Getting My Hands Dirty

August 22, 2016

By Sarah Cabell, Associate Director

Originally shared live at Real Food Real Stories’ Two-Year Anniversary Party StorySlam at Mission Pie.

Almost 2.5 years ago, I decided to leave my full-time job with a food tech startup as Director of Business Development to follow my heart and venture out on my own.

I was newly minted with a Sustainable MBA, a breadth of experience in funding the sustainable food & ag world, a lot of ideas, and a giant pile of student loans. As someone who has always struggled to balance financial security with following my passions and making a difference in the world, leaving my job without anything concrete lined up was a huge risk. But I mustered the courage and took the leap.

I started consulting for local food businesses, mostly new organizations wanting to create new models that had never been done before. Throughout my various projects, the same theme kept coming up: at the core of change work is a need for cultural work to support the people and organizations making that change. The inner work, self love, healthy interpersonal dynamics, vulnerability and communication are so important to our ability to create change. Because change is hard. People get stressed out and discouraged. They get shut down. There is so much to be done and so much pressure to do it right because the stakes are high when we want to make a difference. We need each other to do this work— we need support, love, collaboration, and trust. I recognized that this was where I wanted to go to work.

That’s when Anthony Chang (founder of Kitchen Table Advisors) introduced me to Pei-Ru Ko - He said, “Pei-Ru is looking for someone to help her build an organization that’s at the intersection of food and culture. I think you two should talk.”

At that point I was already doing another half-time job and wasn’t wanting to settle into another long-term project, but I was deeply drawn to Pei-Ru and the idea behind Real Food Real Stories, so I said yes. A new job, a new organization, and a new adventure were born.

When starting a new organization, you don’t know how it will go. Your job never existed before, so you don’t have someone training and mentoring you, telling you how to do it or if you’re doing a good job. I brought a lot of experience in some areas and a lot of knowledge in others, but all in all I had never done this before. None of us had. I just had to dive in and get my hands dirty. And it hasn’t been easy.

Along the way I’ve encountered all the elements I previously recognized in others who were struggling to create change, on the leading edge of something that has never been done before:

  • Trying to figure it out but not knowing what it will take to succeed.

  • Pressure to make it work and a deep fear of failure.

  • Self doubt - can I actually do this? I don’t know if I can do this. Maybe i’m not cut out for this.

  • Not being enough -- good enough, smart enough, skilled enough, driven enough...

Fortunately, I have a partner in Pei-Ru and am surrounded by friends and community who encourage me to keep going and to focus on the wins along the way. We still don’t know how it will go, but we keep getting better at this, and we get to do it together.

I also get to keep reminding myself that life is about getting your hands dirty. All the rest -- the self doubt and fear --I know isn’t true. But it is an important reminder to check in with myself, make sure my heart is full, and to stay connected to the bigger picture of what we’re out to create in the world: a new way for people to connect, a place for nourishment, and contributing to a food system we can all get behind.