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Erica Williams Simon, a self-described “professional question-asker,” has had a diverse, purpose-driven career: from political wunderkind, activist, and TV commentator, to head of the Creator’s Lab at Snapchat, to founding her own company. Through Sage House, she hosts live experiences, generates content such as her podcast The Call, and creates both real and virtual spaces geared towards engaging a diverse, digital-native audience in meaningful conversations about who we are and how we want to live.
Now, the O Magazine Women Rule Leadership Award winner is turning her attention to sharing some of what she has learned in an era largely defined by instability and disruption. Her first book, You Deserve The Truth, encourages Millennials to reject the untrue stories that have shaped their lives – ideas that have not served them around work, success, money, love, faith, time, and even social impact.
Simon got her start, not in politics or the tech world, but in the church. When she was just nine months old, her parents founded a church in their living room and it became her life. “From the moment I took my first steps, I was immersed in using the power of one’s voice to help people change themselves and the world,” she says. “That’s part of what church was to me: a space created to bring people together in community, hear meaningful stories, and develop the tools needed to thrive in a world that didn’t always reflect our values and wasn’t as beautiful and just as we knew it could be.”
Immediately after college, Simon began advocating for issues that mattered to her and her community, first at a historic civil and human rights organization and then at the nation’s leading liberal think tank. Her experience put her in the public eye and garnered her accolades at a young age. But although she was appearing on television, taking meetings at the White House, and leading national campaigns, Simon felt unfulfilled and questioned her true impact. So, she decided to walk away from it all.
Looking back, Simon realizes she was having a crisis of purpose and burnout. She moved to LA, where she became an editor and creative director at Upworthy, which was then the fastest-growing digital media company of all time. She created a digital talk show with Rosario Dawson, launched her podcast, and later joined Snapchat. There, she built a program called the Creator’s Lab, which creates experiences designed to inspire and educate a global network of young storytellers. Finally, she harnessed her knowledge to build Sage House and write a book.
“While my jobs sound pretty different, I ultimately try to bring the same feeling that I had in church into all those spaces,” Simon says. “I want to bring people together and use my platform and voice to ask critical questions that lead to wisdom. That purpose has always been there, inspired most by my father, who passed away when I was 16 years old. He was the most gifted storyteller, dialogue starter, and convener of people I’ve ever known. That said, even though I’ve always known my calling, the confidence and clarity to know how to build a career from those gifts is something that definitely evolved for me over time.”
In You Deserve the Truth, Simon defines purpose as “your highest and best use.” She believes that it is a more meaningful measure of how we spend our days than the cliché “chasing dreams” story society has taught us. In her framework, purpose isn’t a destination or even necessarily a job or career. It means putting your efforts towards something that you believe is one of your reasons for being.
Here, Simon shares some of the tips from You Deserve the Truth for aligning career and purpose:
- Be a way finder. Instead of looking for a clearly-defined yellow brick road, be willing to adjust your path based on new information and conditions around you, understanding that the way will appear as you continue to move forward. You may not have to go looking for your purpose; your purpose may find you.
- Don’t try to fit it all in one box. Your purpose does not have to be your job. It can be, sure, but don’t limit yourself. There are times in your life when the expression of your purpose may need to fit into other parts of your life. That’s okay.
- Remember that purpose isn’t a destination but a daily expression of your highest self. You don’t have to wait to “reach your purpose.” You can do things exactly where you are right now – volunteer, pursue a hobby, raise children – that help you use your gifts, talents, and passions fully.
- Focus on others. Sometimes our focus on finding out our own purpose causes us to be self-obsessed navel gazers. The best way to take the pressure off is to think about others. How can your talents contribute to someone else being their best self? Usually in that process, you will uncover things about yourself that you didn’t already know. And you’ll experience joy along the way.
- Be story smart.Remember that the narratives that you consume on a daily basis, from social media and popular culture, can impact the decisions you make and influence you in ways that you don’t even realize. So be careful about what you listen to and believe. The single greatest determining factor in how you build your life is the stories you believe about work, money, success, and your own identity and potential. If you believe in purpose over profit, if you believe that you don’t have to have it all figured out by 28 years old, if you understand that your identity is fluid and that who you are today will necessarily change as you grow and learn, then you will be able to write a story for yourself that is fulfilling and uniquely yours.
May 7, 2019 at 09:31AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs