What I've Learned From Interviewing Changemakers

It’s been about a year since I started this blog. Before that, I had dabbled in a couple of interviews but I was really awkward and shy about what I shared with the world. As most of you know, this blog was born out of my desire to figure out how to create a well-lived life. I believe a big component of a well-lived life is adding value in the world, so I started out by interviewing millennials who were doing just that.

Here are the best lessons I learned from interviewing these changemakers over the past year:

1. Identify the right problems

In the Stemly Interview with Devon and Duane Rollins, Devon talks about how focusing on teaching kids skills instead of problem identification doesn’t actually help solve the biggest problems in our communities. When I shot and edited this episode, I didn't realize how powerful that statement was. When I rewatched it though, I was shocked at how simple and true that is. In all areas of life, how often do we talk about a peripheral issue simply because identifying the real issue requires more work? Think about that…  

2. Put excellence in the process, not the outcome

Not one person I interviewed accomplished their goal without practicing excellence in the creation of their product or service.  I’ve learned that focusing on a goal instead of being present in the actual work can be draining and result in subpar outcomes. Naomi Jackson is a perfect example of this. When I asked her if being told that her book wouldn’t be successful deterred her from writing it, she said she didn’t really care. All she knew was that she had to finish writing the book (aka. finish the process in the best way she knew how). 

3.  Fear is universal, do the work anyway

Almost every interviewee I’ve had concedes that they have some fear around the work they do, but they do it anyway. When I asked Randi Gloss, how she deals with the fear, she said she prays.  If fear and hesitation will always be there, we need to find a self-regulating system (like praying, or running, or meditation) and then go for gold. Currently, I am setting up a morning routine that I practice consistently because a solid morning helps keep me from wavering with the whims of the world.

4.  You maintain momentum by getting really clear on your WHY.

Rianka started Your Greatest Contribution, a financial planning firm, because she saw how hard her grandmother worked even when her health was poor. She knew she could help make a direct impact on her community and family by helping them get their money right. Setting up her business, while working a 9-5 was not easy…and I’m friends with Rianka, the girl works incredibly hard. It’s easy then to see how a deeply rooted WHY makes it easier to keep going when times get tough. 

5.  Stop Getting Frustrated at How Long Change Takes

Shoutout to the super-impatient amongst us (I'm raising both hands here). Turns out, our mothers were right and the old adage is true, patience really is a virtue. It took every single person I interviewed at least a year to get their idea off the ground. It took Priya six years to build Priya Means Love, a successful online organic body care shop. It took Roberta Tabb 2 years to lose 120lbs and Naomi Jackson 10 years at a 9-5 before officially becoming a writer.

6.  Embrace Unhappiness - It Can Spark Change

Being unhappy doesn’t usually seem like a good thing but as I rewatched all of the interviews, I realized that all of their ideas were born from the need to change the way things currently are. Roberta Tabb was depressed and unhappy when she started her weight loss journey. Randi Gloss started Gloss Rags after people kept asking her about a sign she made at a protest against police brutality. Priya started Priya Means Love after developing chemical sensitivities while she was at the toughest stages with her fibromyalgia. 

7.  Stay Real – Always

When Harya Tarekegn said, “Don’t talk about your commute or the weather” in her networking tips video, I cringed. I’m the person who starts those, “So how about this weather huh?” conversations #IAmTheWorst. If I know you, I am comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions about anything with you. But if we aren’t close, I keep things so light, it could be taken as insincere (which I guess it kind of is). Along the same lines, in learning how to interview people, I learned that the best conversations are had when I am totally myself because it encourages others to do the same.

8.  Stop making things harder than they are 

I am the definition of an over-thinker but life is so much simpler than we make it. If you want to meet someone, use the internet and reach out to them. If you want to lose the weight, start exercising and eating healthier today. If you’re angry about a cause, join the movement. Go and test out your idea. If it doesn’t work, tweak it and try again. I learned this simply because all of these interviewees started with exactly what they had.   

9.     Persistence is underrated

We are obsessed with hacks because we live in a culture obsessed with productivity but we have a weird relationship with time. I've learned that consistently doing the right things matters far more than just doing more in a short amount of time. Plus, repetition builds character. Naomi Jackson applied to writing programs three times before she got accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop. Roberta Tabb worked out almost everyday during the two years she was losing weight. Reaching a new milestone requires a new version of you, which can only come from your persistent effort.

Here is to another year of learning from those who have gotten past the problems we are dealing with.