Voqal Fellowship Guest Post: Three Leadership Lessons from a 22-year-old Founder

May 16, 2018

The following is an article from 2018 Voqal Fellow, Nick Guthman outlining three things he’s learned from his Voqal Fellowship project, Blue Future. You can read more from Nick, including the original version of this post, on his Medium @nick.guthman.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve been leading a team of 10 to build a new civic engagement startup called Blue Future. Getting seed funding was a dream come true, yet it’s been quite the learning curve to execute the project.

Here are three things I’ve learned, and I hope these lessons will help other young people find meaning and success as they follow their dreams.

1. Wake up with a burning passion to be successful

As a 22-year-old Executive Director, your first thought might be, “how cool, you get to work for yourself!” And I agree, it is pretty cool. At the same time, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.

When launching your own startup there is so much to do and many potential directions to go. You’re building something that does not exist, and as such, there is no guide or instruction manual. No one else is going to tell you what to do, when to do it or how to do it. It’s all on you. It’s fun and exciting to ideate and iterate on the direction you and your team choose to take.

To keep it fun and exciting, as startup founders, we must wake up every day and have a burning passion to build the damn thing. I really mean this. Some days are better than others, and I often feel an overwhelming sense of uncertainty — a feeling that is #realAF for young entrepreneurs who may have less experience managing the full development of an organization.

In those frequent moments of uncertainty, I am reminded of the importance of our mission, and the flame of that burning passion grows a little brighter.

To build something from the ground up is a privilege, and as young founders, we can’t forget what brought us to our work and why it’s important to us — and to the world. As the great community organizer, Fred Ross Sr. said, “a good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” Let your passion burn so bright it inspires others to join your cause, and together, you can do great things.

Learn more about Fred Ross Sr. in the Axioms for Organizers — a short booklet about how to organize and get things done.

2. Lead with hope, optimism and confidence

Building something new comes with a lot of uncertainty. Questions abound. How should we design our organizational structure? What should go into my pitch? What will they think of my pitch? How much money should I ask for? What will I do with the money? The list goes on.

What I can’t emphasize enough is the importance of navigating through the uncertainty with hope, optimism and a little confidence. Find hope (and grounding) in your vision and plan — and make sure you’ve got a plan. Have optimism in how folks will support your work, and use that optimism to enlist others in your cause — they’ll hype you up when the going gets tough. And remain confident in yourself, as a smart, strategic and authentic leader.

The reality is, no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all out here faking it ‘till we make it. But when you’re in charge, you’ve got to develop a mindset that helps you keep your eyes on the prize and lead with hope, optimism and confidence, even when you feel none of those things.

Learn more about Certainty Versus Confidence, because as young people, we never want to come off as overly confident. Remember, we’ve got a lot more to learn!

3. Develop failure immunity

One of the best pieces of advice I got when I first started Blue Future was to be prepared to work through failure every day. Whether it’s misspelling someone’s name in an email or getting turned down by a potential investor, failure is one of the only consistent things about running a startup.

But it’s okay, our mind is a powerful thing. We have the power to develop a failure immunity mindset, an idea taken from the book Designing Your Life. The basic concept is that failure is just the raw material of success. So every time I have a major failure, or even a minor one, I try to reframe that failure and see it as a stepping stone toward success.

Failure is rarely enjoyable, but it is almost always beneficial. Lean into it, seek it out, learn from it and grow.

Want to learn more about how to deal with failing? Peep this article on How Young Millennial Entrepreneurs Embrace Failure.

There’s much more to learn, and I’d love to know what you think about this and anything else about startups, civic engagement, political activism and entrepreneurship!

To learn more about what Nick is working on at Blue Future, check out their website: http://ourbluefuture.us/ and engage with it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! You can also reach Blue Future via email with questions, ideas or suggestions: hello@ourbluefuture.us