By Mellicia Marx, Founder of Poplin Style Direction and Friend of Simple Intentions
Author Mellicia Marx pictured top left at the 2017 YouthCare Luncheon
Early in my career, I was drawn to public service and the nonprofit world. Why? It seemed obvious. Careers in these sectors were the best and perhaps, realistically, the only way to give back and make a difference in any significant or productive way. After all, making the world a better place is central to the job description. Later, I thought, corporate America could also offer the same opportunity, but only if you were able to land one of a company’s few corporate social responsibility roles.
Eventually, of course, I discovered that none of this was true. It turns out you can live your values no matter your industry; that you can have a meaningful impact on the people around you by nurturing your own strengths and sharing them with others. It can even benefit you in your career. And you don’t need to uproot your life to do this — really.
Now I’ve left non-profits and public service. I run my own small business as a personal stylist — I help women communicate who they truly are, using personal style as a lens. And it is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. By providing clear guidelines to help a woman know what flatters her frame, and guidance about how to convey what makes her uniquely her, I plant a seed that helps her flourish in all aspects of her life. Especially gratifying is to work with a client a year or two after we first met, and to see how her life has been influenced by our work together. Peoples’ lives are being improved, or even transformed, by this work. And I can see it at close range, in a way I never could earlier in my career.
And yet, there’s more. In addition to my work with clients, I devote a great deal of my energy into my volunteer work with YouthCare, a Seattle-based nonprofit devoted to empower homeless youth ages 11–24 in my community. It’s a rewarding and rejuvenating part of my everyday life — and it presents yet another opportunity to channel my personal values into something meaningful and productive.
We all have the ability to seamlessly integrate our values into our work and life, with less effort than perhaps is common belief. And as I have learned first-hand, this not only makes a positive impact on your community but can propel your career or enhance your business in unexpected ways.
Leverage Your Expertise
What do you have to offer to your community? For starters, you are almost certainly an expert in something — most likely the thing that helps you put food on the table. What value do you create with your work? How could the community benefit from it? In my case, as a personal stylist I can help people with a problem we all experience, regardless of lifestyle, income, or even housing status — what am I going to wear today?
By partnering with YouthCare, I’ve made my expertise available to a segment of the population who, it turns out, can really benefit from it. Working together, we’ve created a styling session program for youth in YouthCare’s Barista Training Program. We teach them what clothing is appropriate for job interviews and the workplace, then help them “shop” from a boutique of quality clothes donated by the community — and my client base. It’s a successful, thriving community program that is really just an extension of the work I do every day with my clients.
Think about your own work. Do you have skills you take for granted, but that just might be incredibly advantageous to someone in need?
Identify Your Resources
Let’s face it: we live in a hectic world where time is at a premium. Maybe, given the pressures of your career and the time it takes up, volunteering is a separate, subordinate dream that you might eventually realize — in retirement. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, you can actively benefit your career by way of volunteering.
In my case, I’ve found that by threading together my volunteering and my business, I have tangibly enhanced my clients’ customer experience. I offer each client the opportunity to donate her extraneous clothes after we have gone through the step of editing her closet. I take those pieces to YouthCare for our styling session program, and the organization sends tax information back to the client. It doesn’t stop there. I also invite clients to attend graduation ceremonies for the youth finishing up the Barista Training Program. There’s no obligation, just the chance to see the impact of their donated clothes on the lives of young people in our community. And I host tables at YouthCare’s annual luncheon (pictured above) and invite clients to attend — I regularly have over twenty attendees. Every once in a while, I share stories about youth on my blog and Instagram and tag clients who donate with a public thank you.
This approach is in line with my values, and is good for business in so many ways. Not long ago, I started working with a new client transitioning to female after she read my blog posts about working with transgender youth. I also have clients who reach out after our initial styling sessions because they have more clothes to donate; this allows me to stay connected with clients in the long term without needing to “sell” them something. And client surveys show that learning about my work in the community contributes to their choosing to work with my company.
Living my values not only enhanced my sense of fulfillment but helped build my business and brand – this can be true for anyone, regardless of job title.
Select Your Cause
Youth homelessness is particularly upsetting to me. These are just kids. They’re kids who didn’t have someone to help them buy their first car, or encourage them to take the SATs, or even help them choose their first bra or tie their first tie. They live a challenging and often dangerous life. But I’ve found that one afternoon of warmth and attention from our team can really shift the path for some of these kids. They know that someone, who is not paid to care, really does care. They know that there is no question too embarrassing to ask, and they know that when they leave they will not “look homeless” — something so many of them fear on a daily basis.
For you it might be the environment, or animal welfare, or social justice that fuels your passion. Think about causes that mean something to you. They might even be naturally aligned with the expertise you have to offer. Then do some research, find the organizations that are doing the best work in that field, and ask how you can help.
Yes, some jobs offer more flexibility than others to choose how one spends their time and resources. But it doesn’t take much. Every time you write a letter, make a call, or spend an hour with someone in need, you are positively contributing to your community — and maybe even your career.