Ways I've Made Money : School Years : Venture Capitalist Philanthropy, Music and Science
My Masters degree school years, all six of them, are a bit blurry. I was done with all the arting, officially, especially after I’d applied for that City art job that I didn’t get. I spread my degree out over six years because the classes are much more difficult and the expectations higher. Oh, and also the price. I paid cash for this degree and the only way I could afford it was to take one class at a time.
The same year I started my program, Eva decided she wanted to go to public middle school. We heard her reasoning, let her make the case and then agreed to let her try it out. Turns out she loved it and wanted to continue attending the neighborhood school. Jiri would follow her lead a year or so later in a Montessori school and with that, both our kids were in school!
First up during those years, I worked for a nonprofit that enlisted wealthy donors to donate money but also business expertise to small nonprofits that needed to scale in order to serve more people. I was hired to strategize and execute a conference that wealthy philanthropists and people who staffed foundations would attend to explore ways their money can make an even more powerful difference.
And wow, this gig was fun. I worked my own hours from home but with meetings all over the city with various people involved in the conference’s planning. I fundraised alongside very high profile people. I worked with a local college that had turned its football field into a garden to custom grow the food for our conference. In fact, I picked out seeds with the chef who planned the menu five months in advance! I worked with various presenters on how they would “pitch” their nonprofit business or social enterprise to a “room full of money” (like Shark Tank). I helped the presenters with their one page business plans. I managed a million moving parts and we culminated with a feast for the senses in terms of great ideas, amazing food and the profound satisfaction that the work I was doing was truly making a difference through this conference.
During the second year of the conference, I even had to move our event by one day because of a parade. What happens when an actual parade rains on your parade?
After two years of producing this amazing event, it was time for me to move on. I’d only been contracted for 30 hours a week and was eager to do something full time. A friend had told me about a very cool job at the nonprofit rock music station in town. It was strictly marketing and fundraising. I had zero radio experience and thought for sure that I wouldn’t get the gig. There had to be a million people applying for this job - seriously, it was a cool posting for a cool job that doesn’t come around often.
Soon enough I had my first interview, which went really well. And then while I was off-grid at my very first Burning Man, the station was contacting me for second and third interviews. When I got back “on-grid” I realized this. Whoops! I quickly called back and soon enough was ushered into the station to meet more people and by mid-September I had started the job!
And when I say that that was the coolest job I’ll ever have, I mean it. I even knew it at the time. It didn’t pay that well, but the other perks were totally worth it to me. I met allllll the famous touring musicians. I’m so serious. I still have tons of their cell numbers in my phone because I was their station contact in many cases. I attended all the live shows I possibly could and was notorious for giving away free tickets to cool concerts. I learned so many valuable things with that job: how to speak well over the radio, how to address a large crowd at a concert, how to fundraise in mail, social media and through various other digital means. And probably most important, how to be normal with super famous people.
Essentially it was two of us running the station - my friend, coworker and “work husband” Mark who was the program director and me. I did everything but pick music and DJ in terms of fundraising, marketing, social media, blog entries, contests, e-newsletter, concert series and so much more. The two of us were on a very long leash and with very little oversight we did amazing things. We launched a massive annual summer concert (now defunct) that attracted 10,000 people. We did wacky contests. We made music so much fun for our listeners and donors.
At a certain point, I realized I’d grown the donor base and had actually grown my job into many jobs. There were no plans to flesh out the team and so I knew that in order to take care of myself, I needed to move on. They would figure out soon enough that I was doing the work of three people. Maybe then they would staff up. (Spoiler alert: they did.)
A girlfriend knew I was restless and she told me about a brand new job at the big, brand new science museum: Membership Director. Hm. Could I even do that? I applied and I swear within a month I had landed the job and started it. It was insanely bittersweet to leave my music industry friends but to move into the field of science? Ok by me! I had a science degree after all. I love that kind of stuff.
With the science museum I had a few new moving parts: actual staff to manage (this is very different from managing volunteers), millions more dollars to raise and infinitely more moving parts in terms of the database and mailing lists. But I’m a quick learner and soon enough was meeting and exceeding all my fundraising goals.
During my time there we upgraded the museum’s database from an old, rusty one that’s no longer supported to a new, shiny, fancy system that would meet all our needs. I continued to take classes for my Masters program all the while but I’ll tell ya, that database upgrade almost killed me. I got a wicked case of face shingles and was sick for a month during that software implementation. I’m grateful for that illness though, it totally transformed my relationship with pain, my own mortality and vanity associated with the facial disfiguration I experienced.
I was finally working a job that paid fairly well and as such, I could follow through on a promise I’d made to my children years earlier: to take them anywhere in the world they desired for their “coming of age” trip but with one catch: it had to be a developing country. Eva, my eldest, chose India and we traveled for about a month together all over the northern states - from Jailsamer to Varanasi. We both fell in love with India and I knew it was important that my daughter was seeing and experiencing something different than her upbringing. India can be a challenging place!
I continued to attend Burning Man during these years, being extremely vague about it saying that I was “camping in the desert with a few friends.” The culture at the science museum was startlingly conservative and I didn’t think my staff or coworkers needed to have a mental image of me at Burning Man. I was open about all my Masters degree classes though, and plowed through my degree program during my time at the museum.
The culmination of my degree was an enormous project that would count as my final graduation requirement. I would read all fourteen Oz books, in order from beginning to end to untangle and explore all the esoteric and mystical themes within the books. This project was in total alignment with my degree plan - I’d taken classes that explored plant medicine, magic, shamanism, yoga philosophy, mysticism, meditation, silk road trading routes and so much more. I’m eternally grateful for this degree program because I could study exactly what I wanted to! I just let my own intuition and interests guide my class choices. My final project also involved going back to India, this time to Sikkim and Bengal. I wrote a massive paper about it called Unified Field Theory of Oz. I even audaciously rebirthed myself as "Aurah" during this experience.
After I got back from India this second time, I graduated (with honors!) and it was super freaking clear I didn’t want to continue to work at the museum. I’d done what they hired me to do: establish a membership program (there wasn’t a membership department prior to me), upgrade the database and generally ensure that we could raise at least $3 million per year with the plans and strategies I put into place.
I began to mentally crumble in what I fondly call my “first mid-life crisis”. To deal with how uncomfortable the whole thing was, I started a Full Moon Salon with a group of fabulous women in my living room and then finally gathered the nerve to put in my resignation. I quit that job with no safety net and no plan except to at some point perhaps go bartend. I just knew I couldn’t do the stuffy museum job anymore. I felt complete and it was time for someone else to pick up where I’d left off.
The year was 2016.
There’s one area that I haven’t gotten into much because this serial writing project is mostly about jobs and the ways I’ve made money. It's worth noting that the whole time that I’m moving through all these work experiences, I’m also making radical and profound spiritual shifts within myself. Paul and I both have “done the work” in terms of self development, self inquiry and spiritual exploration. It gets a bit into so-called “spiritual materialism” to list all the things but these things are important as they relate to how I’ve made money in the world.
In essence, I’ve gotten fussy and only want to make a difference with my work. Period. I don’t do things that aren’t actually helpful to the world or the people I’m with or “just for the money.” I’m super clear that I’m not motivated by money and am truly guided by service, a real karma yogi, it turns out. From Landmark Programs in the early 2000’s to Vipassana Meditation Retreats (several!) to Burning Man (six in total) to the Hoffman Process (which saved my life) to our own involvement with a local church during all our years together, we have made our spiritual development one of the most important priorities of our lives. In fact, it’s the key to staying married, I’ve found. To this day we meditate morning and night in our house. We both do yoga fairly religiously (I’ve been seriously studying since 2001, Paul since 2007). When I stumble onto a spiritual technology that works, I stick with it. Spiritual growth has been profoundly important in tandem with how I make a living.
Anyway, one more entry in this series left and then I'll blather on about something else, promise.
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