Christina Wallace knows all about purpose.
She may seem like she has always had it together when she walks out on stage to talk about innovations in startup technology — but that hasn’t always been the case for her.
As a child, Christina grew up awkward. And clumsy. When she grew from 5’6 at the end of 7th grade to 6’ tall by the time she started 8th grade, she struck people as odd at first glance.
But when she chose to stay inside from recess to read and when she chose theater or math over other extracurriculars, she struck people as really odd.
Luckily, Christina was headstrong and didn’t let her oddities affect her self-image too much.
Instead, she embraced the fact that she was clumsy and given the right circumstances would likely hit herself in the face with a surfboard or collapse on the track after just one lap around it.
But she still had her heart set on doing those things. She also embraced her love for math, science, music, and arts. And had her mind made up that she could do them all.
By the time she was 30, Christina had traveled to over 20 countries. She had spent over 5 months collectively traveling by herself.
And even though she never considered herself an athlete, because she had been labeled as clumsy her whole life, she did take that surfing lesson that ended in a bloody nose on a beach.
And she did finally make it around the track without having to sit down.
In fact, she can officially call herself an athlete now — having completed 22 half marathons and 3 marathons.
She has also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp.
Despite all those personal achievements, there was not one clear moment in Christina’s life that defined what her purpose was — or is.
It was a series of events, adventures, and jobs that led to Christina’s uncovering of what her purpose was, for now at least.
That is most likely the same
In college in Atlanta, Christina worked as a theater director and a classical musician.
After graduating from college, Christina left Atlanta and moved to New York City where she worked in the artistic department of the Metropolitan Opera for two years.
She then applied to Harvard to earn her MBA. She had plans of staying in the Arts Management field, but after an economic downturn, she decided that maybe she should be focusing more on math and technology.
And since she had always loved those two things, it was an easy transition for her. Figuring out what she would do after that was not so easy.
After graduating from Harvard, Christina moved on to work as a management consultant with Boston Consulting Group. And still, she didn’t feel like that was her purpose.
So in 2011, Christina quit BCG to start Quincy Apparel with her best friend. They launched a clothing line that focused on women of all sizes and shapes.
Offering them clothes they could wear to work and out with friends and on dates.
They were able to raise $1 million in Angel and venture capital and over the next 18 months, they built a business that was successful enough to make it into the pages of modern women’s fashion magazines. But the demands of the investors and the inability to streamline the manufacturing process ultimately ended in a failed business for Christina and her friend.
A failed business that, just a year earlier, she had been sure was her purpose at the time.
She wanted to run away from New York, literally. She didn’t want to show her face to her friends.
She didn’t want to talk about her failures. She just wanted to leave.
And normally, that’s what she would have done. But this time was different. Christina was growing as an adult and as a person. Instead of running, she reached out to her friends for support and leaned on them for encouragement.
She stuck around. She stuck it out. She just kept pushing forward.
“I learned that failure in this one case didn’t make me a failure.” She said. “I learned to separate my self-identity from my particular project or job at the time.”
As she continued to search for her new purpose, something amazing happened.
A job presented itself. Her friend recommended her for a new educational initiative.
The qualifications were something along the lines of: must have a background in nonprofits, education, startups, with a STEM undergraduate degree, and also must have built something from the ground up.
It was as if Christina had been training for this position her whole life.
She met all the qualifications.
And she swooped in, applied for the job, and got hired as the Director to create a program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was called BridgeUp: STEM. A program that helped push girls and women in the direction of computer science.
And she excelled at her purpose for that moment.
She helped raise $7.5 million in funding over 5 years to keep the program running and she still serves as an advisor to the program.
But soon her purpose there ended and a new one arose.
Now Christina’s purpose is being fulfilled as a speaker, a writer, and a consultant. She shares her stories of not only being different but also of failing and forward motion. She helps companies thrive in the difficult world of startups.
She helps promote women in male-dominated fields of computers and sciences.
If we had an award to give to one person for “purpose for now,” Christina Wallace would be gracing our stage to accept it.
Some of Christina’s advice that she gives when she is on stage for finding purpose is right along the lines of our own EDGY guidelines for finding purpose.
They include: “Be open to every opportunity even if you don’t take each and every one. Always be willing to put in the work to move in the direction of your purpose — take the class, do the training, be uncomfortable for a minute. And don’t be afraid to start in the middle or at the bottom. It’s not realistic to expect to start at the top and be an immediate success.”
“WHETHER YOU START AT THE BOTTOM OR START AT THE TOP, THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO GO FROM WHEREVER YOU ARE STANDING RIGHT NOW — TOWARDS THE FINISH LINE. ”
Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up to awesomeness.
Because there is always going to be someone willing to do what you don’t want to do.
It would be a shame to let your dream slip away because you had it in your head that you weren’t willing to start low and build yourself up.
Embrace your purpose for now.
Do the jobs that are training you for your big break even if you don’t know exactly what that is yet.
Keep your eyes and your mind open to the idea of your purpose for now so you don’t miss it when it steps in front of you looking like just another “thing” you could be doing.