Studio IX: Can you tell us who you are, and what you do?
Lily Walton: My name is Lily Garcia Walton.
Lily Walton: And I do a lot of things.
Lily Walton: Most people when they ask you what you do are interested in knowing your primary source of income, that's what I've found. I always resist that because I don't define myself by my primary source of income. It's a part of who I am, but it isn't all of who I am.
So, my primary source of income at the moment is Chief People Officer of an education consulting firm called Education First Consulting. That is unique and interesting in two respects. One is, everybody works remotely. There is no headquarters, or central locus of control. The second is, it was founded by a group from the Gates Foundation. The organization has grown up in this space where they, primarily, although not exclusively, work to implement systemic change in school districts through funding from major donors and also the Federal government, although not currently because we don't align philosophically with the current administration.
That's my primary source of income, but when people ask me what I do at parties, I usually say something like, I'm a gig economy workplace expert, because that is my interest. I'm most passionately interested in how to intentionally transform the concept of the workplace to make it a place that our children can happily inhabit, and transforming education so that children are prepared to do that.
So, I do other things that are related to that. One of them is I accidentally became the founder of DisruptHR/Charlottesville, which is an annual speaking event that brings a diverse and eclectic group of people together to talk about the future of work and talent. We happen to benefit Computers for Kids, which is a STEM mentoring program for low income youth in the Charlottesville area that is really focused on teaching kids how to have agency, and be self sufficient, and creative, and inventive, which is part of what I really believe the future needs. Kids really enjoy it, as well.
I've become very much invested in, and involved with that organization, and I'm on their board at the moment. Part of what I do is help to support alternative pathways for K-12 education through my work with Computers for Kids. I'm also a serial entrepreneur. I just can't help myself. I didn't actually recognize that as part of my identity until, possibly, the past year. A friend of mine, who is similarly afflicted, called me out on it. I finally said, wow, you're right. I realized that I had started four different enterprises throughout my career. I hadn't given myself credit for a couple of them because I started them with other people.
One of those things was very successful, and remains to this day. It's a law related non profit called Corporate Pro Bono. It's a matchmaking service for in house attorneys to find pro bono opportunities. Two of those things were not successful, ultimately, for different reasons. Maybe I should reframe that. They didn't achieve the success that we expected. They turned out to be something else. One of them was a gay dating app called Stagg. The other was a new economy law firm called Clearspire Law Company. The fourth thing, with which I'm still involved, is a digital education staffing platform called Teamed. I'm a minority owner of that organization. I serve as a legal and HR advisor.
What Teamed is seeking to do is actually provide a gig economy workplace for the types of professionals who work on digital education and to provide a place where those who need people to create digital education products to go to find all the types of professional they need in one place. It is a very specific and formidable challenge for people who want to create digital education to find all of the different types of professionals they need, from instructional designers, to videographers, to writers, instructional technologists. It's complicated.
That's the market niche that we're seeking to address. We've had some moderate success. We have been around for about a year and a half now and are still considered in the eyes of the market more or less a regular recruitment or staffing agency.
The market hasn't yet caught up to the idea that they need something unique or different to fulfill their needs in the space.
Lily Walton: I'm also on the board of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, which is fun because it's a hub of connection for me to the types of people in this town who are interested in transforming the workplace, specifically through technology innovation. That is another passion project that I think is consistent with my orientation.
Lily Walton: If you look at LinkedIn, you will see that I have very deliberately edited my tagline so it doesn't default to my employer. What it says is, "Humanist, Futurist, and Fearless Leader". I think, at a philosophical or a spiritual level, that is what I do.
Lily Walton: I think I'm a humanist in the sense that I am really excited about bringing out the potential in people. There's nothing that moves me more than seeing a person come into their potential, so that's what I do in different ways in all of the work that I do.
Lily Walton: I'm also very clearly obsessed with the future. I'm as interested in the present as I am interested in how things are evolving, and what they're going to become.
Lily Walton: I have learned over the years to lead fearlessly, in different ways. I think that I've come to recognize that as a defining trait of mine in everything that I do. I really don't worry too much about the potential for failure. I actually tend to believe that it's just as likely, if not more likely, that things will turn out really well. I think that has worked to my advantage, and to my disadvantage. Remember I said I was a failed entrepreneur twice?
Lily Walton: I'll probably try to start something again several times in my life before I'm done.
Studio IX: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lily Walton: That's a very long and detailed answer to what you perhaps thought was a simple and straight forward question.
Studio IX: No, it's great,
Lily Walton: It's funny. I have a website, I have an LLC, I have a “consulting business” where I've tried to turn who I am into something, and it's really hard to do.
Studio IX: Another of our members was saying the same thing. They said; “I don't know how to size it up in a CV”. That they tried for a long time to sew it together and to make it look as though it was consistent.
Lily Walton: Right.
Studio IX: But at some point they just gave up.
Lily Walton: Well, yeah. It's like, hello world. Here I am.
Studio IX: Twenty years of experience.
Lily Walton: Right.
Studio IX: Yeah.
Studio IX: I think that's true for a lot of us. That it's only in hindsight that we can look back and see how the connections came into being, right?
Lily Walton: Yeah.
Studio IX: I'm interested in this, and then this, which seems so random, then this over here. Then they all come to a confluence, a delta, or something.
Lily Walton: Yeah.
Studio IX: Is there a story that you could share? One that is memorable, a turning point in the course of your work.
Lily Walton: I'll tell you this. A decision that I made that was very important.
Lily Walton: In the fall of 2017. I decided to leave my big corporate job. I just took a buy out package. People talk about that as being their dream. Oh, I just wish somebody would give me a buyout package, and I could hit reset and start over.
Lily Walton: It's actually terrifying to do that.
Lily Walton: I felt like I had no choice because I knew in my heart I was not philosophically aligned with the direction that my job was going. At the time, I think I told myself that I didn’t have a choice in a way that was disempowering. Then, in the months that followed I captivated this important and deeper narrative that told me this was a very powerful choice, and it was a legitimate choice. I could have just as easily gone the other way and stayed on the train.
Lily Walton: I could have gotten off later, but that process of deprogramming myself from the idea that I needed to have a job that could define me, that had a great deal of professional and social currency, and that demanded so much of me on so many different levels that it was a container for everything I was. That idea, the death of that idea, was really important.
Lily Walton: Stepping out of that space is what created this compelling white board where I was actually able to narrate for myself what my life meant, and who I was. That was a critical pivot point.
Lily Walton: You were speaking earlier about mid life crises. Maybe that was my mid life crisis, right?
Lily Walton: It isn't just, oh, I left my big corporate job and decided to take a different direction. It's what that process meant, and what that did to me as a person.
Studio IX: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lily Walton: I realized that ... This is going to sound terribly maudlin, right, but it isn't about the destination. It's about the journey.
Lily Walton: It's one thing to write that in a quote and enjoy it, and reflect upon it. It's another thing to really internalize it. This idea that we are all in a process of becoming, that is never ending. If we can give over to the journey, really give over to the journey, it becomes thrilling. That's what I have experienced. It isn't like I didn't have happiness or fulfillment. All the things that I've said about myself were true before that decision, and they remain true now. But it's kind of like my senses were dampened in a way that they no longer are.
And I know that there is more. I think that's part of where my decision to embrace this idea of fearlessness comes in. I think that's what comes to mind when you ask that question.
Studio IX: What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
Lily Walton: In all of the work that I do, paid or unpaid, I enjoy being a part of seeing these serendipitous connections among people that cause unexpected things to happen. I've learned to follow the bread crumbs. If you told me, I have this friend, you really should talk to him, I would totally call your friend. Whenever anybody presents me with an opportunity to make a connection, or explore something ... If you tell me there's a podcast I should listen to, I write it down and I go and listen to it. I'm available for whatever messages come to me in life.
Lily Walton: That leads me to an experience of my life that is defined by these seemingly serendipitous connections, and the things that evolve from those connections. I think that's what I really enjoy.
Studio IX: What’s something about your work that people might be surprised to know?
Lily Walton: I have absolutely no system for managing my work.
Lily Walton: I keep five different journals. I have, literally, a drawing pad where I'll sketch things out with a marker. I have Post It notes all over my desk. I make notes to myself in my phone, I send myself emails. Somehow, it all magically happens on time and with quality.
Studio IX: Do you have a sense of, or can you see where you might be in five to 10 years?
Lily Walton: I have no idea.
Lily Walton: I don't like the idea of leaving this area. I love this town, I love the people here. If you told me I'd be somewhere else in five to 10 years, that might make me sad, but in five to 10 years maybe that would make sense to me. I know that I will continue to be involved with the cause of developing people in some way, for the rest of my life. That has been consistent. I can imagine that I will find ways to inhabit the world more creatively, as time goes on, but I don't know what that looks like.
Studio IX: Last question. What do you enjoy about being here, about working at Studio IX?
Lily Walton: The opportunity for connection to other people who, I think, also embrace the journey.
Studio IX: Well said.
Studio IX: Thanks so much for your time, Lily.
Lily Walton: Thank you.