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Developing the Conviction to Do Meaningful Work

As we get older, deciding to pursue our dreams becomes more difficult — but it’s never too late to do something that’s important to the world.

The time I spend lounging around a swimming pool is rarely productive (I’m no Michael Phelps). Pools make sense to me when I am exhausted and lazy, wishing to do something but not much of anything. In my mind, pool time is simply an aquatic version of a nap.

Not so for Stephanie Pollaro, who discovered her life’s purpose while lounging by her backyard pool in 2003. Flipping through a fashion magazine, the 23-year-old spotted an article about human trafficking. For the first time she realized that, all over the world, young girls are sold by their families or lured away under false pretenses only to find themselves trapped in slavery.

This knowledge rocked her world. The California native with a master’s degree in counseling knew she had to do something. Two weeks later, she signed up for a trip to India, the first of three voyages she would make there. With each visit, Pollaro learned more about what it can be like for women and girls who are trafficked. And with each visit, her determination to do something to help grew.

In 2006, on her third trip to India, she resolved to help survivors gain economic independence. A jewelry maker by avocation, she latched on to the only thing she knew how to do and decided to develop fashionable designs, teach survivors of modern-day slavery how to make jewelry, and market the jewelry in the United States. Upon returning to the U.S., she sold all of her possessions, developed a portfolio of designs, and moved to Mumbai. Her business partner, Wendy Dailey — an American citizen Pollaro met on her second trip to India — remained in the U.S. to establish and oversee the sales and administrative activities. Thus was born International Sanctuary (where I serve on the board).

Fast-forward almost a decade. With the leadership of Pollaro and Dailey, more than 400 women have been gained economic independence through the jobs, education, and counseling provided in loving workplace sanctuaries. The proceeds from the jewelry sales go to paying for medical care and educational programs for these survivors.

All of which makes me a little embarrassed when I reflect back on what I was doing in my early 20s. With a new MBA, I was doing odd jobs as a novice “consultant,” with no greater purpose in mind than dressing for success and hanging out with my boyfriend.

Granted, we aren’t all called to be Stephanie Pollaro. But we can be inspired by her story to write (or rewrite) our own. There are infinite sources of inspiration, including a number of individuals I’ve previously profiled in my blog posts — people who are actively…

·         Raising their children up to be better global citizens

·         Helping their employees realize their potential

·         Fostering a culture of giving, rather than taking

·         Creating good jobs

·         Starting a company that promotes conscious capitalism

·         Applying their for-profit skills to not-for-profit endeavors

The common denominator of those who “do something” is conviction borne of a higher purpose that fuels the courage necessary to act.

Unfortunately, conviction is in relatively short supply. When I ask clients about their values, legacy, motivators, and talents, many lack Pollaro’s level of self-awareness. And even if they have it, the temptation to envision more practical dreams all too often short-circuits conviction. Finally, even when armed with self-awareness and dreams that make the heart go pitter-patter, the daily demands of living complicate the process of creating tomorrow while living today.

In our 20s, if we are free of the responsibilities of mortgages, children, and a fully developed prefrontal cortex, these barriers seem like mere speed bumps. But as we get older, we put more weight on what we could lose than on what we might gain — and developing conviction to pursue our dreams becomes more difficult.

As we get older, developing conviction to pursue our dreams becomes more difficult.

But it’s not impossible. The simplest and safest way to break through these barriers is to follow these easy-to-describe but difficult-to-practice principles:

1. Honor your impulses. It would have been easier, and more comfortable, for Pollaro to leave the pool, dry her tears, bemoan the awfulness of the world, and move on. Fortunately for the world, she honored her feelings and sought not comfort, but resolution.

2. Remain persistent. Pollaro traveled to India three times until she had a clearer idea about her next steps. Resist the temptation to make any dramatic moves before you gain experience by connecting with people wiser than you. Pollaro learned economic independence was the essential component to restoring traumatized lives. She had originally intended to market and sell products that had previously been crafted by the survivors. But the designs didn’t reflect Western tastes, so she decided to establish a workshop-sanctuary where she could teach these women to make things that would have greater appeal for consumers in the U.S.

3. Once you have an educated guess, consider it fact, and start acting accordingly. After Pollaro decided to design, manufacture, and market jewelry handcrafted by survivors of slavery, she fully committed to her course of action.

4. Say yes to opportunities that come your way. Pollaro established local relationships with organizations involved in fighting human trafficking, and accepted any invitation to interact with and teach survivors how to make jewelry. Saying yes is powerful because the offers you receive reflect what others see in you — often beyond or different from how you view yourself — and can open doors that will expand your influence and impact.

Even if you don’t want to rewrite your story, you may want to add a chapter by serving as a volunteer. The success of Pollaro’s organization brings with it the opportunity to expand to help more survivors. It, like many other nonprofits, needs people with the conviction to “do something” to donate their time, even if it is only a few hours a week.

Each of us has the responsibility — and privilege — to channel our inner Stephanie Pollaro by honoring and acting on our conviction to be somebody that does something that matters to the world.



Susan Cramm

Susan Cramm, leadership coach, author, and former CFO and CIO, is committed to the principle that the best leaders take care of business by taking care of the people entrusted to their care.


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