untwisting meaning

I'm here to write about my experience moving from for-profit to non-profit. I'm here to write about what the last few years have been like shuffling between New York and Nepal, to one of the most developed places in the world, to one of the poorest.

For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what to write. 

How do I write something that hasn't already been said, or is even fairly interesting to read? How do I move beyond the obvious (it's changed my life!), the slightly-condescending (it's the right thing to do!), and the cliche (these people are happier than me, but have so little!)? 

I'll start somewhere: Meaning.

Meaning is a term that has encapsulated the Internet. So many articles are published that explain how to find meaning in work, meaning in life, meaning in meaningless work, meaning in meaningless life, etc. (Here's how to find it in 20 minutes!).

While it's definitely overused, I still find it important—because meaning can actually damage morality and purpose. Let me explain.

I've always been cynical towards companies that try to prod meaning into their missions. Sure, everyone looks for meaning in work. But it shouldn't be about twisting meaning in order to create it; it should be about genuinely doing something that creates meaning for people who need that meaning more than you.

Insert some mission statements:

DropBox: "We believe technology should get out of the way, so there's no limit to what people can do."
General Mills: "We serve the world by making food people love."
Microsoft: "To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more." 
Uber: "Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone." (ps running water is actually pretty rare pps I hate you)

It's always been important to me to ensure I didn't twist up meaning. I understand lots of companies do things that have enormous purpose, or generally do a fair amount of good. I also realize life would suck without the less-meaningful companies that make certain things I consume (Brooks, Goya, Baskin Robbins.) How could I live without running shoes, black beans, and black raspberry ice-cream? 

But at the end of the day, I'm not here to make food people love, or to deliver a cab to someone's doorstep in under 3 minutes. However you spin it, while it's meaningful to someone, that meaning is pretty stale. That said, I ventured into the impact sector, hoping to untwist meaning. I started working at Possible, a global health organization that works in rural Nepal. This is when I fully began to realize what meaningful work truly is. 

Yet, I've struggled to write about my experiences. To even explain to others what I do, what I feel, what it all means. 

When people find out what I do, there are typically two responses. One is frustrating. I don't want people to gush over the work, but I want them to understand it. Too many people have asked when my next trip to "Tibet" is to "build hospitals." I want them to understand that a) Tibet is a different country from Nepal, b) we build public healthcare systems, not hospitals, c) please buy a map? 

The other is uncomfortable. Some people immediately pen you as some god; "Wow, you're doing something that actually makes a difference. You're changing the world!" I know it's a nice gesture, but it makes me feel weird. I've never seen my work as self-serving ... or a sacrifice. I don't even think I've done much to put a dent on anything. Yet, how can I even write these words, "I'm not doing this for me, but I'm not a fucking martyr either" and have it come off as genuine?

Which brings me back to why I'm writing this; which brings me back to meaning. This story is not about for-profit to non-profit. Now that I've made it this far down the page, I actually think this is a silly comparison, since many for-profits actually do more good than non-profits. 

After I mulled it over, time and time again, staring at this blank screen with the blinking cursor silently haunting me, I figured out what working with Possible has been about. Cue Margaret Mead:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

This story is about working with a group of incredible people to untwist meaning. To do work that creates a real change in the world, with the meaning front and center: health is a human right.

No matter who you are or where you are, you deserve healthcare. And our team always puts that first. Has always put our patients first. 

At the end of the day, I believe in the power of team. I believe in working with a small set of special people who also want to untwist meaning. To not think about the why's or the how's. But to simply do it because it's right. 

And that's what working at Possible has been about. I feel insanely lucky to experience what I have in a short 28 years, and can genuinely say these last few years have challenged me in ways I've never know were possible. My saving grace has been surrounding myself with people better, stronger, and more capable than myself. People who also want to create the right type of meaning—meaning full of dignity, intelligence, and love.