Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation. Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself. They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre. Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.
We went to Europe for just over two weeks - Paris, Milan and Scotland - and it was wonderful. Being in different countries, eating different food and listening to different languages helped me to unwind and shed a layer of stress that had been building up over the months. It definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and gain perspective on work, SoJo and what we're trying to do, as well as some perspective on life. There's nothing like vacationing in countries where the essence of life is to eat, drink and live well to remind you about what's really important.
The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you. Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return. Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
Written by Zainab
I've been struggling to write blog posts - or really anything - for over a week now.
If you're not familiar with the term, writer's block refers to the state of being stuck and unable to write. Wikipedia's article gives a grim opening to this:Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.
For a writer, this state feels similar to paralysis, in that the inability to write feels like one can't move, express, or be.
Like many others, I've had writer's block before and usually, it feels a lot more trivial. This time, I've tried a number of tactics that were not proving as effective:
- writing on paper. Sometimes you need to get away from a screen and just write without filters like spell-check.
- writing in a different location. Certain moments throughout the the conference I was at earlier this week made me go "aha, that would make a good blog post!". And though I made notes in between kiosk visitors, I still couldn't bring myself to write more than a few bullets.
- taking a break. I worked at home yesterday, thinking an extra hour of sleep and three hours saved on commuting would help me feel more energized. Not a single word was written, aside from my emails.
I saw a tweet this morning that finally
had me put these thoughts down in print:
And sometimes, that's exactly what you need to do, even when you have nothing to write: write anyway.
I'm sure other writers can relate to me when I say that for me, my writing is part of who I am, that the pen is my sword, and my written words are my voice.
It feels good to write... even if it is a struggle to do so at the moment.
Written by Zainab
One of our goals this month is to blog more often here. Before, the blog was mostly Kanika's thoughts, with occasional posts from a few other SoJo members, usually around particular topics or events. The blog already has a certain voice, that of an young social entrepreneur going through the process of taking her ideas into action. Because a blog can take on a personality of its own, SocialJournal.net always seemed like a mini side project of its own. I don't think we ever thought to look at it as part of SoJo's content... until one of SoJo's advisors recently suggested we start looking at it that way.
Though AJ and I have started to blog more due to Kanika's absence, our newer goal for blog posts replaces the necessity approach we had developed with the blog over the last couple of months.
Though I certainly see the value in blogging, I know I realistically cannot write these blog posts all on my own. It also wouldn't reflect the reality that I'm one part of a larger intelligent, passionate, and organized team; each of the members being extremely critical and reflective of their work and impact.
I, therefore, need to see and later share the value in the exercise of blogging to the other team members if I want their input and contributions. Here are just some of the reasons I can pick out, though in no particular order:
- Sharing through our blog causes excitement for our work - we do great stuff and we want you, our fellow users and readers, to join us!
- Blogging outlines the realities we go through; the good, the bad, and the ugly all get coverage here.
- Writing helps us document our history and our learnings as an organization
- We find validation and support when we write it down; perhaps because I used to blog myself when I was younger, I can say there is a certain therapeutic release that comes with writing it out because the thoughts are all yours at that very moment in time.
But this is where you, the readers, come in. We would love feedback on what you'd like to read about. What are you curious about? Why do you read our blog? What areas would you like our take on? Though we are not consultants, we can certainly share our thoughts and experiences with you, hopefully so that learning about our experiences can in turn help you along your journey. And that
is our biggest mission at SoJo.
Written by Zainab Habib
It’s been some time since Kanika has been away from the office. It was right around then that AJ joined us full-time and was thrown into the position of juggling between Kanika’s commitments for the next few weeks and
beginning work on organizational development and outreach for SoJo on a full-time basis
One would naturally wonder how things are going at the office and how we have handled it as a team. This comes at a point where we are continuing to expand our team and focusing on particular aspects of SoJo, as we continue to work towards being the leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.
Yes, it definitely feels like something is missing. It is certainly not
the same without Kanika here. She may be The Boss but she is certainly not
bossy. Unlike the stereotypical Queen Bee, she has been supportive and she treats each of her staff without hierarchical bounds, allowing most of us to work directly with her on different projects for SoJo and to develop ourselves professionally and personally with her assistance. She is also the face behind the SoJo brand and has been at the forefront of it all. Her time away then has certainly created a shift in how we view SoJo from the inside and out then, knowing that she isn't here.
However, Team SoJo has really banded together to make sure we continue business as usual. Our partners have been very understanding and many have offered their help with whatever we may need. Our core team has continued to work on our individual projects and support the teams within our respective areas. We have also started a routine of working together as a team more formally; for example, we now have scheduled in weekly meetings between the full-time team every Monday. We are also now in the midst of assembling a team to focus on building SoJo’s community.
All in all, SoJo is definitely buzzing with activity. Even if we are missing the Queen Bee.
About an hour ago I submitted SoJo's application to the Future Fund. This was the fifth and final step of a long, tiring and very competitive process. SoJo is among the finalists and we have a really good chance of securing the funding needed to grow our organization. This is a great opportunity (especially in light of our recent funding challenges), so I prioritized extra effort on this task.
While this was my first time writing a grant proposal and my learning curve was fairly steep, it wasn't my first time writing a proposal. Last year started with SoJo's application to a prestigious Fellowship
, I assisted Jesse writing our first research fellowship (which he received), and despite everyone's doubts - I miraculously completed an intense 89-page proposal for a Research Grant
in the Fall.
Similarly, SoJo has been through 4 product launches: a closed Beta
, open Beta
, official launch
and finally a cross-platform
mobile version. All of those launches resulted in working around the clock, all-hands-on-deck attitude, intense focus and endless details. Many parallels can be shared with the experience of writing major proposals and product launches, however my attitude is different towards both of them: Saying what you're going to do vs. Just doing it
SoJo has been action-oriented since its inception. Innovation is not knowing all the answers, so we trusted the process and consistently received gratification as we learned and progressed. On the other hand, telling people exactly what you plan to do and how you're going to do it is quite tiring. To me, it feels contrived, and in some ways an inefficient use of time to write out a master plan- as it is rare that things go according to plan. Control over timelines
All of our product launch dates were self-imposed. We decided when we wanted to complete them, and held ourselves accountable to ensuring all launches occurred on time. Application deadlines are not in our control, and often force us to work at times when we do not want to work: ie over the Holidays or during key strategic business planning times. Control over outcomes
The win from a product launch is clear: our product advances and is better. The win from a proposal isn't so clear. If you are successful - awesome. Team SoJo has collectively invested over 100 hours into this recent application. If we're unsuccessful, there will be great disappointment for not succeeding and frustration for all the time that was invested with little to show. I'm learning to lower my expectations on outcomes and seek value from the process instead.
While its clear that product launches are a lot more exciting for our team while we're in them, writing applications for external support are just as important to grow the organization. I must treat them both with great importance and while the outcomes are different, the time dedicated to each one is equally valuable.
Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:
"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."
And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.
I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.
It's a word that I have a twisted obsession with: the more I hate hearing myself say it, the more I use it. It comes out of my mouth without a second thought, and I've become so comfortable with this word that I've lost consciousness of using it. My lack of self-control has forced me to outright ban this word from my vocabulary. The B-word being BUSY. Here is why: Busy is relative
While there is always a need to improve my time management skills and my ability to create more space in my life for non-work related activities or personal down-time, at the end of the day, BUSY is my new normal. I will never get through my inbox or complete the entire to-do list. Busy is a relative term. What is busier than busy? I've over-used this word to the point that it has lost its relevance. I must accept the fact that the demands for my time will always outweigh the amount of time that I actually have. As such I must be smarter about how I choose to allocate my time, and not let BUSY be my excuse for putting the effort to actually change my behaviour. Being busy is being rude
Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. When someone asks me to meet this week and I tell them, "I can't, I'm busy", I'm making the assumption that my time is worth more than theirs. If I make a commitment to participate in an advisory role and do not attend the meetings, I'm in fact using BUSY as a cover-up and am indirectly telling everyone I don't actually respect the other advisors' time, because if I did, I would honour my commitment. Being BUSY is fairly presumptuous and outright rude, actually. If I legitimately do not have time in my schedule, instead of saying that I'm BUSY, I should tell people when my earliest availability is and also reconsider ongoing commitments. Lacks articulation
When people ask me how I'm doing, my gut response is to say "I've been really busy." I've started to catch myself get too comfortable using the B-word as a catch-all-phrase. Using BUSY as a catch-all phrase belittles myself, as this word really doesn't mean anything. It is not concrete or tangible. Rather, I'm hoping the B-word Challenge will force me to be more articulate, and list out the actual activities that have been occupying my time. Perceived loss of control
As alluded to above, BUSY doesn't actually mean anything. If I cannot articulate the things that keep me BUSY, then am I really
that BUSY? Saying that I'm BUSY is most often followed with a sigh, anxious tone or frazzled look. BUSY is most often said in lieu of "I've consciously decided to allocate my time this way, and I'm in full control." If I'm consistently using the B-word, then it can be perceived as my inability to control my time. Busy is not synonymous for confidence. In my role, I must always sell SoJo and my ability to deliver on our vision. Always telling people that I'm BUSY doesn't emanate confidence or control. Not a badge of pride
A recent NY Times essay
states compelling arguments about society's obsession with self-imposed busyness. The writer refers to the 'Busy' Trap as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." I would like to be seen as someone who achieves results, not as someone who is always BUSY. In fact, I'm on personal mission to prove that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into ground, and with grace. BUSY is not graceful. By constantly telling people I'm BUSY, instead of the work that gets done, I'm essentially feeding into this vicious cycle of the busyness trap.
It's going to be difficult to go cold-turkey and omit a word entirely from my vocabulary that I use multiple times a day; hence my public documentation of this challenge. To help hold me accountable, everytime someone from my team (the individuals who interact with me most consistently) catch me using the B-word in context, I will have to buy them a gift. If anything above resonates with you, then I encourage you to take on The B-word Challenge with me.
Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.
The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.
I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.
The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!
Last night I had a great call with Trevor, SoJo's community builder. Trevor joined SoJo when it was just an idea and has been instrumental in bringing this vision to reality. Trevor's been primarily responsible for setting up our social media presence, coordinating feedback and engaging with SoJo's growing community. Having been through the trials and tribulations of defining SoJo, dealing with the setbacks and deeply involved in all of our previous product launches, Trevor has been pivotal to our successes thus far. I was just informed last night that Trevor will be going on an extended escapade throughout Asia for the next couple of months, leaving in 2 weeks. I was forewarned that this trip was on the horizon, however details only started to firm up this week. I honestly did not expect it to come so soon, and the end of the month feels like it's just around the corner.
I am going to assume that Trevor will be off the grid as he will be travelling in remote rural areas, but also focused on this new chapter of his life. I'm thrilled that he is seizing this phenomenal opportunity, but also mindful of the void that will exist within SoJo's team.
What does this mean for SoJo?
We have 2 weeks to transition all of Trevor's responsibilities to an already stretched team. Social Media engagement, Newsletter Editor, Front-line contact with users, and feedback management. Beyond the actual manpower (and losing a very smart and competent team member), I'm a little nervous about losing all the institutional memory and insights that are in his head. Trevor holds a very unique perspective and it is through brainstorming activities and ideation sessions do those insights emerge to help to shape our strategy and future directions.
This will be the first time SoJo goes through a major transition/turnover of a key team member. It doesn't help that I'll be virtually inaccessible over the last week of October on the road, speaking at various conferences and venues across 4 cities. Or that Steph, our Communications coordinator who will oversee the transition will be in Australia for a 2-week work trip at the beginning of November. Regardless, SoJo has a solid team and I'm optimistic that this process will be as smooth as it can be.
Transitions are inevitable and I'm looking forward to all the learning that will take place during this critical period.
I gladly welcome any advice you have on navigating through this process.
Yesterday during the presidential debates I logged onto twitter to follow the live commentary and reactions from my friends (which was much more engaging than the real debate). To my pleasant surprise I found a freshly published article on Forbes.com: From a Master's Thesis to a Social Startup and a UNESCO Endorsement
This article is SoJo's debut in Forbes, and it was a great feature profile that will help SoJo with its outreach efforts. Going to Forbes.com, I noticed this was the most popular article on the home page. I had a glowing smile on my face, especially after having a not-so-good day.
I'm often asked how SoJo has been so successful in getting mainstream media attention. For some of our earlier stories, SoJo proactively reached out to reporters, followed-up and was effective at pitching its story. In most other cases media came to us.
The writer from Forbes sent me a message through SoJo's generic contact form
on Friday afternoon. This message found its way to my inbox Monday mid-day. That same day the writer and I had an interview. We exchanged a couple of follow-up emails and the story was published on Wednesday.
When asked how he came across SoJo in the first place, he said:"An article from SoJo appeared in one of my social media aggregator newsfeed. Hundreds of articles continuously come through this feed. I was intrigued by SoJo's logo so I clicked on the link...."
Clearly he was impressed by what he saw on SoJo beyond the logo and investigated further.
This is a classic example of how being yourself is the best thing you can do. This is not a story we chased, but rather came to us quite serendipitously. The logo
is an authentic representation of SoJo as an organization and http://theSoJo.net
and this blog appealed to the writer, who also happens to have history of social activism, allowing him to feel instantly connected to our community.
If you're looking for mainstream media attention, my best advice to you is focus on "'speaking through your actions" and be yourself. When interviews present themselves, instead of trying to "sell" your work, let your passion do the talking. Experience has taught me there is no substitute for authenticity and action.