There’s something quite magical about your twenties that brings a shift in perspective. Perhaps, it’s the decade’s positioning in the grand timeline of life — the end of your dreamy teen years and the beginning of “real world” experiences, where innocence and great expectations go to die. It can be a decade of dismissal for many.
Fresh college graduates not landing their dream jobs right off the bat (or ever), capable adults living in their parents basements, forever students stalling their twenties away to postpone facing reality (read: their growing student loan debt), and, the worst, late twentysomethings who are quickly realizing their “blow time” is almost all spent up and it’s time to really grow up. Even those who have successfully “launched” must come to terms with the fact that not all is how they wish it could be.
So what’s the deal? Jordan, 23, asked just that after he graduated and didn’t land his dream internship at TOMS. Four years earlier, Jordan had been introduced to the company’s one-for-one vision through a classmate who was launching a Style Your Sole party on campus. “I first thought that the shoes were just cool, and that’s why I agreed to attend. But as I heard more and more about what the company was doing around the world, I became even more intrigued,” Jordan explained.
It became more than just a trend for Jordan when he agreed to participate in One Day Without Shoes later that same year. “I found myself actually becoming emotional during the day,” Jordan said. He describes the internal conflict of overcoming his self-consciousness while also acknowledging how little his experience measured up to those in developing countries. “Sure, it’s hard to be the guy in public places around campus without shoes, so I had to first get over myself,” he said. “But then I realized how easy classrooms and campus sidewalks must be to walk without shoes in comparison to the terrains of developing countries.”
After that experience, Jordan made TOMS awareness initiatives a priority during his next four years. As a public relations major and active member of his college’s student activities board, Jordan utilized what he was learning in school to publicize and gain supporters for these events. “By the time I graduated, I probably owned over 20 pairs of TOMS,” he said with a laugh. “I was known as ‘The TOMS Guy.’”
When Jordan didn’t get an internship with TOMS right after graduation, he was forced to deal with the disappointment of unmet expectations. “I even had friends asking me if I was still a fan of TOMS,” he explained. “Of course, I’m still a fan!” But now Jordan had to figure out where he fit in with what TOMS was doing, and he was hoping it meant more than just buying shoes.
He didn’t stay stagnant. First he landed a marketing internship with a healthcare company, and later accepted a full time events coordinator position. Though he was seemingly heading in the right direction, he didn’t feel at peace. He resigned from that position to take on another internship, this time in social media, at The Church at Chapel Hill. He would later become their director of communications.
Still staying tuned in to what TOMS was up to, Jordan discovered the Ticket to Give Contest. “I felt like it was such a long shot, but I’ve always wanted to be a part of a giving trip, so I just had to apply,” Jordan said. In order to get chosen for the trip, applicants had to be voted within the top 50. “It was a solid month of humbling asks on my part,” he explained. “I emailed, tweeted, Instagramed, changed all my social media profile pictures, wrote letters to all my neighbors, and had lots of conversations.” In a lot of ways, Jordan was back in the game of raising awareness and even gaining new supporters for TOMS. When all was said and done, Jordan landed over 1,500 votes, which made him one of the top 50 applicants out of 10,000. A long shot for sure, but not out of reach.
After spending a weekend orientation in Los Angeles at TOMS headquarters (including a fireside chat with TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie), Jordan traveled to Guatemala a month later. “My world all the sudden opened up,” Jordan explained. “At times, I almost forgot I was on a trip for TOMS because they were so intentional about making sure we were exposed to the culture there and learning from the Guatemalans themselves.” Jordan and the rest of his TOMS team visited schools, toured farms, had meals with locals and even hiked into areas that couldn’t be reached by vehicle. All this in addition to hosting TOMS shoe distributions for local children in need. “It was very surreal at first. I kept thinking of each purchase I had made in the past, and how that all translated to kids getting shoes.”
One of the highlights of the trip happened on the first day when a TOMS staff member approached Jordan and another team member with a “special case.” The staff member asked Jordan and his teammate to make sure this little girl was given the full TOMS experience. They were then introduced to a little girl named Wendy who had been burned in a house fire. When Jordan knelt down to fit Wendy for shoes, he realized that her feet’s archers had been so badly burned that she essentially had to walk on her heels. Through some trial and error during the fitting process, Jordan’s team found a pair of shoes that fit Wendy. With her new shoes on, the little girl covered her mouth and started crying. “Wendy and her family thought she would never be able to wear shoes again,“ Jordan explained. “To be a part of that moment so early on into the trip just tore me up. It’s why I came.”
Jordan also got to see TOMS Eyewear in action. “I got to scrub in to witness a cataract surgery, and then attend a post op appointment,” he said. But Jordan describes a much different scenario than Wendy’s. The patient was an older woman, and when her bandages were removed and she confirmed that she could see more clearly, her expression didn’t even change. Jordan confessed that it was one of the hardest things to witness on the trip. He realized that what these people had lived through is so rough, and at times so hopeless, that even when they are faced with hope that they don’t know how to respond. Their joy has been taken from them.
Now that he’s back in the States, Jordan’s enthusiasm for the one-for-one movement has only grown. “I don’t know what the next step is,” he admits. “But, I am asking myself, ‘How can I help bring joy to others?’” He explains that his desire is to make sure the hope and excitement he saw in Wendy’s eyes doesn’t fade away like the older eye clinic patient. “And, I can start here with the people already surrounding me,” Jordan says.
When asked what his one piece of advice would be to a room full of twentysomething peers, Jordan responded, “Don’t count yourself out.”
Photo credits: Bernard Evans & Heidi Psyk