I recently made the decision to launch Bold Folks Home, a project that uses heartwarming videos to turn senior citizens into senior celebrities. I've received such a tremendous outpouring of support from close friends and complete strangers that I feel I owe everyone a little something in return: an explanation. The "why" behind any great project is just as important as the "what," and the best way for me to explain why I'm launching Bold Folks Home is to share the stories behind two pieces of paper.
The first is a letter of recommendation I received five years ago, when I was just a nerdy high school kid with a terrible haircut. The only vehicle I had access to back then was my family's enormous 15-passenger diesel van, which we'd literally bought from a fire department in California. (Fortunately, no actual pictures of the Red Abomination exist today. Here's the closest thing I could find on the internet.)
With dating clearly out of the question, I had to find other activities to fill my time. Volunteering at the local nursing home was a great solution, because none of the residents cared that I looked like a complete jackbag or that I drove a miniature fire engine. The only thing they cared about was that someone was willing to give them a bit of attention.
I would show up, play a few old hymns or country songs on my guitar, and talk one-on-one for a few minutes about my everyday life. And they loved it. Even crazier, I loved it. I met incredible people, from retired airline stewardesses to aging hot rod mechanics, and I was captivated by their stories. I knew more people needed to meet these inspiring elders, but I felt paralyzed when it came to the problem at hand: How do you get people to care about nursing home residents?
I didn't come up with a solution back then, and with college looming right around the corner, I asked the nursing home's social activities director for a letter of recommendation summarizing the volunteering I'd done. I figured the letter might help me win scholarship money, but today it's much more valuable than that. It's a reminder of my inspiration.
This brings me to the second sheet of paper: a nondisclosure agreement I signed only a few weeks ago. I was approached about working on a startup company that connects doctors with patients via the internet—an emerging type of technology called telemedicine that is attracting a lot of attention from investors. I honestly can't offer any more details about the company, because the agreement means that I could be sued into oblivion if I did.
In spite of the fact that I believe the company will do well down the road, I ultimately decided not to work on the project. I would have been building someone else's dream. I did, however, leave the discussion table with an intense sense of empowerment. I realized that four years of university classes (technical writing and journalism), two years of working at a digital publishing company (Inuvo) and a year of entrepreneurship training (pitch competitions, hackathons, and boot camps) had given me a skill set that was valued by a cutting-edge tech startup. A skill set that can be used to solve big problems.
The nondisclosure agreement is a reminder of my qualification. This is important because attempting to solve big problems is daunting. It means subjecting myself to the possibility of failure and the certainty that I won't have all the answers. I must remember that I've successfully communicated and innovated my way through obstacles in the past, and I can do it again if I can just stay focused.
It's easy to get distracted by uncertainty, fear, and half a dozen similar emotions that I am suppressing even as I write this blog post. On the days when it feels like those emotions are going to win, I will open my desk drawer and pull out two sheets of paper. I will once again be reminded of my inspiration and my qualification, and I will get back to work. Because that is the only way a person can turn senior citizens into senior celebrities.