First of all, I don’t. But it was obvious from the look in his eyes he thought I was crazy anyway.

I don’t know. Maybe I was wrong for venting, in Spanglish, to the busboy at Ruby Tuesday. It was six months after I graduated with honors from the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. I had learned a ton and my life made little sense to me. I guess growing up has nothing to do with the Dean’s List.

What now? Tougher questions: who am I, who do I want to be?

And how do I get there? It turns out these questions are much harder to solve than any policy issue or college exam.

Sometimes I drive alone in order to make sense of things. I got on 66 and drove west, away from home, away from the capital of the free world, away from a place where, ironically, I felt enslaved. But introspection makes me hungry, and I figured if there were no life answers at the Ruby Tuesday across the street from where I was pensively pumping gas, the salad bar would more than make up for it.

As I pulled into the parking lot, Perpetual Hype was just an idea I had. And by the time my half rack of ribs got to the table it remained an idea I intended to keep locked in my skull. It would only get in the way on the climb to be a 401King, if you will. Still, much less facetiously and perhaps operating on the high of being the first in my family to graduate from college, I felt myself overwhelmed by an eagerness to “change the world.” Perhaps due to the fact that I remain naive enough to believe it possible. But also because I’ve yet to buy a diamond from Kay, or make babies, which would limit my ability to willingly walk away from a great gig and full benefits all because of this idea I had at Ruby Tuesday. Ya know?

But I knew I couldn’t be the man I wanted to be from my corner office. Besides, I wanted to try and change the world. I was ready for the weight of the world to try and crush my dreams; I dreamt of bench pressing the weight away at the last second. But young dreamers don’t get paid – at least not enough to help momma make rent. At some point I asked the busboy what he thought about it all. After hearing my soliloquy, Pablo said nothing and quickly turned around to pick up the half eaten steak and empty wine glass on table seven.

Sh*t, I’m that guy, I thought.

About 45 seconds later, as I prepared to swiftly exit, he ran out of the back and said:

“Mr. Brian, sigue tus sueños. If you make bad decision you are very young. Follow behind your dreams for me, and for my son, who I hope he dreams as big as you. Sobre todo, el mundo nesecita sonadores que hacen.”

Wow.

I mean, WTF is a fortune cookie? There’s more wisdom to be found in Pablo’s broken english than in any vanilla crisp cookie I’ve ever broken. And the smell of soy sauce wasn’t even a pre-requisite to the insight. The words he spoke in english crushed my anxiety. The ones with latin roots gave me every reason to dream bigger, and in a different language. But Pablo left as quickly as he came, summoned yet again to the salad bar – to what seemed a destiny he had humbly accepted long ago. I left a 100% tip and gave him a nod as I sprinted out the door. I set the cruise control at 71MPH as hundreds of headlights mixed with thousands of thoughts. I neared my exit and it hit me: I need to get on LegalZoom the second I get home.

I did.

I’m not sure why Pablo had that effect on me. It’s funny. I knew if I didn’t start Perpetual Hype that night I never would. I knew I’d wake up in the morning with another excuse to shove my dreams in the far corner of my corner office. I’d start with small businesses I believe in, I told myself, and save enough money to quit my job. Yet I’d still dream of workin’ for free, if it meant I could change the world.

“Most of my early conversations with CEO’s revolved around their inability to see digital marketing for what it is: storytelling. I’d say the same thing to all, dentist, restaurant owner, lawyer, whatever: okay, tell me your story and how your’e changing the world. Invariably, the answer was some hack job version of the mission statement on their website.”

I didn’t let that slide, of course. And I think many a men twice my age respect me for politely telling them to put some thought into their bullshit. The women were always more thoughtful.

After a few weeks I came to realize that if I was going to be in the business of telling grown men and women how to run their business, I should probably answer my own silly questions. To be frank, I didn’t fare much better than the CEO’s I was so often, yet perhaps unjustly, disappointed in.

After a while I came up with something. It was November and my skills had increased ten fold in the five months since I first cleared out the Digital Marketing section at Barnes and Noble. By the way, the Digital Marketing section makes up half the Business section, at least in June of 2016. My clients were seeing real results. The confidence I had in my work was sky high. I was ready to work for free.

No. I was ready to help change the world.

I began researching non-profits in the DC area, particularly those focusing on reaching out to at-risk youth (a group to which I once to belonged). I decided to email about a dozen non profits, offering pro-bono digital content/marketing services. It worked. Perpetual Hype partnered up with a handful of them and I finally got to see the world change. I saw volunteers lift little people out of desolation one by one, often armed with nothing but passion and a side of belief. Their work is silent, selfless, and pure. But most non-profits are in desperate need of help developing, evaluating, and marketing their own content. Sadly, there aren’t many digital marketing agencies that offer services at a price a non-profit could feasibly afford. Attention, however, is the cornerstone of any organization if growth is the goal. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. If you’re not being noticed, you’re being forgotten. This is equally true for both for profit and not for profit organizations. Personally, I don’t intend to let selfless organizations wither away in the digital age – not if I can help it.

So Perpetual Hype’s story is simple: we help non-profits and amazing businesses change the world with digital marketing. But we never work for free. We always work for change.

Playing amateur Robin Hood with my LLC wasn’t enough though. I was intoxicated by the notion that I no longer had to stare at a broken world behind bars of my own making. I heard about Americorps VISTA and I saw it as a chance to see a broken world and actually do something about it. Two weeks ago I quit my job, took a huge pay cut, and accepted the position of Alumni and Communications Fellow at La’s BEST. I’ll be making 15k a year; I’ve never been happier.

So who am I? By day: I’m an Americorps VISTA member helping to create little dreamers in Los Angeles, California. By night: a content development guru masquerading as a customer service engineer. Who are you?

What dreams have you shoved to the side? Could they change the world?

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One thought on “Why I Work For Free

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