2010-10-05 9:14 p.m.
Tonight I pressed the button. I paid my $265 and submitted my completed application for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I've spent months working on this—gathering transcripts, studying for and taking the GRE, writing essays, and getting letters of recommendation.
I've never applied to college before. I was accepted into Cogswell College sight unseen—and given a full scholarship. So, I'm at a disadvantage when it comes to massively complex applications. I'm inexperienced.
Turns out that it's not a terribly easy process, either.
I'm nervous and excited. And I don't know what to do now.
Here are the essays I wrote for the application:
Some say we should focus on making our own dreams come true. For me, helping others make their dreams come true makes mine come true. And, I get the added bonus of experiencing fantastic joy when I see other people thriving. This feeling started at a summer camp I attended from age eight to fifteen.
Outside camp I had few friends, got made fun of, and was a bit of a social reject. I got picked last on the playground for everything. The neighborhood kids beat me up. But things were different at camp. My counselor, Matt Niswonger, made me feel special, important, and valuable. Matt gave me the most responsibility of anyone in the cabin and always included me. He noticed what was important to me and nurtured those parts of me.
Between summers Matt and I were pen pals. His letters encouraged me to pursue some of my passions, especially music and the study of math. (Several years later, thanks to him, I took every math course my college offered. And I actively pursued a career in music that has led me around the world and back.)
When I turned sixteen I couldn’t wait to follow in his footsteps and be a counselor—to recognize what was special about kids and support them in a way that I felt was neglected at school and home. I worked there for ten summers. It’s been several years since I’ve been back, and from time to time I run into a camper on the street or they find me on the Internet. They thank me for supporting and encouraging them to take risks, follow their dreams, and be themselves.
It was during the years as a counselor I discovered my secret agenda, my personal fuel: helping others.
This carries into my professional life. I had the honor of making my first solo album with a great hero, multi-platinum Swedish music producer Christoffer Lundquist. He produced my favorite album (“Stay Free” by his band, Brainpool). I figured I should approach him and ask him to make my record. (I asked myself, “Who would I work with if I had a million dollar budget?” He was number one. Turns out I didn’t have any budget at all. But, he loved what I did and lowered his rate by $75,000 to accommodate me.)
That album was a dream come true. Only I’d never thought to dream quite as big as the reality that happened—swirling orchestras, lush instrumentals, and massively beautiful production. It sounded like Brian Wilson collided with The Beatles. After it was done, I asked him, “You made all my dreams come true. What can I do for you?”
He scratched his beard and answered, “Well, my band Brainpool wrote this rock opera concept album. My biggest dream is to have a proper, theatrical world-premiere of the opera on a stage with lights, acting, dancing, everything.” Making my record he’d brought back those feelings I had as a kid at camp—feeling accepted, recognized, special. I wanted to return the favor.
I started managing his band, Brainpool, and began the long, arduous task of learning how to be a theater producer. Three years later I’d raised the money to put on the first production of the show in Los Angeles. I brought in a director that I discovered at UC Santa Cruz ten years earlier. (Then he was an ambitious teenager with more talent than I’d seen before. I vowed that someday, somehow I would work with him.) I also brought the head of marketing for the Pasadena Playhouse into our organization.
Our opening night sold out and Brainpool flew over from Sweden to see it. There was nothing more satisfying than watching the joy, laughter, and tears on the band’s faces as they saw their musical dream become a three-dimensional reality.
Afterwards, Christoffer hugged me and said, “Thank you. I didn’t think it could be done. But, you did it. You did the impossible. This would have never happened without you.”
I’ve never experienced an award or payment that has rivaled the gratification and feeling of fulfillment I had when helped make my musical hero’s dream come true.
It all started with some camp counselor believing in me and encouraging me decades before.
This is what I want to do with my life forever: make projects happen that turn other people’s dreams into realities.
I have a mantra: I inspire and assist creative people and their projects while creating a legacy of important, lasting art and business.
Some concrete goals:
• Establish a collaborative bridge between Sweden and the USA. I plan to use my rock opera project as the first building block of this bridge to help businesses, artists, and government agencies in the two countries to reach their goals. One obvious part of this is to help participating organizations and individuals reach new markets in the other country. But the larger aim is to make a better world, create alliances between the territories, and improve sharing and integration of cultural information from one country to another—especially from Sweden to the USA. Why? Sweden’s socialist structure has yielded a safe, healthy, egalitarian society and a “flat business architecture,” where executives and workers are treated as equals. These ideals are the subtext for the rock opera itself, and will be promulgated anywhere the show is performed—New York, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, and more. The USA could benefit greatly from some of these Swedish social thought-processes and methods. So, basically, I want to promote my secret agenda of social change in the USA (and the world) while making a huge creative-business project happen and promoting commerce between the countries.
• Record ten large-scale musical albums in my lifetime. Each will be a collaborative effort with people that have greatly affected my life or have had a major impact on their sphere of influence. Although my genre is Beatles-style pop, each record project is at its heart a conceptual piece based upon a larger social study or survey. The most recent of these projects was based upon the answers I got when asking my fans, friends, and family, “What music do you want played at your funeral, and why?” Their essays and lists of songs were the building blocks for me to create an “album of music to leave this world to.” I collaborated with members of the Malmö Philharmonic Orchestra. In the next project I plan to address the topic of heroes and realizing goals. I’m currently arranging a team of co-writers that were heroes to me in my childhood and teenage years. Two down, eight more to go!
• I would like my endeavors to raise awareness about the struggles of teens in American society. My current project is producing a book about teens involved in cutting. The book, currently in pre-production, will include stories about each interviewee in their own words as well as a fine-art portrait of them. The book will educate parents, teachers, friends, and the community as to the needs and underlying problems of these people, while providing a platform for the cutters to have their voice heard. The goal is to conduct 100 interviews and photo sessions. So far I’ve completed ten.
• Why Stanford? I sat down and made a list of the people I wanted to work with—to help with current projects, to collaborate with, to share resources with. Many were Stanford alumni. I realized I want to know what they know and be where they are so we can work together to make extraordinarily huge, interesting things happen. I read the GSB’s mission statement and “We Create The Future” sections on your site and they echoed my personal goals almost exactly. Additionally, I feel the entertainment industry lacks executives with the business acumen and global thinking required to integrate projects in disparate industries and territories. I want to go to Stanford so I can be the person that fills that gap.
I have two answers:
1) I used to keep a blog about my ridiculous life. It got more popular than I ever expected—7,000 hits a day. When I wanted to make my first solo album I asked my readers if they’d help pay for it. Donations poured in from around the world. In my mailbox I found envelopes filled with letters of support and appreciation, checks, and cash. One child sent a letter explaining he didn’t have much money but sent what he could—fifty-five cents taped to the letter. I cried when I saw that people that only knew me from my writing cared about me and wanted to support me.
2) My team and I raised a little over $100,000 from private donors and investors to fund the world premiere and subsequent productions of Brainpool’s “JUNK: A Rock Opera.” I established partnerships with the Swedish Consulate General, the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, Swedish Match (a large tobacco company), Mackmyra Svensk Whiskey (a liquor company), FACE Stockholm Cosmetics, and the Swedish Royal Dramatic Institute.
May 8, 2009 was a day when I knew I made a lasting impact on my organization.
We did a staged reading of the rock opera at Claremont University. (That’s what the theater industry uses to showcase a show to investors, students, press, and professionals—imagine a live, B2B PowerPoint presentation with real people singing and performing.)
After the reading we held a Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the cast and director, “If this show goes on to Broadway will you keep the current cast?” Whoa. This was like asking, “If the show is successful and gets on Broadway will you fire and replace all the people I see on stage in front of me right now?”
Tension was heavy. We shuffled nervously in our chairs.
The star stood up, breaking the silence, “I think I stand for everyone on this team when I say that this is more to us than just a show. This is our family. We love and care so much about this project. We want it to go on and succeed, with or without us.”
Another asked, “What is the point of the show?” The director answered, “The show asks the questions, ‘what will you do to succeed?’ and ‘what is your ticket out?’ When Justin first approached me with this project I knew it was my magic ticket out of my old life. We want everyone that sees it to ask themselves these same questions.”
The director cried; the cast cried; I did, too. As head of the organization I saw how I helped create a truly special experience that affected everyone on my team—in the theater and in their personal lives. It was fantastic.
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