as a person. Living Cities is a non-profit "think-and-do-tank" that does research on what it will take to achieve dramatically better results for-low income people at a faster pace than we're currently headed toward as a country. Our research is "applied research" -- conducted through projects where we work with city governments, financial institutions, foundations, etc. to help them collaborate to scale change for underprivileged people, particularly people of color.

We are a learning organization, so we believe that there's no such thing as a mistake -- because if something doesn't work in one city, we can speed up the rate of learning by spreading the word to other cities through our live-time reflections, so that the same mistakes aren't repeated in another place. And likewise, success in one place can accelerate the pace of change in another.

Another belief we hold is that if our work is to make life better for people, we need to be good and kind to ourselves. Vulnerability is not taboo in this office, and wellness and self-care are espoused as necessities everyone should strive for amidst work that can be extremely heavy. So many organizations, even organizations doing really good work for people, forget to be good to their own people. The spirit of Living Cities has allowed my transition into "real life" to be approached with honesty and received with compassion.

(Oh, we also believe that if we work together we can end poverty. Think about that. That's the kind of people who work here.)

My role is to reflect on and write about the lessons we learn through our projects and processes, internal and external, to share learnings within the organization and with the cities we serve. As you likely know if you are reading this post, the instinct to capture, codify, and look for lessons is a natural one for me, but one I constantly try to push myself further on.

What made me think to write today was two interactions I had today around the notion of "youth" -- that idealized time that I was ironically afraid to lose after college. The first came in an email from a friend whom I admire immensely and who completed his PhD as I finished my undergrad at Harvard, addressed to another Harvard undergrad and me:

"You two are my youngest non-family friends. If you don't know by now, let me tell you, I consider that a very important role in my life. It's on you guys to help us maintain our curiosity, our energy, our idealism."

The second was an observation that my boss made to me: "I care for you not just as the youngest person here but as a young professional. You're the purest form of what we have here. Your presence challenges me and reminds me that we have to link the values we have to the work we do, and that's a way you hold responsibility for our culture."

Apart from being wonderfully flattering and empowering, these snippets highlight the role that "youth" plays in keeping people's minds and hearts open and idealistic.

When I visited Brazil in 2011 with my father and a few of his coworkers from the World Bank, his dear colleague and friend Cyprian Fisiy said to me, "Here in Brazil we see poverty, corruption, and crime -- and yet you see beauty and are so inspired by this place. Where does that come from?" I gave some answer that would be laughed out of any economics classroom about the spirit of the kind people there and how that could be separated from the hatred and need so rampant in the country and I expected Cyprian Uncle to push back with cynicism and a correction and instead he said, "Keep that. We need that kind of idealism in our work and our world."

In retrospect, it was silly to think that youth has to do with being in college, or that youth is a prerequisite for optimism. I've been afraid of losing something, but it's not actually being old that I'm afraid of. I think that "youth" might be what people mistake "wonder" for. Just genuine, curious, excited wonderment at this world.

I just graduated college, and I get to be the youngest person in the room again. My goal, on this birthday and onward, is never to lose that -- continuing to believe in what is by all counts crazy and impossible -- because if we can keep that, youth is infinite.