Well, what does one do as they approach age 30? If you are me, you write.
Many know my story. I come from a middle class family and from parents who worked to take us from “lower class” to “upper middle class.” My mom’s story brings me to tears every time I have to repeat as I did weeks ago applying for a national fellowship and answering the question, “who affected your career most.” My parents faced adversity, but stood tall to make a better life for us.
I was the first in my family to graduate from college and continued to complete a graduate degree. Out of my Master of Public Health Degree I was excited to partake in my career; however, I came out still in the economic downturn in 2011. I soon realized I had little to no chance of starting a career in my field aside from starting as a secretary and spending years trying to advance. While in college I taught myself graphic design, photography, and content development. My desktop publishing skills (what we call graphic design now) started in high school. Given this training I started pursuing a career in marketing which quickly came to end given my lack of "formal experience." Bottom line, I couldn’t find a job in public health or marketing. Faced with the adversity I started a company. I took that lack of experience and threw it back in everyone's face, starting a social media marketing company.
Let’s accelerate to today, a day where regularly I have to answer to my peers who tell me their “vote doesn’t matter” or that “they can’t make change.” This infuriates me. My calling in life is to help others and the level of apathy today hurts me at the core.
I chose a life of civil service and engagement at age 14 as a founding member of the Petaluma Teen Council, a subcommittee of the Petaluma City Council and one of the first of its kind. This is where I learned to write grants, public speak, do fund development, and taught me how to run public meetings. Alongside my parents’ careers in healthcare and public health, I was drawn to a career making change. Unfortunately I find myself, at age 30, where many believe the rhetoric that their vote and voice doesn’t matter. Spend a day on the ground and you will never feel that way again.
I visited Marin City last week, a community I spent a tireless 3.5 years serving. An amazing story was shared with me from an employee who didn’t at first accept me; however, her growth over my tenure is marked and amazing (and why I do what I do):
“I want to update you on the food program you started. Last week a woman came with her child. She didn’t speak English so her young child was translating. He said they needed food. I was able to give her plenty of food. I was in tears alongside a reporter who was onsite that day. The next week her and her entire family came to receive food. I tried for years and within weeks you created this program. We have so much food that we get to expand to other communities. Thank you for letting me serve my community.”
The program was started alongside an organization called Extra Food who, after the food safety/distribution laws changed in California, started to safely collect food from grocery stores, restaurants and the like to be distributed by community organizations to those in need. The program in Marin City was so successful reaching at need populations that it has grown substantially. A major part of its success is having local people serve their own community in a highly productive manor with light, but good administrative leadership to provide support when needed.
Did I do this for self-benefit or because it was “my job?” No, I did it because it was the right thing to do. It is still hard for me to take credit for this program, but the accolades warm my heart. I have learned my major skill in life is making the right connections and facilitating the right conversations. The reason I love what I do is because I get to use my skills to help others in an effective and transformative manner. This is why I hold and run MaberMe, Inc.
‘You can’t change a country over night, but you can change a person overnight, you can change a population over months and you can change a community over a year.’
My work in Marin City is humbling, but is also why I get so combative when people tell me our voice doesn’t matter. Those must be people who live in a world not understanding how local policy and impact matters. I am not disregarding people’s adversity because there are marked barriers to action. That being said, we tend to focus on top down politics and presidential elections without any regard for how our local officials matter the most to our day to day lives. Federal policy is the last set of policy to affect your day to day because systematically it is passed with no plan for execution. It looks good on paper to everyone but those who are on the ground actually doing the work.
Through this process I have received an un-paralleled level of support from my peers and partners. Without it, I would not still be upright. I owe them the world as the work I do is draining and exhausting, but the right thing to do. In general those people who are on the ground daily need more empathy, support and recognition YEAR ROUND, not once every few years.
My only wish for age 30 is that others start take a more active and serious role in their local community. Not all of us can commit our career to making change, but all of us can commit some time making change for OTHERS. We can commit to using our social networks to share useful and ACCURATE information. Please stop falling victim to what the popular media tells us and take a stand to have an educated opinion. I have to witness daily, smart people sharing information on Facebook that is untrue, made up, and sometimes downright disgustingly inaccurate. A little tidbit from a communications pro, posting something incredibly charged or insulting is not how you "start a conversation," it is how you abruptly end one (See my blog Be Kind: Why Everyone Should Treat Their Facebook like a Business Page).
At the end of the day, I realize I was raised with several privileges. I also was raised to believe that those privileges were best used helping those who do not have the same opportunity. Take the time to make effective change. I'm happy to be the instigator of tough conversations and saying what others won't. And quite frankly, there are too few people like this out there. I write this because I want to see more leaders, I want people to stand up for what is right for everyone, not just themselves. I want to put my generation on blast for letting themselves fall asleep at the wheel. I understand how hard things are out there, but there are also always greater and lesser beings (I hear this in my mom's voice when I read it back). Spare me the nonsense and don't ever tell me progress isn't possible.
Together we are better.