This Grey Story is part of our Passion in Progress series highlighting young professionals and millennial go-getters who are learning and succeeding in their careers.
1. How did you find your grey?
In 2010, I quit my corporate job and boarded a plane to Guatemala. I found a volunteer position working in microfinance. While I was here, I realized there were lots of places offering loans to budding entrepreneurs looking for capital, but almost nothing available to help people gain the skills and confidence to run a business. This is when I came up with Unmarked Streets – a non-profit where women learn how to use recycled materials to create beautiful products. They earn money by producing items, become a part of a community of ambitious young women, and we teach them business skills along the way – like sales, quality control, and communication to name a few.
2. What motivates you to grow and do great work?
Running a non-profit in a foreign country and in my second language is hard work. I get de-motivated and burned out and sometimes feel lost and hopeless. But whenever I hear the women in my program tell me about the obstacles they are facing,it puts things into perspective for me. I remember that Unmarked Streets is something they value – so much so that they take time from their busy lives to make sure that they can come in. The sense of community and comradery our program builds isn’t common in this culture – women are often taught from a young age to view other women as a threat/competition. I think there are elements of that in the culture back in the U.S. too. But when women work together rather than working against each other, it is amazing how much better we are. It’s one of those 1+1=3 sort of things, we are stronger together than we would be working separately.
3. How do you live in the grey? How does your work relate to other aspects of your life?
When I was working in corporate America – I felt like there was a huge division between my work and personal life. My friends didn’t understand what my job was. My colleagues didn’t know anything about my personal life. Now the line is non-existent – my friends are my volunteers, employees, mentors, and customers. The people closest to me WANT to get involved in what I am doing because they see the fulfillment I get from my job personally. I feel like I am contributing something important to the world– so I am propelled to get everyone around me involved!
4. What is your favorite part of your work?
The team of women in our program. It is so inspiring to watch them grow – I can’t tell you how much joy it has given me to see the participants pick up new skills and start thinking about obstacles differently both in and out of the program.
I truly think that every goal related to poverty and development comes back to having strong, independent women. You can’t “develop” a place where 50% of the population is being held back. When mothers have resources and education to do the right thing for their children, all the other pieces of the puzzle – health, education, nutrition – fall into place.
5. How did you become qualified enough to do what you love?
The truth is, when I first started Unmarked Streets, I wasn’t remotely qualified. I had worked in finance but had never done more than occasional volunteer work in a non-profit. I learned a lot on the job, by making mistakes and doing things the wrong way the first time. That can be a great way to learn things, and sometimes having a fresh perspective allows you to see things in a different light than someone who has a lot of experience in a field.
6. How has your work helped you live a more fulfilled life?
There is nothing in the world more fulfilling than knowing that you have made someone else’s world a little brighter. Sometimes it can be even the smallest things – like having a cake in the office on someone’s birthday. All the negativity and stress and nastiness that seems to come along with the daily grind – it just melts away when you know that what you are doing is having a positive impact in someone’s life.
7. What’s one thing you do every morning to get ready for the day?
I work out – either running, or yoga, or Pilates or cardio (well, almost every morning …. ) I like to shake things up, I get bored doing the same thing day after day. There is no single thing that has a bigger impact on my energy and mood than whether or not I exercise.
8. What are three things you try to do everyday?
- Eat breakfast. I am such a believer in big, hearty breakfasts to start the day.
- E-mail. I totally respect people who follow the mantra of email minimization – and only check their inbox for an hour a day or in the afternoon. But for me – I need my team to know they can reach me whenever they need me. Unmarked Streets is still young – I still think it’s important that I be there for everyone in the program while we are still figuring out the ideal way to run things.
- I need me time – every single day. If we have a big sales event or fundraiser, you can bet that you will find me later that night in my pajamas, curled up on my couch binge watching House of Cards. I am quite happy to turn it on and be social and outgoing – but I need to recharge my batteries after being out in the world.
9. What’s something you wish you had known at the outset of your career?
Assholes are everywhere. Don’t take it personally when someone treats you badly- it almost never has anything to do with you.
10. What advice do you have for someone seeking mentorship and to build their network?
The most valuable connections come from unexpected places. Stay open and talk to as many people as you can. You never know where or when the nuggets of wisdom will come your way.
11. How do you ensure your intentions become actions?
I am a list-a-holic – short-term, medium & long-term lists, goal lists, to-do lists, dream lists. It doesn’t feel real to me unless I write it down – so anything that is important to me gets written in a notebook.
12. What advice do you have for beginners in your industry specifically?
Know what your goals are, and why they matter to you. Non-profits are difficult places to work – it can be twice the work for a fraction of the pay and none of the glory. You have to know inside yourself what your goals are and why they are important to you.
13. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love a good dance party – whether it’s out on the town, or having a few friends over, or even just jammin’ out while I cook dinner. There is nothing better than getting together with my girlfriends and shaking the day away.
14. How do you support and help people on your team to live grey?
I am friends with everyone I work with – I think that the best way to build trust and a connection is to break bread and share a cocktail. We also don’t do a lot of counting hours at Unmarked Streets – I am more interested in the final product than I am in the amount of time it took to get it done.
15. Do you have a motto?
Be excellent to each other.
16. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard?
“If you don’t think you are big enough to make a difference, try falling asleep with a mosquito in the room”
You can learn more about Andrea’s work here.