Over the last 10 years I have focused my time and effort on the creation and building of WIT – Whatever It Takes. You can read more about the work we do, but in a nutshell, we help t(w)eens activate their entrepreneurial mindset and become entrepreneurs. The idea for this non-profit came to me back in 2008 after being laid off for the fourth time. It was a tough time for the economy and an even tougher time if you were a recently hired teacher in California. Last one hired, was the first one fired. Not a business model I’d recommend, but that’s a topic for another post.
WIT became “official” in 2009 and on May 21, 2020 we were supposed to be kicking off a 3 city “Decade of WIT” celebration. Like what happened to many of you reading this, plans changed and events got cancelled. We were able to postpone the Decade of WIT celebration, but what we couldn’t postpone was finding the solution to how we were going to “do WIT” during COVID-19.
If you’re reading this you’re most likely someone who knows the value and importance of the entrepreneurial mindset. A mindset that sees solutions where many see problems. A mindset that I’ve been fortunate to have since before I knew what to call it. Don’t get me wrong, I still wallow and feel overwhelmed, but the turnaround time is much faster. And on March 1, the turnaround time was more warp speed than usual. I was just re-entering the “real world” after attending a retreat that required me to completely unplugged. This was the first time I had “unplugged” in 10 years. No access to the outside world, so when I came out to COVID-19 news I felt the shock, a tide wave of questions crashing onto my brain, and then that quiet steady voice that reminded me, “we’ve been here before.”
WIT was launched during a recession and in March I saw similar signs and the tides changing quickly. We run in-person programs. Google had already emailed us and told us they were shuttering and we couldn’t host classes anymore. Every minute new information was coming in and just when we thought it was sorted, another pivot was required.
In the beginning, I watched a lot of news and then one day I turned it off. The news wasn’t going to provide me with the guidance I needed to steer this WIT ship. Instead, I went to our customers. I scheduled 1:1 calls with all our t(w)eens and with any parent that would take my call. I didn’t want to have to guess what they needed. I wanted to hear how they were feeling, understand what their days looked like now, and find out how WIT could help. In 2 weeks we had new, more condensed, program options available. We also reassured all participants that we would support them in finishing strong. We had learned that so many parents were worrying about how the regular school year was going to finish, they didn’t want to worry about WIT, too.
We can learn so much when we listen. During my calls with teens something that kept coming up was, “I’m so worried about summer plans getting cancelled” or “Summer camp is my favorite time of year and I’m worried it won’t happen.”
Camp. Camp. Camp.
It kept coming up.
I started asking, “what do you love about camp?” “what would you miss the most?”
Trying new things. Being with friends I don’t usually see. Getting a break from school.
These conversation led to the creation of Camp WIT.
Over and over the lessons continue to be …
- When you don’t know what to do … listen. I could have spent time creating new programs or brainstorming solutions, but time was better spent listening to those we serve and finding out how we could bring value to them…and what they would pay for.
- Ask for help What we’ve created with Camp WIT would not be possible without all the people who have generously offered to donate their time and expertise. It also wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t asked! I’ve been “Asking” for 10 years and sometimes I still feel anxious, worried, and insecure. I do it anyway.
- We aren’t meant to go it alone. Sometimes when I feel stressed or anxious I not only physically tighten-up, I tighten my grip on everything and everyone. During all this I’ve leaned on my Team and empowered my Team in ways I haven’t before. And guess what? They continue to rise and blow me away with their own resilience and great ideas.
If you’re feeling that overwhelm or uncertainty around what you’re going to do next in your business, or in life, take a moment and ask yourself, “Who am I serving?” and then go connect with them. Also, consider asking for help, you aren’t meant to navigate this “new normal” alone.
About Sarah Hernholm
Sarah Hernholm is the founder of WIT – Whatever It Takes, a non-profit that provides teens and tweens, college-credit entrepreneur programming, along with virtual summer camps and hackathon events. Sarah is a 3x TEDx speaker and creator of the 11 Tips for Doing WIT. You can follow Sarah on Twitter, LinkedIn , Instagram.