A decade ago, I looked in the mirror and resolved to myself that I was going to “have it all.”
Andrew Youn is the Executive Director and Co-Founder One Acre Fund - a non-profit organisation that supplies smallholder farmers in East Africa with asset-based financing and agriculture training services to reduce hunger and poverty. Andrew started One Acre Fund in 2006, co-founded the program in Kenya with John Gachunga, and now lives in Rwanda.
Below is Andrew's blog about when he decided - over a decade ago - that he was going to 'have it 'all'.
First, I wasn’t going to compromise on career development – I wanted to be constantly stretched, I wanted a new challenge every month, and I wanted good mentorship. Also, I was no longer going to compromise on my personal mission: Every spreadsheet, every meeting, every hour of my day was going to be infused with meaning – to provide opportunity for hard-working, impoverished families.
Today, I run an organisation called One Acre Fund bringing life-improving products and services to farmers in East Africa – through agricultural training, financing, and delivery. I am proud to say that we are 4,000 staff strong, serving more than 400,000 farm families in six countries and growing by more than 40 per cent per year. Although we are not perfect by any stretch, we have many professionals who are experiencing both growth and meaning in their careers. I like to think that the experience of growing this team has given me a good perspective on how to “have it all” in your career and I want to share some top lessons I have learned over the years.
Have patience and humility
First of all, I think both patience and humility are required. I often talk with professionals who are switching from a 'regular' job to a 'meaningful' job and expect to instantly be a top-level executive. Although this is possible, the people that have been most successful in our organisation have been willing to start slightly lower in order to learn a new field and a new way of working. With patience and humility, they have rapidly risen through our ranks. Most human beings will spend more than 45 years working in their careers. Taking the long view makes sense.
Seek an environment committed to building careers
Next, it is important to find an environment that is committed to building careers. Not every company, and not every department within a company, really believes in career growth. This should go way beyond just having formal career review processes, which are a minimum. Managers providing feedback on your work should routinely give specific, constructive, and actionable ideas for improvement, not just 'do it better'.
Organisation growth means career growth
If an organisation is growing quickly, they generally have to hire a ton of people. Moreover, they may need a lot of those people to rise into management quickly. Fast-growing organisations thrive when their people grow quickly into managers and leaders. Work at a place that is growing quickly, and your career will likely grow more quickly as well.
The proof is in the pudding
Good organisations should provide plenty of opportunities for new challenges, and should have tons of people whose job responsibilities became dramatically different within one or two years, as they grew into new roles. This should be easy to identify in your interview process. I would ask your interviewers – what were you doing at the beginning of your time at the organisation, compared with now? At my organisation for example, we have many people who started off running small field trials and now manage hundreds of staff.
Whenever I meet someone who has been married for 50 years, I ask them what makes their marriage successful. Oftentimes they answer: commitment. It isn’t the sexiest answer in the world, but it makes a lot of sense. They are unequivocally, beautifully committed to each other – no matter what.
In your career, it might be a bit much to commit to an organisation like that. But I strongly believe that people should plot their careers not in two-year stints, but rather blocks of five years or more. In my opinion, it takes at least a couple of years to get your feet under you at a new organisation, master a role, and begin building towards higher managerial and leadership goals. It is tremendously liberating to dream big about what you could accomplish in a role over five years’ time.
Let’s do this thing
In my opinion, there is no endeavor more meaningful than the eradication of severe poverty – it is the greatest remaining stain upon the human race. Poverty causes one in 10 children to die in many families. Poverty breeds terrorism and war and creates refugees. Poverty quashes the potential of millions of would-be scientists, authors, and entrepreneurs.
The eradication of poverty is possible within our lifetimes – we are winning. But we need a new and fresh influx of talent – an army of people committing their careers and every daily action to creating an environment where all humans can develop to their full potential, free of any constraint. So no matter what your profession – I hope you will consider joining the fight for a world where every single person has access to basic opportunity.
One Acre Fund is a nonprofit organisation that supplies smallholder farmers in East Africa with asset-based financing and agriculture training services to reduce hunger and poverty.
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