Stay True. Aim High. Find Purpose.

By Amanda Lawrence 

While I had a rough roadmap of the path that could lead me to my purpose, I already decided it needed some ‘adjustments’ as I hugged my mom and grandmother goodbye and strolled into my dorm at the start of my freshman year. I was confident I could merge the best of both worlds of service and serving myself in the lifestyle I wanted after college.

Over time, I realized that knowing your end game didn’t just mean establishing financial and career goals, but it also required knowing yourself and what, at your core, are the values you hold dearest. In hindsight, I would have started with an exercise (and I am offering to you) that I often use as an end of a class session for my Marketing students to help them gain insight into themselves.

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1. Know Yourself: With the help of Franklin Covey, I ask them to complete a Personal Mission Statement which can be found here.  The exercise is always somewhat cumbersome because of access issues with the link itself and the fact that you have to wordsmith your answers for them to make sense in cohesive statement. However, the work to make it happen, even if that means starting over, brings intentionality to answering very real, life questions that you will find may change in some ways but will also remain the same others. Pre-COVID, I would print each students’ personal statement, frame it, and present it to them at the end of class with encouragement and the advice to put it somewhere they can see it. I also share that over time, things that remain the same tend to manifest as your purpose or calling.

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2. Put Yourself Out There: In college, I ultimately pursued, what seemed to most, as a divergent, paths of study of business and art with some stops, including the school of Journalism, along the way. I also volunteered with the African American Student Association, the Cultural Arts Committee and other campus service projects in schools, shelters and anyplace else they would have me. I also took every opportunity I could to leverage the resources of the student career center to intern, while traveling, on someone else’s dime. For me, starting early to identify opportunities and being persistent paid off. After my freshman year and several attempts to find internships for which I did not have enough credits to participate, my advisors shared an advertising, study-abroad class that I could take in England and provided a scholarship to business school students. In a business school of well over 4,000 students, I would have never known about this opportunity if I had not made a concerted effort to make sure my advisors and others knew me. So, make yourself known early and often and KNOW that you are worthy of every opportunity, even if you encounter barriers.

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3. Knock Down Limitations: In one instance I had to be my biggest and best advocate for an internship opportunity that offered minority students a fully paid (with stipend) opportunity to study, live and work in the Wall St, District of New York for a semester. I knew about it because the guy I was dating had participated the year before. However, while the internship was open to anyone, the sponsoring professor had only ever recommended male students. Equipped with a “high enough” GPA and resume in hand, I waited outside of the professor’s office after his non-responsiveness to my calls and notes of inquiry. When I finally spoke to him, he questioned me, not about my credentials or qualifications, but about whether my parents would allow me as “a young woman”, to travel to New York city “on my own”.  I then, took the opportunity to explain to him, diplomatically, yet directly, the many ‘firsts’ and accomplishments the women in my family had completed “on their own”. Suffice it to say, I successfully completed the New York internship with the highest GPA of any student who participated and was invited back to participate in another program the next summer by a mentor I met while interning there. In four years, I traveled to two continents and had completed multiple internships, mostly at the expense of the company or institution offering them. So, don’t let the limitations you see, limit you!  

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4. Mix Passion with Service: While serving others was a central, core value I saw in my family of teachers, nonprofit leaders and college academicians, I chose a study path that I believed would afford me a job that paid the salary I desired (because I loved everything high-end—fashion, travel, food) and that would allow me to support a ‘side’ of service, which essentially boiled down to ‘stroking a check’ to organizations I cared about deeply. A year before graduating, I dropped Art and settled on Marketing, which I saw as the best of both worlds combination I envisioned in my freshman year. Upon graduation, I started working in Marketing at a local firm with regional and a few national ties. Over several years, I rose to positions that afforded with the opportunity to rub shoulders with legendary, international brand-makers. However, through it all, I found that what gratified me most were those community-based projects in which I could leverage a company’s resources to give back to a town or community or children in schools that were under-resourced and underserved.

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5. Stay Grounded: A key turning point for me came following September 11th. Just one week to the exact day and time the first plane crashed into the first tower, I’d been shopping in a store behind the World Trade Centers, while in town for star-studded, national promotion with McDonald’s and the Apollo Theater. The gravity of knowing that I would have been dead because I wouldn’t have had a sense of urgency to leave the deals I was finding, brushing off crashing planes as yet another crazy occurrence and not a terrorist attack (if you spent any time in the City, any number of crazy things happened at any given moment and business still went on, mostly as usual), jolted me into the realization that my time on this earth was not my own and it was only God’s grace that I still had any time at all. I also realized that while my career was ‘flying high’, the fuel that drove me personally, morally and ethically had gotten to a dangerously low level, signaling an imminent, crash landing, if I did not take a course corrective action.

I can’t say my career path from that point and even now, is or was easy or ‘fun’, but I do know this is the path I’m supposed to follow. I wish I could tell you you’ll be rewarded and recognized for doing good work for others or even for working hard, but I can’t. I do know my contributions make differences in the lives of people, who my organization employs, funds and serves. I also can tell you, like any other ‘industry’, nonprofits are not immune to the apathy, glass ceilings, and all the “-isms” (racism, sexism, classism, etc.), along with all of the other and sadly, common challenges, for leaders of color. Despite it all, my core values of integrity, equity, accountability and service, and anchors of family, faith and friends, continue to enrich and sustain me in this work.

As I wrap up, I want to leave you with just a few more unsolicited tips. If you know these now, you’re ahead of the game. If you don’t, consider putting them into practice.

You will get through this first year and beyond with the support of many people, like me, who are happy to share our imperfect journeys, joys and challenges, in hopes that you will do the same for those coming behind you!

Amanda Lawrence is the Vice President of Community Impact for Trident United Way.

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