As a girl living in Des Moines, IA, I was one of a small handful of Jewish kids in my community. My parents exposed us to many places and people, and instilled a sense of belonging in us. Still, my sisters and I grew up knowing what it meant to feel different from the mainstream. Fast forward to my first job as a 7th grade teacher at a school in Washington, DC, where I met my husband, a Black man born and raised in the city. We were young and in love, so that helped, but you might imagine that the road wasn’t an easy one! Even as we explored our differences as a couple and personal experiences growing up, we grew to deeply value the importance of feeling included and loved in all aspects of one another’s lives.
When we were expecting our second child, we wanted to find a book about being a big brother – one in which our first child Cassius could see himself. We visited our local bookstore, searched on the web, and couldn’t find what we needed. So, we set out to solve our own problem. As we spoke with other parents and loved ones, we designed a site they wanted – to help them find remarkable books (and eventually other educational products) for little kids, hand-picked by other parents. We built a catalog that filters by topic, character’s background, age, and a host of other categories that matter to families. I want my daughter to grow up reading books about fearless women and girls doing scientific experiments; Zoobean empowers parents like me, or any concerned adult, to find books in which their kids see themselves and what’s important to them represented.
When I consider my earlier career as a teacher, my stint at b-school, and my time working at Google, I see the struggle to stay committed to my core values at points along my journey. Trusting that path has now made it possible for me to pursue a career as a mission-driven entrepreneur; Zoobean is the pinnacle of aligning my values with my work.
Three tips for aligning your work and values:
- Lead with what matters; work backward from there. When we sat down to write a business plan for Zoobean, we started with our core values. Love, inclusion, and remarkability. That’s it. Everything else emerged from those three guideposts. At one point, we considered removing “character’s background” as a top line search filter for books, but our value of inclusion led us to prioritize this, even when some early testers questioned its importance.
- Figure out what’s at your core, and don’t compromise it with work. When I first worked at Google, most people said to me, “Jordan, you’re at Google, that’s amazing!” In reality, my initial role was uninspiring for me. Instead of just plugging along and hoping for an opportunity to present itself over time, I found a position that was more in line with my values as a program manager for the Diversity & Inclusion team. And from there, I continued to make the case for an emphasis on access to excellent education in K-12, which ultimately led to carving out a new role as Google’s head of K-12 Education Outreach. I had such a great gig at Google that I hesitated to even consider becoming a full-time entrepreneur at Zoobean. But now that I have taken the leap, I have the opportunity to build the role of my dreams that is based on my core values at every level.
- Prioritize what matters to you. For me, and for most folks, this list changes over time. When I was in business school, I cared about improving the social impact culture. As a result, I spent tons of time building and leading the Wharton Social Impact group. Now, having kids, inclusion has become incredibly important to me, and by consequence, is one of the core values for our venture, Zoobean. My family matters above everything else to me, and now I have found a way to pursue a career that is both flexible and will ultimately better equip all of our children to imagine and achieve anything.