A graceful goodbye

We talk about how to start - how to make an idea big, beautiful, and important. How to ideate and prototype and iterate. We talk about business model canvas, cash flows, and communication plans.  We talk about gaining confidence and now failure - how to do it, embrace it, and run with the lessons. We talk about new, more, and growth. 

I never once thought about the exit strategy - about letting go. Thinking it was negative, I never thought about how I would walk away from an idea.  How do you have that conversation with yourself that your heart isn't in it any more and that by sticking around - you are no longer breathing life into your work? If anything, you are taking it away. No one really talks about this bit amidst their inspiring ideation sessions.

I said goodbye to TEDxPortobello and CycleHack at the end of last year.  Anyone that knows me knows that these two wonderful spaces were built into my professional and personal narrative.  They gave me countless special moments and people and led me to where I am today.  The decision to move on lived in my belly for months and I refused to acknowledge it was there for a long time. I refused to think that I might be a 'quitter' or that by not having enough on my plate meant I wasn't working hard enough. This was a big thing - to me, if I wasn't 'busy' it reflected badly on me.

It made me think about letting go and how much we don't talk about it.

As a kid, we talked a lot about the graceful exit as a way to manage transitions and values.

There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’ It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.
— Ellen Goodman

I've tried to be true to this mindset in a lot of my life but it wasn't until the past year that I felt the true meaning of the graceful exit in terms of my work.  Not other people's work - but my own 'roll up your sleeves and create something new and great' work. 

From this both painful and exhilarating process - I learned a lot about myself and how we need to talk about walking away. We need to talk about how letting go is okay.

Just because you are leaving doesn't mean it wasn't great.

Just because you are leaving doesn't mean that your contributions and takeaways are any less important. I will always have the wonderful memories of CycleHack and TEDx.  Making the Kickstarter film for our very green idea to the masterclasses where speakers shared their talks in progress - these moments will always be true. My involvement in their growth will be true as well.

You aren't quitting.

This was a hard one for me. I was raised in a family with superhuman work ethic and trained as resilient athlete - I don't quit things. I finally came to understand this isn't about joining or quitting - this about transitions.  Your business, project, or idea is ready to grow in a new way and it doesn't include you (which is hard at first, but I promise it gets easier). For CycleHack - Matt and Sarah have used the opportunity to grow the business is a more meaningful way. For TEDx - the new team is dynamic and creative. Their ideas are flat out better than mine and that will make the community stronger.  Maybe your project will stop. This isn't failure - this is a transition that means something great (which you might not know about yet) will come of it. Sometimes the project will go on, sometimes it won't - but it's a transition for the better nonetheless.

Gratitude is central to the graceful exit

There is a great deal of peace in gratitude. As letting go of something brings up all kinds of feelings - a fear of regret, guilt, uncertainty - navigating these emotions becomes an art in itself.  You just gotta go through these bits. But the grace of a goodbye is finding the gratitude for all that is happened (good, bad and the ugly) and carrying that with you like precious cargo.

Approach a new venture with intention.

When you start something new - take time to think about what's important to you (not just your business), what you value, what gives you energy. Share this with your team.  Think about this often and check in - make sure you are being true to yourself. No one likes to think about an ending at a beginning but it's a crucial part of any start.  This isn't negative or pessimistic - it's being true to your idea and will make it big and strong if it needs to be.

Your work is only as strong as your heart.  

I guess this doesn't always have to be the case - you can do your work without heart.  You can do your work without your full attention and care.  This isn't how I want to commit my time. If you are tired and lacking the love - your work will suffer greatly. Cultivate the passion and energy for your business outside of to-do lists and if you approach your work with intention, it's easier to feel the shift and transition.

 

A friend of mine gave me some great advice one day and I think about it often. Think about your idea, business, and work as a partner - as a pal, boyfriend or girlfriend.  If your work /idea/business was a person - would you want to meet it for a beer? Does it give you a sense of worth and challenge you to be a better version of yourself? Does it inspire you and give you energy? If you explained to your best friend how it made you feel - what would you say? If for the most part it doesn't do these things often (and let's be real - it won't always will all the time) - ask yourself the tough questions.

Be honest with your partners and colleagues but more than anything - be honest with yourself. Every exit is truly an entry.

 

Building a Scholarship Program

“This is the first time a member in my family is pursuing a master’s degree. For me, it means responsibility towards my community, family, my country and the world. I need to make good use of the opportunity to transform and impact lives and be a good representative of Ghana.”

Dorcas Mensah, MasterCard Foundation Scholar, MSc in Africa & International Development

This September, we welcomed 12 bright and inspiring Africans to Edinburgh University through a new partnership with The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. Over seven years, the scholarship programme will provide full tuition to 200 postgraduate (on campus and online) and undergraduate scholars from Sub-Saharan Africa with great potential but few educational opportunities.

I'm lucky enough to lead a team to develop and deliver the scholarship programme at the University. It's such an exciting job and I've loved ever moment of it since it started back in the summer. This is a special group of people - both the team and the Scholars.

In addition to studying full time on courses across the University – our Scholars will benefit from bespoke support and extracurricular activities including summer schools in Edinburgh and Africa, work placements, MCF global convenings, internships, and reflective programming throughout the year.

The idea of transformative leadership is woven throughout the programme.  Described by The MasterCard Foundation as ‘principled leadership’ – transformative leadership is driven by self-awareness and a deep sense of purpose to improve the lives of others.   Shaped by their diversity of life experiences before arriving in Scotland, our Scholars will return home with the tools, knowledge, experience, and most importantly – confidence to make positive and lasting change in their countries as transformative leaders.

The programme is fueled by a small team based in the International Office and Centre for African Studies. We are passionate about building a meaningful programme that not only impacts the lives of our Scholars – but also the wider University community.  We have been working to develop student and staff partnerships across the University that allow us to design, test, and iterate innovative learning opportunities – from our Edinburgh summer school and African work placements to repurposing existing opportunities such as the SLICCs and the Edinburgh Award around transformative leadership.

It’s a great example of what we as a University are capable of. Read more about it on our website.

This blog was also posted at http://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/. 

Lessons from a Festival

Later this week, I’m starting a role managing a very exciting new project within the University of Edinburgh.  The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program supports Africans from economically disadvantaged communities to study here in Edinburgh. It’s an incredibly inspirational programme that aligns with so many of my experiences and passions. Every aspect of the program is and will be designed around the concept of transformative leadership - full of learning opportunities for students to get their hands dirty, be bold and brave, reflect on their experiences, and make a difference in their community here and back home. I’m looking forward to the challenge, collaborative partnerships, and all the great things that will come from it. And never fear – I will still be Go Jo-ing on the side!

This also means a goodbye. For nearly two years, I have been working at the Institute for Academic Development on a portfolio of various strategic projects around curriculum innovation and student engagement.  I’ve been lucky to work on a range of activities but one of the biggest has been Innovative Learning Week. ILW is the University’s very unique festival of creative learning which has taken place each February for the past five years. Staff and students are invited to play with their learning experience in collaborative and creative ways and this past year – we hosted nearly 275 events throughout the week run by 300 people. We reached 1 million people online and our impact has been great.

In all honesty, ILW has been both a blessing and a curse for me. At a particular low point with the festival, a friend of mine compared it to a bad boyfriend.  But I’m so proud of how we have turned it around and on my last day at the IAD – I made myself a cup of tea, put on my made-for-me Spotify playlist, and gave myself a moment to reflect and share on the lessons from over the years.

Here are a few I’d like to share.

Designing together as an act of trust & faith.  

Over the summer, we collaborated with the dynamic folks over at Snook on Open ILW – a short term project to rediscover and redesign ILW in a way that is meaningful to our University community. We did stakeholder interviews, a design workshop, and a service blueprint which helped inform a new festival manifesto, a new support framework, and a handful of tools for people to make their idea dreams come true.  Not only did this approach of letting people in help us create a more meaningful experience, it allowed us to give ownership away. ILW 2016 was built together. 

More than anything, I think it was about faith and trust. In a big institution – the system doesn’t always necessarily allow us to have this with one another.  By giving people ownership to design something big, it creates a different kind of relationship that we need to see more of in the University and other large organisations.

The process is as meaningful as the final product.

I say this a lot, especially these days but it’s really so true.  I’ve seen it through every project I’ve been a part of and when they are successful – there is a value placed on the process over the final end product. It’s not just about the event delivery or final presentation but about every interaction, experience, email, the style & tone, and opportunity in the lead up and long after. For ILW, we made things with our hands, experimented with new ways to support ideas, took risks, and made mistakes along the way. If we were asking others to do this, we needed to do it as well.

Putting people at the centre of the process is even better.

When we realised that ILW was about people – not just events or ideas – it changed the game for us. It allowed us to better understand the process, experiences, challenges, and opportunities that lay before us. 

Show your work.

I’ll say it again – show your work. How you tell the story of your journey is just as important as the final campaign. When working in a complicated system – we have a great deal to learn from one another about the how. By showing our work, and being open and honest about the process – we learned more, felt less defensive, built a more resilient community, and made better things happen. It might be messier, but it’s more meaningful.

Find joy in your work.  

I talked a bit about this at a Creative Edinburgh event, but it’s something I have come to understand a bit more through ILW and a few other projects this year. My intitial thoughts on this were inspired by a great podcast on On Being about Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest famous for his gang intervention programs in Los Angeles and his connections between service and delight, and compassion and awe. Every bit of work we do is an opportunity to find joy in the work itself and in each other. I find it hard to believe that others will find delight in the experience when we ourselves are not having a bit of fun and enjoyment along the way.  No doubt practicing joy and delight in our work lives is difficult, but ILW has shown me it’s worth it. It helps you keep your head up along the way.

THANK YOU!

Thank you to everyone at the Institute for Academic Development for the past couple years – the good work you do, the neverending supply of sweets, and the notes of support for my work.  Thanks to Lara and Jon for your support and letting me run with it a bit. Thank you to Silje for coming in late to ILW and being patient and understanding with all the bits of information swimming in my head (hopefully it’s all out now) – it’s been a real pleasure working with you. Thank you to all the amazing event organisers and School Coordinators who have put so much energy, care, and compassion into their work – oftentimes unrecognised. You are my heroes. Thank you to Dave McNaughton for the countless coffees and chats about what we are building and letting me shoot confetti guns, blow up balloons, and be part of something special – I owe you an ‘E’.

Onto the next adventure x 

Photos by the amazing www.aliceboreasphotography.com