April 28, 2016

Staff Picks: You Got This!: Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path, and Change Your World

By: Blyth Meier @ 10:30 AM – Filed under: Innovation & Creativity, Narrative & Biography

You got this 9781501123719 hr

In 1992, Gloria Steinem, Marie Wilson, and the Ms. Foundation for Women launched the first annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Across the country, 8-to-18-year old girls joined their moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends in offices, construction sites, hospitals, state capitol buildings, and more to “dream without gender limitations and to think imaginatively about their family, work and community lives.” The 23 years that followed have seen the event widen its embrace to include boys, and more than 3.5 million American workplaces open their doors to over 39 million employees and their children. The girls who were taken to work in those early years are now parents raising fierce daughters of their own. With that in mind we celebrate today’s Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day with Maya S. Penn’s You Got This: Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path, and Change Your World.

Penn is the CEO of Maya’s Ideas, which creates and sells eco-friendly fashions and accessories, and channels 20% of their profits to philanthropic efforts, including her non-profit Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet, which produces and distributes eco-friendly sanitary pads for girls in developing countries. Best known for her TEDWomen Talk on entrepreneurship that has been viewed over 1.3 million times, she is also an animator, coder, and girls’ rights advocate. She has appeared on The View, been featured in Forbes, and counts Alex Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit, as a mentor (or “friend-tor” as she calls him). Maya Penn is 16 years old. Speaking as a former teenage girl, I bow down to her remarkable achievement.

The multi-hyphenate home-schooled Atlanta resident now turns her energies to the business book genre, with the same passion and success as her other endeavors. The book is split into three sections. Part One is dedicated to “Unleashing Your Awesomeness,” i.e. zeroing in on your specific passions in life. Tied together with stories from her own entrepreneurial journey, side bars throughout the chapters step you through making your own Dream Board to identify your “Big Idea” (“What you’ll need: Magazines, postcards...scissors; glue or tape; and an open mind.”), what to do if nothing is jumping out to you (“Unplug. Eliminate the negative. Be bored.”), and how to create your own personalized idea book to capture every last one of your creative inspirations.

Penn reminds us here that we must heed those small voices inside us, and that “play” is not a four-letter word in the business world:

Your creativity is a gift. So don’t ignore your creative impulses, even if they seem silly or childish. Pay attention to your play. Take your fun seriously. Who knows? You could be doing something ‘just for fun’ that could mark the beginning of a career path.

And to do that, you need to figure out how you operate in the world. Do you have more ideas than you can realistically execute? Then you, like Penn, are a “Flip-Flopper” (ignore your inner pundit telling you that’s a bad thing). Perhaps you have the opposite tendency; you know more about what you
don’t like than what you do. Yes? You’re a “Blank-Drawer,” and you need to stop getting in your own way. And then there are those of us that focus so hard on the day-to-day that we never look up to see the forest for the trees. We know there’s something out there for us, we just haven’t taken the time to figure it out yet. She dubs you: the “Under-Thinker.”

Now that you understand your passion and your personality, Part Two teaches you how to “Find Your Path.” Here, Penn details many of the concrete steps she took to get to where she is today. The chapter on networking (or “Growing your circle of friends”) includes some very sage advice about the ebb and flow of friendships over time; a good reminder even for those of us twice or three times her age. The author especially shines in the chapter on the importance and process of finding a mentor, which can be quite daunting to anyone:

After all, mentors aren’t mystical, magical, all-knowing beings, they’re really just people with firsthand experience in the field that you’re interested working in. …  With enough time and a deep enough connection, mentors can very easily (and very often) morph into friends, or what I like to call friend-tors.

And finally, in Part Three: “Change Your World,” Penn pushes you to think beyond your normal circles and make a greater impact on the world. The bulk of this chapter is dedicated to interviews with “Youth Who Are Changing The World,” and the author shares her stage with other kidpreneurs out there doing amazing things. Read about Mary Pat Hector, 17, who founded Youth in Action to tackle bullying, gun violence, and drugs, and went on to work with Usher’s New Look organization. Learn about 17-year-old Mario Ridgley Jr., who, in the sixth grade, established his school’s first recycling program, and is now an environmental activist and radio talk show host. Don’t stop reading until the end, where you’ll find Taylor Moxey, who uses her successful bakery to fund her philanthropic efforts in Haiti.
She is nine years old.

To celebrate Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, I encourage you to share this book with the girls and boys in your life however you can. Give them a copy to curl up with on the couch. Download the audio book (narrated by Penn herself!), and listen to it as you are shuttling them to and from school and soccer practice. Text them a photo for their Dream Board. Tell them what it’s like to be in the professional world, and not just in broad strokes. Like Penn, dig into the details. Tell them about your failures, tell them about the small decisions you struggle with at work every day, how they turned out, and how you’d do things differently the next time.

Maya Penn’s book, at its core, is a young adult business primer that has lessons for entrepreneurs of all ages. Yes, even us adults. While the examples and tone (and graphics :) are decidedly teen-friendly, they aren’t distancing, because aren’t we all child-like when starting a new adventure? Isn’t it helpful for someone to break down the daunting task of starting a new business into small, fun size candy bar pieces that we won’t choke on? Don’t we all need someone to tell us it will all be alright? Just like we are telling the young boys and girls in offices all across America today, Penn reassures her readers; “You got this.” And we believe her.


About Blyth Meier

Blyth Meier joined us to lead our marketing department in 2015 after doing that work for the Milwaukee Film Festival for the previous five years. While she made good use her filmmaking degree at that job, here she returns to her first love—books. As an undergraduate English major at the University of North Dakota, Blyth’s favorite time of year was the annual Writers Conference, which brought many of her soon-to-be favorite authors to the remote Northern Prairie: Peter Matthiessen, August Wilson, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Natasha Trethewey, and Terry Tempest Williams. Blyth lives in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee, where she gardens, cooks, takes photographs, makes films, and participates in a yearly 24-hour bike race. At 800-CEO-READ, she runs our social media accounts, writes for In the Books, and is the keeper of all our marketing spreadsheets.