Dafna Michaelson is the founder, president and JourneyWoman for the 50 in 52 Journey, a project for which she traveled across America to all 50 states and Washington DC spanning the 52 weeks of 2009 to find America’s problem solvers and idea generators. Featured on NPR, CBS Sunday Morning and CNN, Michaelson has been sharing the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for their communities throughout the country with the goal of inspiring others to action.
FG: How did the 50 in 52 journey begin?
DM: In 2009 I set out to travel to all 50 states in search of sharing the stories of people all over our country who were helping to solve community problems or were otherwise working to build community. I wanted to be an outlet to be part of the process of changing the mirror we use that reflects who we are as a society.
FG: What kind of preparation went into the planning of this trip?
DM: From the moment I quit my job I spent every waking breath trying to make connections in all 50 states, spread the word, find money, make a schedule. I had basically 5 months from the birth of the idea to my first trip. Not a lot of time! I got so desperate at one point trying to find people to interview in Delaware that while sitting in traffic on a rainy day I noticed a car with Delaware plates and actually jumped out of my car and knocked on their window asking them if they knew any community problem solvers in Delaware. It was hilarious!
FG: What are some of the lessons you learned on this journey?
DM: I learned much about community and what it takes to step up and solve a problem. I learned what it means to be truly strong in your beliefs and put yourself out to lose the faith of friends and family while making life better for those around you. I learned much about my own prejudices that I did not think existed and I learned how I too can be strong while facing some of the toughest challenges of my life. Most of all I learned that my role is to help people with the knowledge I have amassed and to be the one that is the cheering section when no one else believes your idea is a good one!
FG: What tips would you give to people who are interested in becoming active in their community?
DM: Becoming active in your community, or solving community problems as I like to say, does not mean you have to be the ringleader or the sole body on an effort. When I speak to groups I ask them to think about the things they complain about in their community. I ask them to look critically at that list and tell me if there is not one thing on that list that they could tackle. I ask will you Raise Your Hand© and say about one thing “I’ve got that one!” Then bring a group of friends together and solve that problem for your community. At the heart of it all you have to be working on something you care about and that will impact you or the people around you. The reward is a stronger community for all.
FG: How do you balance family and the work life?
DM: This a response to that very question from my blog: Today I was asked to describe balance. Balance? Me? I was really quite amused and answered as follows: “Balance…hmmmm…balance is the perfect mix of morning snuggles with my children before camp/school, loving caresses from my boyfriend as he runs me to the airport…enjoying stimulating conversation on the airplane…meeting incredible people in each state I visit…sleeping on the airplane ride home…enjoying the I missed you kiss from my boyfriend when he picks me up from the airport, the giggles and hugs when I pick up the kids from camp…enjoying a weekend of family fun and starting all over again the next Wednesday. Balance=Love, Inspiration, fun, more love (sleep not required).”
I really thought I was a funny person to ask that question of. When I relayed the question and my (I thought) quite humorous answer to my boyfriend he said, “of course you’re the right person to answer that, look at what you’ve accomplished.” He pointed to the fact that we’ve created this Journey in the best way possible to least impact the children. I only travel on the days the kids are with their dad. I come home every week. I work while the kids are in camp/school. When the kids are home we play games, go to the playground, have play dates, cook dinner, laugh – a lot. Balance. As I meet people in each state doing incredible things to build community they are often doing so while holding full time jobs like Dr. Mehari in Kentucky and Debbie in Washington. Often they have started two and three organizations like Linda in Maryland and the ladies of the Catholic Action Center in Kentucky. Others have made their lives work of their passions like Michael in Florida and Michael in California. All of the people I have met are juggling so many balls that many times I’ve asked the question, How do you do it all? Almost to the person they have said that they would not have it any other way. For them balance means living life with love for others and following through on that love in the fullest way they know how. When you love your family you will do everything in your power to protect and provide for them. When you love your community you will do the same. Balance is that ability to fill your life with equal parts love of self, love of family, love of community and choosing your work through that lens. The people whom I have been so fortunate to meet do that without thinking. I have to think about it, for certain, but truly I’m working my way there. I even manage a few minutes of precious alone time with my boyfriend every now and then! Balance.
FG: How many of your business decisions are based on know how vs. your intuition?
DM: Intuition definitely plays a big part in decision making, the trick is balancing it with the know how. I studied for an MBA so that I would be able to follow my gut and put business acumen behind my drive. I have been so fortunate in my career that my path has led me to so many unique opportunities and each experience has helped me grow into the business woman and social entrepreneur that I have become.
FG: What do you consider to be some of the major highlights of your career thus far?
DM: I recently did an exercise with my resume. I needed to submit a resume for a position as a guest lecturer for an entrepreneurship class. I went to update it and was so bored by the traditional resume that I blew it up and created a resume graphic utilizing the major highlights of my career so that I could follow the path and see what went into making up the whole of me, from a business perspective:
FG: What is a spiritual mantra or philosophy that you live by?
DM: I will not complain about a problem unless I am willing to work on the solution AND It takes a little crazy to make a difference! These are my two basic foundational philosophies although I use mantra and prayer every day in different ways depending on what I am facing at the moment and from where I need to derive strength.
FG: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
DM: My mother told me from the time I was a very young child: You can be anything you want to be AND Be true to yourself and your beliefs and you can’t go wrong.
FG: What would you tell your younger-self if you knew then what you know now?
DM: Follow your instincts, listen to your mind and to your gut, remember to take care of yourself too.
FG: Finish this sentence….Women should stop complaining about _____________ and_______________.
DM: Women should stop complaining about_anything_____ and start doing ___something to solve the problem they would like to complain about.__________
FG: If your life came with a soundtrack, what would be the top three songs (and please indicate the singer or band):
DM: If you believe by Julie Geller, Defying Gravity from Wicked, We Shall Be Free by Garth Brooks
FG: What project(s) do you have coming up?
DM: The first Journey Institute summit and roundtables will be held November 11th and 14th 2010. The focus will be Youth Leadership in Community Problem Solving, also a series for Rocky Mountain PBS highlighting social entrepreneurs in Colorado to launch online October 2010. We are also launching curriculum based on the journey for classrooms and individuals aged 7 – 107 to learn what it means to be community problem solvers. This will launch by September 2010 on the Random Acts of Kindness website. The Raise Your Hand© workshop, first held as a follow up to my presentation at TedxDeverED, to help groups and individuals take the next step in community problem solving will hit the road in August 2010. I am also working on completing the book about the 50 in 52 Journey for publication late 2010/early 2011.
For more information on Dafna Michaelson and the 50 in 52 journey please visit www.dafnam.com.