Courtney Spence on How Making Hard Decisions Can Strengthen Your Resolve

In Chapter 5 of 20 in her 2013 Capture Your Flag interview, social entrepreneur Courtney Spence answers "How Are Your Aspirations Changing As Your Experience Grows?" In the year since her last Capture Your Flag interview, Spence shares the challenge of making her work and her organization more lasting and sustainable and the resolve it has taken from her as a leader. Social entrepreneur and storyteller Courtney Spence founded 501c3 nonprofit Students of the World (SOW) to shine a light on progress and celebrate the world's problem solvers. She is building a movement of next-generation storytellers and creative activists through the SOW program The Creative Activist Network. Spence is a graduate of Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: How are your aspirations changing as your experience grows?

Courtney Spence:  So, this year, and lot has happened this last year. I feel like I keep referencing it as this year, but these are annual interviews, so that would make sense. But this year has been about, I think, wanting to create sustainability within my organization, and I think—and that is not for legacy reasons but for the reason that I really believe in what I’ve been building for the last 13 years. We’re starting to see true traction and enthusiasm and the possibility of making Students of the World, and our new endeavors have a much more of a lasting kind of global impact than we’ve ever been able to see or imagine before.

And having seen that and understanding where we’re going, it makes me very focused and concerned about the longevity of the organization, the health of the organization, the sustainability, you know, being able to provide benefits to employees, and being able to, you know, really, really put people in the right places and assemble a team that can weather the difficult times and the good times.

Like, for example, we had to go through a series of a few layoffs in August, and that was the hardest time I’ve ever experienced from a professional standpoint. And it was not something that was pretty, it was certainly the most stressful, sad time that I’ve experienced with Students of the World, but it was necessary to continue the work that we were doing. It was for the health of the organization and the mission. And, you know, having to kind of grow up and make some of those harder decisions in a role of leadership is difficult but it also strengthens, I think. It strengthened my resolve in what I’m doing and my role as a leader and, you know, as the executive in the company.