Brandeis International Business School

043: Discovering Your Passion by Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Galen Karlan-Mason is the CEO and founder of GreenChoice, a data-driven platform empowering informed food choices. He attended Brandeis University as an undergrad where he was recruited to play soccer. And that was his main focus until he went abroad and studied in Peru, where he started a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment. When he returned to the US, he set about learning how to build sustainable businesses that had ethical consciousness and could promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly action with their consumers.

From the Dorm Room

Galen saw Brandeis as an opportunity to leverage this deep passion and love for the game of soccer while simultaneously getting a fantastic education at a school he normally wouldn’t have been able to attend. He had never truly taken school and education as seriously as he should have. To be able to continue soccer while getting a chance to take his learning further seemed like an incredible opportunity.

As a student athlete, you're always challenged to balance the two obligations: to your team and to yourself and your personal development. Galen didn't take advantage of most of the student activities, and in hindsight he wishes he had gotten some more of that valuable experience. But he did have a meaningful community in his team, and he was able to connect with some professors that inspired him to think about business as a profession.

When he started at Brandeis, Galen didn't really know what he wanted to study, which is one of the great things about a liberal arts school. At first, he thought economics was it. Then looked at international global studies and environmental science. He realized the one thing these all have in common is that they are systems-based. He realized that was where his true interest lies, and when you think about business, it’s just a series of systems.

Galen had no idea what his career path would be as an undergrad, but he knew he wanted to study abroad. He had an affinity for Latin American culture, so he saw studying abroad in Peru as an opportunity to build himself as an individual.

Just one month before his time abroad would end, Galen had this moment where he felt like he was on the cusp of something truly life changing, and he didn’t want it to end. He called up his coaches, nervous and shaking, and told them he wouldn’t be coming back the next semester.

So he stayed in Peru and continued to play soccer. While he was there, he started a nonprofit called the Galazos with a Peruvian teammate focused on youth empowerment through soccer. He worked on it for eight months, and it wasn’t reaching the growth they had hoped for, so Galen decided to go back to school and continue working on it remotely. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, and the whole project collapsed over the next two months. It was an incredibly humbling experience, but it showed Galen how much learning he had left to do.

The best way to learn is to embrace the unknown and step outside your comfort zone. Galen didn’t have it all planned out, but he enjoyed the victories and the failures he had along the way, and he let those guide him.

To the Boardroom

The catalyst for GreenChoice came from a class that prompted Galen to come up with a business idea and pitch it to the class. This is the first time he had had to think about solving a problem that would be valuable to the world. He remembered his dad always thinking about the obsession and addiction we have with our mobile phones and how harmful that can be, but also in how much information they can provide us as well. Galen saw that as an opportunity to help people better understand the impacts of their purchases and realign their dollars and their spending with their values and the things that they want to support in the world.

Bringing GreenChoice to life, he made a couple of mistakes along the way. He could have started smaller and made some more momentum in solving the problem, but he set out to make an app, which takes a lot of time and money.

There were also many mistakes made in building a team. You can mentor people and teach them things, but it can be really hard to foster work ethic. Being able to identify that, and the people who have that spark in them and can get fired up about the work, can really be the differentiator.

Your career is not going to be a lateral journey. Your passions are going to change over time. What excites you right now? Pursue that as you continue to grow. As you grow, your interests may change, so keep following them and see where they take you.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

Galen didn’t set out to be a CEO or founder, but you learn as you go. If you’re willing to embrace the risks associated with the unknown, anyone can start a company. Whether or not you're able to build a successful business, what you will learn in that process of going so far outside your comfort zone on a daily basis can be absolutely reformative.


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