Pave Talent Tabitha Wood recently posted a question on our Community Forum asking members, What’s the biggest career risk you’ve taken? Looking back, do you feel it was worth taking? Why or why not? Maneesh Goyal, founder of both MKG and Live in the Grey, expanded on his initial response, which is just too good not to share:
I used to dread Mondays. At the beginning of 2001, I was fresh out of school and, on paper, my job had everything going for it. I was working in the field I’d studied & I was making decent enough money that I could cover my bills. And I was on a solid professional track that made my parents proud! Everything should have been OK…but it wasn’t. My work didn’t excite me.
I realized that if I didn’t change something, I’d continue down a path perhaps with a promotion here-and-there and, ultimately, wake up one day, be 50 years old and miserable. I knew that would mean I’d be less healthy, drink and party more, and have a harder time making meaningful relationships.
So, without another job lined up, I quit…because I wanted to take responsibility for my own fulfillment, my own happiness. This was quite possibly the riskiest career move I could have made.
Around this same time, somewhat serendipitously, my sister was planning a big Indian wedding. I wasn’t working so I went back to my home state of Texas to help with the planning since…do you know about Indian weddings? Big time. Many days and hundreds and hundreds of people. I took on the job of corralling her wedding and became focused on making it a memorable in every way.
I’ll cut to the chase: this wedding was over-the-top fantastic.
A perfect example of the extravaganza was the cake…it was in the shape of the Taj Mahal! Totally over the top. And this was way before Cake Boss!
I flew back to New York the next day. The entire flight home, I remember thinking, “Now, that was fun. Not necessarily the specific wedding aspect but just bringing people together to create something memorable. How do I make a living doing that?”
So it got me thinking. I’m a pretty open guy, so I called my parents that same week and told them what I was thinking. They were horrified! So much so that they tracked my sister down on her honeymoon and called her and said, “You have to call your brother. He has lost it.”
My sister tried to talk me out of it. “What are you doing?!?” she said. I made a bargain with her: I’d continue to hunt for jobs. But at the same time, I was going to try to explore this…since, I knew what no one else knew…perhaps this is way for me to actually love my job. I was convinced it was worth the risk.
So I basically dove into exploring the event world in NYC. I had no idea/no real contacts in this world…but I figured it out and talked to whoever would listen about what I wanted to do. I called companies and asked about being a production assistant and, eventually, started to get some leads.
Soon I started working some events. Now, as you might know, a production assistant is at the bottom of the totem pole. I spent many nights moving boxes around for very little money, but I always left feeling the same thing: “Wow, that was fun.” I never focused on the money…since I knew I was on a path towards fulfillment and was just at the very top of that journey.
Anyway, in the Fall of 2001 I got a call to work on an event surrounding the MTV Video Music Awards. It was Sean Puffy (not Diddy yet back in those days) Combs’s party. And, here, for first time, I found myself taking on a real role and, by the end of the night I was convinced this work was for me.
A couple months later, I got another call. This time it was Sean Comb’s office, and they wanted to talk to me about his New Year’s Eve party. In South Beach. Broadcast live on MTV.
The last five days of 2001 were the most challenging and intense days of my life.
But they prepared me for anything else that I encountered later on. Seeing the expression on Puff’s face when he arrived was like the moment when my sister saw the Taj Mahal cake…I didn’t know it at the time, but I had found my ‘grey’.
The next morning, I was standing at the check-in counter at the Miami airport. A guy walked up to me and asked, “Was that you that did Puffy’s night? Dude, that was amazing. Do you have a card?”
I remember saying to him, “No, I don’t have a card.” But I was thinking, “I need to get a card.”
And when my plane touched down in New York, I landed back on planet earth, I got to work…since, well, I still had to figure out how to pay the rent the next month.
This all led me to start a firm that is now called MKG (my initials!). It’s pretty big now. But, it all started with me. I’d answer the phone in one voice, putting myself on hold, then “transferring” the caller back to…me.
I started MKG because I wanted to love my work, and I knew that other people had to feel the same way too. I now am living what I love. So how do you live what you love?
I’m all about taking the risk to name your aspirations. Think about it for a second, do you have a personal motto? A motto can be a great way to crystalize it. I learned an important lesson about how powerful this can be from someone who worked for MKG.
A couple years ago we were looking to hire a world-class expert in social media. And my team found this guy who was so perfect for the job that they started internally calling him Dream Boy. The last step in the hiring process was for me to do a phone interview with him.
So we talked, and sure enough, I really liked him. And at the end of the interview, I asked him, “Do you have any questions for me?”
And he paused for just a second, and he said, “At the top of my resume I have this little adage, “Love your life, live your love.” Did you see that?”
I said, “Yeah, I saw that, I liked it. It has a nice ring to it.”
And he said, “I’m just wondering, what’s your motto?”
Suddenly I’m sweating a little bit, because I’m thinking, Oh, shit, what is my motto? Do I have one? And what I’m really thinking is I don’t want to mess this up, because this is the Dream Boy and everyone on my team loves him already, and I really like him and want him to take the job, and if I don’t have a good motto he might not take the job. Now the tables are totally turned and he’s interviewing me, and I’m feeling like I’m the one who has to impress him.
After talking in circles for a minute, trying to buy myself some time, I said, “I’m a believer in this idea that there shouldn’t be a disconnect between your work and your life. And I’m living this idea that you can’t tell the difference between the two. It’s not that you work all the time – it’s that your work makes sense for your life, and your life makes sense for your work. So if I were to encapsulate that, I’m not living in a black-and-white world: I live in the grey.”
And he said, “Whoa, I love that.”
I didn’t think too much about it, except that I was relieved that I’d passed the test. And sure enough, he joined MKG. Then a few weeks later, he came into my office and said, “Maneesh, can I talk to you for a second?”
And he said, “Look, I can’t stop thinking about ‘Live in the grey.’ I think you need to do something with that.”
I said, “Really?” I didn’t give it a lot of thought right away, but he lit a bit of a fire under me.
That’s what motivated me to take action. I got together with a few friends and created a website dedicated to this idea of living in the grey. And that led to establishing Live in the Grey as an organization that aims to inspire people and companies, to build a community, and to help people figure out how to take action. We bring people together, share stories, support each other, and help growing numbers of people discover what it means to be fully engaged: to live what they love and love what they do.
So how do you live in the grey? It often comes down to asking yourself a simple question: What do I love to do? Once you identify it, fold it into your life. Maybe that leads you to starting a business, maybe it doesn’t.
I don’t want to sugarcoat this. This will be one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding decisions you can make.
There’s no one path, and it’s not easy. Everyone’s circumstances are different. There is always risk involved in living grey, and all of us have different comfort levels with risk.
It’s a matter of finding your own balance between passion and patience. And it’s OK to start small. But aim for bigger.
When you dive into something new, remember that you start at the bottom. Be humble.
Never lose sight of the fact that you’re learning. Ask why. A lot. Be curious.
Talk to people and let them know what you love. Change happens when it’s invited. Be open.
And when you find a way to blend the personal and the professional that works for you, the distinction between work and life will begin to dissolve.
You will get beyond black and white. You will discover what it means for you to live in the grey.
And you will look forward to Mondays. Risk makes life remarkable.
Ten years ago, Maneesh looked up and realized he was stuck in an industry he didn’t enjoy, doing work that didn’t fulfill him. Then he looked ahead and realized it was either make a serious change soon, or stay in that rut for a long, long time. The choice was clear.
So he took some smart risks and dove into an industry he knew very little about aside from that it compelled him. Now he is president and founder of MKG—a pioneering, award-winning, experience-focused marketing company in NYC.
Along his path, Maneesh started to see some important patterns: he felt happiest and did his best work when work felt like play, his colleagues and clients felt like friends and the black and white lines between passion and profession were blurred.
He called this approach living in the grey, and in 2013 founded Live in the Grey to help his own employees, and people around the world, experience the same fulfillment.