How can we talk such a big game about cross-sector collaboration and ‘tearing down walls’ if we hardly do that in our personal lives?
As a mid-20s for-profit to non-profit convert in Washington, DC, I live a kind of balancing act in one of the most professionally transient cities on earth. Like many of my co-workers and colleagues, I left college for a new city surrounded by strangers. I had a choice to make in my personal life: either find those who were familiar to me and settle down in a normal, post-college routine, or intentionally decide to do just the opposite. I decided on the latter, because I think only by getting out of our comfort zones can we create a more unified, less-sectored society.
Two and a half years ago, I stumbled into a lifelong friendship with a woman more than double my age, a grandmother from a different region of the country with a dissimilar faith to my own. She had read an article about some social justice work I had done as an undergrad, wrote a blog piece on it, I commented, and we were meeting for lunch a few weeks later. There was just something refreshing about the confluence of our differences and a genuine and mutual desire to really engage with such a new and exciting sense of otherness.
Through the course of a year of rather unorthodox friendship, Cary Umhau and I began to recognize a need in our shared city of DC for more – more connection, adventure, possibility, opportunity. So many individuals we knew – whether 20 or 60 – were so entrenched in their work or routines that they simply didn’t create the time in their lives for something else, perhaps something challenging or uncomfortable or at least fun and relaxing. And so Cary and I decided to do something about that.
In the summer of 2011, we launched our own social venture, SPACIOUS. In the last 15 months, we’ve organized more than 25 events across DC, Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles – from a recess day last spring in Meridian Hill Park to our forthcoming adult spelling bee at Politics and Prose on November 10th. We collaborate with individuals across many different walks of life to co-create occasions that people desire such as an ancestry-themed dinner party and improv and dance choreography classes.
Cary and I made a choice. We decided to very purposefully branch out of our comfort zones and to work hard to develop personal relationships with individuals we assuredly would never have met if not for creating the vehicle for such interaction. In so doing, we have made a valiant effort to really and truly master the skill of applied empathy: putting ourselves in the shoes of others and then acting from that mindset (for more on this, check out what I do professionally at Ashoka with its Empathy Initiative).
Our conscious decision to appreciate personal relationships and differences has been the foundation of our collaborative work at SPACIOUS. It is only through that mindset in our personal lives that we can hope to achieve success in an unsectored professional world.
I invite you to try something new and check out SPACIOUS for yourself.
photo credit: twitter.com/SPACIOUSme