October 27, 2017

“I’m not as terrified this time” — A Lesson In Resilience

After four years of running our year-long fellowship, we made the decision this year to hit pause on the program. This is the first in a series of writings reflecting on what we’ve learned and how we hope to cycle that learning back into our programming going forward.


This summer, I shared a call with one of Ei’s Fellowship alum, Toph Carter. He was at a point of transition, having decided to leave the job he’d been at for two years. “In some ways I’m in the same position as when I came to Ei: I’ve decided to leave my full-time job…and I’m not sure where I’m going to end up next.

I asked him if anything were different this time.

“Yeah — I’m not as terrified of the unknown.”

“I’m not sure where I’m going to land, but I know from my year with Ei and all the ups and downs that happened that I’ll be alright. I’ll find something that’s a good fit. It may not be right away, but it’ll happen.”

While not being “as terrified” may not sound like an impressive outcome for a year-long program, I think there’s actually quite a bit there that’s worth unpacking.


Our year-long fellowship invites people who are at a point of transition to spend a year designing their own learning through experience.

Starting in a new field can be difficult — Ei fellows need the space to experiment, learn new skills, and gain experience to contribute to teams in a new industry but can’t develop those skills without either going back to grad school or having work experiences that help them build those skills. That’s where the year-long fellowship comes in.


When our fellows start the year, we help them clarify where they want to go and identify what they need to learn and experience to get there. We then provide support as they reach out to companies and teams they’d like to work with.

That support is vital. As they begin to talk with companies, they have to deal with rejection and disappointment, over and over again. But they’re not facing that rejection alone.

The community that fellows build over the course of the year helps them develop the resilience to continue exploring, and stay open to new opportunities.

For Toph, the first term with Ei was tough. He couldn’t find an apprenticeship and wondered if he’d made a mistake coming to Ei. Would he be able to make the jump from administration to social impact design?

Despite his doubts, he stuck with it, and we helped him connect with EPIC, a local organization that brings teams of creatives together for short, pro-bono projects for non-profits. After EPIC, he traveled to Spain to work with design and innovation firm, Soulsight. He began building a portfolio of work in the design/social impact space, and his confidence grew.

This summer, when Toph decided he needed to leave his current position and look for something else, it wasn’t because he was in a bad place — he had a job that paid what he needed and was working with a team he respected. But he knew there was more out there, and that if he stayed, he’d begin to stagnate.

He continued to look for opportunities that would challenge and stretch him. A few weeks after he and I talked a break came: he was invited to join the internal innovations team at a national professional organization. He loves his new role, and is grateful he took the risk to step out without knowing where he’d land.


Now, as we put the year-long program on pause and focus on shorter programs for college/grad students and workshops for professionals in the workplace, we’re faced with the challenge of trying to capture this learning — this training in resilience — that we’ve had the luxury of developing over the course of a whole year.

Can we achieve a similar goal with shorter programs? In other contexts?

I don’t know. But I’m excited to try!

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