Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • 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."

  • He keeps biking alongside and is like,