The Eye of the Storm

Thursday night at BUILD’s Youth Business Incubator felt like a little snapshot of life at our little growing operation. It felt all at once like a blur. Like it could have all passed by if you shut your eyes for a moment. It went by fast, like a cyclone, and I still can’t believe that we managed to pull it all off. The following insane things were going on in one evening:

I was facilitating the first session of The Bridge, which is the program that I created in collaboration with a few other colleagues about a year ago. The aim of The Bridge is to connect concepts in both business and academics so that our students can create a toolkit of resources in preparation for and to take ownership of the college application process. Basically, they are taking the entrepreneurial lessons learned from running their businesses and transferring that knowledge to their personal lives. In my honest opinion, it is the most important work that I’ve created in my time at BUILD and think it will impact a lot of our students’ lives. The first session is quite possibly the most pivotal session because I facilitate a discussion that sets the tone for the entire 12 weeks of the program. It was important to have all students in attendance and attentive.

So here I was with my dozen or so juniors in the common room. Our semi-circle formation of chairs was facing the windows so as to minimize as much of the foot traffic that usually runs across the common room area. I knew that the evening would be full of distractions, but I really did not anticipate that there would be so many.

A few of our senior students were completing their FAFSA’s in random offices (which isn’t a strange event), and they were wandering around the office aimlessly when they were done.

In the conference room, our board of directors were having their monthly meeting. A few random times while I was facilitating, board members snuck out of the meeting to answer phone calls or chat with someone. Obviously they were trying to not be rude during their board meeting, but I don’t think they realized that they were being rude during my meeting. When they finished their board meeting, they all excited and started chatting in the common room… The gall!

In the college room, Sarah was holding a training for a new crop of academic mentors (about a dozen of them), but before they started, they kept ringing the doorbell to enter, and then when they finally entered, they asked me (in the middle of my session) where they were supposed to go. Unphased, I nodded my head towards the college room.

Awkwardly, staff members, who intimately know that it takes a lot of focus to successfully run this session of The Bridge, repeatedly kept sneaking up behind my students and whispering into their ears. Yes, I was appalled, but still unphased.

The final visitors for the evening were from a generous foundation based in Boston. They stopped by the Incubator to talk to our board members, and inadvertently, they saw that I was facilitating a session, and decided to sit in and watch behind my students. Did I mention that about $2 million are at stake from this foundation ($1M in funds and $1M in consulting)? Talk about pressure.

To top it all of, I was sick the entire week… and by sick, I mean I-had-to-take-a-day-off kind of sick. And for you all who know me, I rarely ever take days off. In my entire time at BUILD, I’d only take two sick days, and last week I took a sick half-day because it was so important to be with the students with the students in the evening.

But you know what… Congested or not, with or without distracting staff members, board members, visitors, etc… The session that I facilitated on Thursday night was leaps and bounds better than the first session I facilitated on Monday night. It didn’t matter that there were tons of obstacles getting in the way of my students’ attention spans. What mattered was that I knew what my intentions were for the session, and with that base understanding, I was able to hook them in. I remember a couple of times, I got distracted and lost my train of thought, and my students hurriedly were trying to get me back on track (Me: “Uh… what was I just saying??” Student: “Making a positive choice!!!”). They were listening intently. And I achieved that fine moment that every public speaker, facilitator, or teacher strives for… that golden moment, that sweet spot, when every single person is listening so intently and literally waiting on your every word to hear more. I had them. I could feel their eyes and ears ready to see and hear more.

I wish I could have captured that moment–bottled it up somehow. I love that moment. I live for that moment.

It’s moments like that on Thursday night–literally like the eye of a storm–that make me really proud of the work that I do.

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