Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles I did everything I was supposed to do. I got good grades in high school, I took AP classes, I went to a good college, I got a great job, I climbed the career ladder. On paper I had it all. I was making $70,000 a year at the age of 28, I was working for the federal government. I had health care, I had benefits, I had job security. You literally can't get fired from working for the government. Trust me, there are people that should. (Laughter) My parents were impressed, my friends were impressed, my boss told me I was doing a great job. I would go to Happy Hour and tell everyone I was the Special Assistant to the Director of Global Operations at the U.S. Peace Corps, and everyone thought that was so cool. They asked for my business card. I got to sit in on meetings at the White House. Everything was perfect about my job except for one tiny, kind of important thing: I was miserable. How did I know I was miserable? Every single morning when my alarm would go off at 6:30 AM to NPR, I'd feel a shooting pain go up and down my back. I felt this pain when I was getting out of bed, when I was brushing my teeth, when I was getting dressed and putting on my shirt and tie, when I was taking the bus down to work, when I scanned my ID badge at the office, when I rode up the elevator up to my desk, when I sat at my desk typing memos, when my boss would invite me to meetings and we'd talk about best practices, and when my boss would email me every night on my Blackberry at 10 PM. The pain was so bad I developed shingles on my side. Shingles in a nerve disease common in people over the age of 70, not 20-somethings. (Laughter) This was the pain of confusion. It was the pain of climbing this career ladder to success and realizing that I was nowhere. I was somewhere I didn't want to be. I was stuck in a quarter-life crisis. I was spending a lot of time on Facebook overdosing on FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, comparing myself to what my friends were doing. So there was my friend going off to business school and I was like, "Maybe I should get my MBA." And there was my friend going to teach at a charter school, and I was like, "Maybe I should work at a charter school." And there was my friend opening a food truck, and I was like, "Maybe I should open a food truck, even though I'm an awful driver and a really bad cook." (Laughter) And so there was a buddy of mine, he'd already graduated from one of the top law schools in the country, he got this amazing job at one of the top corporate firms, making well over six figures, and he's got it all figured out, and there he is traveling with his girlfriend in Peru, getting engaged at sunset in front of Machu Picchu. And I'm like "Man! This guy has got it all figured out. He's got this amazing job, he's going to get married, he's at Macchu Picchu, I hate my job, I hate my life, I can't even get a date on OkCupid, my life is ruined!" (Laughter) I'm a goner! It was only when I met other young people going through the exact same thing that I was able to turn my quarter-life crisis into a breakthrough. So this talk is going to teach you a few lessons I learned on my journey that can help anyone that's stuck in a quarter-life crisis or help you avoid your quarter-life crisis and find meaningful work. So the first lesson I learned: find believers. Surround yourself with people that believe in the beauty of their dreams because I used to come home in D.C. every night to my roommate Dan, and I'd be like "Dan, I hate my job, I don't want to do this anymore, I want to move across the country, I want to live in San Francisco, I've always wanted to live there, I want to start writing, I want to start being creative, I want to support social entrepreneurs, I want to support young people that are going after their dreams." And Dan would look at me, stare, roll his eyes, take a swig of beer, and say "Smiley, suck it up." (Laughter) "Everyone hates their job, it's part of life." And I was like, "Man! You know, that's kind of brutal." I was 28 at the time which is old, but it's not that old. I didn't want to spend the next 40 years of my life depressed. But you know what? The majority of the world thinks like Dan. 70% of Americans are disengaged at their jobs. 70%! One fifth of those people are so disengaged, they're actively undermining their coworkers' work. They're literally getting paid to mess things up for the company that they work for. (Laughter) And this is a shame. It's a shame because millions of people wake up every day unfulfilled, depressed, not showing up fully for themselves, their families, their communities, or the world at large. So then I met believers. I went to a leadership program that bring together 20-somethings interested in creating social change, social entrepreneurship, and using business for good. The program was called StartingBloc and at StartingBloc I met believers. I met people like Debbie. Debbie was starting GoldieBlox, a toy company that teaches young girls engineering skills. I met people like Ted. Ted started MoneyThink, which is a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship to urban youth. I met people like Tom. Tom started Rising Tide Car Wash, a small business in South Florida with his father, that employs people with autism. So I met these believers and they're like, "Wait a second Smiley, you want to leave D.C., move to San Francisco, start writing, start supporting social entrepreneurs? You have to do that, the world needs you to do that!" Because a crazy thing happens when you find believers: you find accountability. Normally in the real world, you tell someone you're going to quit your job and they're like, "Yeah dude, you said that six months ago. Everyone's going to quit their job. Whatever. You're not going to do it." You tell someone you're writing a book: "Everyone's writing a book, I'll believe it when I see it." Not when you tell believers, because when you tell believers you have accountability. I told my buddy Evan that I was going to quit my job at StartingBloc. And you know what he asked me? One simple question: when? When are you going to have the talk with your boss? And he texted me every single week after the program: Have you had the talk with your boss yet? Have you had the talk with your boss yet? I'd be in meeting with senior officials at the White House getting texts and calls from this guy and I was like, "Stop calling me, you're going to get me arrested!" But you know what? The only reason I did have that talk with my boss, the only reason I did quit my job, I did move across the country to a city I wanted to live in, the only reason I did write a book, the only reason I started supporting social entrepreneurs, and the only reason I'm standing here right now is because people like Evan held me accountable. Because when you find believers, you find accountability. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) People like Debbie and Ted and Tom weren't talking about making lots of money. They weren't talking about rising up the corporate ladder, getting featured in TechCrunch or Fast Company. They were talking about making the world more innovative, compassionate, and sustainable. They were talking about using their access, their privilege, and their skills to empower people less fortunate than them. Because the success symbol for my generation, for our generation, isn't climbing the career ladder, it's doing work that matters. So we're not the "me me me" generation. 50% of millennials, that's most of you in this room, would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. 90% of millennials want to use their skills for good. Despite unprecedented levels of unemployment and student debt, our generation wants to work with purpose. So how do you actually find meaningful work? Well, the second lesson I learned is that you have to stop comparing yourself to others and start pursuing what is meaningful to you. I went back and interviewed my friend, the corporate lawyer that had it all figured out, was married, got engaged at Machu Picchu. I was like "Man, you got a great job, you're making all this money, What's the secret?" And you know what he told me? He told me that after three years of law school, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, and now making all this money at the corporate firm, that he was miserable as a corporate lawyer, and that he was going back to grad school at the age of 30 to become a high school social studies teacher. Right? (Applause) Which is great for him, but what's the lesson? What's the lesson? Nobody knows what they're doing. Nobody has it figured out. The grass is always greener. Instead of comparing yourself to others, instead of comparing yourself to everyone on Facebook, start figuring out what it is that you want. Don't climb the career ladder to nowhere; build a career that matters to you. So why are you here? What do you want to do for others? How can you align your own gifts, your unique gifts, with the impact you want to have on the world in a way that supports your desired quality of life? You know what the beautiful thing about meaning is? The beautiful thing about alignment? There is no one answer. No two peoples' definitions are the same. I don't know what's right for you. I'm still trying to figure out what's right for myself. Now, Debbie, she started GoldieBlox because of the discrimination she faced as one of the only female engineering students at Stanford University. Ted started MoneyThink because when he was growing up in Chicago, he realized he had a lot of opportunities due to his privilege that his peers simply didn't have. And Tom started Rising Tide Car Wash because he saw how hard it was for his own brother to find a job because his own brother has autism. So they had a personal connection to their work. Meaning is personal, so what makes you tick? Not your parents, not your boss, not your friends on Facebook. What makes you tick? Why are you here? How will you create your own path? The third lesson I learned is that you have to start hustling. You have to start hustling with intention, you have to start hustling with purpose. A lot of people like to call our generation lazy, 'the lazy generation.' It's like, are you kidding me? Lazy? I've been working for 10 years since college and I still owe Sally Mae $10,000 in student loans. So Sally Mae if I ever see you on Tinder, I'm swiping left. (Laughter) Debbie, and Ted and Tom weren't working four hours a week, they were working 40, 50, 60 hours a week on something they cared about. Now why would you want to automate something that brings you joy? Why would you want to automate something that impacts the world, impacts others? These people weren't automating, they were hustling. They were working hard on something that matters. I was working four different jobs when I was writing a book because I had to pay rent and pay my loans. A lot of people hear my story and they're like, "I got to quit my job tomorrow, I'm out! Peace!" That's not my message, that's not what I'm saying. A lot of you may have heard of Debbie and GoldieBlox, but what you might not know is she had a full time job while she was starting that company. She was working as the marketing director for a jewelry company in San Francisco. She stayed on at that job for nine months after she had the idea for GoldieBlox. Why? First of all, she knew she was going to start her own business so she needed to save money, a very practical reason, but second of all, she felt like she was getting paid to go to business school. Rather than pay a lot of money to go get an MBA, she was earning a paycheck and learning invaluable skills in marketing, retail, distributions, sales she knew she would be able to apply to her own business when she left and started her own company. So you don't have to quit your job tomorrow. As a matter of fact, you don't even need to have a job. I'll tell the story of my friend Bernat. So I met this crazy guy once in San Francisco. I'm biking home and suddenly this stranger starts talking to me. He's like, "Hey man, how's your day going?" I'm like, "I don't know, leave me alone, I don't know you."