In this blog post, I share how my experiences in 2017 transformed the way I view my career as well as the learnings I captured along the way.
2017 was a journey of personal transformation for me. I remember standing in my bedroom on January 1st around 1:00am after my family's annual New Year's festivities had died down and the house fell into a sleepy hush. While my friends and peers seemed poised headed into the year with their resolutions, goals, and ambitions already ironed and ready to wear, I stood somewhat unsure and insecure in my direction. This was the beginning of an uncomfortable season.
Those that know me are well aware that I always have a plan, a strategy, or new destination that I'm striving to reach. My entrepreneurial mind swirled and raced with ideas around how I could use my time outside of my day job more purposefully. I asked myself a myriad of questions: what do I really care about? How and where do I want to leave my mark? Am I really making a difference in people's lives? What am I best at? How will I become a millionaire? What's my BIG idea? I spent countless hours (all after midnight) reading articles and browsing Instagram, observing people around my age fearlessly birthing start-ups, launching movements, and blazing new trails. These quiet nights were fraught with the notion that at age 24, I was behind and should have already had the answers to all of these questions (just like the successful millennials from the articles). As I approach the end of 2017, I recognize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I'll explain.
In mid-January, I participated in a fast being led by my church in Atlanta. This was my first time ever participating in a long-term fast. Most fellow church-goers fasted from food, some from alcohol and sweets, and the rest from other distracting aspects of life, with intention to focus more of their being on strengthening their relationship with God. I chose hip-hop. I'd say that 75% of my Apple Music playlists consist of hip-hop --- I used to listen all the time (while driving, working out, working, etc.). It gets me pumped up and my juices flowing for just about anything (sports, work, exams, etc.). Now, there's nothing wrong with music, but for me, it was blocking my ability to just exist in my quiet thoughts and actually process on a daily basis. The 30 hip-hop free days stretching from mid-January to mid-February changed the entire trajectory of my year.
I believe that as I grew spiritually (primary goal of the fast), new ideas, thoughts, and perspectives were also placed in my mind. They began to overflow onto paper. I remember rushing home every single day after work to write vigorously. I began capturing my raw feelings and organizing them by drawing mind-maps, sketching out ideas, connecting ideas with arrows, highlighting, and so forth. This may sound elementary, but I for one who processes with lists, spreadsheets, and Google docs, these moments felt like creative explosions. In my head, I felt like Mike Wheeler from Stranger Things in the scene in which he was speedily sketching out the underground map of Hawkins. Here's what this "internal mining" taught me about myself.
1. I am troubled by the state of the African-American male. I want to educate, equip, and empower the young black male to live out his purpose, pursue his dreams and passions, experience optimum health and wellness, thrive and be gratified in his chosen academic or career path, but most importantly leave a positive handprint on his community to provoke continuous and contagious change.
2. I chose to study and embark on a career in the field of sustainability because I value stewardship. I believe that human life and nature are both precious and deserving of being preserved in their healthiest state. From 9-5, I channel my commitment to stewardship by helping my company advance its initiatives that promote social and environmental responsibility in a way that stimulates bottom line growth.
3. Since embarking on the field of sustainability, I was disappointed in the lack of attention paid to "people problems" like resource availability, income disparity, and access to opportunity that are so intimately interconnected with the environmental challenges that are so prominently broadcasted. Communicating about diversity, inclusion, and equity, unearthing their connections to the mainstream sustainability conversation became an immediate priority.
4. I enjoy public speaking (especially to students), writing, strategizing, creating, and attempting to make people's lives better.
I was bubbling with energy and passion because I felt much clearer about my current career purpose.
GREAT! Now what?
I had no clue. So in April, I began talking with family, close friends, mentors, and colleagues about ideas that I had brainstormed that would allow me to mesh and act on what I discovered within myself. Everyone I spoke to reciprocated my enthusiasm, shared sage advice, and encouraged the direction in which I was headed. I continued to develop, validate, and activate ideas, but things didn't feel quite right. I hit a wall. Things quieted down inside of me and began to grow frustrated with my sudden, eerie lack of productivity and movement. My mind started to creep back to the unsure state it was in early New Year's morning. Why was this happening? I eventually realized that it was because I expected my conversations with my inner circle to absolutely verify that my BIG ideas and ultimate life purpose had indeed been revealed. I wanted so bad to have my BIG idea right then and there. I wanted to hear, "Yes, Jarami.... here it is.... without a shadow of a doubt, you should do "THIS!" I took the feelings brought upon by my steady momentum and hopeful suspense and convinced myself that I found the final answer to what I'd be doing for the rest of my life. This moment taught me to view my recent breakthroughs as a few of the many puzzle pieces that will eventually take clear shape and make sense, but only with patience, growth, and self-awareness.
Then, in June, GreenBiz 30 Under 30 happened, and that accelerated everything!
All of a sudden, I had a new platform beyond what my academic and professional experiences to date had given me. This new platform enabled me to meet, cross-pollinate, and engage in meaningful dialogues with incredible individuals across the world within and outside of my field. This led to new opportunities to address audiences of industry professionals and students across the country, sharing my own content and perspectives on the future of sustainable business and insights on finding purposeful careers upon graduation, respectively. From the 30 Under 30 recognition also emerged the opportunity to expand my writing beyond my personal blog to GreenBiz.com, one of the meccas of thought-sharing within my industry. I was also able to make my debut in the world of podcasting on "GreenBiz 350."
The privilege to write, podcast, and speak publicly about the power of diversity and inclusion within the context of sustainable business was one of the most gratifying moments of my young career. I was able to extract my thoughts, emotions, and perspectives (discovered and articulated earlier in the year) and share them with the masses within my field with the goal of telling truth, evoking hope, and catalyzing change. The response to my content was overwhelming, encouraging, and humbling. I believe that my field has the potential to create positive change in the world so I trust that my words fell on the right ears.
Toward the end of Fall 2017, I delivered my final speaking engagements of the year to environmental science students at North Carolina State University (my alma mater) and UNC Charlotte. Between the final engagement in October and the end of the year, I decided to take a break to ensure that I finish my work year with diligence, reinvest in relationships with family and friends, rest, heal, and recharge physically, begin planning for next year, and oh yeah - move across the country to San Francisco, CA.
It is now November (wow, time flies!) and Christmas is right around the corner. As I write this blog post, I must confess that I don't have it all figured out. Despite the success I was blessed to experience in 2017, I still face moments of hesitancy, uncertainty and doubt where I question it all and wonder if I'm headed in the right direction. I look back at the output of my "internal mining" process that begun during my January fast and contemplate how I will use my strengths to make a difference. In these moments, I have begun to show myself more grace and reflect on the lessons that 2017 taught me.
Here's are a few things that I remind myself that may be helpful for you too.
1. Don't allow the comparison of where you are today against where you want to be in the future rob you of the opportunity to celebrate present-day successes. Enjoy the ride!
2. Allow your journey to success to happen at the pace it needs to happen in. Some enjoy overnight lightbulb moments that catapult them toward success. But, others (like me and most) will reach this moment through a slow-bake process, one that will yields valuable experiences and learnings. Enjoy the ride!
3. Avoid elevating your career or the pursuit of success to unhealthy levels. This could prevent you from experiencing the fullness that life has to offer. Your value and identity aren't determined by how many people follow you on social media, whether or not you get that raise/promotion, or how great of a company you work for. Prioritize and invest in relationships with family and friends, your physical, mental, and spiritual health, and interests and hobbies outside of work that bring you joy. Career and success have its place on the hierarchy of importance, but they are not everything.
4. Give yourself the mental freedom and physical space to think outside the box about your career and allow your interests to evolve. I used to believe that I couldn't navigate away from what I earned a degree in. My degree was in environmental science. At one point, I only envisioned myself working closely with engineers, research and development teams, and laboratory technicians, but since graduating I've primarily been hanging out with sales reps and marketing specialists (and I love it!). If you feel a tug, follow it. If you fight it, you probably won't be enjoying the ride as you could potentially be blocking yourself from stepping into your sweet spot.
5. Did you catch onto the main point I'm getting at here? ENJOY THE RIDE! Contrary to how you may feel, you are exactly where you're supposed to be. One day, you'll be able to step back, see the finished puzzle, and understand how each moment, idea, and experience culminated into your definition of success for your chosen career.
I wrote this blog post for myself, to remind me of how my thinking evolved this year, capture the journey, and celebrate what has transpired as I look toward what is to come. I'm normally not this transparent. But, my hope is that through sharing my experience and thoughts, someone simply resonates with my story, another finds hope and encouragement, a third person gleans something that they can immediately apply, and a fourth shares it with someone who'd appreciate it.
I wonder what I'll be thinking about at 1:00am on New Year's Day of 2018. I'll make sure to tell you at the end of next year.