Episode 038: Adam Poswolsky

Episode 038: Adam Poswolsky

Choose the Adult You Want to Be

Adam Poswolsky is one of many incredible humans I have met through a shared community in Oakland, California. His nickname (which is actually the name that I have only ever heard him called by) is “Smiley.” The reason isn’t complicated or intricate—Adam’s natural facial expression is one of a huge smile, demonstrating the playful and content nature of the spirit that exists within him. 

Adam is a millennial workplace expert, international keynote speaker, and author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters. He helps companies attract, retain, and empower millennial talent, and he's inspired thousands of professionals to be more engaged at work. 

I kick off our conversation by immediately jumping into a topic that holds some conflict for me: the world of online dating. As Adam and I met through a summer camp for adults that required people to unplug from their devices, I am curious to hear Adam’s perspective on the issue. His response is, of course, multifaceted: online dating can be a powerful tool that allows you to meet many new (and often interesting) people, but it is also another form of distraction—something that holds us back from being present and actively engaged in our daily lives. Adam also notes that as you get older it can become harder to meet people. Personal boundaries become clearer as one steps into adulthood, which allows you to “know when you want to say no, and [say] it.” Adam continues this thread by reflecting on his younger years:

“I think when you’re younger, you’re just like YES I want to go to that. Oh cool, an event? A party? Oh yeah. But I think growing up means—and I mean growing up, like really growing up—is to be able to be like, ‘No, I’m good.’ And saying, ‘No, I’m good’ to really cool shit.”

In this technological day and age, my experience is that dating can feel a bit like a contrived algorithm. And that’s not to say I don’t believe in online dating because I do (My brother is married to the most incredible woman because of an online dating app.). But it leaves me feeling a bit robbed of those experiences that contain synchronicity, divine timing, and magic. My conversation with Adam explores the idea of timing. He shares his understanding that “when it comes to meeting people, there’s a lot of things that are just out of your control . . . and so I think a lot of times people give advice that worked for them, but it doesn’t work for everyone and everyone’s different. And one thing I’ve tried to do is not get mad at myself for the process and the journey.” 

Halfway through our interview—which contains many more of Adam’s thoughts and feelings about the world of online dating—we shift focus to how Adam and I met and Levi Felix, the man who was responsible for connecting so many like-minded individuals in community. 

Adam recalls first hearing about Camp Grounded—a summer camp for adults that Levi and his partner had created together—in 2013. Adam had recently relocated from the East Coast to California, and he was not only hungry to meet people that he could form deep connections with but also was wildly intrigued at having the opportunity to do so in the setting of a summer camp. Adam notes that when he was growing up, summer camp was “the place where I learned to love myself.” So, when he was given the opportunity to be a camp counselor for the first rendition of Camp Grounded, he was all in. 

Adam is sharing this story with me not because he had lost sight of his intuition or instinct from his experience of being a camp counselor, but rather because meeting Levi Felix made a deep impact upon him. He describes Levi as a “person that made you inspired to [believe] that another world is possible . . . Especially today, we live in a world that is dark. There is so much scary stuff happening right now, where we are disconnected—where there is no empathy . . . we feel more apart than ever. But [camp created] a place where people come together and get to define who they are [and be given permission to dream and believe that anything is possible].”

For Adam, meeting someone like Levi, a man who felt comfortable testing the boundaries of perceived reality and constantly participated in social experiments, gave Adam permission to define adulthood in his own terms. He says,

“[You get to] choose what kind of adult you want to be. You get to choose what being alive looks like. You get to choose what being an adult looks like . . . And in fact, you have to. The challenge of adulthood is being like ‘What do I want to wear today? Or what do I want to be doing with my time and how do I want to make a living? Who do I want to fall in love with? What types of people do I want to surround myself with?’ And I think that’s what camp taught people . . . that’s what happens when we spend some time away from our devices.”

At the end of our conversation, Adam and I discuss the complexities of having meaningful and purpose-driven work in the world and how doing work that you love comes with an enormity of gifts and feelings of satisfaction and can often come with feelings of loneliness and isolation. As an expert in the realm of millennials in the workplace, Adam adds:

“One of the things that I think is the most toxic and is one of the reasons why this generation is often the most disengaged at work and [why] companies have so [many] challenge[s] keeping and retaining young talent is because people are comparing themselves to their friends. Again, it gets back to social media. People are defined now by what they do. They’re defined by their Instagram feeds or their one-line bio.”

Adam continues by addressing this issue and offering his thoughts on how to be aligned with your fullest self in your work—even if you aren’t working the “perfect” job:

“Who are you? What do you care about and is that showing up for you on a regular basis? Not [continuously wondering] is everything perfect. No job is ever perfect . . . I think the big challenge is [finding] contentment [and] just being okay with something being pretty good.”

He concludes with these thoughts:

“It’s hard to do something that you care about. I think the simple mantra of ‘Do what you love’ is not actually the right thing to say. It’s more about finding something that’s impactful, doing it, paying attention, being able to dig deeper when it gets harder and knowing when you need to make some changes. And also that process and journey piece. Realizing that there’s no destination where it’s perfect and anyone that says it’s perfect or that they’ve got it all figured out is just completely lying . . . everyone’s figuring it out.”

Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky is a millennial workplace expert, international keynote speaker, and author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters (Penguin Random House, 2016). Smiley helps companies attract, retain, and empower millennial talent, and he’s inspired thousands of professionals to be more engaged at work, through speaking at companies like Unilever, IDEO, Salesforce, Deloitte, SAP, and TEDx, and by collaborating with purpose-driven organizations like the Hive Global Leaders Program, the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, Camp Grounded, The Passion Co., Esalen Institute, and General Assembly. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, Fast Company, Time, Quartz, Business Insider, and GOOD, and his work has been featured in USA Today, Mashable, Forbes, Inc., VICE, CNN Money, CNBC, MarketWatch, and the World Economic Forum, among others.

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Episode 039: Sachi Doctor

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Episode 037: Kendall Kridner-Protzmann