Before the red-eye home
I’m writing this at 10:45pm from the departure lounge of the San Francisco airport. I’m on the red eye flight back to DC. When I land, it will be 7:00am.
Last night I gave a speech to 150 people at Saint Mary’s College of California about how they can become the type of leaders who improve our global community. This morning I gave a guest lecture for a group of 20 students who were about to spend three weeks volunteering in Rwanda.
These events in California were milestones for me.
When I started Ignited Leadership 3.5 years ago (back then it was called Changing the World 101) it took me six months just to get my first client. I thought that I could just put up a website and people would come to me. I thought that every school in the country would want someone to teach their students how to get involved with service in the third world.
Turns out it’s not that easy.
Turns out you have to work really really hard in the beginning to get your first clients, to get people to trust you, to work with you, to listen to you, to believe in you. There were more nights than I care to acknowledge when I was ready to quit.
For the first two years I was barely able to make ends meet. I literally ate pasta and red sauce for dinner over 600 times those first two years – it was cheap, delicious, and reasonably healthy. I rarely went out with my friends – I wasn’t able to afford anything like that.
Now I’ve been working on Ignited Leadership for 3.5 years. A lot has changed since the beginning. My life is a bit more comfortable now. I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford to go out or not anymore. Three and a half years in, and Ignited Leadership is working. I have more requests for speeches than I can fulfill, and larger chunks of my audiences are getting involved with local and global service. Slowly, we are making a difference.
And with the speeches in California, I hit a milestone: I have broken the national college market. I have spoken at schools in the North East, the South, the Mid West, and the West. I’m proud of that. Three and a half years ago, and I didn’t even have my first client.
It’s funny – speakers, executives, and business owners ask me for advice now. That’s new. But I’m not special. I’m not smarter than anyone. I’m just working harder, more determined, and learning from my mistakes as I go. That’s the real difference.
I learned something about building an organization as I took Ignited Leadership from having zero customers to over 100, from losing money to making money, from creating zero hours of community service each year to creating many thousands of hours each year: you have to work your ass off.
It may appear that success is possible without hard work, but that is a complete and utter illusion. The people who are where you want to be, the thing they are doing differently than you is that they are working harder.
It’s convenient to pretend that the x-factor in success is luck, status, connections, or anything else that rests outside of your control. Those things all help, but they are far less important than working your ass off every single day. Fortunately, that is in your control.
Of course, hard work becomes easier if you have passion and patience. I learned that too.
My flight is about to board. They just called zone 1. I’m zone 2.
I booked the red eye so I could get back to DC, back to my friends and girlfriend, back to my apartment and normal life as soon as possible. I’ll spend a bit of time relaxing tomorrow, but then I’ll get back to work. I’ll observe this milestone, and I’ll give myself an easier schedule for the next 24 hours or so as I recover from the jet lag and the speeches, but I haven’t even really begun to accomplish what I want to. There are so many problems to solve, our planet and it’s people need so much help, we need so many more humanitarians, and so many more good leaders, that it’s insane. I know I can’t solve every problem. I know I can’t save every person. Not even close. But I’m just going to keep at it, keep working hard, keep trying to improve a little bit every day. I wont save the world – no chance of that – but I’ll still try, I’ll still work as hard as I possibly can on projects that I’m passionate about. That’s how I’ll change the world. Passion and patience.
My flight’s boarding now. I hope I can get a bit of sleep. Goodnight.