When I graduated in May ’10 from Baylor University, I knew what I wanted out of life–to be on the leading edge of the conversation about what products we build as a society, and how we should build them. This idea of ‘should’ is a bold idea in business. And it has no easy answer, because humans have radically disparate ideas of value. But, for me, the hardest part wasn’t attempting to answer these questions–it was finding someone who would let me. Companies don’t hire grads to do product management. Or at least not ones with an average GPA from a school with an ugly case of not-quite-top-tier complex.
I realized early on that, even in a tough economy, a job is not just a job. And a career path is more than an external pursuit. It is one of the major methods of becoming the person you can be. And this ‘becoming’ is difficult if you are easily flattered by the first wink that comes along. But, that’s sort of a silly statement, because I didn’t get any winks–from anyone. Not even an interview for anything remotely relevant, actually. With weeks to go before graduation, I began thinking about whether my entrepreneurial journey might need to start earlier than expected. I invited the chair of entrepreneurship and now dear friend, Greg Leman, to have a coffee and evaluate my idea for a startup. He said it was nice, and offered some insight. But, then he asked the critical question: would you still want to do this right now if there was another way to get the experience you want? What happened next was my worst nightmare. He invited me to lead a team for his MBA consulting program in China.
And, I said yes to what many considered to be the dumbest decision anyone could make coming out of school–doing another unpaid internship. I didn’t care. That terrifying challenge, taking on the most important project of my life in a foreign culture completely opposite from my own, was exactly what I needed. I spent nearly every penny to my name in China that summer. But, living in Hong Kong’s backdrop of obsessive consumerism was the beginning of a journey toward enlightenment on discovering the deeper role of business and products in our lives. That journey continues now–as I scrape together a living as a freelance product consultant and explore new theories of sustainable value creation.