Last week, I won the Greater Philadelphia Social Innovation Award as the youngest finalist, a 22-year-old. I stood onstage next to all these amazing, established people who I personally admire for all the great work they do to make the world better every day. Being up against people who were so revered including a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee made me believe my chances of winning were pretty slim. So, when my name was somehow announced as the first place winner, I was smiling for many reasons. Initially, it was to hide my shock from the results and the fact that the audience was clapping for me — someone who I considered the least qualified person in the room. But then, as I stepped up to receive the award, I was smiling because realized that I was happy, but not because of the results.
I was smiling because of the high schooler I invited who stood at the side of the stage.
Rewinding to one week before this all happened, it was a brisk Wednesday morning. I stayed up until 4am the night before to work and ended up oversleeping my 8:30am alarm for my 9am meeting with a high school student who reached out for mentorship. Yikes. It was 8:50am and I was just reaching my arm out from under my covers to grab my phone and let the girl I was meeting know that I was going to be about 10 minutes late. Yikes, but admittedly, it could definitely be worse.
As I shuffled through the rain and ran into the building to meet her, she sat at the table that our staff usually works from, alone and patiently waiting for me.
“Hi! Are you Tiara?” I asked in a high pitched, nervous voice.
“Hi, yes! Tiffany, right? Thanks so much for meeting with me!”
I took her into one of the private rooms to talk one-on-one with her. As we both were finding ways introduced ourselves, I found myself very intrigued and asking some deeper questions.
“What’s your dream? Or maybe, what are you interested in?” I asked curiously.
“I don’t know, I want to start something though. I think I’m maybe interested in beauty? I like doing hair and making it look nice.” As she said this, I apologetically ran my fingers through my semi-tangled hair realizing that I just rolled out of bed less than 30 minutes ago without combing it. Yikes, what an impression.
“What can I do to help?
“Honestly I’m just so grateful that you’re here to meet with me. You’re the first and only person who’s said yes.”
At that moment, I was shocked. How could someone refuse this sweet, hardworking girl? I then reflected back to everything that I’ve been through for the past 7 months; I then realized that the journey at first was actually really challenging because I also had little to no direction.
As I gave Tiara a lot of advice on best ways to reach out to people and how to ask for help as a young person, I decided that I wanted to help her more in some way and ended up inviting her to the awards night and finding a way to compensate her ticket. When Tiara told me I was the only person, I realized the one single-most important lesson I’ve learned through the past 7 months of starting and scaling Fulphil: be kind.
Simple, right? It’s the first lesson you learn on day 1 in school as a kid — be nice to each other, respect your desk buddy, etc. You’d be surprised.
What does it even mean to be kind? It’s not just about smiling and being friendly at face value, but it’s really about being genuine and mindful. This can take place in so many ways.
Oftentimes, we associate networking with vertical networking — connecting with individuals who we consider higher up in the ladder we’re trying to climb. More often than not, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how you should even approach them and why they’d even want to talk to you, which is realistic and totally valid; the chances of them being able to help you is much higher than you being able to help them. They’re a bit aware of that as well. So what now?
Always offer to help whether or not you’re in a position to do so. This could really go a long way. It really demonstrates that you not only have genuine intentions but also personally believe in them and what they’re doing. This could be volunteering for something they’re involved in or putting in a few hours with helping them with something that only you can do with the connections and insights you have as someone with your background. This means a lot at the end of the day. Whether or not they actually reach out for help doesn’t really matter; what matters is that they know you’re well-intentioned, you’re a kind person, and that itself increases the likelihood of them helping you once you do some more navigating and better establish yourself.
Personally, as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to be so familiar with rejection and failures. Sometimes this takes the form of not receiving a grant I worked hard to apply for, getting a decline from a customer I worked so hard to get in touch with, receiving comments that I should stop and work for someone else. Receiving ‘no’ is almost a habit. What I’ve learned from this is, you can learn to either get discouraged or use it as a strength and learn to develop an appreciation for those failures and be resilient. This can even start with taking the time to ask for genuine feedback. That is really the most effective way to improve. Learning your mistakes and doing things differently for the next time around saves you another trip and fall for the same reason. While being taking the effort to be receptive, it’s always important to really view failures as learning lessons. With the law of averages, with every ‘no,’ you’re just a step closer to that ‘yes’ you’ve been fighting for.
Ultimately, be mindful of your successes and failures but also realize what it took to get there from hours of hard work and all those who have helped you along the way, including those who gave you those ‘no’s.’
Sometimes you never know how far just these two simple words could take you. At the end of 2018, I drafted out 200+ custom ‘thank you’ emails. I sent one to as many people from friends to mentors I could think of who have made a big contribution to my growth in the startup world through their support and guidance. Really, be mindful. Don’t forget to say just a simple ‘thank you’ to those above and below you. You wouldn’t be where you are without the people who have helped you climb up the hierarchy by pulling you up. But also, be grateful for the people supporting alongside who have offered a helping hand to a lift you up to be where you are today. Being thankful and giving thanks to others is really one of the best things you can do to build a positive attitude but also a supportive environment.
Receiving the award was probably one of the most humbling moments for me this past year. For the past several months, I’ve worked tirelessly day and night to ensure that Fulphil would be able to make its impact for hundreds of college students. Through the process, we’ve impacted up to 1000 young people, but to get to here, we’ve received countless ‘no’s.’ The real award was having Tiara there at the event and what her being there stood for. Regardless of the results, at that moment, I knew that the hours of hard work amounted to making a real impact to inspire other young people like Tiara to not only make a difference but more importantly, to inspire others around them to do the same.