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The Stories We Tell About Ourselves Are the Most Important

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By: Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, 2013 Venture for America Fellow

Stories educate, persuade, impassion, anger, placate, and manipulate us. And there are almost no stories that are as important as the stories that we tell about ourselves.

Which is why I chose Venture For America.

Let's rewind. For my entire child and adolescent life, I've been delighted with what I will call my "story of self." When I introduced myself to strangers I felt a sense of confidence, security, and general satisfaction about my path and my prospects. My choices, my interests and my plans were all met with acceptance, understanding and approval. Mmm yes, my audience and I mused, this girl is going someplace. And that affirmation infused enormous confidence in every action, thought, idea, conversation and challenge I took on.

But when I graduated from Middlebury last May, all of that changed.

At some moment or another before walking across the stage to accept my diploma, I decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Specifically, I wanted to launch "YouPower," an energy-producing bike room I'd created on my college campus, as a real business. So I started telling that story to myself and to others.

Immediately I sensed a change. Behind the plaster of polite nods and smiles, there was a real emptiness in the responses I got. New acquaintances, old friends, and even family members, seemed skeptical, if not downright disbelieving, that I would ever succeed. When I enthused to the world that I was an "aspiring entrepreneur," I could tell my listeners were thinking "delusional unemployment" instead. Slowly this attitude infected my own perception of what I was doing, what I was capable of, and where I was going. For the first time, I no longer liked my own story.

This was dangerous. As Tina Seelig writes in her book, What I wish I knew When I Was 20, "attitude is perhaps the best indicator of what we are capable of accomplishing." I knew that with my current mindset, I could not accomplish what I hoped to. I needed a better one.

Enter Venture For America. Yes, VFA will give me useful skills, connect me with an invaluable network, and inspire me with information compiled by experienced mentors who are further down the path I hope to travel. But even before showing up for summer training, VFA has already given me the most incredible tool of all. It's restored my faith in myself, my enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, confidence to pursue this path, and the assurance that I'm not doing it alone. When I explain to others how I'll be spending the next two years, my voice oozes with passion. I'm relieved to say that the cynical responses have been replaced with celebratory ones. It's given me my story back.

Which brings me to what I should be writing about: how VFA will bolster the economy by sparking job growth.

Here, I offer another story, told by a powerful but unlikely narrator: the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though the national unemployment rate hovers around 8%, that figure is almost 14% for my peers: citizens between the ages of 20-24. These numbers tell a tragic tale, one of energetic and idealistic young adults who should be exploding in to the work force but who instead, are not showing up at all.

Venture for America is going to re-write this story by re-writing our stories. VFA is empowering young grads to create job opportunities not only for themselves, but also for their peers and other Americans. With a stated goal to create 100,000 jobs by 2025, this organization will enable a generation of dreamers and innovators who might otherwise have given up to become future business founders.

VFA has given all of its Fellows a way to pursue the typically daunting startup path without forcing them to abandon their "I can" attitudes. Even more than the ability to code, fundraise, or persuade, this is perhaps the defining quality that can distinguish a successful entrepreneur from a failed one, or one who never tried at all. If not for Venture for America, I may very well have been the latter.

Astrid Schanz-Garbassi is a member of Venture for America's Class of 2013 and a graduate of Middlebury College. She is Founder and President of "YouPower", a bike room that produces electricity, and helped establish the Middlebury Solar Decathlon Team. If you believe inVenture for America's mission and aspiring entrepreneurs like Astrid, please support VFA's JobRaising Challenge Fundraiser.