SpotlightYouth Spotlight

We met Kaitlyn Chana because we all did the same program, The Congressional Award, and we reached out to talk to her more about what she did to earn her Gold Medal from Congress. Little did we know at the time how ambitious and accomplished Kaitlyn is. She currently works as a Multimedia Journalist at the NBC affiliate WLBZ in Bangor, Maine. Kaitlyn covers a range of stories, develops sources, delivers news to an online audience, and provides dynamic live coverage, among many other duties.

Kaitlyn has also run her own non-profit organization, so she knows very well how important time management and being organized is for success. Kaitlyn is generous with her time and advice, and it is clear how passionate she is about helping others. Read on to learn more about what it means to be a multimedia journalist, what it was like running a non-profit, and what advice she would give to her younger self.

*Fun fact about Kaitlyn – she is profiled in our book, Youth’s Highest Honor!

Name: Kaitlyn Chana
Education:
B.A. Radio-Television from the University of Central Florida
Follow:
@KaitlynChana / KaitlynChana.com

Kaitlyn Chana: For me, it means taking advantage of the opportunities around you. Be a go-getter; go after your dreams by putting yourself out there so you can learn and prosper. As a teen, stretch your resources, push your personal boundaries, and challenge yourself daily. No one can teach you about yourself, except you.

CJ: You studied Broadcast Journalism and Radio/Television at University of Central Florida. How did you determine what to study?

KC: Since 6th grade, I’ve wanted to be a storyteller. As a reporter, you need to build rapport and trust while informing the public and providing objective standpoints surrounding the community. I’ve always wanted to tell stories for a living. Journalism fuels my curiosity of wanting to know more, so in college I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve always known that journalism is my calling. Everyone in life has a personal story of excitement, love, desperation, hurt or a driven message. I want to be the journalist who strives for purpose, bringing truth, and helping others to open their hearts.

CJ: You have held many internships in journalism at places such as TODAY Show in New York City and WKMG in Orlando, Florida. What were these experiences like?

KC: Internships are key. I gained so much insight by observing and making mistakes. Yes, mistakes will happen, and that’s normal. But it’s important you learn from these mistakes so it doesn’t become a repeat offence. Interning at the TODAY Show was remarkable. I was involved in the news gathering process, setting up interviews, researching and working with the talent. Local markets, like WKMG in Orlando, taught me how to write short and concise stories. TV is all about sound, video, and images. Creativity is important in the news industry.

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CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2010. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

KC: I found this program intriguing because it allowed me to set and achieve goals that build character, foster community service, personal development and citizenship. This three-year commitment propelled me to become a motivated goal setter while being an interactive team player. I learned how to sculpt my schedule so I could juggle all my responsibilities. My greatest takeaway is balancing my activities and managing my time.

CJ: You are the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness. What inspired you to start this international non-profit organization, and what does your role entail?

KC: My inspiration came from an extraordinary woman named Linda Bremner, who founded Love Letters Inc., when her son, Andy, battled cancer. Having participated in a Girl Scout activity for Love Letters, Inc. years earlier, I revisited it when I needed to complete a community service project in eighth grade. After contacting Linda through email and phone conversations we formed a very meaningful friendship. At the close of one of our phone conversations she told me, “It only takes one person to move a mountain and then others will follow.” While I didn’t know exactly what she meant at the time, I wrote her beautiful quote in my book to always remember. Shortly after that, I received word that Linda had passed away and at her request the national organization, Love Letters Inc., was closed. My hands gravitated to Linda’s quote and I instantly realized that it was my turn to be the one to move the mountain to help children with medical challenges. It then became my passion to carry on Linda’s legacy by encouraging others to create inspiring homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses.

So, in high school I became the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness, Inc. which was a 501 (c) (3) non-profit national organization whose mission was to create positive and inspirational homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses. Each card was unique because it was created by hand using stamps, stickers, scrapbook paper, and art supplies. Inside each one an uplifting message such as “Sending You a Great Big Hug” or “You Shine like a Star” was written to give children faith, courage and the will to survive.

Once the cards were created, I’d examine each card and hand deliver some to individual children going through the difficult times of treatments and surgeries and others to hospitals and organizations such as Give Kids the World, the Ronald McDonald House, and Keiki Cards so they could distribute the sincere messages. The remaining cards were sent with love through the mail to help lift children’s spirits. Doctors can’t prescribe love; it’s typically left to a volunteer to fill this prescription by restoring the patient’s dreams. Through Love Letters cards we were able to touch the lives of 120,000 children with life-threatening illnesses. I had to close the organization because I couldn’t continue the success of our mission and my full-time reporting job. My passion is in telling stories and I want to inspire people with my pieces, so all my energy is devoted to reporting.

CJ: How did you go about starting a non-profit organization, and what do you wish you had known before launching?

KC: Starting a non-profit is truly like running a small enterprise business. It’s a lot of work, yet with the right tender, love and care the imaginable is possible. I took a non-profit course during my high school years so I could have a strong understanding of the legal documents associated with my organization. My responsibility not only centered around the actual volunteering, but also the finances, management, recruiting of volunteers, working on grants, marketing my mission, and being an active presence with the organization’s brand. It was a 24/7 job.

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CJ: In addition to running Love Letters, you are a multimedia journalist. What does it mean to be a multimedia journalist?

KC: A multimedia journalist or ‘one-man-band’ means you do the job of four people as one person. I have to enterprise my own story ideas, interview my subjects, write, edit, anchor that portion, write a web story, and have a strong social media presence. That’s all in a day’s work. It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination because there are many deadlines. Deadlines can be your best friend or worst enemy. You always want to stay ahead of the clock. You need to be tech savvy; sometimes I edit my stories in remote places and feed the content back to the station. Also, I set up my own live shots and lights for when I’m going live in the field.

CJ: What advice do you have for youth who are interested in being journalists, or who are interested in starting their own non-profit organization?

KC: Never give up! Always follow your dreams and passion. Don’t let negative comments steer you into a direction you disagree with. There will be days when you feel like you’ve been run over by a semi-truck. That’s when you are going to be tested the most. So, pick yourself up, get back on track and keep going.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on school and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

KC: Currently, I work as a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Bangor, Maine. There is no general day! Every day is different depending on the story. Sometimes it’s an early morning live shoot covering breaking news or staying late to interview someone. The only thing that is constant is that we are live in our news shows from 5PM to 6:30PM. And I need to be ‘camera ready’ and look well-rested… news never stops and neither does my job. Every Monday is different. Once I go to bed, I get up the next day and get ready for another unpredictable day.

CJ: How do you stay organized and manage your time?

KC: Organization is key. If I wasn’t organized then I wouldn’t be effective or efficient, and I’d be left behind in my job. I’m very meticulous, to the point that everything in my office is color-coded and in similar binders and folders. My life revolves around calendars and sticky notes.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

KC: At heart, I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect. But, how do we define perfection? I remind myself daily that being perfect all the time dampers the beauty of life. In reality, I want to be imperfectly perfect.

CJ: What is a book you read in school that has positively shaped you?

KC: In third grade, I read The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto, and it was almost as if the words on the page were speaking to me. The frigid temperatures, walloping snow, and miserable wind kept hounding lead dog, Balto, as he carried medicine to sick children miles away in Nome, Alaska. These incredible athletes were inspiring and moved me to want to be a musher in the Iditarod. For years, I studied the race, the remarkable dogs, and their mushers. As a reporter, I covered the Can-Am Crown 250 this year, which is a qualifier race for the Iditarod. I was beside myself as I got to see the sport in its entirety right before my eyes. A surreal experience; it started because of this book.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

KC: Each day I allot time for me; to work out, read a compelling story, spend time with family/friends, or do something life-affirming. Structure is fantastic, but you have to have a little ‘wiggle room’ to breath and let lose. On those sour days, it’s important for me to break down my walls and do something physical. I reflect on my actions best when working out on the Stairmaster.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KC: Don’t rush yourself into growing up. Appreciate the ‘present’ and be in the ‘present.’ Learn to enjoy developing into the woman you’d like to see. It won’t happen overnight, so as you take detours and back roads reflect and appreciate all the avenues you’ve been given.

Kaitlyn Chana Qs

Images by Kaitlyn Chana

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

Nick Rubin is one seriously impressive 17-year-old. We met up with Nick for coffee in Seattle and discussed the many amazing projects he’s working on, including the app Greenhouse (which he built himself), a youth-run organization connector called YouthCorp, and his college applications.

As a high school student, Nick has loads of homework and the typical stress that comes with being near the end of your high school career. But Nick is approaching his time in high school differently by making the most of his time outside of class. He partakes in extracurriculars, spends time pursuing hobbies such as graphic design and photography, and makes time for himself by going on hikes and bike rides.

Nick undoubtedly seizes his youth. Read on to learn about how Nick learned to code, the inspiration behind his projects, and the top tips he would give someone who is just about to enter high school.

Name: Nicholas Rubin
Education: Lakeside School
Follow:
nicholasrub.in / @nickrubin / Greenhouse / Instagram

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Nicholas Rubin: I define “Seizing Your Youth” as taking advantage of the many opportunities that being young offers. For example, free time. We tend to have more free time than adults, which gives us time to focus on our passions and interests. Many people say that kids can’t make change, but I think that the opposite is true. I think it’s easier for kids to make a change – not only are we able to focus on what we’re interested in, but there’s something about youth that’s special.

CJ: You are the creator of Greenhouse, a free browser extension for Chrome Firefox, and Safari that exposes the role money plays in Congress. What inspired you to create Greenhouse?

NR: Ever since giving a presentation in a 7th grade social studies class, I’ve been really interested in the issue of money-in-politics. It’s not usually something kids care about, but even though I’m 17 and can’t vote for another year, I wanted to change that. I thought that the information about sources of funding of members of Congress wasn’t being made accessible to people, to the average citizen. It’s being buried away. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is the agency that’s in charge of making this information accessible to the public, but they aren’t doing a good job. It’s tucked away, and since most people don’t know where or how to find it, I wanted to put it where it’s more useful – on the web pages where people read about the actions of members of Congress every day.

CJ: How did you go about actually building Greenhouse?

NR: When I first came up with the idea, I didn’t really know how to code. I taught myself using a series of online resources, and this year I’m taking a formal computer science class in school. There are so many great instructional websites these days – Kahn Academy, Codecademy, and my favorite, Treehouse – which are all geared toward youth, so it’s easy to understand for a beginner.

I spent about 10 months and 400 hours working on Greenhouse. For the data itself, I’m collecting it from an organization called the Center for Responsive Politics, which takes the FEC data and makes it available to developers.

CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?

NR: I’ve been working on one other important project since this summer. In August, I went to the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, and met 200 other kids from all over the world who all shared a passion for change and global affairs. Four of us recognized this, and we started something called YouthCorp. It’s an organization that connects youth-run nonprofits, projects, initiatives, and companies and combines their resources to fight a common issue.

We’re still figuring out the details, but in the first two months we’ve had around 20 youth-run organizations join us from all over the world. It’s great, and is something that I’ll definitely continue working on.

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CJ: You are also a photographer. What sparked your interest in photography and what camera do you use?

NR: I don’t really remember exactly when I started photography, but it’s been a long time. Back in middle school I went to a camp in the San Juans that had film photography as an activity. I learned how to use a manual camera, develop film, and more. Ever since then, I’ve loved it. I got my first point-and-shoot in 6th grade, eventually graduating to a film camera, and then a DSLR. Now I’m in my third year of photography at school, where I do both film and digital photography. My favorite type would probably be travel photography and portraits. They’re both fun to take.

CJ: You have done quite a bit of design work. Where do you draw inspiration and what tools do you use for your design work?

NR: I’ve been interested in design since a 7th grade art class, when we did some linoleum printing. I wasn’t much of an art student, but I really enjoyed carving out and printing shapes. I like simple, minimalist design, and use Photography and Illustrator to do most of my work.

CJ: You were a Top-10 finalist at MHacks IV for Quink, a free browser extension for Chrome and Safari that lets you read the news faster without leaving the page you’re on. What was that experience like and what advice do you have for pitching and making it all the way to the Top 10?

NR: It was an amazing experience. A 36-hour programming competition with almost no sleep may sound miserable, but it was actually tons of fun. Hard, but a great experience. The community tends to be more about learning, rather than competition, so it creates a great environment. Some hackathons have cash prizes, but many of these events are turning away from that and discouraging people from only going with the prizes in mind. Most people go for the experience, and that’s really what makes these events special.

My advice for kids interested in these events is that you don’t have to be an amazing coder, or even know how to code at all. Many attend as designers or simply attend workshops and learn as they go on.

CJ: How do you stay organized, and what are your time management tips?

NR: Truthfully, I’m not the best with organization and time management, but there’s an app called Things that has basically saved my life. It’s a to-do list, where you simply check things off when you’re done. I could probably work to be a bit more organized, and use things like calendars, but something simple like Things is enough for me. I don’t like being too structured.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on school, work, and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

NR: On a typical Monday, I wake up at 7AM, drive my sisters to school, and go to my classes. After school, I continue to dedicate a quite a bit of time to Greenhouse, even though the attention surrounding it has died down a bit. I’ll spend an hour or two every day working on updates or responding to emails. Other than that, and my homework, I like to play tennis and go on hikes and bike rides.

CJ: What three tips would you give someone entering high school?

NR:
1. Try to make free time for yourself. School may be tough with homework, but it’s possible to have free time if you manage it properly. That’s what makes youth special, having time to do what you want. Making that time is important.

2. Don’t worry too much. That’s something I struggled with for the past few years. I’ve toned it down now, but don’t spend a lot of time stressing about school and your social life.

3. Do what you’re interested in, both in school and out. Pick classes and extracurriculars that interest you. For example, computer science is an elective course that I’m taking. Use your school’s resources to further your interests.

CJ: The college application process is ahead. What are you doing now to prepare for that?

NR: The process is just starting for me – I was actually assigned my college counselor yesterday. I’m probably planning on going on a school tour during spring break. I haven’t given the process much thought, but one thing that I’ve heard from people is to definitely start early. I may procrastinate with school assignments, but with something as big as college essays and applications, I’m going to be sure to start as early as possible.

CJ: What is one of your favorite books?

NR: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

CJ: What is a book you read in school that positively shaped you?

NR: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

NR: Communication and reaching out to people. There are definitely a lot of people who could be useful to me and the projects that I’m working on, and reaching out to some of them would be really beneficial. When I need help, I tend to refrain from asking others, but I definitely want to change this.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

NR: Whenever I’m having a bad day, I try and find something to get my mind off of it. I like to play with my dog, or go on a hike or bike ride. Leaving things behind and not letting them get to me is important. Being in nature and spending time away from society really helps, and it puts me in a good state of mind.

CJ: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

NR: My parents and grandparents always told me before tests, “Good skills” instead of “Good luck.”

CJ: What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

NR: Don’t worry as much! I worried about everything, and it would take up a lot of my time. I would spend more time worrying about an experience than actually enjoying it. This definitely could have changed earlier on.

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Image: Carpe Juvenis

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As huge jazz fans, we are so impressed with Jazz musician and trumpet player Alex Owen. After graduating from Connecticut College, Alex moved to New Orleans to work with a non-profit geared toward ending housing discrimination in Louisiana. He eventually started a band called the Messy Cookers – aptly named after his own sloppy cooking technique – and they’ve been playing together ever since. Although he now loves music and plays jazz for a living, Alex shares his advice on why never closing doors on opportunities, even at a young age, can lead you to your passion down the line. We are excited to introduce Alex Owen!

Name: Alex Owen
Age: 24
Education: BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies from Connecticut College, High School Columbia Prep.
Follow: Facebook

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I would define it as going out and doing what you love. I don’t think there is an age limit, or minimum, to trying to make your dream happen. When I hear the term “seizing your youth,” I think of having the opportunity to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a risk, but if you don’t take those risks now, then when will you?

What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

At Connecticut College I majored in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, and I minored in Music. I also was part of the CISLA program. I picked my majors just based on what classes I wanted to take. I had studied Spanish in high school and I wanted to continue to learn the language and become proficient, and I really liked the interdisciplinary focus of the IR major. It just seemed that the majors seemed to fit what I wanted to study. Of course, I wanted to play music as well, so the minor just seemed to fit what I was interested in.

What or who inspired you to become a jazz musician?

I think what inspired me was really just to follow my passion. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “I want to be a jazz musician.” I loved playing traditional jazz music at Connecticut College where I first discovered this music, and I also loved being in the jazz ensemble. I wanted to move to New Orleans because I knew they had a great scene for traditional jazz, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was going to play.

When I moved to New Orleans, I actually was part of a fellowship program called AVODAH, where I spent a year working full-time at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a non-profit working to end housing discrimination in Louisiana. It wasn’t until about mid-way through my first year that I started the Messy Cookers Jazz band and started to find gigs and get a little bit of work. I realized that I really loved the music, and while I also loved the work I was doing at the Fair Housing center, I really wanted to focus on getting better. It became apparent that if I wanted to gig more and get more work, it wouldn’t be feasible to work full time and try to focus on both things. After I started to get work, I decided that I could really be a jazz musician, and that’s when I decided to focus on it and teach music part time.

Tell me about your college bands The Endpiece and Funk the Police. How have those experiences shaped your current music?

Those were some really great bands to be a part of. When I look back at my college experience, some of the fondest memories I had were from those two bands. I think those experiences were incredibly helpful because they taught me so much about being in a band and what the dynamics are like. One thing I learned from being a musician is that it takes so much work to make the music great. You have to practice, you have to find different roles, and you have to learn how to create chemistry with your other band mates in order to make great music. I’ve found that in any style or genre of music, this is true.

You also have to be able to find common ground among different personalities. While I don’t play the style of music that those two bands played anymore, I still take what I learned from those bands about working together with other musicians to make great music, and it’s something I use every time I play with people today.

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How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

It’s definitely tough to do this. It’s certainly easier when you are playing a crowded venue. The hard thing to do is really be on your game when it’s the third or fourth set and it’s a slow night. I think what makes some musicians truly great is that they play the same way whether there are 100 people in the place, or two people. I really try to focus on just making great music at all times and I try not to worry about the crowd. Obviously, I’m always paying attention to the crowd, especially when I’m the bandleader. But once we pick a song and we get into it, I try to block it out and just try to make great music. Ultimately, that’s the most gratifying thing, and it’s something that I could do every day for the rest of my life.

Where does your band name, Messy Cookers Jazz Band, come from?

Ha-ha, this is a pretty funny question. I was making a comment to myself the first year down here that when I was cooking, I made a pretty big mess. I lived on campus all four years of college, so I never really learned how to cook before I moved down to New Orleans. All of a sudden, I realized that I had to cook for myself, so I learned the basics and was able to get by. I guess my technique was still a little sloppy. I was cooking for my housemates one night and I made the comment about how I was a messy cooker. My roommate Jeremy was walking by, and he went “I think I just found your band name.” The name was just too good to pass up.

How does living in New Orleans inspire your music?

I think living here is great because to play the music I want to play, which is traditional New Orleans jazz, I’m able to learn from the best. There are great musicians still working all the time today, who themselves came up playing with and learning from some of the all-time greats. It’s really a privilege to be able to hear them play on almost any given day or night, and to occasionally have opportunities to play with them. I think hearing what they have to say, and listening to the way they approach the music, is key for me to also try and play this music. I try to utilize their advice in every gig I play.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician?

There are a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. One is definitely how to take criticism and how to take rejection. Every musician is going to have self-doubt, get yelled at on a bandstand for making a mistake or not knowing a song, get fired from a gig, or get turned down for a gig. It’s very discouraging, but the best thing to do is trust in yourself and trust in your ability. I’ve found that during the tough times, trusting myself has allowed me to stay positive, remain focused, and continue to make great music.

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What is the biggest challenge with being a musician? The best part?

There are a few challenges with being a musician. I’d say one challenge being unsure know when your next paycheck will be coming in. Especially as someone that is new to town, I’ve gotten a lot of gigs last minute. Since I’m still trying to establish myself, I’m in a position where if I can make a gig, I take it. It’s definitely hard to adjust your schedule last minute. The schedule can also be grueling. Working nights can be really hard, especially since I teach during the day. You really have to alter your life schedule to fit your work. Sometimes this means trying to eat a big meal to last you the 4-5 hours you will be out since you don’t have access to food. Other times, this means trying to hang out with friends during the day because when they are free night, this is when I’m working.

On the flip side, the best part of being a musician is that it’s greatest job in the world! I get to make awesome music, something I would do anyway in my free time, and then I get paid for it. I’ve been fortunate to get work with some world-class musicians, which is an awesome experience. There are many nights when I can’t believe I’m sharing a bandstand with some of these people. It’s also gratifying when you can tell that you’ve touched people with your music.  When I’ve just spent a night making music that you know was great music, and people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it, that really makes it gratifying.

Any tips for learning how to play an instrument?

The biggest tip I can give is to be patient. Something I tell my beginning band students all the time is that Louis Armstrong didn’t sound like Louis Armstrong when he first started playing. Music is like a totally new language; nobody just wakes up a genius. Everyone works at it and tries to make new strides. When you are learning a new instrument, take pride in whatever progress you make, however small, and focus on achieving each milestone. Eventually, before you even realize it, you will start sounding better and playing an instrument will become more fun.

How do you overcome self-doubt (or stage fright?)

Like learning an instrument, this comes with practice. The more gigs I play, the more confident I become in myself, and the easier it is to overcome stage fright. Stage fright, and self-doubt, is a part of being a performer, and is something that becomes easier with practice. Whenever I get nervous, I also try to remember that there is a reason I’m on the bandstand. If I’m a sideman, I try to focus on the fact that someone called me to play the gig with him or her, so I must be doing something right. As a bandleader, I try to remember that the venue likes us enough to hire us, and the people I’ve hired like playing with me enough to want to play with me, otherwise they would’ve said no.

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

My advice is to go for it. If you feel it’s what you want to do, and it’s what you are most passionate about, then absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. People are definitely going to tell you that you can’t do it, or that it’s not stable, etc. These are things that almost all professional artists face at one point. If you are driven enough and determined enough, you can sustain the bumps in the road and make it happen. It’s also ok to take a part-time job or do something on the side to make ends meet, even if it’s not exactly the work you want to be doing. I’ve been lucky enough to find work teaching music, which is something I love and plan to pursue, but I know other musicians and other artists who’ve had all types of weird jobs not related to their art. As long as it doesn’t directly interfere with your art, I say there’s nothing wrong with getting a job to pay the bills.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

I really enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m fortunate that New Orleans has a temperate climate (other than the summer), which allows me to go running, spend time in parks, and generally do activities outside. I also spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV shows, and spend time with friends.

What does a day in your life look like?

Ha-ha, depends on the day! Usually my weekdays consist of teaching during the day. I have a little break in the afternoon, where I usually exercise and get other work done (the work never stops for musicians). If I have a gig that night I’ll eat an early dinner, warm up a little, prep for the gig, and head down early to set up. If not, I’ll either go to hear other bands and sit in, or just hang out and rest. The weekends are mostly about gigs. If I don’t have a daytime gig, I can run errands, hang out with friends, and then go to my gig later. However, some weekends I just spend it running from gig to gig. The great thing about being a musician is that no two days are the same!

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I always just try to be the best person I can be. Whether I’m playing music or not, I always try to be nice to others, to spend quality time with other people, and to be true to my craft.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

I would definitely tell myself that music isn’t dorky, that I should be pursuing it. I think at 15, I really was into sports, and not so much into music. Playing trumpet was more of a chore my parents made me do (and I’m glad they made me do it), and I wish I had treated it differently. I think a lot of this was that I didn’t realize how much fun playing was, and I didn’t think it was that cool.

Image: Hot Steamed Jazz Festival; all others from Alex Owen

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We can say with complete confidence that Adam Braun is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet. He is passionate about his work, speaks with enthusiasm about his travels and the lessons he has learned, and his hunger for making the world a better place is contagious. Adam worked at a consulting company after graduating from Brown University, but he soon realized his passions lay elsewhere. During a trip abroad, Adam asked a young boy in India what he wanted most in the world. His answer: “A pencil.” As Adam continued to travel, he handed out more pens and pencils and realized the power of a school supply that most people wouldn’t typically think twice about. Pencils of Promise was born in 2008, and as of this writing, 170 schools have been built in countries such as Laos, Ghana, and Guatemala.

In his years of experience starting, building, and growing Pencils of Promise, Adam managed to find time to write a book about the lessons he has learned along the way. All of the book’s proceeds will go towards helping build schools and to support Pencils of Promise. We had the incredible pleasure of speaking with Adam about his career and personal experiences, how he got to where he is today, and to speak more about his upcoming book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, which will be released on March 18. 

Name: Adam Braun
Age: 30
Education: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Economics, Sociology, and Public & Private Sector Organizations from Brown University
Follow: Pencils of Promise / PoP Twitter / Adam Braun’s Twitter / Personal Website / Order The Promise of a Pencil

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Adam Braun: I define seizing your youth as living each day as if you only have one shot at an experience that can come out of that unique moment. The most powerful element of youth is that young people don’t know yet what’s impossible, and through that they’re willing to try things that others will claim can’t be done. Seizing your youth is trying out things that speak to your inner voice and absolute truths and pursuing them with the honesty and integrity that you believe they deserve.

CJ: You attended Brown University and majored in Economics, Sociology, and Public & Private Sector Organizations. Why did you choose to study these topics?

AB: I went to college thinking that I was going to major in Economics because I wanted to work on Wall Street, and Psychology because I took it in high school and I’ve always been drawn to the way that people make decisions and in particular, how you can influence groups and how you can ultimately catalyze movements.

What I realized in my first semester when I took psychology was that it was incredibly biology-based. I wasn’t as interested in the biology aspect but instead was interested in the humanity element, which turned out to be Sociology. That resulted in me majoring in Economics and Sociology.

I didn’t want to write a 100-page thesis so I figured that if I could do a triple major then I wouldn’t need to write a thesis paper as well. The third major, Public and Private Sector Organizations, was actually about entrepreneurship and how you build a business. I took courses on leadership and organizational management, knowing that I wanted to one day run my own organization. The three of them seemed like a great fit.

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CJ: You left your job at Bain & Company to start Pencils of Promise (PoP) when you were 25-years-old. What skills did you have that were useful in starting Pencils of Promise, and what do you wish you had known before taking the leap?

AB: Though my time at Bain, I developed a set of hard skills that I think are really important early on. That included building financial models, creating impressive and persuasive presentations, and understanding how organizational turnover and retention happens. In my childhood I spent a lot of time doing entrepreneurial things and lot of entrepreneurs fall into this trap of believing that they are the only one who can accomplish something, especially the higher level responsibilities, so you take it all on yourself.

From my time at Bain & Company, I learned that it’s more important to train the people below you and invest in the next person so that they can ideally do your job just as well, if not better, than you can. That allows you to take on higher level responsibilities. I never would have taken that approach if I hadn’t witnessed and experienced it firsthand from my time at Bain. More than anything, Bain gave me a foundation upon which I felt comfortable to build a business.

What I wish I had known was that there is no such thing as the ‘big single win.’ I think early on I had this inherent belief that all the little wins were suddenly going to give me one opportunity and that one opportunity was going to springboard us to a place where we were huge. In reality, there’s no such thing as a ‘big single win’ that changes absolutely everything. It really is a series of 10,000 small, medium, and large wins that create organizational longevity.

CJ: Your book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, comes out in March 2014. The book is your memoir of your experience leaving your finance job to start Pencils of Promise. What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from starting PoP?

AB: The book was written in a style that should enable any reader to not only get inspired by the story itself, but to take his or her own extraordinary journey as well. I really wanted to write something that was a how-to, but framed around this idea that storytelling provides a hook for people because we all want to read, write, and tell great stories.

Each chapter is titled with a mantra, and there are 30 mantras in total. Those mantras collectively create the blueprint for any person to go from ordinary to extraordinary. One of the mantras that I would describe as my greatest learning lesson is called ‘Vulnerability is Vital’. It’s about the one thing that scared me most, asking people for money, which I did not do for the first three and a half years in the organization. When I admitted openly to the people that had the most confidence in me, who are oftentimes the scariest people to show your weakness to, which in my case was my Board of Directors, it was incredible to see how they invested in and rallied around me.

When I finally faced that fear head-on, the results weren’t as bad as I had feared all along. What I learned coming out of it is that the scariest or the hardest part of your day is the thing you should do first. I find that if I have 25 emails in my inbox, I probably do the 10 easiest ones, the 10 medium ones, and I leave the five hardest ones and justify that I’ll do it another time.

In acknowledging how important your vulnerability is, what I realized is that I should start each day with the hardest things and make sure I get it done. I don’t let myself leave the office until I’ve taken care of that challenging element. Ultimately, that one challenging thing is more important for your long-term success than the 10 easy things you did first.

CJ: What was the book writing process like?

AB: It was actually really fun. I wrote the entire manuscript while traveling in the course of three months. I worked with a co-writer, who was wonderful. She had written five books before and she was really more of a writing partner than anything else, helping me craft the stories and lessons I wanted to share. She would take a first cut at some and I would take a first cut at others, but ultimately every single word in the book is mine. It was really enjoyable to reflect on how this path happened and distill it down to the 30 most important lessons that I could share with others.

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CJ: You wrote a blog post for when you turned 30 about setting ambitious goals, chasing them, and then moving the finish line off into the distance. How often do you set goals for yourself?

AB: There are small goals and big goals. I have small goals every single day, and whether I’m consciously admitting or not, I have a goal every day. For the bigger goals, the older you get the longer the horizons you look at. I used to set goals that were in that week or month, and they would be pretty big goals. Now most of my goals are really framed around a year or three years. I try not to set goals any longer than three years because the world is going to change so much in that time that whatever goal I set will become obsolete. Most of my goals are within the next year.

CJ: What advice do you have for teenagers and young adults interested in starting a non-profit organization?

AB: The first thing I would say is that the role of Founder has been mythologized and celebrated in our culture a bit too much. It’s really important to understand that you can have just as big of an impact if you aren’t the founder but you find a great organization that you believe in and work for and are able to channel your energies and efforts into that organization. I didn’t start Pencils of Promise until I was turning 25, but I had been working with non-profits since I was a teenager.

It’s really important to learn from a mentor that you completely and wholeheartedly believe in to see how an organization is built. Building a non-profit is such an uphill battle and you are going to hear ‘no’ more than you hear ‘yes,’ and you have to believe that what you are doing is right.

One, I would advise to work for someone or an organization that you really believe in and two, in the process of doing that, figure out what your greatest sense of purpose or passion is, the thing that makes you most come alive. Thirdly, start with small goals and have really ambitious goals in the distance.

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CJ: What is the best moment of your career so far?

AB: The best moment in my career was when I sat my grandmother down and I showed her the photos of our very first school, which was dedicated to her and she didn’t know. When I showed her the kids and the structure and the photo of the school sign, she saw her name on it. That was the best and most emotional moment of my career. It’s one of the reasons why I believe so much in Pencils of Promise because I know now what it does for children in the developing world, but also the capacity that it has to unite families here, as well. If I could enable that same experience for every single grandchild or child, then I think we will be able to unite a lot of families and educate a lot of children.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

AB: I spend about half of my day meeting with individuals, partners, foundations, and brands that are interested in Pencils of Promise. I try to further the mission, so I spend at least half of my time external in terms of the meetings. About a quarter of my day is spent with our staff, going through everything from our long- and short-term planning to working on the branding elements of the website, and then the last quarter of my day I try to spend working on things that happen in the moment. I’ll see a link online that will give me an idea and I’ll share it with somebody internally or externally. I always try and keep a quarter of my day free, though it doesn’t happen all that often.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

AB: The advice I would give my 20-year-old self is that as much as you feel both lost and found at the same time, keep pushing as hard as you are pushing in both directions. I love the quote: “Not all who wander are lost.” I started traveling when I was 21 and I spent a lot of time from age 21 to 26 traveling.

A lot of that period was spent in a state of exploration without knowing exactly why I was doing something or where I was going to be. There’s a bit of fear that comes from not knowing what comes next, but there is also a lot of beauty and freedom and creativity that comes out of that. I would say keep pushing as hard as you’re pushing both in the directions of lost and found.

Adam Braun Questions

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

Deepa Subramaniam, the Director of Product at charity:water, is always looking for ways to push herself both personally and professionally. When Deepa is not building awesome products with impact at charity:water, she makes time to meditate, do yoga, attend tech meetups, and set daily goals for herself. After taking a computer science class at U.C. Berkeley, Deepa discovered her natural passion and made a career out of it by working at Adobe and moving up the ranks. However, despite growing up, going to school, and working in California, Deepa recognized that it was time for a change and moved to New York City for an entirely new adventure in the non-profit world. Determined to continually challenge herself and live a full life, Deepa is incredibly inspiring and is living proof that you can wear many hats, be hardworking, stay involved in the community, remain curious, and in an effort to grow as a person, leave your comfort zone and embrace the unexpected.

Name: Deepa Subramaniam
Age: 31
Education: Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley
Follow: Twitter / charity:water

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Deepa Subramaniam: I think youth is subjective. I have met people who are the most youthful, joyous 60-year-olds and I have met 18-year-olds who feel as hardened and put upon by life as older people. Youth is what is in your heart, not your age – it’s how you feel.

I think it’s so weird when people are embarrassed about their age, it’s just a number. There are people who look 20 and are actually 40. I think age-based shame is a bad thing in our culture, and something we all should help nix. I remember being super excited about turning 30. I was really proud of what I had accomplished by 30 and I am excited about the next 30 years.

Seizing your youth is taking advantage of every single day that you have available to you. Make the most out of the time that you have. Just do and create and put things out in the world. Don’t worry about whether it is finished or polished and what other people are going to think. Live a fulfilling life and take advantage of your youth. I look back on times when I wasn’t learning or doing or creating, and that is a real bummer.

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CJ: You majored in Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley. How did you determine what to study?

DS: I started school undeclared though a lot of people thought I would be a lawyer. I was good at science and math, but I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do with my entire life. When I went to school, I realized that science was where my natural skill and interests lay. I had no idea about computer science at all. My sister studied computer science and she kept telling me to take a CS class. I shunned that for whatever reason – sometimes being told what to do by a family member is the best way to not do something.

So I started off studying physics. And I found astronomy really interesting. I finally gave in to my sister’s advice and took an introductory computer science class. It was so fun that it didn’t even feel like school! There was a lot of problem-solving and my brain was able to solve these programming puzzles without it feeling like a lot of effort. I guess that’s natural passion, and it was the first time I ever experienced that. This was late in my second year, but I decided to switch majors because I felt like that was the right thing to do. It took me four and a half years to graduate.

CJ: What made you interested in studying engineering?

DS: I like the problem-solving aspect of it. I was interested in how to make things better, how things work, and analyzing the natural friction point in systems. Computer programming was really fun and it didn’t seem like hard work so that was the best engineering pursuit for me. I thought that it would be amazing if I could make a life out of it. I read something recently about Jerry Seinfeld where he said he chose comedy because it seemed like the farthest thing from work for him. Problem solving through programming or technology is like that for me.

CJ: What does it mean to be an engineer?

DS: Engineering is so broad, there are so many different applications of it. I think engineering and being an engineer is about making systems better, whether the system is an airplane, a building, or a software program. Taking the time to understand and propose the right changes to make to a system – that’s engineering.

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CJ: You recently moved to New York City from San Francisco to be the Director of Product at charity:water. What has your experiencing moving to the East Coast been like?

DS: I was born and raised in California, went to school there and I worked there for a very long time. I’ve basically always been at minimum, an hour away from family, friends, and parents. Moving to the East Coast was an intentional decision in order to challenge myself to see if I could thrive away from them. It’s a weird thing to admit in your thirties, but that’s just the case. I wanted a personal challenge and I wanted to try being in a new city with a new job in a new domain. I thought I was getting too soft and too comfortable in San Francisco so I wanted to change it up and rely on my inner hustle.

Also, New York is so inspiring right now for anyone interested in design, technology, or creativity. I think what’s happening in New York at this time is what the people a generation before me experienced in Silicon Valley. The energy around New York’s tech & creative communities is addictive and truly energizing.

CJ: What does your job as Director of Product at charity:water entail?

DS: Product is such a broad term. I work closely with our amazing creative and engineering teams to build out products so that it is the best experience for our supporters. As Director of Product, I help road map and improve products in our portfolio so we can raise more money and help provide more people with clean and safe drinking water. With the right products, we can connect money easier to the field so that we are building and sustaining more water projects for longer and ultimately giving more clean water to more people.

Right now I focus on what we can do online, such as our donation flow, our fundraising platform, and the educational components of our website. By having people learn and understand the water crisis, we want to inspire them to act, whether that’s through giving money, fundraising, or just spreading the word about the water crisis.

As a product manager, I analyze data to figure out where our customers are successful and where they are not and how our products should grow. My job synthesizes different aspects of the business from engineering to creative to data analysis.

CJ: You used to work at Adobe. What skills did you bring from Adobe to charity:water?

DS: I was at Adobe for a long time. I was a lead engineer and then switched over to technical product management. I definitely think people should work multiple jobs and work a variety of jobs in their lifetime. Going from a large, corporate company to a small, non-profit has been really interesting. At Adobe, I learned about working in large teams, how to clearly define what the goals and key initiatives are, how to report back to people, and how to ask for what you need to be successful in ways that are going to be met with action.

The people I worked with at Adobe are a very mature group, so I grew up in a business environment but also had a lot of fun. I learned about quality software development, mixing quantitative and qualitative skills, and how to use data to improve products. Because of my time at Adobe, I came to charity:water with a solid foundation and confidence  so that was definitely a good transition.

CJ: What do you love most about working at charity:water?

DS: It’s so meaningful day in and day out. The people I work with and the work that we’re doing is incredibly inspiring. There are so many creative, smart young people who could be working elsewhere but chose every day to work at charity: water. We are all here working on something that will hopefully outlast all of us. That passion and commitment is rare, and to see that among a group of 50 people is fascinating.

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CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

DS: I’m up pretty early. I like to stretch and try to do a little meditation, 8-10 minutes per day. It helps me find balance and composure in a busy day. I come into work and then the busy day begins. I meet with my team, discuss on-going projects and get a sense of what is most important to accomplish that day. This is a habit I have formed, where I jot down 5 things I want to accomplish that day – both personally and professionally – and anything beyond that is cake. I power through things based on that list and work tends to fly by.

I tend to do many more things with my day in New York than in San Francisco. I’ll go to a design or tech talk, meet friends for dinner, or go to yoga, and then try to get home at a decent time so I can get more sleep. As I’ve gotten older, I have become more dogmatic about self-care. When I was younger, exercise, eating well, and quality alone time was not as high on my list.

To achieve long-term goals, you need the discipline of being able to achieve wins in much smaller increments. So I rely on daily rituals and weekly rituals to keep me focused. If you’re consistent about accomplishing those rituals and are defending them from change or competing priorities, that cadence and discipline will translate to hitting year-long goals. Be critical about what goes on your daily list of things to accomplish. If something isn’t a “hell yeah” I want to do this, then it doesn’t go on the list. I am more careful about the time and energy that I put into something and that means I am ultimately happier with the outcome of my days.

CJ: What is the best moment of your career so far?

DS: So many, I feel blessed. I have just worked with so many great people. One of the things I am most proud of is when my co-workers and I had an idea about a new tool and we pitched the idea to Adobe executives. I convinced them that there was a real need and opportunity and that I was the right person to run it from an engineering and technical perspective. I built a team of engineers and then most of our managers forgot about us till we debuted the tool at our annual user conference. We sneaked the tool and it was met with such excitement and ended up having a great release. That is where I learned that with a little space, a team, and a high dose of passion, we could take something from idea to execution quickly.

That tool, by the way, is called Adobe Scout.

CJ: What advice would you give teenagers or young adults who are interested in being engineers?

DS: There are so many ways to learn about design and technology. You can buy a book, take a class, or just jump in and start playing. The barrier to entry is a lot lower.

Even if you have a tiny bit of interest in programming or design – just try and learn it. A quick Google search will help you find those resources or a local meet up to learn with other people in a social environment. If that hunger comes from within instead of having to create it, then you’re on the path to working on something with passion.

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CJ: Did you face any adversities in the workplace or school for being a woman in a predominantly male profession?

DS: There have been situations where something has happened which made me feel weird. Things that I shrugged off in my twenties are things that I would challenge now. For the most part, though, I have been surrounded by amazing people, both male and female. I always intentionally sought out great people to be around, both in school and work. Here’s one bit of advice: don’t wait for someone to ask you if you need a mentor. Go up to people you admire and ask to them to mentor you – you’ll be surprised how often people say yes.

CJ: You are a South Indian Classical dancer. How long have you been involved with dancing and how has it impacted your life?

DS: I still dance and have started choreographing a bit more. I have been dancing since I was six-years-old. Having a creative and artistic outlet has been incredibly important for me. Dance is so great, it teaches you composure, it’s physically great exercise, and it is a great mixture of expression and movement. There are so many amazing dance communities in New York – I love it. I would not be the person I am today without having a creative outlet that I love, which for me was dance. It is a great way to play when you’re not working on your other passions.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

DS: I don’t like to do the same thing, I like to do a bunch of different things, such as write a book, do a dance show, ship a great product, etc. Learning new things is how I define growing, and growing is what motivates me. I want to squeeze as much as I can out of every day!

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

DS: I would tell myself that it’s okay to break some rules and not do the things that you think you are expected to do. Do things that you think are expected of you only if they are in alignment with who you are and what your core values are. So I guess I would tell myself to rock the boat a bit more.

Another bit of advice is that you don’t learn nor do you get better without making mistakes. I still make mistakes every day, and that’s a good sign. In the moment it might feel uncomfortable, but I look back on it and realize that those moments translated to real growth. Force yourself to make mistakes when you’re younger because the bandwidth to recover is so much higher.

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