It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, we’ve all heard the generic cocktail of advice that goes something like, “Move up in your career. Move up in your company. Move up in the corporate ladder.” Well if there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming to Panama, it’s that this advice is toxic. It’s safe.
Now let me explain. About a week back while listening to a visiting group of three discuss their idea of founding a creative center for the arts and sustainability, I had an epiphany: the Kalu Yala internship program is much more than an opportunity to help create the world’s most environmentally sustainable co-working eco-resort and community. It’s an environment where those passionate about the environment gain the skills and experience needed to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Like those three, we all have our own projects. This includes the creation of our own investment bank for the future community of Kalu Yala, the development of a Kalu Yala furniture line, designing and building a custom water filtration system, organizing our own TEDx event, developing an entire economic plan for the community, and launching the cottage sales and organizational plan.
What is so amazing about this is that each one of these projects is self-selected. Here at Kalu Yala we are allowed to let our own unique interests guide our work and the contribution we ultimately have on the community. Because of this, all of us wake up each morning excited to work and excited to be a part of Kalu Yala. In addition to the freedom to pursue our own project, we are also given the freedom to fail. Fail you ask? Yes, fail. But failure isn’t entirely bad. In fact, it’s good. It’s encouraged here! Not only does it allow us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, it emboldens us to embark on projects that we may think are beyond our grasp or Kalu Yala’s as a whole. It motivates us to go far beyond what we think is possible and accept the risk that comes with ambition.
While the straight-laced advice of “move up in the corporate ladder” tells you to play it safe, Kalu Yala is providing us with an entirely new set of advice. What advice is this?…“RISK IT FOR THE BISCUIT.”
If you have “Big Ideas”, those world changing ideas that have never been done before (or have, it doesn’t really matter…but being the first is a lot cooler), they aren’t going to build themselves. There is inherent risk that is needed to accomplish them. In the past three weeks, Kalu Yala interns have met countless people with the “risk it for the biscuit” attitude. They are entrepreneurs, architects, farmers, land developers, artists, and travelers. They are people that followed their passions and are working tirelessly to build their own “Big Idea”. They understand that the end result of their vision is worth the risk that it requires. It just so happens that most of these people are extremely successful in their respective fields as well. The few people that we have met that aren’t…well they’re still happy, and that ain’t a bad deal at all. It’s almost like there’s a correlation between working at something you’re passionate about and being happy and successful. Well who would have thought that?
Now you could join the first company that hires you. Congratulations. The economy is rough and you have security. Loans gotta’ get paid. I understand. But that doesn’t mean your ambitions have to be buried into the deepest parts of your soul never to see the light of day again! You always have time for your idea; you just have to make it. Just understand though, as long as you’re working for someone else, it will never be your dream or your way. Find your own “Big Idea” and have the courage to pursue it. Risk it for the biscuit.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have my ‘Big Idea’ yet. What should I do?” Well, don’t worry. I’m in the same boat. And while it may sometimes feel that we’re frantically shoveling water out of our sinking vessel to avoid sinking into the depths of the corporate workforce –a 9 to 5 job at a company that has nothing to with our passions – that should not be the case. You might want to start something big and meaningful, but not know what that is yet. That’s okay. If you keep doing things that interest you, you will eventually find your “thing”. Unfortunately, I don’t know how long that’s going to take you. In the meantime though, start by helping build someone else’s big idea that you yourself believe in too (cue Jimmy and Kalu Yala). You’ll be doing rather than waiting and more importantly, you’ll be learning. Whatever you do, do not just sit around and let your ambitions and passions rot and dust over. Keep them primed and ready, prepared to build your “Big Idea”.
I’m 21, it’s 2am, and I’m leaving at 5am to go to San Blas for the weekend. To be honest, I don’t know much about the world and I am in no way claiming all of this to be the only way. There is no one best advice to give anyone. The best advice is the advice you give yourself after the fact. But, being that I am given this soapbox to rant on, I’ll make one last statement.
As the impending “real world” begins to evolve from just an ongoing joke to our everyday life, we as young adults are at an amazing stage in our lives and careers. We have the opportunity to make mistakes, the stamina to slave away at tasks till the wee hours of the morning, and most importantly, the belief that we can make a difference in the world. Whatever your biscuit may be, that one lingering idea in the back of your head, go for it. Risk it for the biscuit.