How optiMize Changed My Life


We’ve invited Will Ellis of ‘Awaken Ann Arbor’, a University of Michigan student organization, to write about his experiences with optiMize and the Social Innovation Challenge. Thank you, Will, for your incredible and inspirational story!

A lot of people talk about having a mid-life crisis when they’re older, but when I was a junior at the University of Michigan, I was having a quarter-life crisis.

I couldn’t stop thinking about life after college. I didn’t want to have to choose between doing the work I love and supporting myself financially. Why can’t we have both? I knew from the bottom of my heart that there had to be a way to make a meaningful impact on the world without struggling to get by, but I felt like I was learning more about how to do that on my own than I was in college.

And then I discovered optiMize.

It was the first semester of my senior year, and I had recently met one of my best friends, Ryan Sauer, at Festifall (U of M’s club signup event) when we both started similar student organizations: Society for Spiritual Development and Awaken Ann Arbor.

We ended up joining together because we both had similar goals: to help students to learn how to meditate, to gain a deeper sense of purpose in life, and to grow spiritually without emphasizing dogma. In other words, we wanted to help people foster a more fulfilling experience of being alive.

Ryan had signed up for optiMize’s Social Innovation Challenge even before we merged our organizations. He invited me to one of the first meetings because he knew that it would help us make a bigger impact, but I don’t think either of us knew how much it was going to help us.

We learned how to make our organization ten times more effective, how to make our goals more tangible, how to pitch our ideas more effectively, and how to establish an inspiring vision for where we were going to go.

By far the most important thing that I got out of the Challenge was taking more action towards my calling — the work I feel like I can’t NOT do — than I did during the previous 21 years of my life. I also became friends with some of the most inspiring and passionate people I had ever met.

In my experience, college doesn’t do all of that for you. My experience with college was almost all theory and no action: being told what I was supposed to learn and memorize facts instead of thinking for myself, knowing myself, and taking meaningful action.

I am incredibly grateful for my experience with optiMize and where it has led us.

Awaken Ann Arbor during a group outing this fall.

Awaken Ann Arbor during a group outing this fall.

This semester, our mass meeting for Awaken Ann Arbor had between 90–100 students show up (even though it’s only a year old), and the short documentary we filmed during the challenge has given us many opportunities to help people throughout Ann Arbor.

I am also grateful to be able to make a living doing what I love (straight out of college!) by teaching meditation to organizations around Ann Arbor and continuing to be a part of the Awaken Ann Arbor and optiMize communities.

I don’t think I would have the confidence to make my dreams a reality without the help of optiMize. So ask yourself,

“Why not me?”

If you’re afraid to do the work you really want to do, think about this: If you’ve ever cliff jumped into the water, what feels better: the moment you hit the water or the moment you jump?

Take the leap.