For all of you out there who don’t know what in the world you’re doing with your lives, no need to fear—you’re not alone. This previous Monday, GSBA and Net Impact brought back Andy Stoll, a world-traveler, social entrepreneur, media producer, and storyteller to Gonzaga… and he didn’t either. A sought after speaker on leadership, social entrepreneurship, creativity, community-building, startup communities and travel, Stoll has inspired thousands of students on his College Lecture Tour around the nation, and has been a featured speaker, among other places, at TEDx and The Leadership Institute. During his 60-minute talk, Stoll turned the idea of The American Dream on its head and challenged us to think outside of the box in how we choose to live our lives after college through telling his personal experiences and stories. The succeeding two and a half hour Q&A session spoke as a testament of his dedication to his inspirational and insightful message (and also proved his point—people like to give advice). Here are five takeaways from both the talk and the Q&A, revolving around exploring the world, finding our place, and making our biggest dreams come true (Insert R. Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly):
Travel without a map
You don’t have to be Andy Stoll and travel independently around the world for 4 years through 40 countries to do it. In his talk, Stoll uses the world “travel” both literally and metaphorically. After setting off with a limited amount of money, an unlimited amount of time, and a one-way ticket to China, Stoll found that going off-course often brought about his greatest adventures; and he parallels this lesson in finding one’s ultimate life calling. Since we were children, we may have had dreams to become firefighters or astronauts—but as we evolve, our perspective changes, and so do our plans. Let go of the security blanket that maps provide you with, and allow yourself to gain “ultimate freedom” in exploring what the world has to offer while accepting changes in life’s course.
Forget questions like, “What do you want to be?” and, “What are you going to do after college?”
Sigh. Every one of us will receive a never-ending amount of these types of questions as we approach our senior year, and when I say senior year I mean senior year of high school. So Andy really, truly is telling us to forget them?! Yes. Trying to answer questions like these is essentially useless because we won’t know the answer until we actually get out there and, well, do. Instead ask, “what kind of life do I want to have?” and your true calling awaits in the little voice inside your head.
Overcome “The American Paradox”
If you decide you want to travel after college, our American society may label you as a wandering hippie or an ultimate procrastinator on the job hunt. Yet in almost every other Western country, the norm is to travel and “find yourself” by taking a gap year or a break after college. Stoll’s “American Paradox” is the concept that everything in our culture tells us to “follow your dreams,” with the exception of traveling. This may be partially because in our society, travel and vacations are typically associated with a luxury lifestyle that comes later on in one’s career, while the expectation of life-after-college is to find a job or get your next degree. Yet the benefits of travel are innumerous despite what our social institutions may tell us: it is essential in being a better employee, deepening one’s empathy, gaining a better understanding of the world, becoming a doer, and differentiating you from other employees, amongst so much more.
Follow your passion fascinations!
Andy himself graduated from school with a BA in media production and a BBA in business management, but still had no idea what his true “passion” was, let alone how he would get out of the $25,000 in student loans he owed to the federal government. He got a job and told himself he would leave the country in three years, because his inner voice told him he needed to explore and he had a desire to change the world. He didn’t know what he was truly passionate about, but he was willing to explore his fascinations and find out. So often, we are told to follow our “passions,” but it is unlikely that we know exactly what they are by the time we graduate. By stepping back and being open to trying new things, Stoll was able to find out his interests and disinterests and what he loved and what he didn’t love in his many explorations overseas. Don’t worry about not knowing what your passion is; instead delve into any and all of your fascinations, and with time, your true passion will become apparent.
It’s not “networking”, it’s called making friends
During his answer to a question, Andy commented on his distaste for the word “networking.” So often used and praised as one of the inherent lessons of college, Andy instead prefers, “making friends.” And this is just what he did when he began his social entrepreneurship endeavors: he made friends and met people by going on tens of hundreds of coffee dates.
Write thank you notes
In a digital generation, the importance of thank you notes can often get overlooked. Yet Andy stressed in his Q&A that a hand-written thank you note—not a quick e-mail or a 15-second text message—will help you stand out from just about anyone and make you the most memorable person of the bunch.
Everyone has a chance to find his or her dreams and make a difference
One of the most gratifying parts of Andy’s talk is the fact that he is “just a guy.” He graduated with heaping student loans (like many of us will) and was raised in a small town in Iowa. His parents did not make an exceptional amount of money to be able to afford his travels, and they themselves had never been overseas. And no, he is not trilingual; English is his first and only language. The bottom line was that he listened to his voice that told him he did not want to take the traditional path after college, and that urged him to go out and discover the world. In the words of Andy, “The voice is there, the question is: Are you listening to it? Or are you letting it be drowned out?”