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Relationships Matter: The Nourish Summer Institute | Nourish International

May 1, 2014 | Posted in Alumni Spotlight, Nourish Office, Office Updates, Summer Institute | By

This is a guest post by Nourish Alumnus, John-Paul Smith

C.S. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, ¨When the most important things in our life happen we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on. It is often when one looks back that he realizes what has happened.¨

I didn’t know anything about social entrepreneurship before I attended the Nourish Summer Institute. I was a history major committed to pursuing public service in an old-fashioned way — by working with federally elected officials. I stumbled upon a post that a friend of a friend made in July on my college website inviting anyone to join her in Chapel Hill for the Institute in August. I responded with an interest in spending time in the southern part of heaven and a curiosity to learn more about an unfamiliar form of making a difference.

That doesn’t really matter to you, though. What matters to you is how Nourish might affect your life.

To start, imagine this:

Imagine being a twentysomething.  You had a transformative experience as a college student.  You found a group of friends you like, discovered a subject you love, maybe studied abroad, interned with a company, volunteered with a campaign, or conducted research with a favorite professor.  Maybe you did all of them.  Then you graduated.  The first few months were amazing, then, slowly but surely, your world seemed to turn upside down.  Your friends dispersed, your interest groups dissolved, and your life seemed to drift into foreign waters without much direction, which leads you to today.

Today you maintain your hunger to learn and lead.  Your graduation speaker delivered a commencement speech no one should ever forget and you find yourself revisiting its transcript, maybe re-watching his or her speech online.  The speaker asked you to be bold, to think different, to fight the good fight, to never give up, to put a dent in the world.  There’s nothing else you’d rather do while supporting yourself and you have little doubt that you can.  You’re just not sure how — and the commencement speaker didn’t exactly lay out a blueprint. 

Originally, you thought the world was more clocklike than it is.  You thought you could take it apart over a year or two and figure it out.   You’re beginning to realize the world operates more like a cloud: it’s constantly moving, constantly evolving, understandable in one moment, elusive in another, many things to many people, and hardly paying attention to a thing you do.   It makes you feel isolated.  Like you’re lost in a haze and, perhaps, overlooked.  Anxiety ensues.  Your parents drive you crazy asking how the job search is going – and you’re starting to drive them crazy, especially if their house is once again your home.  (Given that more than one-third of 25-29 year olds in the United States have moved back in with their parents, this is not unlikely.)

If you’re lucky and have a sense of direction, you may feel paralyzed by choice.  You’re pulled between deciding to stay near home, make a difference locally, and save some money or to venture off, spread your wings, and explore a new place with the little money you have.  You wonder if you should start a company, go to graduate school, relocate to the city nearby, to the coast across the country, to a different continent entirely, or maybe settle in with a company like Google or Goldman Sachs.  All seem like good choices.  But you wonder if any are the best choice.  After all, this is your time to take a risk, to try something new.

Each option seems like it determines the rest of your life.  Recognizing how volatile the world can be, you’re unsure which path to take or that any are as certain as they suggest.  The more ambitious you are, the harder it is to commit to any of the current options.  The less decisive you are, the more all of your dreams seem to slip away, slowly and painfully.  Whatever the case, you wonder if school actually prepared you to succeed in the real world and you wonder if the world as it is actually wants you to live a significant life.

This story may not sound familiar to you as you finish school but it will. There are 50 million twentysomethings in the United States and the best bet is that many of them feel this way right now.  What if they didn’t have to?

The famous screenwriter Robert McKee tells us that all great stories are told in conflict. They’re about characters who want something and overcome conflict to get it. This is true — especially for individuals who want to change the world. Real growth is not easy and no one avoids the discomfort of uncertainty. So there is that.

But a second and equally important point is that we emerge out of relationships. We become who we are largely in relationship to the people around us, the people they know, and the people they know. David Brooks echoes this in The Social Animal, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler in Connected, Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence, Meg Jay in The Defining Decade, Tina Rosenberg in Join the Club, Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone and Charles Murray in Coming Apart. They all tell us pretty much the same thing: relationships matter. The Great Man Theory of history stands on weak ground. The reality is every story has a backstory, and every backstory is usually filled with a room full of people.

Nourish is a room full of people that changes your life and professional trajectory  — if you allow it to.


I went into the Institute hardly knowing a person. I realize now that the choice to show up was one of the more important decisions I’ve ever made. I discovered a boss and mentor, future colleagues and friends, friend groups and roommates who are all nodes in the Nourish network and active participants in serving the public good wherever they are, however they do it.

joIt’s rare to be part of a peer group that gives itself permission to be bold and act different. That’s what you will find with Nourish —  a social safety net and social launch pad with global reach and homespun warmth. I invite you to participate in the Nourish community and encourage you to stay actively engaged as you seek to fight a good fight and overcome conflict to put a dent in the world. We’re here for you. We will struggle with you. We won’t know where it leads but we’ll do our best and keep getting better. Wherever we end up, I hope it stuns us all.

 – John-Paul Smith

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