Every year, the C2C Fellows Network sponsors a graduate from our first-round sustainability leadership workshops to attend StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation in NYC. This 5-day experience promises to be “transformative…during which emerging global leaders learn to increase their impact, exponentially”. The Institute focuses on social entrepreneurship – the idea that making money, and doing good, are not mutually exclusive.
Chris Busker, a recent graduate of Loras College and a C2C Fellow from our Ann Arbor, MI cohort, attended this year’s Institute with C2C’s Assistant Director Jess Scott. His application to receive this scholarship stood out for its creativity, for the story he told, and for the work he hopes to do with 4Peace, his future non-profit organization. Below is a blog post Chris wrote after his experience attending StartingBloc with 90 other young leaders from around the world
By Chris Busker, C2C Fellow
Mark Twain, a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens, receives the honor for many of my favorite quotes. “Nothing is more sad than a young pessimist” resonates with me the most. At the StartingBloc Institute, I found a room full of young optimists who would have made Mr. Clemens proud. The conference space was overflowing with the positivity everyone brought from all over the world. I had never before been in a room with so many transformative leaders. Nearly every single person had a unique vision of the world, and a desire to share this vision with as many people as possible. We all saw problems that affect this world but instead of dwelling on those problems, we shared our realistic (and often crazy-sounding) solutions.
We came with our ideas. We came with the burden of our projects. We came into an unknown room with unknown people. And over the course of 5 days, we received the best constructive criticism that I have ever seen. We offered advice in the most encouraging manner, to 90 of our new best friends. A subtle tie bound all of us together: when we expressed our ideas to others back home, they did not or could not see our vision. Partly the fault of our storytelling ability and partly the fault of the revolutionary process, many of us had thus far failed to carry our dreams from vision to reality. As a result, visionaries – even young, optimistic visionaries like ourselves — often abandon their utopia for the status quo. However, as I learned at this conference, if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough yet. Banksy said “Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent” — and I couldn’t agree more. Too often we are incentivized to drop our ambitions for the mediocre solid ground. During this conference, exactly the opposite happened: we were encouraged, motivated, even commanded to jump into the dark unknown with the faith that we would land (some-what) safely.
I cannot talk enough about StartingBloc. This conference peeled a film from my eyes. Without this filter, I see more opportunities. Without this filter, I know I can succeed at my passion of improving a piece of the world. A pair of questions emphasized during the conference, and that I have been thinking about since, are what do I want to change, and how will I know when I am done? Each person will have a different answer based on the nature of the change they wish to create in the world — but these are very important questions to ask yourself at every stage of any project you pursue more than casually. The first question gives you focus. The second question gives you a goal. With a vision, a focus, and a goal, progress is easier and burnout is less likely.
One of my favorite parts of StartingBloc was a period called “The Wealth of Knowledge in the Room”. We split up into small groups and taught others our not-at-work talents and passions. These talents ranged from salsa dancing to counting in another language to learning about regional barbecue styles and much more. Eventually, we began to have a discussion about burnout and the balance of work and leisure. We discussed the philosophy of what the “good life” entails. As a graduate student studying recreation, I found myself to be the closest thing to an expert in this realm of knowledge. I began to talk about compensation theory and spillover theory and how they relate to keeping a balanced life and to keeping your passions alive. I personally believe that everybody needs to study recreation, and since it is not in our current educational curriculum, I found a void I want to fill. Since this conference, I have been delving into more books about ways in which recreation can both fill voids in education and help address the common empty feeling that leaves employees unsatisfied with their personal and professional lives. Not only did this conference give me the chance to better define my vision, but it also helped expand my vision to see ways in which I can easily improve myself while enabling improvement in others.
StartingBloc gave me the opportunity to meet many great people and to develop several strong connections. As you try to find your vision and turn it into reality, advice that’s stuck with me since the conference may resonate with you as well. Be nice, but be direct. Foresee what others need and find power players to help you, especially the silent leaders that stay out of the spotlight. Surround yourself with do-ers. You will feed off of their energy and they will do the same. This form of using the energy and strength of others to achieve maximum output is the epitome of social synergy. Always remember — it’s not what you’re doing now, it’s what you’re going to do next. And with that, I want to leave you with another great quote from the All-American philosopher.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. When you are seeking to bring big plans to fruition, it is important with whom you regularly associate. Hang out with friends who are like-minded and who are also designing purpose-filled lives. Similarly, be that kind of a friend to those around you.”
Chris Busker is originally from Rockford, IL and is a current resident of Macomb, IL. He is working on his graduate degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration. He is focusing on nonprofit administration and plans to launch a nonprofit later this year to counteract budget cuts in education. Chris enjoys open mic, watching sunsets from his roof and learning about food systems. Chris attended the C2C Fellows workshop in Ann Arbor, MI in March, 2013, and became a StartingBloc Fellow following the NYC Institute this past June.