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Adam 'Smiley' Poswolsky: The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Kara M. Zone

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Adam 'Smiley' Poswolsky:
The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

Adam Poswolsky had his quarter-life crisis and has come out on the other side happier, healthier, and ready to help people who have experienced the same numbing uncertainty that caused him to leap in the first place.

Along with several foundations he has dedicated his time to, he wrote a book dedicated to the generation of millennials and provided insight on what they can offer the world if they only listen to their hearts. I visited his webpage which is a cornucopia of inspiration for all ages and not simply millennials seeking guidance. It includes his mapped out journey, unique videos of his story, inspiring works of literature, fellowship programs, funding opportunities, along with places to meet like-minded individuals.

WITI is proud to have him lead one of our Panels on the last day of our Annual Summit, and I was happy to get the opportunity to speak with him. One of the most interesting things was his take on speaking engagements and how WITI is going to be a different experience for him . . .

WITI: Tell us how the WITI summit will be different for you and in what regard?

Adam Poswolsky (AP): Generally, when I speak it is me telling my story. At the WITI conference, I chose to do a panel. In this way, I will be working with a group of amazing millennial women. I am excited to see what they are going to say. It is going to be spontaneous and heartfelt. It's important to get their perspective because they haven't 'made it' yet, but are still extremely successful at what they do. In some ways, I think it is more relatable to those of us who are just starting.

WITI: How do you feel that will help the audience?

AP: It will help the millennials who come to the panel realize they can do what they are reaching for. It creates less of an illusion to visualize those of similar stature, who are completing amazing tasks in the light of day, for all of us to see. The three women on my panel make success seem attainable and real. I also hope to show employers who have millennial employees with fresh ideas to embolden the worker to their full potential.

WITI: Is there going to be a specific goal for your panel or an overall theme we could look for?

AP: We are going to improv a lot of it. I have some scripted questions to get the ball rolling, but after that, we want to focus on spontaneity and the idea that audience participation will guide our questions. The theme will be following your right path. So many 20-somethings get into a rut of the 'right thing' then they find it doesn't make for a happy life. In my story, I was doing all of the things I was 'supposed to' do, and I was unsatisfied. I woke up every morning with pain in my back at the age of 28. I heard praise about the kind of work I was doing from my peers and my fellow employees and it was an impressive job and yet, there was no joy in it for me.

It was after I started talking to others who were my age I realized I was not alone. I recognized so many of us were unhappy with our choices, it was overwhelming, and scary and there were many reasons not to leap over for ourselves. But, I knew that I was going to have to make a change.

WITI: Was there one thing specifically that inspired your change, or were there guideposts which led up to you leaving your unhappy life to find existence within a better one?

AP: It was more than just the pain in my spine that started me realizing that I was getting physically ill from the career path I created based off of 'the right thing to do.' I found myself unable to sleep at night; I was waking up at all hours, dreading going to work. Then, I developed shingles—it's a stress-induced related illness generally not found in people of their 20's.

I was afraid to leave my job because I had loans, and life bills (aka, rent, etc.), but my physical health became so glaringly obvious I knew I had had enough. I came across the nonprofit Starting Block which is a foundation that brings together five institutes each year through social media.

There I met Debbi Sterling, the creator of Goldie-Blox, a company dedicated to helping young girls to become more interested in building and engineering by using construction toys to boost confidence and advocate spatial skills. Her story inspired me first and foremost. As a woman in the engineering field, a graduate of Stanford University, she took what she enjoyed most and twisted it with something she believed in to create her type of career. It helped me see that I would be able to do such a thing as well.

WITI: How soon after you started finding your inspirations and like-minded peers did you start to make a change for yourself?

AP: I started my new path in 2012. I am a self-starter, and once I had the idea, there was no stopping me, even if I was scared. I created vision boards which you can see on my website to help map out my plan and then, I moved to San-Francisco to build the life I always wanted and never knew I could have. I got a job with a non-profit company and did volunteer work and nonprofit work until I struck out independently with my book in 2014.

I realized what I was doing was not portrayed in a positive light by our society, but I wanted to change that. Seventy percent of people who hold careers are disengaged from their jobs. Many of these people feel like they 'have' to stay when that is not the case. When they do that they are robbing themselves of the impact they could have on the world.

WITI: Your website sends out seamless messages with an abundance of resources (provided by you) on the internet. Do you feel that social media has helped create your journey at a faster pace, and if so, how do you create the juxtaposition from helpful to wasteful?

AP: Social media is a pivotal step in success for anyone today. In embracing the idea of social media, it is important to create boundaries for oneself. It is easy to become distracted. What I do is only post information I (hope will be) valuable. By this, I mean interviews, articles, foundations, smart quotes . . . I like to think of it as using it in my favor. There are many time traps when dealing with the internet if healthy boundaries are not established the work will not get done. It will merely be an escape from a life which will continue to leave the individual disengaged.

On that note, if people are having a difficult time trying to find the right path, the internet can be helpful. Places such as can help anyone find a group of interest. However, meeting in person is where the magic happens. There is a specific kind of connection which is created only by face-to-face initiatives.

Online is great to find people, but once you have found them, it is important to get together and explore ideas in person.

WITI: What would you like your parting words to be about your panel?

AP: Millennials are portrayed as the 'me, me, me,' generation. But I am excited to have these people who are showing that they are doing things. Millennial women are shaping the future. I want to show millennials how to be productive with their ideas and show employees how to utilize the millennials to the best advantage.

Adam is a millennial workplace expert, motivational speaker, and bestselling author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough and The Breakthrough Speaker.

He empowers millennials to find meaningful work, and helps companies attract, retain, and engage their employees and foster inter-generational collaboration in the workplace. Adam speaks at Fortune 500 companies, conferences, associations, business schools, and leadership retreats.

Kara Zone is a professional writer, editor, and graphic designer. She is the managing editor of and enjoys working remotely. She is a critical thinker and builds departmental systems for companies to use when structuring organizational systems.

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