Why “The Grind” Is Good For You
January 5, 2018
How did you decide to focus The Grind on career and life planning advice for Generation Z?
I’ve been out of the classroom for a while, but I am still working on educational equity as a consultant here in Seattle. More and more, I’ve been writing studies on the skills gap and why we have too few students taking advantage of the awesome jobs at Amazon and other big employers in Washington. All of that writing was very conceptual. I hadn’t talked to a student about it at all, and I wanted to change that. I’m friends with the executive director of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship program, and so I offered to do some professional development for her students. I met some really amazing people. In the course of our conversations about work and life, we started wondering if there was a way we could help more people. Could the conversations we were having serve a broader purpose? I floated the idea of a podcast—and those students, Amina, Youcef, Ignacio, and Tuyen, star in the first season.
What struck me about the episodes is that they stoke community-feeling or identification with Amina, Youcef, Ignacio, and Tuyen. There aren’t really directions on how to get a job or pass the MCAT.
I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want this to be another career advice podcast. I definitely didn’t want it to be advice from a grown adult to naïve young students because (a) there are plenty of shows like that…and personally I don’t find them interesting and (b) I don’t have all (or any) of the answers. I remember being super stressed out in college. It wasn’t something you really wanted to talk to your friends about. Part of what we’re doing is following some really brave students as they lay themselves bare. We have some very real conversations about failure, depression, adversity, and struggle. The students who’ve listened say they can relate.
Spoiler-alert, in Episode 5 you are speaking with Amina, a Muslim woman who went from being held out of school by her family to pursuing medical school. You two agree that there’s “more to life than happiness.” Can you explain?
It stems from the earlier interview we did with Emily Esfahani Smith who wrote a book called The Power of Meaning. She calls herself a happiness skeptic. The idea is that there is a narrative that the goal in your life should be happiness. What that has led to is people trying to maximize short-term happiness, like I’m going to go to a nice restaurant, drink on the weekends with my friends, and make sure I take care of myself. None of that is bad inherently, but what you find is that purpose and serving others is what really gives your life meaning. Work can be a source of meaning, but it might not always make you happy. Take teaching. Was I happy every day I was teaching? No probably not, it was a tough job. But when I look back, I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. Or consider Amina, in Episode 5 she is coming to grips with what it will mean to be a doctor as a Somali woman. It feels like her higher calling, like it’s almost choosing her. What she’s struggling with is that it is going to be a hard life for her, especially as someone who gets stressed out at standardized tests and finds them all-consuming.
How does the podcast tie back to your experience teaching in a low-income school in New York City?
The students in my class are all sophomores in college now. Part of me was thinking about them and the similar cohort of students in Washington. As I got deeper in the business world, I saw how the hiring process plays out. It was more and more apparent that for the students, this process was going to be another hurdle to jump over. Even if they did everything right, went to college, majored in the right thing, they could be locked out because of things completely out of their control. At some level, that pushed me to try to do something about it, to try to level playing field, to flip the script.
What advice do you have for other TFA corps members or alumni who want to start a podcast?
Make it about something bigger than yourself. I saw a gap. There are not many young people whose voices are being heard. Lots of people are talking about them, but they are not talking to them. Find a way to raise a voice that isn’t being heard.
We posted listening guides on the website so teachers could go through the episodes with their students. I’d love it if the show can connect with high school students. It might seem young but you make decisions at 15-16 years old that can open or close doors for you so it’s not too early to start.