Expectations vs. Reality

In the spring of 2018 I was applying to any and all jobs I could find. After several trying years of work experience in two wildly different fields and approximately zero college experience, me, my high school diploma, and my funny looking resume did our damndest to find something.

My prospects usually fell under 2 categories,

  • Long shots: jobs that I was under qualified for, that could change my standard of living, bring new and exciting challenges, and seemed very very far away for someone with no degree.
  • Steps backward: jobs I was qualified for that come with deeply unsatisfying pay, location, and/or hours that I might be able to tolerate long enough I could find something better.

Enter Indy Hall

Of probably dozens of job descriptions and applications, Indy Hall’s were immediately unique. Besides describing the ideal candidate, the job description and requirements were vague and intriguing. But there was one neon sign of a sentence which really got me curious:

And then, right below it:

Was this real? Could I be hired somewhere that wouldn’t exploit of my lack of direction and inexperience, but would instead provide safe environment for exploration?

Then I saw it, the most beautiful thing I could imagine:

I started my application within seconds.

It was a handful of short answer questions, simple enough. I took a cue from the vague and inviting job listing and designed my answers to leave whoever was reading them wanting more.

Within a few days I got an email thanking me for my application, letting me know when I could expect to know if I had progressed to the interview process, and encouraging me to ask any questions in the meantime. After months of having no idea what was going on in the minds of people who may or may not hire me, I took the unusual transparency as another symbol of hope and started to get excited.

The rest of the interview process was equally unusual, and bizarrely pleasant.

After an initial conversation via zoom with Alex, the founder of Indy Hall, I was invited to see the space and meet Adam and Sam, tummlers to the stars, to ask questions and get more details about the role, as well as meet Johnny, one of the founding members of Indy Hall, to get details about this place from a community member’s perspective. Of course I was also there to give them an idea of what working with me would be like, but the entire 3 hour process was so reciprocal that I never felt like a bug under a microscope. As it turns out, feeling seen as a person and not a piece of paper is quite pleasant- who would’ve thought. To this day I don’t think any of them have seen my resume. They all confirmed the impossibly ideal job I had read about in the post. 

When I left that final interview I was warding off trepidatious excitement with a handful of bitter convictions, including (but not limited to):

  • There is no way I’m getting this job.
  • There is no way it’s as good as it seems anyway.

Luckily for me, both ideas proved themselves to be soundly untrue.

A little over a week later I was offered the position. Over the next six months what was once a too-good-to-be-true dream developed into a delightfully challenging, deeply empowering, and consistently inspiring full time job. I still can’t believe it.

I’ve made it this far, and I haven’t looked back. (I mean, I am now– but for purely journalistic purposes)

The first few weeks were a blur of names, faces, online tools, tours, and note taking, but a glorious blur at that. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed and processed that much information ever.  It was utterly exhilarating.

I couldn’t get enough.  

Being a passionate learner and a terrible student had me starving for education at school. My entry-level work experience was definitely challenging, but often tested my stamina and work ethic more than my intellect. It wasn’t until I started working at Indy Hall that I was finally able to dig into some juicy challenges, which tested everything

Some things were harder than others, (it took me 3 months to get over the intimidation of taking attendance and start introducing myself to folks I didn’t recognize) but nothing came close to the challenge of getting everything done, from tedious little chores to huge steps towards project management.

While no two days have ever been same, I began to see patterns emerging.

Daily events remain a constant rearrangement of endless tasks, which I’ve divvied up into categories:

1. Somebody Needs Something aka Perform As Needed

upgrade the account, send a deposit refund, speak fluent printer error, open the vending machine because a bag of chips got stuck, find the missing thing, can’t find the missing thing because we’re out of it so gotta go get more of it, negotiate with at least one of the 14 online tools to get someone the info they have requested, reboot a router, etc.

2. Indy Hall Needs Something aka Perform As Needed

sort the torrential downpour of packages so the mail area isn’t an actual mountain of cardboard, correctly rearrange the circular tables in the gallery, push the chairs in, wipe off the countertops in the kitchen, relocate something off the worktable in the workshop so the surface is usable again, update the notes in Airtable after a tour, etc.

3. Long Term Goal Management  aka Get Around To Whenever Possible – or – Shit That’s Tomorrow

reach out to the artists who are performing at Open Hall to see when we can do soundcheck, create the marketing plan for an upcoming event, schedule it, then execute it over the next month, write the next 500 words of the short story, dream about where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and start to work backwards, dream about where Indy Hall could be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and start to work backwards, etc.

4. Misc. Extremely Important Stuff aka Fit It In Somewhere Because It HAS To Be Done

help people update their billing info, take attendance twice a day, give tours, write newsletter, update social media, say good morning to everyone as they walk in, etc.

5. There’s Someone Right In Front Of You Who You Could Get To Know Better  aka The Most Important, Must Do At Every Possible Opportunity!!

have lunch, learn about their favorite comic books, discuss how great the art store down the block is, commiserate about stupid septa being stupid again, share a giggle after overhearing something purely incredible at the table next to you, comment on their GroupBuzz posts, encourage people through their current challenges and celebrate together when they overcome them, etc.

As Sam tried to warn me, the mind-bending, whiplash-inducing, multitasking required to keep up with daily tasks and long term projects, and staying 100% accessible in the present moment is… substantial to say the least.

Through constant mental gymnastics to decide “what the heck should I be prioritizing right this second?”, I formulated some (imperfect) methods of prioritization out of pure desperation to not fuck up.

Here’s one of them:

A flowchart which is very hard to describe that is basically saying, “hang out with folks as much as possible, make sure all your work is being done, and don’t forget to eat breakfast”

I also, unsurprisingly, learned some extremely hard fought lessons.

So, given all of this, I’m going to attempt to speak to my past self. Maybe I can help her by sharing some pearly nuggets of wisdom that came from this past 6 months.

Dear Anaia whose mind is swimming with excitement and uncertainty, 

Hi, it’s me! (That is, you, from the future.) I’m writing because foresight is a gift only I can give you.

Hope this helps:

Mistake Like You Mean It

I know very well that you have always confused recklessness with a willingness to mess up. It’s a deliberate misunderstanding, one that has often led to commitments dissolving and leaving you smug, thinking to yourself ‘Good! I didn’t want to do it anyway.’ But guess what?

Mistakes are not excuses for doing the wrong thing on purpose.

Mistakes are beautiful, beautiful gifts. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and then do better.

It’s time to learn to love them, and it’s time to learn it out quickly, because you have too much to loose and you have worked too hard to give up. So here’s a little epiphany for you, dear Anaia.

Moments of insecurity are not your evil over loads.

There is no Eye of Sauron in the sky forcing you to walk away from a challenge because you might fail. Quite the opposite, there’s an Alex in the gallery who is ready for you to mess up, ready to help you fix it, waiting there to tell you to try again. He will probably tell you a funny story about messing up.

It’ll be fine.

The truth is you might not be good enough. Maybe your first, or second, or 8th attempts will all come up short. That is not reason enough to not try. Furthermore, by refusing to try you sacrifice ever finding out how to do the thing. I can say with mathematical certainty that not trying is never worth not finding out how to do the thing. It just doesn’t happen.

You do not like hearing this and I risk you throwing this letter away by putting this first.

(Should that impulse arise, just consider the irony until it’s unbearable, and then keep reading.)


There’s Room for Your Ambition After All

Your insistence to figure everything out alone, willingness to plunge headfirst into adventures big and small, and desire for growth, change, and freedom have made a lot of things more difficult than necessary, particularly in regards to finding employment. You are so damn stubborn about this it’s ridiculous.

Maybe if you were less privileged, less confident, and less ambitious you would negotiate with that deep and abiding stubbornness. Maybe one day you will be forced to choose between your livelihood and your affinity for independence and adventure. I know you are thinking that maybe that time had come, and I know that was causing you a lot of pain. Good news, friend: it hasn’t.

You have wrangled an incredible opportunity – one that not only allows you to grow, but demands that you work as hard as you can to grow as much as possible.

(I know, that thought still makes me want to cry.)

But now, for the first time, that open-ended, alluring, Just Work Hard Enough That You Exceed Your Own Expectations is matched by support. Support from people are generous with their wisdom. People whose careers, attitudes, and abilities are inspiring.

You can be independent and ask for help.

You can get help when you ask for it.

More than that: you will.

I promise.


Make Friends (With Discomfort)

For someone who regularly sprints off of metaphoric cliffs and into the unknown, you are a great big baby when it comes to being uncomfortable.

When you are waiting to hear back about this job and considering what you would do if you are offered the position at Indy Hall, this childish aversion to even the slightest discomfort is tugging at your shirt and whining to be tucked in for a nap. You are well within you rights to say “Kindly fuck off, childish aversion to discomfort. I rebuke you with the power of dark goal-attainment magic”

(How I wish it were that easy.)

There is one anticipated discomfort that comes with this job that frightens you more than the others. It’s the same challenge that has stood firmly in front of you, blocking your path, many, many times before.

There is tremendous social responsibility that comes with working at Indy Hall. It cannot be overstated. You will be tasked with, at the bare minimum, getting on first-name-basis with hundreds of strangers, build trusting relationships with as many of them as possible, be readily available, every moment you are at work is a moment you must be ready willing and able to help anybody with absolutely anything they need.  

This level of interaction is on such a monumentally bigger scale than ever before, you will go into shock a little. (That’s fine. You’re used to it. Remember the cliffs of yore?) You’ve grown through so many challenges, this is just one of them.

Things that make you cringe and hide right now are not doomed to do so. Exposure therapy is real, you’re a badass, and nothing is ever as scary as it seems.

It won’t get easier, but you will get stronger.

With that will come security, peace, and, yes, even comfort that you couldn’t possibly imagine. It will also mean that you are doing your job well, which is extremely important because, as stated before, you are not going to mess this up. Not only that, but you actually like meeting new people, specially Hallers. (You will really like them quite a lot.)

Three birds, one banishment of lingering immaturity. Well done.

Your smile will become freer. “Good Morning!” will float out of your throat effortlessly, countless times, every single day. You will feel pride when folks come to you, for anything and everything, because your good mornings and newsletters are working and people know you are there for them. You will shake hands, give tours, and learn through every minute interaction and every after hours heart-to-heart that this isn’t so bad.

It’s actually really, really lovely.

You will feel a little silly for resisting this charming life for as long as you did, but eternally grateful for pushing yourself into this overwhelming sweetness, that may well have stayed hidden indefinitely if you didn’t push yourself so hard.

Your little community of close friends have taught you how much you need them, how much you enjoy being needed, and just how nice it is to have smart, courageous, weird, interesting, and funny people in your life.

Now you will discover just how big that community can get, and you’re going to like it, too.

I can tell you confidently, Anaia 6 months ago, that I understand your hesitance to believe this will all happen. I know how hard you have worked for other exciting opportunities, and I remember how painful it has been when they ended in disappointment. I also know that you were right not to give up, that it was all worth it, and the best is yet to come. Just trust me on that. 

So take a deep breath or two, summon all of your considerable strength, and jump.

This one is really worth leaping for.




Do you have thoughts to share in response to this post? Let me know at Anaia@indyhall.org!

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PSA: Indy Hall ❤️ Code for Philly

In many ways, Code for Philly and Indy Hall already have a lot of history.

In fact, you can trace our relationship at least back to 2010 when I wrote about Code for America’s presence in Philly and how it helped me define my understanding of citizenship.

“I think that the CFA process helped prime the pumps for the continued development of a new style of trusting relationship between city hall and citizens. Something that Indy Hall in particular is really good at, and we’ve been recognized for. – Alex Hillman

Since those days, the organization has both grown and matured. For example, despite the name, it’s not just coders! There are on-ramps for people with a variety of skills, interests, and experience. And while “hack nights” are still a cornerstone, CFP hosts a wide range of events across the city every month.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Code for Philly and Indy Hall share a love Philly and a dedication to community building through co-creation.

“That’s the heart of civic tech: community. No project would ever be able to get off the ground if it didn’t benefit from collective support, and volunteer effort from people who care. – Code for Philly’s Leadership Team (Rich, Toni, and Charlie)

After a few months of hosting occasional Code for Philly hack nights, we’re trying out something new and launching one of our first ever “organizational memberships.”

Rather than simply offer a venue, we’re thinking of our communities as a sum greater than the parts.

This means that the CFP leadership team now has an official “headquarters.” That doesn’t mean exclusivity – in fact, during our conversations I emphasized the importance of having the community “pop up” in various places around the city.

At the same time, and we hope that this membership allows the extended Code for Philly community can feel like they have a home, rather than like they’re always borrowing someone else’s.

We’re also actively looking for ways to connect the people in our communities. Code for Philly’s extended community is now part of the Indy Hall family. That means there are more opportunities to ask for help, and get it; more opportunities to find a project you care about, and contribute.

“What makes Code for Philly thrive, and not just survive, is being able to connect like-minded people with differing skill sets together to pursue progress via civic projects. We’ve found that same desire to bring people together in the people who call Indy Hall home. Together, we know that big changes start with a series of many smaller actions.

This is an exciting new chapter for both of us, and frankly, one that we agree should have happened sooner! Especially working together, our groups’ collective expertise and love for Philly couldn’t be a more powerful force.

You can read more from their side and find out how to join Code for Philly’s next event on their website.

Finally: if your group or business is interested in an organizational membership, drop us a line! team@indyhall.org

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How Indy Hall helped my best friend get their dream job

I always knew Indy Hall was about the community. That’s the foundation of coworking after all.

I’ve been a member for a little over a year, and it seems like every person I’ve met here has enriched my life. Some a little, some a lot.

What I didn’t realize was that Indy Hall was capable of enriching the lives of other people in my life, too.

Indy Hall isn’t just a resource for me and my fellow members.

The thing that Indy Hall gets right about community is that they welcome everyone to be a part of it, regardless of whether they’re present in the coworking space, present in Philadelphia, or even a paying member.

My best friend, Josh, lives in Los Angeles. Works in a job he hates, and has been studying in his free time to build the skills that will help him make a career change to something he loves.

Josh wants to do what Indy Hall strives to help everyone do: own their time doing what makes them happy.

Josh wanted to make a living writing code, building applications that make people’s lives easier. As his best friend and a part of Indy Hall, I knew there had to be a resource here to help him.

In our ever-active and information-filled Slack channels, a man named Jeff (who I’d never actually met in person) posted a job opening with his company that seemed like it was right up Josh’s alley.

I asked Josh if he was interested in the role, and he gave me a resounding “yes!” I then asked Jeff if I could put him in touch with Josh, to which I received another resounding “yes!”

No obstacles, no questioning, no cliques. Not even a hint of doubt between relative strangers willing to help each other out.

You see, this community is filled with hard-working, trustworthy people. Everyone is welcoming and supportive, and as a result people tend to trust each other from the start.

A short time and a few interviews later, Josh landed the job. He is able to leave a job he hates to start his journey in the career he wants, with a hefty boost in pay and a role that doesn’t even require him to leave his bed because it’s remote.

Maybe Josh will one day be a member of Indy Hall. Maybe he won’t.

But the fact that three people from three cities on different coasts, one of which had NEVER MET the other two, were able to come together to give one of them the gift of owning his time is incredible.

The effects of Indy Hall span far outside of the physical coworking space.

Community isn’t where you are or who you know. It’s how you think and live. Indy Hall knows this. And that’s what puts it above the rest.

And I have no doubt that Josh will take this experience of community and pay it forward.

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The secret power of saying “I don’t know”

Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m a terrible know-it-all.

  • I think it’s a combination of a lot of things:
  • I’m 26, so still fall into the “be the smartest!” mentality of school
    Knowing things makes me feel more confident and in control when I have no clue what’s going on
    And sometimes it feels like the job description of being someone who runs a coworking space is essentially “know everything.”

When you’re a community builder, your job is to have an eye on everything.

Is someone new coming in for a tour? What does that guy do? Are we running low on toner or paper towels? Who knows UX design? What was that weird thing that happened with this member’s payment three months ago, do you remember? Where’s a good place for lunch?

When you job is “community” you are stretched in all directions, every day. It’s just how we work, part of the package.

And with my know-everything mindset, I find it incredibly tempting to be the answer to everyone’s problems all the time, and to be that helpful resource that knows the solution before you even need to ask.

You can see where this is going, right? Burnout.

Continue reading this article…

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Three Community Building Lessons I Learned in Summer Camp

Before I worked at Indy Hall, I was a camp counselor at Camp Sequoia, an overnight camp for kids with social skills difficulties on the autism spectrum and/or with ADHD. For 3 summers I wore many hats; developing the camp’s drama program, taking photos for the website, and chasing after the kids in the 8–12 year old bunk.

When I interviewed at Indy Hall, I assumed that being able to work with people in a close capacity, like at camp, would be the most important skill I’d carry over to coworking. Once I got more involved in community building here, however, there were far more similarities than I expected.

Lesson One: Every person is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to interact with them.

I need to make this a mantra for myself- Even after 2+ years working at Indy Hall, I forget this all the time.

I learned very quickly my first summer that no two campers are alike. This may seem obvious, but when you live with your campers, work 6 days a week from 7am-10pm, and have a tight schedule to keep to, this reasonable fact leaves your brain very quickly.

Continue reading this article…

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