"Don't take it for granted."
Those whispered words echoed through the hospital room, nearly muffling the endless beeps of monitoring equipment. My brother Drew lay paralyzed in a Johns Hopkins Hospital room in Day 94 of what would ultimately be a 183-day stay.
His body was riddled with tumors caused from a rare disorder called Neurofibromatosis (NF). Drew had been fighting the disease through what seemed like countless surgeries and I, a healthy capable older brother, was challenged to do what I could to help him.
Six months later, I folded a growing design business in Atlanta and moved to New York to work full time for the world's leading NF research organization, the Children's Tumor Foundation. A month following, I would receive an email that would change the face of NF research and fundraising as we know it.
I am a Millennial -- the generation of startups, social responsibility, and the disbelief that we should wait for anything.
As members of Generation Y strive to create something of their own or discover an innovative way to give back to the world, it is understood (and inevitable) that at some point, risk must be ignored. In January, 2010, I along with some incredible friends did just that, throwing caution to the wind and developing Cupid's Undie Run -- the world's largest organized undie run and national fundraising event for the Children's Tumor Foundation. An idea that grew from $10,000 into more than $4 million of NF funding in just four years.
For those considering similar career changes, there are three primary steps for any successful venture:
- Experience Unbridled Belief
You and your team must believe that without a doubt your ridiculous, never attempted, probably not supported, most likely scoffed at, idea is in-fact worth it. Unlike Silicon Valley startups or DC advocacy organizations, our group wasn't motivated by personal income, fame or power. Instead, the blood, sweat and investment derived from the belief that we were the deliverers of NF solutions. That our ideas and hard work could truly create impact. That "relief," "treatments" and "a cure" were not just taglines but a goal we would reach.
- Believe Passion is Contagious
People want desperately to be on the winning team, there is a reason the 'band wagon' exists in every sport. Your concept must be incredibly inclusive and invite those who share in this passion. This passion is built not through 'look at me' but rather 'look at us'. This happened with Cupid's, when my good friend Brendan Hanrahan sent an email, which contained a single attachment, a hastily crafted flyer for the "Cupid's Undie Shuffle." The premise: a running group would register to run in underwear around the US capital in an effort to raise money for NF research. It required a simple response, "let's do this." Over the next six weeks, roommate Bobby Gill, future Cupid's board member Tamara Forys, Brendan and myself would craft an event that pushed our logistical, legal, and creative skills to the limit. What would result four years later is an event that has raised more than $4 million for NF research and takes place in 30 cities around the world, or "beyond what any of us could have ever imagined ... ever."
- Have Enough Control to Let Go
The modern concept of crowdsourcing is often aligned with marketing concepts. However, you and your team cannot be in 100 places at once. If you are seeking true growth, you must formulate a core lens and framework in which decisions are made. Then ready yourself to distribute this concept and framework to others to follow your lead. Doing it yourself is easy, you know what you want, but there is sadly only one ... you. You are not the only one with ideas, time, passion and capability. It is up to you to fan others' flames as they want nothing more to help and it is now your job to facilitate and guide their effort.
Neurofibromatosis is a horrific progressive genetic disorder that affects the nervous system in one out of 3,000 children and causes typically benign tumors to grow inside the body. When my brother Drew was 15, he was diagnosed with NF, and by the time he was a senior in high school, the pain was so insufferable that he could no longer walk. He has undergone separate spinal surgeries to remove tumors and in 2009 ultimately became quadriplegic from NF complications.
It is easy to consider that "not everyone has a Drew to inspire them to take a plunge this great." If you agree to this, you can stop reading now and go back to step one. Both regrettably and gracefully there are millions of Drews in this world. There is a friend, neighbor, story and family member that is in need of your help. It is up to you to take the risk and make a difference.