Creating Value in Needed Spaces

This spring, I will be working side by side with MK Stallings Founder of the non-profit organization, UrbArts. I met MK during my sophomore year at an open mic he used to lead in St. Louis. During the time, I was in the process of starting my own poetry organization, Untamed Tongues, and mustered up the courage to ask him if he had any advice. Three years later, after volunteering during winter and summer breaks, reposting flyers (because the little things count too), writing articles about the organization during internships with media companies in the city, and collaborating with Untamed Tongues, my university and UrbArts in bringing their poetry slam team to campus to perform, I was offered an opportunity to join the organization as an employee during my final semester in college as the UrbArts Fellow.

Through the newly created position, I get to design how to use my skills in filling the organization’s needs. During my undergraduate program, I have been able to teach myself photography and gain experience in communications through various internships and work experiences that I am incredibly grateful for. Being able to use these skills to help a non-profit in my city that is dear to me and doing some really great work in youth poetry programming allows me to also fulfill some of my own personal needs (and get paid for it!).

This article is about using what you have, using what you know, and being willing to think ahead and gain skills and experiences that will allow you to make your mark in a company or organization. Knowing how to utilize your skills, relationship building, and doing work that matters to you could even open doors for you to create your own dream job description.

  1. Ask yourself, “What does this company need? What can I do to help fulfill it? What skills do I have already that I can build on?”
    1. When I first sought out to speak with MK, although I was looking for advice, I also made sure to let him know that if he ever needed something, to let me know. It’s important to always bring something to the table. You don’t just go up to a company and ask for a job without meeting the requirements. It’s the same way with relationships, education, and buying items. You have to come with something worth value. You don’t have to be a genius, but if you have a genuine interest and the will to learn, hey, that’s something. Keep going.
  2. Nurture those relationships.
    1. Maintaining relationships is one of the largest lessons I have learned. I have always had really great relationships with my professors, but my relationships with those in the community and administrators that I did not have as much day-to-day contact with were necessary for being granted certain opportunities I have had. Just be genuine. Sending a note every few months is sometimes enough. Letting people know about what you’re working on and always being interested in what other people have going on is what keeps relationships tight. Have something you can collaborate on together? Maybe a project or a community event? Even better. Always come with a suggestive tone though. You never want to make people feel like they are giving more to you than you are able to give to them. Don’t be a user. Be a giver. People will return the favor at some point (and sometimes it’s when you need it the most).
  3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
    1. I know this is typical but it’s true. Since being in this new fellowship position, there are plenty times I don’t know how to approach something and I need it to be explained in a different way. Being the Founder of a new organization, I made plenty of mistakes but you move on and you learn from them. When you are in the realm of “creating value” you are often doing new things, drafting new policies, blazing new trails, designing your own new job so there is plenty of room to make mistakes. There will be times when you feel confused, like your failing, and times when you think you’re a genius for starting something from scratch and it actually working. Embrace it all!
  4. Challenge yourself. Do it again. And again. And Again.
    1. Being in a spoken word organization, perhaps you think it doesn’t bother me to speak in large public settings and that of course “I’m used to this.” And it’s true that “I’m used to this” but that doesn’t make public speaking any less of a challenge. I am naturally a shy and quiet person, but I challenge myself every day with every performance to overcome my nerves and sometimes you can still tell I’m nervous! But I do it. I challenge myself to aim high for graduate school. I challenge myself to overcome my insecurities about not having a perfect this or a high enough that or not knowing anything at all about this over here. I challenge you to think of one thing you want to learn this year. I mean, let’s really challenge each other here. This is no new years resolution I’m talking about. Maybe you want to learn Java Programming (CodeAcademy is awesome), or maybe you want to take a French class and get an ‘A’ in it. Maybe you want a job promotion, so you’re considering going back to school to learn more about a topic that your company needs, you could find that your company is willing to pay for it (free education!) and that after you complete it, you will get a raise. That’s what I mean by creating value. Whatever it is, make it a challenge. Do something out of the box. And if you fail, you haven’t lost anything, you at least know one way not to do it and that’s a success in its own way.

So we’re all about creating value in needed spaces. What does it require? Asking yourself seriously about what you have to offer and what organizations and spaces you care about need to improve. Finding, building, and maintaining relationships with others because having a network of people is powerful. You are building a support system and who doesn’t want their very own cheer squad? Being fearless and not backing down from mistakes. We all make them. The best people have made a ton of them. Learning from mistakes is what matters most. Challenging yourself to do something different Be better than you were yesterday, that’s the goal. Work hard. It pays off.