w: ajleon

Happy Birthday Misfit: A Five Year Tale of Defiance

There are times when we sail so far off course, when our dreams are so far from reach that they appear but balmy glimmers violently strewn on a distant horizon which we will never pierce. When complacency and compliance, when safety and security have so entranced us, that gradual reform is no longer possible. In these moments we have but one option – revolt.

I can remember the dramatic clouds that hung low over Tompkins Square the day that I penned those words.

Five years ago today, maybe at this precise moment.

I can remember the aching in the pit of my stomach as I reached deep in my bag for an aging copy of Henry V.

I always turn to Shakespeare when in need of inspiration. And it was St. Crispin’s Day after all.

I flipped directly to Act IV, using two eviction notices as a bookmark.

I began to read a most profound speech that a young king delivered to his men as they stood at the brink of apocalyptic defeat. Sick, demoralized, far from home, surrounded and outnumbered 5 to 1, Henry admonishes his men…

old men forget, yet all shall be forgotten, but he … he will remember with advantages what feats he did this day. 

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I can remember this day so vividly because it was the day I decided that I was going to change the world.

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Five years ago, on this very day, I sketched out my first good idea ever. I was going to build a company called Misfit.

It would be a hybrid enterprise.

Part business projects. Part social and humanitarian projects. Part cultural and art projects. Part community for those relegated to the margins.

And. (this was the best part)

I would run and grow this ridiculously conceptual and unproven business while traveling the world with my beautiful wife.

Oh, and if you’re wondering.

Yes.

Everyone thought I was out of my f*cking mind.

I was broke. Bankrupt of any useful qualifications. Had no prospects. No network or contacts. No projects to speak of. No technical skills of any kind.

But I proceeded anyways.

Why?

Because at long last I had come to the conclusion that this Life was mine. And that it was my one and only.

And that as long as I was the one living it, I was going to dedicate it to making things that actually mattered.

___

Last Sunday, as I was watching my dear friend Ben handcraft yet another perfect flat white for me in my favorite café in the world, I had a profound sense of emotion envelop me.

The threads of reality separated for a moment, and I saw the world.

And I saw myself in the midst of it.

And it struck me.

That I’ve spent the last five years doing precisely what I set out to do.

I couldn’t help but sit in that joyfully lonely corner of Box Brownie, and shed a triumphant tear, while quietly commemorating five years of nomading around the world and making things happen.

__

Today, Misfit is five years old.

And what started as a couple of gypsies bartering web design for bagels, and spending their last few nickels to fly to Africa every few months, has now become a company that has, in a very non-figurative sense, changed the world.

Misfit now employs a total of 16 people across four continents, working on a litany of different business, social, humanitarian, cultural and creative projects around the globe.

The question I am most often asked is what is Misfit? and what do you guys do? 

Well, I thought in celebration of our anniversary, that I might outline five years of changing the world.

Note: Please skip this section or essay entirely if you have no interest in an exhaustive history of what I’ve been doing for five years. I promise, I won’t be offended. 🙂

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++ Humanitarian

At Misfit’s humanitarian arm, Good Misfit, we’ve helped build schools in South Sudan, create curriculums and tech labs for children in Tanzania, launch Transformational Community Development programs for villages in Kenya, Ethiopia and Indonesia, and  activate clean water initiatives and health and sanitation programs in Malawi.

And this summer, with the help of 30 amazing misfits, we built a windmill in a village called Gambella.

In total, we’ve helped raise over $5,000,000 for humanitarian and advocacy work around the globe.

And, as of a couple months ago, we even launched a Misfit Medical Fund to help pay for the medications of orphans, widows and terminally ill villagers in the Isiolo area of Kenya.

++ Social

We’ve also helped enable change makers all over the world, like Martyn, our first Misfit Fellow, who has made it his life’s work to empower those living with disability. Or Tyson, who we helped launch the world’s first philanthropic coffee roaster. Or Katie  founder of Projects for All, who is in Nigeria as I type, installing the world’s first Hello Hub in a remote village. Or Greg from Fargo, who believes that inviting people to dinner can change the world. We even launched an annual project with Dino and Jerome to deliver Christmas cakes to folks living in severe poverty in Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines.

Throughout the past five years, we’ve also flown around the world, providing free training and seminars for hundreds of charities, and have advised many organizations like UNICEF, World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse.

And last week.

A social joint-venture we’ve been cooking up was just granted an award by the Skoll Foundation!

++ Cultural

In addition to producing many digital storytelling workshops with dozens of  organizations like The British Library and the Imperial War Museum, my unfettered love of Shakespeare led us into a beautifully symbiotic relationship with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (and the University of Warwick), with whom we’ve launched over a dozen Shakespeare-related educational and artistic projects (some of which have even been awarded by the Arts and Humanities Council) that have impacted millions of people over the years, the latest of which is the world’s first Shakespeare-related Film Festival.

The unbelievably talented finalists will have their films debuted today in Stratford-on-Avon less than 100 yards from Shakespeare’s birthplace!

Next year, an essay I cowrote with my friend Dr. Paul Edmondson about the Democratization of Shakespeare will even be published by the Cambridge University Press. Twenty PhD’s and a gypsy from New York. 🙂

++ Creative

Sometime last year, I called Jessie, one of my Jedi Knights at Misfit, and I told her I didn’t just want to self publish my book, I wanted to launch a craft publishing house, and I wanted her to lead it. And just like that, Misfit Press was conceived. In addition to launching a creative arts journal (next edition out in January!), we’re publishing The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit next month (and continuing our worldwide book tour).

And have two new publishing projects planned for next year, as well as a couple fun art projects.

++Community

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that Pursuit of Everything, having just celebrated its first birthday, would evolve and grow to what it has become today. I remember being petrified when I published my first essay, and elated when I saw my first subscriber come through … until I saw that it was my mom. Today, there are tens of thousands of misfits all over the world, who serve as the loving inspiration for everything I do.

We launched a handcrafted conference for artists, troublemakers and general riff-raff in Fargo, which is already sold out for next year. And we’re currently investigating the possibility of other locations. Shhh.

Most folks have no idea that we have a super secret patron membership called Honorary Misfits, who receive exclusive updates and gifts and invitations and discounts to everything we do. In return, their membership fee helps us subsidize some of our social, humanitarian and cultural work.

++ Business

In addition to running a craft creative agency, and helping tech start ups and brands like Citrix launch fun projects, we also started Twitgift, the world’s first social enchantment platform (soon to be available for everyone!) Here’s a shot of our fearless CEO doing some quality control testing.

Also, we recently launched a design and apparel company, and are collaborating with artisans and craftspeople all over the world to create meaningful and handcrafted goodies for misfits just like you and I.

++ And we built all of this while satiating our wanderlust, and sojourning across 55 countries and beginning an adventure to travel the globe overland in 1,880 days.

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Let me be clear.

I didn’t go through the trouble of sharing this with you so you’d give me a round of applause or wish me and my crew a happy anniversary (although I wouldn’t shun a bottle of Prosecco if one was sent to me). 😉

I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that six years ago I was just an unremarkably average and very depressed Manhattan banker.

And five years ago, I was just some broke, unemployed asshole sitting in a park, who decided to stop waiting for a sign.

Here is the cold pressed truth.

I have no earthly qualifications for anything I have accomplished in the last five years.

Seriously, I have no f*cking business doing anything that I’ve done.

But if Shakespeare is right.

If all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players, well, then I’d rather choose my part than let some nameless director choose it for me.

Was it easy?

F*ck no.

In between that moment and this, Melissa and I have slept in cars and under bus benches, hopped trains, missed a few payrolls and evaded a few evictions.

But I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it for the wide world.

When you start viewing your life as a novel, and you start viewing yourself as the protagonist in a grand adventure, everything changes.

Look.

I am completely cognizant of the fact that most people dropped off 642 words ago, but you’re still here, and whatever you do today, I need you to remember this.

No matter where you find yourself at this moment, no matter how dire the conditions or virulent the tempest, always remember.

That your life is always just one brief moment of audacity away from remarkable.

From London
Your Fellow Misfit,
AJ

Ps – It’s 6:27am. Yes, I’ve been writing this letter to you all night, it’s been quite a reflective evening. I’m hopping a flight to Venice in a couple of hours, and running my first marathon there on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Pps – To Melissa, Dino, Jerome and Jessie … I could have never done this without you. Here’s to another five years of mischief and defiance.

1789 words

10.25.13

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