Defining Success: Amy Merrill
Amy Merrill is cofounder of Journey, an impact travel brand. Journey’s marketplace allows the next generation to join and lead trips that serve as an entry point to social impact, consciousness, and deep community.
Amy spent nearly a decade helping to build and lead women’s rights and social justice organizations in NYC, from anti-sex trafficking to homelessness to artist’s rights. She then left the nonprofit sector to serve as Chief Partnerships Officer for Change Heroes Fundraising, a social enterprise leveraging video technology to reinvent crowdfunding and help individuals connect more deeply with social impact. Journey was founded in January 2016 out of a desire to flip philanthropy and harness the power of travel based on these 3 core values: purpose, adventure, and community.
Amy is also a musician and cofounder of the 7 Train Sessions, a guerrilla house concert series featuring 100+ artists over 4 years of secret shows on rooftops and in subway trains and living rooms. She seeks and creates communities where causes, arts, and tech collide. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, a kitten and a tortoise.
How do you define success?
I’m going to share my broad definition, because I think the current-day media has given us a loaded version of the word.
When I think of success, I think of doing what you set out to do. Doing it according to right action and thought, and responding dynamically to what comes along in the process (and knowing what you can control and what you can’t).
Then, measuring outcomes accordingly and deciding whether you were successful in accomplishing your goal.
How do you measure your own success?
It’s been such an evolution. When I was younger, I measured myself by stereotypical markers of success: title, salary, recognition. When I went to grad school (a Master’s at NYU in nonprofit management) I did it with a very clear path in mind: earn the degree, spend years working for nonprofit arts organizations in marketing communications and fundraising, become an Executive Director. I’d have to label myself a failure if that was still my personal definition of success!
Now, I think about different aspects of my life: my startup, music projects, work performance, as: did I accomplish what I set out to do here? Did I respond genuinely, work really hard, get creative, and make decisions with my own logic + gut intuition? Am I proud of the effort put in and the outcomes I see before me? If I can answer yes, then it’s a success. If the world also recognizes the outcomes as a success, then... bonus.
How does success feel?
Grounding; fulfilling; complete.
When was the last time you felt successful? What happened?
In July, we brought 68 people to Nicaragua [watch a 1-minute video here]. We built 26 homes in 2 days with partner nonprofit TECHO (success #1: 26 families now have a roof and locking door), then took everyone to Monty’s Surf Lodge on the North coast, for two days of processing the experience together.
On the final afternoon, Monty took a group to visit the mangroves and float down a tributary that fed into the ocean: like a natural ‘lazy river’ from a water park. One of the participants turned to me and said, ‘How did you find the most 68 wonderful people in the world to bring on this trip?’ I almost laughed—68 is a lot of people! If she feels like every one of them is so aligned, and she can be that positive about her experience so far, then we’ve done a good job.
How do you celebrate your success?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I hold myself to high standards and also have a hard time turning off work. To celebrate a success, I like to reward myself with the most valuable piece of the equation: time. I spend an afternoon putting technology down and doing something for myself, like perusing vintage clothing racks, getting out into nature, going on a dinner date with my husband, or spending time playing or writing music.
What advice would you offer to someone who wants to be successful?
Don't compare yourself to the feed. Everyone’s been through more obstacles and trials than you know, and success is relative (and its moments often fleeting, in the big picture).
Set big goals—but always take time to get in the weeds of the ‘How.’ It hurts to miss the mark, and also realize there wasn’t a solid plan to get there in the first place. Both are critical.
Think of challenges as opportunities to prove your leadership, creativity, and persistence. This has been a huge mindset shift for me over the years. In hindsight, it’s not a way—it’s the only way to think about the challenges that will inevitably come. Musician and producer Joe Henry recently did an interview where he reminds us that the rocks are not in the road—they are the road. This is the truth.