When I first met Sarah Comer at an event in Los Angeles last summer, she made an instant impression on me. She is warm, poised, well-spoken, and passionate in her convictions -- in a word, inspirational. It should come as no surprise to learn, then, that she is the woman behind the website Inspire-Aspire: Be the Career Change, a source of informative career inspiration for women looking to combine their passions with a purpose.
Much like Sarah herself, Inspire-Aspire is reflective, uplifting, and brimming with insights. It features in-depth interviews with women such as Seane Corn and Ruchira Gupta, who are creating positive change through their work. Sarah hopes that the stories of such women will inspire and empower other women to "Be the change you wish to see in the world" through their careers as well -- hence Inspire-Aspire's tagline, "Be the career change."
Our team at Milk & Honey Magazine caught up with Sarah to learn more about her personal career path, what she's learned through her interviews for Inspire-Aspire, and how we can align our passions with our purpose, too. Read on, below.
Tell us a little about your career background. What led you to create Inspire-Aspire?
Inspire-Aspire came out of what I jokingly refer to as my "quarter-life crisis," a point around age 25 where I realized the career path I was on was no longer making me happy. I had to stop and re-evaluate what was important to me, what I was interested in, and what kind of future I wanted for myself. It all felt very overwhelming. In an effort to gain some clarity, I started looking to women whose careers I admired with the hope that their stories would give me some direction and inspiration. I was looking for women who had achieved what in my mind was the perfect ideal -- a career that combined their passion with a purpose.
As I researched these women, I did become inspired, but I was also left with a lot of unanswered questions. I found that everything I read or watched placed a great deal of emphasis on what each woman did, but not so much on how she got there. That was the information I wanted to know so I could apply it to my own life. So, in an effort to help myself, I decided to start reaching out to some of these women to ask them how they did it. In doing so, I realized that many other women were feeling the same way I did and that these interviews could serve a greater purpose beyond just helping me.
When I had that epiphany I also realized that this act of interviewing women and sharing their stories could actually be a career in itself and what I had been looking for all along: a means to "be the change" through my career. I saw that this could be a way for me to help others through work I was passionate about. It was a real example of "The end is inherent in the means" hitting me over the head -- another one of my favorite Gandhi quotes!
What do you hope readers will get from the website?
I really see Inspire-Aspire as a platform for women to invest in themselves. It's for any woman who has ever asked, "What is my life purpose and what am I doing here?" It's meant to give women of all ages inspiration on how to align their passions with a purpose, how to get paid to do what they love, and make the world a better place while they're at it. Because if you could do it all, why wouldn't you? So it's about showing women that it is possible and providing inspiration to aspire to so that women can read these stories and say, "If she can do it, I can do it!"
What do you think holds women back most from pursuing careers they're passionate about?
Fear. It always comes back to that. Whatever form it is disguised in -- whether it be financial concerns, self-doubt, or lack of support -- the underlying source is always fear. We literally scare ourselves out of following our dreams; safety and security take precedence over passion. If this safety and security is at the expense of our happiness, though, we really have to question if our choice has created more danger in the form of underlying depression or dissatisfaction than the act of trying and failing (which is what we're all afraid of) could have.
If you think about it, every time you make a decision you are choosing to act on either faith or fear. It's about deciding which you are going to lead with. It's like Nelson Mandela said: "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."
Have you noticed any surprising shared characteristics among the women you've interviewed?
It's not exactly a surprising characteristic, but what I have seen that they all share is optimism. It comes back to the last question, about choosing to lead with hope instead of fear. They all share that trait. Everyone's story is different and each woman has had to face different obstacles and fears to get to where she is today, but what they all have in common is a belief in their ability to overcome challenges. These women are not quitters. When problems come up, when the "impossible" seems to be at hand, they don't let this stop them, they don't take no for an answer -- they always find a way over, around, or through. In life everything isn't always going to go smoothly and problems are inevitable, but what these women have shown me is that it's our attitude towards these challenges that matters. Are we going to let them be an excuse to stop and throw in the towel, or are we going to look at them as opportunities to transform and overcome?
Why do you think it's important for women to incorporate service into their work?
I think most women care about what is going on in the world. They care about the problems at hand, they are concerned about the future, and they want to help ... but they feel overwhelmed by their own lives. They have a family, they have a job, they don't have time to save the world! What I really want to show women is that there is a way you can seamlessly fit making a difference into your lifestyle and you can even get paid to do it! We shouldn't have to choose between making a difference or making a living; we can do it all.
Also, it's important because it directly relates to our sense of happiness. I think many people in the Western world understand the idea of pursuing your passion to find happiness, but haven't yet realized the equally important second component of aligning that passion with a purpose. If you're only doing something for yourself, then that happiness has a tendency to fade and go up and down with circumstances. But if you're doing something to help others, that is serving the greater good, that creates a feeling of happiness that is much more sustainable and long-lasting. I want women to know about this. I want to spread the word that helping others is helping yourself, and that the sense of happiness you get from making a difference is just as important as the work you are doing.
How do you define success?
Success to me is that sense of happiness and fulfillment that comes from doing what you love and knowing it is helping others. That to me is worth more than any kind of short-term happiness or financial gain. However, I want women to know that success in a career of service can include wealth and that you don't have to sacrifice one for the other. I think social entrepreneurs are a great example of this and are really leading the way in this area. I think it's important to always lead with purpose first because that guarantees "success" in the form of happiness and fulfillment, and from there the money will follow.
What has been the most surprising part of your own career journey?
The most surprising part has been how different it is from my original career aspirations. The way things have unfolded is something I could have never imagined or planned for. So I think that's a really important aspect to remember, to "expect the unexpected." It's great to a have a plan and an objective, but make sure you always leave room for growth and what will find you along the way. The idea that we're supposed to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives at such a young age is crazy. Our interests will inevitably evolve as we age, and our careers should reflect that.
It's a really freeing feeling to know that, too -- that you don't have to come up with this perfectly formulated career plan that needs to be executed to a T: that instead you just need an idea of what you're going towards and a willingness to let the path take you where it may. Now that I can see my career as something that is free-flowing rather than a fixed objective, I am better able to "go with the flow" as life twists and turns and continues to lead me in new directions. It is by embracing the unexpected that I have come to be where I am today.
What tips can you offer other women seeking more purpose in their work?
Think about what matters to you. What are you concerned about? Where do you see a need for change in the world? Identify the issues you are drawn toward and see how they compare to your talents and skills. Look to social entrepreneurs for inspiration. Look to these interviews for inspiration. If there isn't already an existing model out there for what you want to do, create your own. Think outside the box and get creative. There's always a way to align your interests with a purpose.
If you're not ready to make a big career change, think about what you can do from where you are now. Maybe it's about aligning your work with a charity, maybe it's about targeting a more sustainable angle for your business, or maybe it's just about employing more kindness in what you do ... what matters is that you've decided to take action, and in doing so have invited more happiness into your life and more opportunities to come your way.