It Girl | MEGAN CHRISTENSEN
This interview is full of feels! Megan Christensen shares what led her to the work she does now, the power in dreaming big and more in her It Girl interview. In June I had the opportunity to be apart of StartingBloc's Raleigh-Durham cohort, an as a result, was introduced to a huge community of likeminded people who are committed to working towards an equitable, collaborative, thriving world. (If this sounds like your kinda people, I am happy to share more details -- hit me on twitter @alovely_dae and I would be happy to share my experience.) That said, the fellowship is what connected me to Megan and a ton of other remarkable women who you have been hearing from over the last couple weeks and I am so pumped! Get ready, these ladies are killing it!
Name: Megan Christensen
Job Title/Company: Director of Programs
Education Background: BA International Studies, Point Loma Nazarene University, Fulbright Garcia-Robles Binational Business Grant – Mexico City, Mexico
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I am a deep-thinker, map-lover and quote-hoarder with an overactive imagination. I work in the world of social entrepreneurship and I feel that my mission (perhaps not in life, but at least for this stage in life) is to pave roads for people who desire to live lives of impact but don’t quite know how. Though I can describe my wonky/unconventional job in many ways, I think the best summary is that I help college students create their own way by which they can live in the intersection of what they love and what the world asks of them. And I (and we as an organization) of course do this with varying degrees of success.
My current role is the Director of Programs for Watson Institute – a training ground for young social innovators from around the world, located in Boulder, Colorado. This means I’m helping to design curriculum, facilitate meaningful experiences, and make strong professional and personal connections to maximize the social impact of those in our program. And while this line of work comes with its own set of frustrations and questions and anxieties, this is deeply and profoundly beautiful work I have found.
2. What sparked your interest in your work?
In college, I was intellectually drawn to microfinance (I read a book that blew my mind!) and I was sure that was my chosen (if not destined) career path. Two internships and a few conferences later, I realized it wasn’t something that excited me in the long run. My time in microfinance, however, allowed me to meet microfinance’s second cousin - social enterprise, and we fell pretty instantly in love. Social enterprise resonated much more with the vision I had for the world and who I was. Business as a source for good seemed like learning a language our world already speaks (business, capitalism, profit), and demanding that business do good, be more, and become part of the solution not the problem. It seemed like an uphill battle, but one that I was actually willing to fight.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
I find people who have been very focused on one good thing, one string of decent acts, but who maintain a clear idea of their why– those are the people I try to emulate. Those who think big, but act small. The world moves forward by many people doing small, good and decent things. So people like my grandfather mentoring a group of 10 or so college kids each year for 30+ years. Or Kid President. Oh, and, of course, the one and only RBG.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
I got my first job was at an ice cream parlor in New Jersey when I was 15 (and was paid under the table until I could legally work at 16). My official job title was unceremoniously “scooper.” I stayed with this job, working about 15 hours a week after school and on weekends for 4 years and learned that I was not cut out for customer service. My first full time job was after college when I worked at Ashoka, a global network supporting social entrepreneurs. I soon learned I was much better suited for a (meaningful) office job than being sticky and sweaty and reluctantly smiling.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
It would definitely be getting a Fulbright grant to work and study in Mexico City, but not for the reasons people might think. I did not go to a prestigious university, and always did well in school but never felt like I should apply or ask for things that were difficult or potentially “out of my league.” Being accepted into the Fulbright program and hanging out with mostly ivy-leaguers and big dreamers for a year taught me that we often limit ourselves and our ideas for what is possible to the detriment of our growth and aspirations. It taught me to ask for more from life. It taught me to not settle for smallness.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
I initially wanted to be on the periphery of social entrepreneurship. I’ve always been helpful – one to make people’s lives a bit easier. I wanted to support, help, assist, take the burden off. But as I got my feet wet, I realized I wanted to be part of the conversations of strategy; of content; of substantive decisions. I don’t have a very dominating personality, but it has been lovely to see how my quiet strength has become highly regarded and respected by my colleagues, and I have been able to move from the periphery to the core.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?
Efficiency and prioritization. There is never a day I go home and feel like I’ve accomplished everything that I needed to. There is always more work, but I’ve learned to siphon out the less important tasks – the tasks that don’t lead to the key results – and keep the “deep work” that moves me and moves us as an organization forward. My trello board is 100%, without a doubt, my work-husband.
8. Where do you hope to be in five years?
I don’t have a strong vision for where (physically) I will be in 5 years, but I know that I will be 1) designing things (whether that’s curriculum, experiences, or a physical product) that matter for the world 2) and working with a team of folks that value community, play, and growth. These are my two requirements.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
I still have not figured out a morning routine! This is a 2019 goal. I wake up and basically start working as soon as I’m dressed and teeth are brushed. I will check emails, put out any immediate fires, and then prioritize my trello board so that I am doing only the things that matter. That may be redoing content on the website, working on curriculum, reviewing business plans, jumping on the phone with new mentors in our program, meeting 1:1 with students – every day is unique. I will try to stop work at 6 or 7 PM and I’ll have a social night or a reflective night. Social night in Boulder usually means beer and a poetry slam or a walk down beautiful Pearl Street or an evening hike (taking FULL advantage of living at the foot of the rocky mountains!) A reflective night will mean journaling and leafing through my quote books (I collect quotes nearly obsessively) to see what words I hit home that night. I’ll fall asleep by 11 PM or midnight after a bitter-sweet Facetime call with my boyfriend who is (hopefully not forever) long-distance.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
To follow that last thought – partnership! Being an ambitious and driven and bordering-on-workaholic woman means that something has to give. For me, it means less time than I would like with my family, less time alone (which for an introvert is taxing), very little fitness (but would I actually work out if I had time…?) and most difficult of all, living away from my partner in life and love. Two equally ambitious people have to figure out how to live life together while also pursing their best lives (often apart), and I have not yet found the answer to this very intricate equation. Or maybe it’s not an equation but a dance that I haven’t learned the steps to yet.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Don’t look for a work place that has all the answers. Look for a work place where you can help build something beautiful.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
After long talks with the few friends who know me to my core. That is when I can dig in to my own genius and truth, because they remind me who I am when I’ve momentarily forgotten. Or after going back through journal entries from years past. Often I find that I can come visit the present from my written past and remind myself of who I am.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
Small failures? Thousands! Missed the most important board meeting of the year, sent out a Mailchimp with multiple dead links, wrote a snarky Slack message to the whole team when it was intended for one coworker… but massive failures? Not so much. Must just mean that my big failures are ahead of me!
14. How do you unwind?
Journal. Journal. Then reread journal entries for years ago. Then journal some more.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?
Get a taste of it before jumping in! Hang out with lots of social entrepreneurs. Work for a startup, unpaid, for a month. Social entrepreneurship (and startup life) is NOT for everyone, so see if you like the culture, the people, and the way of life. Work on your personal brand and obtain a desirable skillset so that you make sense as a future hire or a co-founder. As in most industries, it’s all about the people you know, but social capital I believe it is especially important in the social impact world. Your good reputation is everything.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
I hope people realize that there are weird and wonderful jobs out there. That there are infinitely more possibilities and opportunities than we give the world credit for. That there are careers full of whimsy and fun and hard work and fulfillment.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
Those were the main things. Thank you for the opportunity!