How talking to passionate people propels you forward

During fall of last year, I was warming up for a career pivot. I split my time between writing for online magazines about business and entrepreneurship (including Ideas by We) and consulting on marketing strategy for startups. I’ve always loved startups—that process of identifying a challenge and providing a solution that creates delight or helps people.

There was a challenge that I wanted to solve. I have OCD, and finding resources when I was diagnosed four years ago was a huge challenge. There is a dire shortage of professionals who specialize in OCD treatment. Also, the most commonly prescribed books on OCD make learning about an ominous disease even darker. Today, I’m recovered, but getting to this place involved a lot of false starts.

I knew I wanted to launch a website to share resources with other people who have OCD or who think they may have OCD. But I wasn’t sure what form this project would take. Would it be a passion project? Or could I create my own job helping others with OCD?

I needed guidance, and the stars aligned. When I interviewed WeWork members for Creator articles, I got to ask them questions about how they came to do what they love, and how they leveraged that passion to face down any fears or hurdles that cropped up along the way.

Looking back, several of the WeWork members I interviewed guided me to my path:

1. I interviewed Matt and Phil Letten, WeWork Custom House members and co-founders of Vegan Bros. They put a youthful spin on talking about veganism. I admired how they were able to build a robust community around a cause (eating vegan) that needs high-energy people making it mainstream and more accessible.

2. I interviewed WeWork West Broadway member and life coach Hana Ayoub for my story, “Say No to Anything That Isn’t a ‘Hell Yes!’” She told me “‘Hell yes!’ has merit… as a benchmark to consider as you look at your day.” Ayoub got me thinking: would it be possible to design my own day, full of hell yeses? If so, I’d want to have solid chunks of time each day to work on my OCD project.

3. Talking with WeWork South Bank member and Hip Africa founder Ruby Audi was the turning point. She said that while there was something “magnanimous” about running a website that existed solely to educate and share resources, her long-term plan was to build a scalable business to help people plan incredible trips to Africa.vFirst, I looked up the definition of “magnanimous.” Light bulb moment. I wanted to build a platform that I could grow with.

4. I profiled WeWork South Bank member Taru Merikoski, who became a nutrition coach after struggling with digestive issues herself. On the phone, Merikoski communicated the satisfaction of taking a problem that once seriously imposed on one’s happiness, finding a solution, and sharing the solution with others. Merikoski got me into a launch mindset. It was time to do this: I would raise awareness about OCD by speaking at colleges, work one-on-one with adults who have OCD, and, of course, blog. I bought a domain name: It was on.

5. I profiled WeWork Park South member and hypnotherapist Alexandra Janelli. She has a thriving, growing practice in a very specialized niche. For all intents and purposes, she’s a startup founder. Janelli helped me see that I can treat my new venture like a startup. I have a startup! I want to reach everyone I can who thinks they may have OCD and help them find their way out of darkness. I want to reach them soon.

Whether you have OCD or you fall at some point on the OCD spectrum (which is the case for many entrepreneurs), everyone can benefit from the same tools that people with OCD use to get better. We all can learn to observe our thoughts, to start realizing that not everything we think is true, and practice using the manual transmission in our brains that empowers us to choose what to focus on. We all can practice making decisions and taking life’s best risks, even when we feel uncertain.

The above is my abbreviated playbook for OCD recovery. It’s so applicable to entrepreneurs: when you turn down the volume on worry and negative self-talk, you can take action despite feeling fear. Eventually, the collection of all your mastery experiences will crowd out the fear talking. Or at least make the fear seem so much less relevant.

Photo: Lauren Kallen

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