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Go for the Crazy Idea in Your Career

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Ten months ago I took what I now call a leap of faith by quitting my secure, full-time job for an internship at $10 an hour, It could have been the worst mistake in the world or the best opportunity of my life, but I wouldn’t find out which until much later. Call me crazy if you want to.

That’s what they called Jacqueline Novogratz. Her friends, family, even her boss—the young “accidental banker” left her comfortable job in Brazil to open a microfinance bank in Rwanda after seeing how inaccessible banks were to the poor. Her goal was to inspire the poor to support themselves through entrepreneurship with the help of microloans. Essentially, she was throwing her life away to help the less fortunate.

Fast forward a few decades, and Novogratz, the Founder and CEO of Acumen, is running a charitable investments organization with five global branches, and she spoke with Levo during yesterday’s Office Hours.

It’s very difficult to admit that your life’s work is something that wasn’t initially supported by your friends and family, accedes Novogratz, especially when your life’s work is tackling a serious issue like poverty. In Rwanda, Novogratz got her first taste of change when she saw the difference a small group of people could make in the lives of the impoverished.

“If we’re really serious about tackling poverty in new ways,” says Novogratz, charity wouldn’t do it. “Charity, in the traditional sense, creates dependence, which is the opposite of dignity.”

Novogratz defines success not in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of freedom and choice.

I suppose that’s what I was giving myself when I took that internship. My full-time job had been as a paralegal at a legal services organization. I was very good at what I did, but I didn’t enjoy it. I’d wanted to be a writer for as long as I could hold a pen correctly, but I didn’t think I could make a career out of it because “the economy was too bad,” and “it’s almost impossible to make a living as a writer.” I took a safe job, and made writing my side hustle.

It was enough, until it wasn’t. I spoke to a fellow college alum in the industry who told me that the best way in was through an editorial internship, so I applied for one that I hoped would get my foot in the door. It took me two days to decide whether or not I actually wanted to quit my job and take the internship, which seems like a short amount of time but felt like the longest 48 hours of my life. I could get a job out of that internship, I thought. Or I could end up unemployed in a few months.

“Long-term success that makes you full of sparkle, as you get older,” says Novogratz, “isn’t the same as being at the top of the pyramid. It comes from your own moral compass. If you have the grit and determination required to understand what it takes to create real change, people will feel it.”

Novogratz’s compass pointed her to Rwanda. Mine, as my internship progressed, pointed me toward writing about women’s careers.

Yesterday Novogratz said something that really struck a chord with me, which I think is defining of finding your path:

“Real authenticity comes from truly being who you are, and that’s not easy when you’re young… [so] do what you love. Don’t think in terms of productivity; love what you do, the people around you, your mission. There will be days that you cry, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love what you do… Time is so precious, so don’t waste it. Burn the candle at both ends, go out with a blaze of light. It’s about joy, and not about episodic happiness.”

My compass pointed me, six months later, toward Levo League. My leap of faith, it seems, landed me both feet solidly on the ground.

Get more incredible advice from Novogratz by watching her Office Hours.

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I love this Melissa! Sometimes it just easier to stay safe then take a risk. It's encouraging to hear how yours paid off. "It was enough, until it wasn’t." That is so true and is often the driving force for change.

Thank you for this, Melissa! I'll take this into consideration when I take my own calculated risks in the working world.

“If we’re really serious about tackling poverty in new ways,” says Novogratz, charity wouldn’t do it. “Charity, in the traditional sense, creates dependence, which is the opposite of dignity.” --- I love this. It's also so true. It's like that old saying of give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Jacqueline is an inspiration!

I think a lot of us can relate to doing our "passion projects" on the side, and I so admire you for stepping into the unknown to pursue yours. Thank you for sharing, Melissa!

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