RESUS on Social Good

Thoughts on the emerging field of social impact.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

working at an intersection

Singular professions will always exist, but they don’t become meaningful until they are crossed with personal passions.  We are living in an exciting era of intersecting disciplines.

The journey of finding your perfect intersection may be the entire purpose of your life – especially if today’s society isn’t ready for your unique combo punch.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it.  Reaching a “destination” where your intersection thrives would be satisfying, no doubt.  But given that it involves a passion of yours makes the journey fulfilling enough to carry you through your whole life.

How do you get there?

This feeling often takes over people when they’ve been on a clear cut career path and realize it’s not satisfying, no matter what the next milestone is.  People often stay at their soul-sucking jobs for longer than needed because it’s stable, they’re good at it because they’ve racked in so much experience.

Exploring potential intersections starts when passions or hobbies sprout up.  Eventually you start brainstorming how to possibly combine your existing skills with your passion to design a new career.  Your passions may swap out as you explore more, and as you get closer and closer to the one that resonates the most with you.  You may never find it, but you’ll get closer than you ever did before trying.  Still worth it.

Others may have stumbled upon the same intersection, but most “intersections” are unpaved territory.  Explaining it to others is tough.  Marketing to sell it is even tougher.  Even processing it yourself is quite difficult.  It becomes a niche without any clearly defined label.  But it is the ultimate exercise in the human condition and understanding the world around you.

Finding others to jump on your newly designed bandwagon will not be easy.  You have to reframe things in the context of today’s society.  You have to relate to people at the most basic human level.  Networking events are focused on established industries and rarely produce intersection connections.  When you can’t label yourself or define yourself or articulate an undefined intersection, others can’t put you in a box to process you.  This is why finding co-founders for uncharted worlds is nearly impossible.  There are no precedents.  What if you are completely redefining business plans?  Decisions have to be made about whether to stick with traditional methods or go with your values.

Another hardship – it’s usually unpaid.  At least in the beginning.  You have to be prepared for this.  In the same vein, it will be hard to find people willing to volunteer their time to collaborate.  You need to be lucky enough to find people with similar enough intersections, rooted in a personal not professional interest.

You may think there are opportunities in the nonprofit sector.  There are avenues if the organization is flexible enough to allow you to design your own research projects, but most nonprofits are so strapped for cash that they don’t have time to entertain experimental projects.  They all have a certain agenda to follow as prescribed by their funders.  While the occasional competition may entertain your experiment, it doesn’t exist to support it long-term.  Winning the competition for the publicity you desire, or even acceptance into incubators or accelerators for that matter, are unlikely because of the uncharted territory that people are unable to grasp.  This is where effective reframing can come in handy.

Academia is certainly more open to experimentation, but to operate in the real world, there needs to be some sort of relationship to everyday lives.  The only paths for these interactions are normally through nonprofits, the commercial sector, or government.

That said, having the tools to publicize the intersection once you find it can be helpful so other people can better understand it or come across it.  Knowing how to illustrate a concept through a diagram or a MVP is very useful.  And not needing to rely on anyone else’s schedule makes the process faster.  You can get started on many more ideas more quickly – in more than written form.  It’s a long shot, but these formats may attract others to the project.

Again, the journey when pursuing your “intersection” can be lifelong, but it is constantly satisfying from the start.  “Aha” moments almost exclusively happen in established industries.  The closest “aha” moment for intersectional pursuits is that others finally understand your concept to the point where it’s natural and normal.  There are tipping points – where intersections become the norm.  But the champions of intersections are not paralyzed if they don’t achieve this.

Eventually you will end up pursuing this intersection, or at the very least feeling the urge to.  I recommend it if you can manage it.  Coming to this decision makes the rest of life pretty clear.

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