With a huge grin, I am delighted to share that today is my first day as Head of Growth & Community at Upstream.
How did we get here?
As many of you know, I enthusiastically follow business leaders with the same diligence that some may follow musicians or talk show personalities. I have been known to wax poetic about Forerunner Ventures because I greatly admire Kristen Green. Her investment track record is superb (see @glossier, @away, @outdoor voices, @reformation, @real, @birchbox) and the intentionality with which she cultivates culture deeply resonates with me. When she announced (on Twitter) that she was doing a live FAQ on this new platform called Upstream, I, of course, downloaded the app to see her speak.
Immediately after Kirsten’s talk, I started poking around the platform and found hundreds of people doing my favorite activity: giving help. I came to the app for Kirsten, but I stayed for the intuitively easy way to help people.
The high engagement blew me away; people asking for introductions were being met by even more people enthusiastically offering help on even the most intimidating asks. I jumped in, asking for help and offering to pitch in where I could — completely hooked.
If you have been here for a while (through Oats & Woes and now Joy Soldier), you know that two years ago, I gave a TedX talk about my experience rebuilding my brain for joy through reflection and connection. I named this personal purpose of spreading joy being a “Joy Soldier.” Giving help is one of my favorite levers in the Joy Soldier toolkit for connecting deeply. Wearing my Joy Soldier hat, I saw Upstream as a platform that perfectly aligned with my purpose.
I made an ask on Upstream. One of my friends was planning a conference and asked me for advice about what to send for speaker gifts. Thirty-two people offered suggestions. I made another ask. My friend wrote a fantastic manuscript about a woman coming-of-age in New York and was looking for connections to the publishing industry. Someone connected her directly to two editors and an agent. Again and again, I pulled from this seemingly endless well of goodwill. I was blown away by the quality of the community, everyone from founders and investors, to reporters and leaders in philanthropy. For the first time since February, I felt connected.
Joining a few of the Upstream breakout events, I was randomly matched for 1x1 5 minute video chats with super interesting people around the world. When 5 minutes weren’t enough, we set up more time. I watched friendships bloom. Some of the people I have met on Upstream are now people I text every single day. What I realize now that I didn’t then, is that Upstream was giving me the chance to be serendipitous again.
In my heart of hearts, I know that I am where I am because of serendipitous meetings. People who have changed the trajectory of my life have come from the most unlikely of places. When I was 19 years old, selling watches on the sales floor of the Shinola store in Tribeca, I sold a watch to a person who changed my life. He introduced me to a family friend who connected me to an acquaintance who became my best mentor at Goldman. I was asked to give a TedX talk about being a Joy Soldier, which is a term coined over brunch with two Canadian DJs who I had met at a music festival in Spain. There’s more, but I won’t drone on.
In short, I know this magical, hopeful, beautiful life is the result of people who happened to go out of their way to help this random person they had just met.
Why does community matter?
The research has shown that humans today, despite all of the ways of connecting through technology, feel more alone than ever before. This year especially has been difficult. The number one predictor of a long life is social integration, the ability to connect with other people throughout your day. That has been stripped from us by a global pandemic. Humans are social beings and we have been isolated for the past ten months, cut off from each other. Every person I talk to is struggling in some way. We need to find ways to see each other, to hear each other, to help each other.
And there isn’t a clear end in sight. When will we be able to have random run-ins and coincidental meetings? Smushed in the same elevator on the way to a talk or complimenting someone’s shoes at a holiday party. Will that ever happen again?
What does community look like in a virtual world?
As someone who cares deeply about mental health, I have seen how social media can create terrifying echo chambers. But I also have seen, when used intentionally, how social media can open up a network and give you access to someone you may have never met.
One of my best friends, Claire, is someone I met because she was my most loyal follower of my blog Oats & Woes. We are four years apart in age and never overlapped at the University of Michigan where we were both students. She replied to one of my blog posts and we met for coffee to be fast friends ever since. There are more: another best friend, Danielle, cold emailed me off an email chain we were both on; my best friends Maddie and Lauren reached out to me through Instagram DM. As amazing as these stories are, I would not say these are the normal experience of social media, but rather examples of positive deviance.
I’m joining Upstream because it is a platform that facilitates human connection. It is social technology being used how technology should be: to augment the human experience, not replace it.
What is the business case for community?
A data point I call upon often is the statistic that people are 13x more likely to invest in someone who comes to them through a warm intro. In my time at Goldman Sachs, I saw firsthand how necessary a network is to succeed. As a Launch With GSAmbassador, we spent our time thinking about how to open historically closed networks and build an ecosystem that supported diverse founders and fund managers.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a distinct need for paths to reach the capital and communities that have been historically experienced as inaccessible to those not born into them. Upstream can be a tool to open networks that have been historically closed for underrepresented founders and investors and aligns with my goal of broadening the aperture for diverse talent. The situation you are born into should not define the trajectory of your life.
How did we really get here?
I’ve tried to lay out the above in a neat and linear fashion so it might appear that this was something I was always planning. It’s not. The window of time between meeting Alex Taub, CEO of Upstream, to resigning from Goldman Sachs was less than two weeks.
At Goldman, I was lucky to work on two fantastic teams (one on the trading floor and one in the Executive Office), each embedding innovation and diversity into everything they do. I helped start a Mindfulness Community at the firm, was a founding member of an amazing cross-financial services industry coalition of mindfulness champions called Mindful on Wall Street, and truly felt that I was able to show up authentically at work. It was the perfect place for me to start my career and confirm my hypothesis that there are Joy Soldiers in every organization.
They always say the best things come when you are not looking, and I can absolutely attest that this role at Upstream is the best job I’ve ever gotten by not looking. Perhaps the best job I’ve gotten, period.
The day after I attended the Kirsten Green event, I reached out to Alex Taub to see if I could help out with Upstream part-time when I learned he was looking for a full-time Head of Community:
“I would love to help you build your community as you look to fill this role. I can be a volunteer community person!”
In retrospect, it’s funny how obvious of a signal it should have been for me that I had offered to work at Upstream for free. I just wanted to be involved. The two other mission-aligned work experiences that have transformed my life have been at Shinola and Give & Take, both where I begged to work for them. I offered to pitch in for free, and finally (I think for legal reasons), in both cases, they added me as an intern because of my persistence.
Upstream is precisely what was always supposed to be next. I just had to stop for a minute and listen to what I’ve been saying all along about reflecting, connecting, and leading a life in reverence to joy.
What does knowing feel like?
Something I have been focusing on in my personal work with a therapist and integrated nutritionist is listening to my body and dropping into my intuition. This career change is probably the boldest expression of this work that began with drinking more water and getting more sleep.
That personal work, marinated in quarantine-time thinking, reflecting, and reading helped sow the soil for radical change. All this was then watered by this question Glennon Doyle poses in her book, Untamed, that has haunted me since I read it in March.
What is the truest, most beautiful story about your life that you can imagine?
Each day I quietly prodded and poked, asking myself, quietly: Is this the most beautiful and true expression of my life?
A whisper, asking:
Today, I can proudly say yes.
Yes, it is.
P.S. If you want to hear more about Upstream, this personal journey, or anything else, I will be blocking my calendar to connect with new people during my weekly Office Hours. You can sign up here.
P.P.S Please join the Joy Soldiers Community on Upstream! Click here to join and I’ll fast track you through the approval process.