Rejected? Thank you!

In the book’s acknowledgements, you thank MBA Admissions Director Derrick Bolton for rejecting your first application to Stanford GSB. Why are you thankful for that?

One, that was the year that Kiva was born. I don’t know if Kiva would have happened on some other timeline, but I highly doubt it because I would have been sitting in classrooms instead of tromping around Uganda.

Two is more personal. I’d been a staffer at the business school for three years, and although it hurt not to get in, when I did get in the next year, I felt like I really earned it.

Three, it taught me this amazing lesson about the importance of holding things with an open hand and knowing where I want to go, regardless of the things I can’t control. A lot of people look at a milestone, like getting into business school, and think that they can’t make the next step in their lives without it. I learned that I was still the same person — I still had the same dreams and still went forward to the same destination.

10 Work Questions

I'm a big Seth Godin fan. Today, his blog asks, What are 10 question for work that matters? (I stumbled over this sentence at first - try this one: For work that matters, here are 10 questions to ask.) He notes at the bottom of the blog that "Any question that's difficult to answer deserves more thought. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important."

I've answered the question that jumped out at me today. My thoughts are below. (Oh, and by the way, he actually lists 11 questions! Bonus!)

1) What are you doing that's difficult?

2) What are you doing that people believe only you can do?

3) Who are you connecting?

4) What do people say when they talk about you?

5) What are you afraid of?

6) What's the scarce resource?

7) Who are you trying to change?
I had to do a double-take with this question. I thought it was notable that he asks, "Who" are you trying to change, vs. "What" are you trying to change. I sort of cringe at the idea of trying to change people. It feels manipulative, presumptuous, and sort of creepy. Do I want anyone else out there thinking about how they can change me? No. 
The best work - and best relationships - I've been a part of are based on mutual respect, and the idea that the best way to serve or love another person is to support them in reaching their potential - but, as they define it, not as I might. But, is this always true? Is it realistic? Have I, deep down, actually wanted to / attempted to change other people around me? I'm even thinking about my role as a parent; do I think about trying to "change" my kids?
I genuinely believe that the best stuff happens if the only time we ever try to change someone is when we are trying to change ourselves for the better. I have an ever-present list of self-improvement goals, and I like it that way - that my energies are directed at what I can do better, not what someone else should do differently. 
I do want to inspire people. And I have beliefs and opinions on what sorts of things bring happiness, fulfillment, and meaning to a person's life, in general. But at the end of the day I want to ask the question, Who am I trying to serve? or How can I support you to grow, in the ways you've decided to grow? instead How can I change you?

8) What does the change look like?

9) Would we miss your work if you stopped making it?

10) What do you stand for?

11) What contribution are you making?

Not a Creature Was Stirring

Q: How do you fit everything in? Like, literally, how to you schedule your day?

A: My days are full, and they vary. Widely. Most weeks I have a day or two out of town, speaking, teaching, conference-ing, or doing project-based / consulting work. The "normal" days at home are broken down roughly into the following segments:
-- mama time (up, exercise - varies but often 545 or 6am - 7ish)
-- morning family time / kid prep time (7ish - 9ish) including breakfast together
-- work time, part 1 (930ish - noon-ish)
-- connection time (lunch or phone calls w friends or colleagues)
-- work time, part 2 (post-lunch until 330ish)
-- afternoon kid time (330-7pm)
-- grown-up time w my husband (7pm onward)...
...OR if he's out of town, which is the case frequently, then it's work time, part 3

Three things to note. First, I'm very lucky to have flexibility and autonomy in my work, and to often work from home. Second, I'm lucky that I can choose to work almost-but-not-quite FT right now. I'm grateful for both these things.

Third, I'll note something useful, hopefully. Since I've had kids, the most important thing I do in a day is set my alarm (vs. being woken up by kiddos). DUH, right? But seriously, when I reflect on why my most productive days are that way, I realize that the make-or-break piece for me, is, quite simply, getting up before my children do.* Why? Well, I have three little boys, ages 4, 4 (yup, twins) and 1. And as most parents will probably understand without my going into detail, when they wake up, my focus is on them, as it should be. Constantly. Kissing, dressing, feeding, wiping, making sure every tiny tooth gets brushed (well, the baby is still a toothless wonder but they're coming soon), etc. etc. etc. And if I haven't gotten up first, I also have to get myself ready / into a decent enough state to leave the house, and can only do this in the gasps of time in between doing all the things I need to do for my boys.

So I wake up first. It sounds so simple, but it makes a world of difference to me mentally and emotionally if I just make sure to set my alarm at whatever early hour I need to (this changes every few months or so, based on my kids' sleep patters) so that I have just a tiny sliver of time to be the only one awake in my house, and ideally to exercise a bit. Even if it's only 15 minutes, and even if on some days I don't make it to yoga or out for a jog and the only thing I've done is make a cup of tea for myself, being up first makes me feel like I'm on top of things. And weirdly, that feeling lasts not just for those 15 min but for the entire day. Like I'm out front, managing things in a proactive way, and not just like the day is happening to me. I begin in a proactive way, vs. a reactionary way, and it carries me through the day.

* Big caveat here. For most of the first year of my kids' lives, I can rarely achieve this. I give myself a free pass. I get ALL THE SLEEP I CAN POSSIBLY GET and happily lie in bed snoozing until the baby/babies start peeping (or yelling) to tell me they need mama. So, if you are new parent reading this thinking, there's no way, please know that I totally agree with you. Sleep > all else in that first year (or whatever time period you choose in those early days)!

The Pursuit

Q: How do you define entrepreneurship?

A: This is an easy one. My favorite definition of entrepreneurship comes from Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson:

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”

In other words, entrepreneurship is the ability to pursue opportunity without money, or permission, or pedigree, or most other means that might make the pursuit easier. Stevenson emphasizes the pursuit without regard to possessions. As I see it, his definition hints at this truth: the heart of entrepreneurship is never about what we have. It’s about what we do.

This idea comes alive for me every single time I have the privilege of seeing firsthand the extremely tough circumstances in which most of the world's hard-working entrepreneurs live and even thrive: circumstances that include abjectly few resources, vastly less than even the scrappiest start-up in a Silicon Valley garage have. They are farmers, fishermen, brick makers, rickshaw drivers, seamstresses, shopkeepers, and so many others. I've met people who live in mud huts but have launched several ventures. I've met individuals who haven't been formally educated past grade school but have grown their microenterprises to the point where they can support their families. I had come face-to-face with real people who, despite their lack of experience, expertise, power, money, popularity, or approval, succeed on their own terms as entrepreneurs.

Great entrepreneurs embody Stevenson's definition: they choose, day after day, to move forward in pursuit of an opportunity, regardless of what they control or don't control. Regardless of what they lack or have lost or must fight against. They succeed not because of what they possess but because of what they are determined to achieve.


The Most Important Thing

Q: What's the most important social issue today?

A: What issues are the most significant of our time? Which are the most pressing? Given the reality that every one of us has a limited amount of time, money, or other resources to contribute toward solving social problems, where should a person direct his or her attention first? What's the right priority order?

Here's the thing. I actually have very strong opinions on this. If I could waive a magic wand and the power to instantly fix any social problem, without hesitation I'd turn my attention to providing relief to the very poorest individuals on the planet, and address their immediate physical needs: food, water, shelter. And if I looked at a list of everywhere I've ever volunteered, or given money, the vast majority of those organizations work on addressing these kinds of issues. 

Does this mean I think these are the most important issues in an objective sense? Do I think everyone should agree with me? The truth is, yes, I often do wish that everyone on the planet would stop what they're doing and do just this - because, for instance, hunger doesn't have to be a problem. We have the resources and knowledge to eradicate it - just, apparently, not the collective will. So, agreeing on what's most important matters.

But. I'm hesitant to answer this question outright, or to prescribe my ideas about what matters most to someone else. Why? I'm usually asked this kind of thing by an eager college student after one of my lectures, and they're asking it because what they really want to know is: What's the most important work I can do, so that I can make the greatest impact? In other words: How can I matter the most? They may think, by asking "what's most important" that the answer to this question can be found through some sort of calculation. That it's a math problem. That we can look at some objective impact score and say, there it is, it's official, here's the most efficient, effective thing to do! But I believe that - even if we could come to a place of agreement on how to do this calculation - knowing this answer wouldn't be the right thing to focus on for, say, the average college grad when choosing a career path. I think we each do our best work when we are working on something that matters most to us. For me, knowing what matters most to me isn't just about a calculation or fact or statistic. If you're like me, you find meaning with your heart too - and this means paying attention to when some fact or statistic makes it feel a little (or a lot) broken. Or hopeful. Or intrigued. Or passionate.

I'm inspired - endlessly, and perhaps a bit irrationally - by entrepreneurs. Sure, I can back up my opinions with stats and make a strong case for why they matter in the world, and why they move things forward, and why - in the long-term - I believe so many social problems can actually be solved by investing in entrepreneurs around the world. But if I'm honest, what sustains me day to day, week to week, year after year, and what makes me feel alive and creatively inspired and motivated to do hard things, isn't what's in my head, it's what's in my heart. I love entrepreneurs. So I focus on them. I work on this related to their ability to thrive. It makes me happy, and makes me feel fulfilled.

The good news and the bad news is, there is a LOT to fix in the world. if you're trying to find out what's the "most important issue" to work on, ask instead what's most important to you. And be open to finding the answer not just with your head, but with your heart too. 

Start With Who

Q: I want to be a social entrepreneur but I care about so many issues. I don't really know where to begin and what to work on.

A: I think the best place to start is with a question. And, it’s not a question that begins with How or What or even Why.* I believe one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves is this: Who do I want to serve? Who do I most care about in the world? Who might I help? Growing up, I was heartbroken by issues of poverty. Over time, this heartbreak became a passion to understand the lives of those living with severe economic need. Specifically, I found myself absolutely fascinated by entrepreneurs living in these conditions who had small, simple enterprises. They were proactive, solution-finding individuals who weren’t waiting for things around them to change; they were trying to work their way out of poverty by building sustainable ventures. Many wanted to grow those enterprises with a small grant or loan. They were goat herders. Fishermen. Seamstresses. Farmers. Brick makers. Rickshaw drivers.

These were the people I longed to understand. These were the people I wanted to serve.

So I figured out a way to go spend time with them – even when it meant flying to the other side of the world. The more time I spent, the more I could begin to understand what they wanted and needed. The more I understood what they wanted and needed, the better I got at actually being helpful. And then, I was finally ready to create a solution.

Starting with who helped me find my focus and take those first crucial steps along my own entrepreneurial path. 

* My friend Simon Sinek is well-known and loved for helping people tap into their inspiration and purpose by “starting with why.” He argues that all organizations can explain what they do; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why they do what they do. But, when orgs – and people – can articulate this, he believes they will tap into an endless source of inspiration for their teams. I actually do think this perspective can be incredibly helpful to aspiring entrepreneurs as well, and definitely recommend Simon’s books and courses!

Finding Balance

Q: How do you achieve balance in your life?

A: You have to know what you value, then be smart about working for those things - and be careful not to get distracted chasing other things that you value less. While I value being compensated financially, the ability to pay my mortgage, I also value things like flexibility and time with my family. My husband Reza and I have designed our work as carefully as we can, so that we get paid in the currencies that are important to us.

There's not always a clear division between "work" and "life" - our time is often blended and blurry. But we maximize what we care about most: togetherness. Sometimes that means we work at odd times, or on Saturdays. So we don't have traditional weekends per se, but that also means on a Wednesday morning, we can decide to shift things and have weekend brunch.

Reza and I actually did an interview about how we make it work. A helpful section from that: 

"Both of us have incredible flexibility," Jackley tells Business Insider. "We get to be together a lot, not just with each other, but with our kids. Even if we're tucked into the office for a quick call and someone falls and needs mama or dada, we're right there." 
This is made possible by a few things. First, they can afford to have help. Beatriz, a nanny, spends about 30 hours a week with the family, including travel. They also eat breakfast with the twins every day, providing family time first thing in the morning. 
Jackley and Aslan both do lots of speaking and have the same speaking agency, so they book talks strategically. For example, last year they each had lectures in Las Vegas and Miami within 24 hours of each other, so they made the trips as a family.
The couple also has a shared calendar, and they're not afraid of moving one another's appointments. And perhaps most importantly, the two of them escape for a retreat at the end of each year, where they can dream about their individual and shared goals. 

Know what matters most to you. Prioritize those things, and be bold in asking for those things in your work, your relationships, and all other aspects of your life.


Q: What is your best advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

A: Start! I meet so many individuals who have great plans, but they take way too long to do anything about them. Just put something out there. It will be imperfect. The real work is in figuring out how to make it better. Wake up each day and say, "Now what?"

Find Your Voice

Q: What is the best advice you've ever received?

A: Find your voice. This means expressing something about you and what you believe. It is the first step toward doing valuable action in the world.

At the heart of Kiva was the realization that a lot of the ways I had previously encountered poverty were through stories that were one-sided or incorrect. I have gained a lot of wisdom from unexpected individuals. I remember sitting in Stanford GSB Professor George Foster's class when he was lecturing about leverage. It dawned on me that I first learned that idea years earlier in Africa. A goat herder explained to me that he wanted more time to fatten up his goats before bringing them to market. The risk was that the goats might get sick while he waited, but they would be worth more if he allowed them time to grow bigger.