Embracing the unknown to discover new possibilities

A few months ago, I joined the Franklin Street team full-time to manage the organization’s finances and operations. Here’s some insider info: prior to joining the team, I’ve never managed an org’s finances or operations. You might be wondering, “Why would a finance newbie apply to this role?” or maybe “does the team know about her lack of expertise?” Fortunately for me, our team’s aims aren’t built upon perfection or a belief that we have all the answers. Instead, we align deeply with the values of learning, curiosity, and using inspiration as a means to broaden our sense of what’s possible.

As a kid, I never considered what it meant to feel inspired. Immigrants to the US, my parents and elders spoke about stability. “Work hard while you’re young, so you can enjoy later in life,” my dad would say. Enjoy my life… later? What happens until then, I wondered. As a college student and into post grad, I structured my professional path roughly around my dad’s mantra; I sought to build financial stability and land any job that helped me do that (my brilliant strategy was to serve as an AmeriCorps member in my first job out of college). With the goal to simply be employed, inspiration was a mystery to me. I couldn’t describe it, let alone know if I felt it.

By 2018, I was in my late twenties and chronically apathetic. I had just moved back home to the Bay Area, in the familiar places of my childhood. I felt indifferent about my nonprofit job, but I didn’t feel entitled to more. After all, I was achieving stability, the same type my parents built before me. That summer, the non-profit I was working for disbanded and laid off its entire staff, dissolving that sense of stability into the San Francisco fog. My first response to sudden unemployment was to begin a frenzied job search. Then it struck me: does pursuing stability have to mean feeling uninspired? One of the things that drew me to Franklin Street is that we don’t think so.

To answer this question, I bought a one-way flight to Ecuador. I spent almost two years traveling through South America with my 40L backpack. I admit I dabbled in a millennial reboot of the “Eat, pray, love,” cliche. But I mostly spent my time working in unexpected places: on farms, in hostels and restaurants, travel agencies, and with families living in small villages where nobody spoke English. Nothing to me resembled stability. I often felt foolish, and I started each day feeling like a complete novice. Surprisingly, this feeling was thrilling; it was an antidote to the apathy I had felt in the Bay Area. In hindsight, I can name that thrill as inspiration.

Marielle standing in a restaurant kitchen where she worked with two of her colleagues who are holding. Chilean flag.
New Year's Eve 2018: I'm pictured here before dinner service with my colleagues Chef Naty from Chile (middle), and Chef Sara from Mexico (right) at Casa Colchagua Restaurante in Santa Cruz, Chile.

In the act of constant exploration, I became a student of everything. I began each day curious about how I’d learn that day, from picking up new vocabulary in a different language, learning to cultivate land, trying out simple ways to blend in. I learned then to nurture this curiosity. Five years later, curiosity has become a habit and my conditioned response to it is to anticipate thrill and inspiration as an outcome. While I don’t salivate in the pursuit of something new, I do feel charged by experiences that make me feel novice in seemingly ordinary environments and tasks – like in my new home of Arkansas or in learning org finances and operations for the first time. 

At Franklin Street, an Inspiration Visit is an experience designed to spark new ideas with our partners in their own work. This could look like designing a virtual field trip for a team of educators to learn from organizations working to dismantle ableism in learning spaces in order to create school alternatives that are truly inclusive. It could look like hosting a cohort of entrepreneurs in Albuquerque, New Mexico to learn from Indigenous-led school models and sustainable farm practices. By immersing ourselves in a completely new context, the aim of an Inspiration Visit is to cultivate this curiosity to broaden our sense of what’s possible. Sound familiar? Without knowing it, I had designed my very own Inspiration Visit during my time abroad.

Often times, inspiration-seeking is reserved for those who have resources, time, and energy to spare on what might be considered supplemental. However, we believe that inspiration isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential ingredient in our work and our lives. When we design inspiration experiences in our work, we find the right spark with our partners – and that doesn’t have to be a trip to South America (though I’m definitely pitching for a team sequel!). We can find inspiration in provocative questions or in seeing unexpected things outside of our own contexts. We invite our partners to embrace exploration and experimentation – ingredients we believe are at the foundation of good work.  

Each day, I wake up curious about the new things I might learn in my role, from my team. I find myself reading through various HR benefits and realize that I am a complete novice to the world of org operations. There are certainly circumstances when I know that others have more expertise than I do. But I think it’s a unique opportunity to work with a team that encourages my own exploration and experimentation as an important element to our organization's success.