Do Work You Love


You know those times when something amazing has the potential to happen? When you’re just on the cusp of a significant opportunity? You know it’ll change your life; you can just sense it. In order to make it happen you attempt to control the uncontrollable by hoping, praying, asking the Universe, refraining from talking about the opportunity lest it jinxes the situation, or the opposite, telling everyone who’ll listen in the hopes that it might make it come true.

You’ll do whatever it takes, if only you were lucky enough to be chosen, selected, asked, awarded, summoned. For me, I expect that this feeling all started in grade school with the dreaded team picking for king’s court (FYI: that’s the Canadian version of dodge ball). If only I was picked, I’d never let the ball touch me; I’d never let my team down (hear that Donnie Lester, I would never have let my team down!). Since my days in elementary school, this feeling seems to come up most in my professional life with the grant proposals I write, and the fellowships and the jobs I apply to.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Edison

There have been many of these moments in my life (and likely, most people’s) but the best part -the part I want to really talk about- is the part where you actually, by some stroke of luck or good behavior, do get selected. I have a short but cherished list of these accounts in my life including the time I was asked to: lead the “birder team” to study penguins in Antarctica; help to usher a new life into the world; conduct a helicopter survey of the high Arctic in search of the elusive and threatened populations of Ivory Gulls; study and work with Janine Benyus, mother of biomimicry; direct the Sustainable Design Program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, despite being a biologist, which is now my day job.

In every one of these cases the feeling of utter delight surges through me. Excitement. Smiles so big that my husband can see my molars (his indication that I am really happy). I am elated to report that I am experiencing that high as I write this. I recently learned that I was one of 30 educators accepted from around the world to attend the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance’s (NCIIA) Sustainable Vision TeachingLab that will run for 1 week this summer. I am positively glowing, not only because I will certainly learn much to expand and evolve MCAD’s Sustainable Design Program’s collaborative design curricula but also because I am going to meet and learn along side two of my long-time heroes.

“Bad design is unsustainable design and rarely, if ever, has the power to create positive long-term impact.”— Krista Donaldson, CEO D-Rev

Heroes of citizen design

Dr. Paul Polak is the co-founder of D-Rev, a non-profit dedicated to incubating technologies that will improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 a day, author of Out of Poverty, and founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), a non-profit organization that has helped to end poverty for 17 million of the world’s poorest people by making available radically affordable irrigation through local small entrepreneurs and opening private sector access to markets for their crops. Polak has dedicated a lifetime to get to know what it takes for people to lift themselves out of poverty by listening to, learning from, and innovating with the very same people. (Also, Polak and I share the humble roots of being strawberry pickers in southern Ontario where we both hail from; I can’t wait to chat with him about that.)

Dr. Amy Smith is a senior lecturer and engineer in D-Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2004, was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Prize for turning her ideas into inventions, and was recently awarded the 2011 NCIIA Olympus Innovation Award. Smith is passionate about designing inexpensive, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. As she said as her parting thoughts of her acceptance speech for the Olympus Innovation Award, “make sure that you’re doing work that you love.” Very sound advice that my dad also shared with me and a philosophy that I will always follow.

It’s an honor to have been selected to attend this workshop dedicated to teaching teachers lessons learned about building programs for the innovation of affordable design and development of business models for emerging markets.

Kids image courtesy of Flickr CC @Sukanto Debnath.