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#MyMomentum | I save babies (no, seriously)

Howard Schiffer
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Published on January 27, 2015

This article was posted as part of the MyMomentum series on Looksharp. If you have a career path story you want to share, tweet it at us using the hashtag #MyMomentum.

When I first started Vitamin Angels, people would always say things like; ‘You really should be on Oprah’ or ‘You should talk to Angelina Jolie’, and finally ‘I bet you have a lot of mileage plus miles!’

The last one is the only thing that did happen and even that took years. The rest fall into the “useless advice” category.

So here are eleven things you don’t need to know (but you’ll find out are true) about starting a world-changing career:

1. What you don’t know can be your greatest ally

When I started Vitamin Angels I didn’t know zip. I had no credentials. I had no capital. I had no celebrity. I had friends in the vitamin industry. I had passion. I was committed.

I set up an organization in a way that could go on forever – turned out to be a genius plan; product was donated, we piggy backed our shipments onto other non-profit’s shipments, and we found partners in the countries we wanted to work in who were already working there to distribute our vitamins.

I knew what I didn’t want: to be corporate, to be boring, to fill out paperwork all day, to be stuck in an office.

 2. It will never be a straight line

I started a commune when I was twenty-one. In my first business I sold everything from sprouts to snow cones. I ended up in the natural products industry and didn’t start Vitamin Angels until I was in my mid-forties.

3. “Everyone’s life is a laboratory to create one product”

This quote came from a media training class I took with Joel Roberts in 2006. It’s true.

Another way of saying this: Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not the great prophet Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”

So why not trust in who you are and the special lens that you see the world through?

4. Go out full tilt!

Don’t waste your time. I once heard an interview with Madonna and they were asking her about how she was always going at mach 10 and if she was ever worried if she was going in the wrong direction.

Q: “Like what if you’re going down the wrong road? And you’re on the highway to hell?”
Madonna: “At least I’ll get there faster!”

I worked 10 years at Vitamin Angels with no salary, no benefits, and no health insurance but total commitment that I was doing something that mattered.

5. Failure is Okay

JK Rowling talking about before she started writing Harry Potter said: “By every measure I was a total failure; my marriage had failed, I had no job, I was a single mom, we were living on welfare, and we had no money. All I had left was Harry Potter.”

Steve Jobs got kicked out of Apple. Henry Ford had many bankruptcies. Big deal. People forget your failures, they count your successes.

Life is hard sometimes. In 2009, a wildfire destroyed our home. Everything we had was gone in an instant. But the one thing I realized was that the fire clarified everything. I immediately knew what was important; my family, our pets, and the fact that no one was hurt. Pretty simple.

6. Be willing to be unreasonable

Be reasonable and you’ll end up selling insurance or stocking shelves. Be unreasonable and you’ll create something that didn’t exist before. At one point with Vitamin Angels we told our donors we were going to stop taking their donations (often short dated product or product that wasn’t selling) and instead wanted them to make the product we told them to. It was crazy, as we had no other source for money for product. Completely outrageous, and it worked.

7. Put a stake in the ground

The quote (maybe) from Goethe says it all; “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back—Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Write a book or an article. Make a public declaration. You have to do something that is witnessed, that is written in stone, that you own. In 2006, Vitamin Angels came up with the idea that we wanted to eliminate vitamin A deficiency childhood blindness by the year 2020. Totally insane that we thought we could do this. But you know what, people really started to climb on board, because we had a bold goal that they wanted to be part of. We went from reaching 2 million children a year, to reaching 40 million in less than ten years.

 8. Believe in yourself first

Even if you have to make it up. When I wrote my first books, on the book jacket I wrote – ‘He now lectures and leads workshops around the country.’ Total BS. But I believed in it enough to make it happen. You have to believe in yourself first before anyone else can.

 9. Surround yourself with people who see the best in you!

Your partner, people at work, friends who you hang out with, your children. You will strive to rise to meet their vision of you. The converse of this is true too; if you have people around you who always doubt you or are ready to jump all over you when you screw up, ditch them fast! Life is hard enough without having naysayers and fear mongers shouting their bad advice.

10. Don’t ever doubt what a small group of people can do

With a nod to Margaret Mead, but the signs are everywhere these days. A couple years ago I met the director of one of the largest relief groups in the world. She had a $3.8 billion dollar budget, a staff of 12,000 and she was reaching 1 million people. At that time Vitamin Angels had a $6 million dollar budget, a staff of 20, and we were reaching 27 million children and moms.

11. Don’t be self-sacrificing

I did a speaking gig a couple of years ago and they asked me to speak on “The Heroic Journey.” It sounded way too self important, but I looked up “Hero” and read something about “self sacrificing.” I immediately thought they had it all wrong, and it’s actually backwards. If you don’t do what you were brought here to do, then you’ll be sacrificing your real self. If you actually do what you were brought here to do, you’ll find your real purpose (and have a great time!).

Today Vitamin Angels is reaching almost 40 million children and moms in 45 countries around the world and 40 states in the United States. We have an incredible team of 30 full time people, and 8 people working internationally. There’s no reason why any of this should be happening. But it is.

Howard Schiffer

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