A very wise friend named Sean Stephenson always says: "You can only control two things in life, your reactions and your interpretations." I didn't really know what this meant when I was in N.Y.C for years, choosing to feel rushed, overwhelmed with obligations, exhausted and drained. I was inspired to use my relationships and resources for good a few years ago, but never thought it would be possible to combine education and events into a career. I actually just didn't think about it at all. I wanted to be a teacher my whole life, and changed paths, like many of us do, in my twenties, moving from first graders in a classroom, to adults in a nightclub (there are not many differences, besides the fact that I was selling math, rather than open bar packages).
Something kept asking me to listen to myself: the same thing that had me take a 10-day gig, help build a boat into a remarkable experience called Summit Series, ask my old job to allow me to donate their restaurants to different charities weekly (which they graciously allowed), and the same thing that woke me up in the middle of the night, while I was dreaming about a nonprofit music festival. It was the feeling that had me jump on board with GPP to help them produce the global festival, while barely knowing them, and to jump on a plane to head to Vegas, to check out an unknown city in Downtown with a man, driven by his huge "why," Tony Hsieh. This something was my "why." It was underneath everything I was choosing to do, without knowing why I was choosing to do it. It was leading me to a life I didn't know existed, but I trusted was there.
Two years ago, if you told me I would have a company helping to design communities for individuals I admire greatly, who are doing remarkable things for the world, I would laugh in your face and ask you to happy hour. Five years ago, if you told me I would be working with a remarkable team of individuals, doing what I love with the intention to create more active participants in making the world a better place, I would go back to texting and perhaps not even hear you. But my why was persistent. It didn't let me stop, until I ended up on stage in a triple-wide construction trailer, introducing the "King of Why," Simon Sinek. His TED talk, which I watched two years ago, focuses on "start with why." Simon decided to come volunteer his time and energy to be a part of Downtown Project, and as I watched the 200 people in the audience ask him questions about their own lives, it clicked. My "why" will bring me to other people's "whys" with the same intention, and we can create together. When your "why" is bigger than your "what," you will attract others who are seeking meaningful and impactful whys as well.
This is why my company, CatalystCreativ, was lucky enough to attract Rehan Choudry, who wanted to build a massive movement to remind people that life is beautiful, even after the lights, music and show is over. His background was in hospitality and large-scale entertainment, among other, various skills that he probably had to tap into to create such a massive experience -- but his "what" is not what matters.
He decided, with the help of Tony Hsieh and Downtown Project, to shut down 15 blocks of a city, turn it into a SXSW and Coachella combined, and create a music, art, culinary and learning festival for 60,000 people. Seems like a massive undertaking in one year, but when your "why" is big, your "what" doesn't seem so large. Being a part of LIB, and producing/curating the learning series was so rewarding. It was literally a dream come true to watch people I love and respect come together as a team, under the Catalyst name, to combine education and events that inspired festival attendees. It was awesome to eat food by 40 top chefs, and listen to The Killers, among 60 other musicians, but what it made the most magical was the ripple LIB made for others to find their "why." Rehan showed me a letter a 15 year old sent him after the festival, exclaiming how inspired she was to pursue her dream and live a life that was beautiful, now that she was a part of such an experience. I looked at him with tears in my eyes after he showed me this letter, and said that this is why he did everything.
The last "why-er," I would like to share, is one of the most giving, loyal, kind people I have ever met -- if you know him, you are shaking your head in agreement -- Mike De La Rocha. He works with incarcerated youth, and is an extremely talented musician. He took two diverse roads, which he has turned into one "why." He created a living-room-across-America tour, using his music as a foundation to inspire people to share their stories of gun violence. Partnering with Chicago Ideas Week, he went into living rooms in Detroit, LA, Chicago, NYC and Jackson, using his guitar as a way to create a safe space, while allowing others to express their stories and deepest emotions and feel heard. His "why" is to inspire people to share their stories with the right people -- particularly those in policy -- to humanize experiences and change the way people react and interpret such experiences.
So there are a lot of "whats" in this article. Teaching, event planning, entertaining, producing -- but those are not much different than so many of the "whats" you hear about all of the time. What sets these people apart, and brings such people together, is their "why," and I will continue to let my "why" attract me to the projects, people and communities who are looking to make the world a better place, and loving their "whats" while doing it.