Saturday, April 18, 2015

IncorporatingUS: Guest Post on Reimagining a Career by the Founder of Yellow Hibiscus Gallery

A self-identified professional risk avoider, the visionary and creator of Yellow Hibiscus Gallery shares his personal story of traditional corporate advancement and the necessity of an entrepreneurial spirit in today's cultural and economic climate. 

Excuse Me, But I am Sorry to Tell You that the American Dream Is Dead.
The American Dream is dead!  It died from complications due to a severe economic crisis that was worsened by corporate greed, political ineptitude, and societal excess.  Unfortunately for a generation that is accustomed to being told that we are the best and brightest that America has ever produced, we are the biggest losers of a bargain that cuts us out of the inheritance of the American Dream.

How did we get here? Society made a deal with us!  If we worked hard, sacrificed, and got an expensive degree, we would be richly rewarded with money, power and respect; at the very least, we could expect a decent home in the suburbs, two cars in the garage and a white picket fence.  The sky was the limit!  Then we graduated into the real world, and realized that for the first time in recent history, our collective generational lives would be worse off than the previous generations'.

So, how did we get here again?  Simple.  We got shafted!  It is much cheaper for society to renege on its promises to us because we won’t raise hell, but the older generation will.  Our government sold our future to maintain the status quo.  Now, for a majority of us, we are forced to find new paths to the dream, and to redefine success.    

It is in the midst of this generational change and anxiety that I decided to redefine my American Dream.  The muses came to me on a trip to Ghana; and inspired a thought that lead to the idea for the dream.  I was at a hotel waiting, as one always does when traveling, when I saw workers move beautiful artwork into an office behind the concierge.  Intrigued, I followed to get a closer look at the pieces.  I found myself in the office of the hotel owner, and had a rather lovely conversation about the art scene in Ghana, and the lack of appreciation for artist.  It was then that it hit me! Why not build an online platform to showcase wonderful Ghanaian artists and connect them to a developed and mature art market? did not become reality until two years later, during a transitional period in my life.  Disclaimer:  I do not have a background in arts or business, and to be honest, I was reluctant to begin the journey.  However, one spring morning in 2013, I woke up with a strong desire to see this idea come to life.   This desire consumed my available mental bandwidth for months afterwards.  I could not brush it off, even though I tried.  As a professional risk avoider, I spent months researching the art industry, along with every imaginable risk associated with starting a small business, all in the hopes of convincing myself that the idea wasn’t viable.  When I failed to do that, I shared the idea with friends, then family.  They failed too!

Finally, after giving up on trying to give up, I took my research and drafted a business plan.  Next, I formed an LLC (told you I am a professional risk avoider).  I then reached out to my network to conduct surveys; found a partner to help me build the platform; and put together two small focus groups of friends who fell within the demographic of buyers I intended to target.  After that, I started looking for local artist to talk to, and to understand whether they would even consider partnering with an unknown and unproven online gallery.  In November 2014, we launched the first iteration of the platform, and have been tweaking it, and our plans ever since. 

So, what does Yellow Hibiscus Gallery have to do with the death and redefining the American Dream?   

A lot! Firstly, the inspiration for my idea appeared at a point in time when I was forced to confront certain truths about the traditional path to success.  I graduated from college right before Lehman Brothers blew up and took the economy with it.  Then I graduated from Law School into a historic downtown for the legal market.  The linear narrative of the American dream and success no longer applied.  My friends and I graduated with hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of debt, and yet a huge percentage of us could not find jobs or careers to sustain us.  We were, and are, trapped in a cycle of internships, unpaid work, and underemployment.  We, as a generation, put off, or delay important milestones such as getting married, having kids and buying homes, simply because we cannot afford them.  Given these challenges, we had no choice but to readjust our expectations and dreams.  Part of the redefinition for me, was finding a parallel path to financial independence; one that complimented but was not dependent on the traditional routes to success.  It was a result of this initial openness and willingness to redefine success that my little idea could be transformed into a dream.  My dream and journey towards financial independence are both ongoing, but I already feel successful because despite my attempts at giving up, is live!

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