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Advocacy Careers – Changing the World (with PJ Wilson)

by Marc Luber

Advocacy careers are a great way for you to fight for the things you’re passionate about in life – like today’s guest, environmental advocate PJ Wilson of Renew Missouri. We’ve all heard the famous quote from Ghandi, “you must be the change you want to see in the world”. If you want to be the change, you can be an advocate by working for or starting an advocacy group.

SNEAK PEEK   (Full Episode + Transcript below)

RELATED CAREERS
Non-Profit Careers
Green Careers

Today’s Guest

Environmental Advocate PJ WilsonPJ Wilson: Director of Non-Profit Advocacy Group Renew Missouri
College Major: Civil Engineering (minor: Business)
College: University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA
High School: Kickapoo High School in Springfield, MO
First Job Ever: Computer salesman at Best Buy
Worst Job Ever: Picking cantaloupe in the fields of Australia


Advocacy Careers

Today’s inspirational guest, PJ Wilson, talks about what it takes to be an effective advocate from research and communication skills to fundraising and organizing. He shares his story about changing public policy from the non-profit environmental advocacy angle so that you can apply it to whatever issue you’re passionate about.

PJ joined the Peace Corps after college. He became an environmental advocate after returning from Honduras and working as a wind and solar energy installer. His bold efforts have changed the energy policies for his home state of Missouri, making it a more environmentally friendly place. He provides great online career advice and explains how you can choose any cause you believe in, do your research on the issue and learn on the internet how to get involved in advocacy wherever you live. This is one of those career videos that shows you anything is possible.

A related field to PJ’s path as a non-profit advocate lobbying on behalf of a cause like the environment would be to become a lobbyist who represents business interests. Lobbying on behalf of big business can be a lucrative career path! Which route you choose will depend on your own personal values. If you’re just looking for some ideas so you can dip your toe into the advocacy waters, check out Change.org.

FULL EPISODE


For our Audio Podcast: Careers Out There on iTunes

TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S INTERVIEW

Careers Out There Host Marc Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to Careers Out There. I’m your host Marc Luber and we’re helping you find a career that fits you. Do you guys ever feel like you want to change the world? If you do, I’d love to hear from you in the Comments and hear what it is you’d like to change. But I really want you to know that you really can change the world by changing public policy – and you can do that by devoting yourself to an advocacy career. Our guest today – PJ Wilson – has done exactly that. He is an environmental advocate in the state of Missouri and he’s helped to change the energy laws in Missouri to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. He’s gonna talk to us today not just about being an environmental advocate and what he’s done, but he’s gonna explain how you can be an advocate, how you can join an advocacy group and how you can make the changes in the world that you want to see happen. It’s going to be a really cool show so stick around!

Advocacy Group Director PJ Wilson: If you’re going to get involved in advocacy work, then it’s probably because you’re upset about something. If you’re really happy with the way things work, then you should do something else. But if you’re upset about something and you want to see some sort of change, then the way to go about that is to figure out how the system works. This is what frustrates me – when I see people that are upset about something and they just sort of complain and that’s where it ends. I was this person for a long time. They should do this and they should do that – at some point you’ve gotta realize that there is no they! You’re the they! If you’re not the they, then no one is the they. Chances are, if you’re upset about something, then there are hundreds of thousands of people out there that are upset about the same thing. So if you can find them, then, actually, instead of being upset, you can feel good about working toward some sort of change. The only way you can do that is to understand how the system works. So it depends on what kind of change you want to make. For me, it helped a lot to work on renewable energy to be a civil engineer and to have been an installer of renewable energy. That gave me a lot of credibility. I wasn’t just someone who was upset about something, I was someone that had experience in a field and I wanted to go change that field. That’s the best advice I could give, I guess, is that if you want to see change, if you want to change the world, then you’ve gotta figure out how the world works!

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: So tell us about the right background for this kind of a path?

Advocacy Group Director PJ Wilson: This didn’t occur to me until recently, but if you’re the kind of person that as you were growing up said things like I want to go out there and change the world….well, there’s a lot of different ways to do this but policy change is probably the most direct way. If you could imagine if it was before women had the right to vote, then you could say I’m going to go out there and change the world – I’m going to get women the right to vote. Well that’s policy change. That’s just changing that policy. So the one thing that I think everyone has in common that does this sort of work is just that earnest desire to change the world.

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: We’re going to want to get to for the people watching today, how they can also do what you do. How they can make a difference. How they can be professional advocates. Whether it’s for the same cause as yours in a different place, or a totally different cause. So let’s start by giving us some of your some of your different accomplishments. Tell us some of your major achievements.

Environmental Advocate PJ Wilson: Recently I was responsible for a statewide ballot initiative in Missouri that requires utility companies that provide electricity to provide a lot more of that electricity from renewable energy resources. They have to go from 0.01% of their electricity coming from renewable energy like solar panels and wind turbines to 15% of their energy coming from those sources over the next 10 years. So we put that issue on the ballot and we asked Missouri voters would you like to see 15% of Missouri’s electricity come from renewable energy and they said yes! 66% voted Yes and so now, Missouri, for the first time ever, is on the clear path towards clean energy.

Careers Out There host Marc Luber: That’s amazing. Can you explain quickly what renewables are? That’s like the sun, right? Because that’s something that renews every day. Is that correct?

Environmental Advocate PJ Wilson: Yeah, renewable energy. I just had to look up the definition of that again today because I’m going to testify on this tomorrow. Renewable energy is defined a few different ways. The best way I’ve seen it defined is renewable energy comes from a field that replenishes itself as quickly as it’s used. So if you have a wind turbine and the wind blows and it creates energy, it doesn’t slow down the wind for the rest of the world. It replenishes itself as quickly as it’s used. If the sun’s shining and you’re using solar panels to absorb some of that sun, you’re not making the sun dimmer. But when you use coal, every coal you use, every pound and every ton of coal you use, that’s one less pound or one less ton of coal that’s in the earth for us to burn later. Renewable energy – also water. If you build a dam and you have water pressure, every time it rains you’re generating more electricity. So renewable energy, you can take the electricity out of it and without doing anything, the fuel for that comes back.

Host Marc Luber: So that everyone could get a better understand of who you’re interacting with and what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, tell us what a typical day is for you.

Renew Missouri Director PJ Wilson: OK – I’ll tell you about 2 days. Today I woke up and planned to come into the office at 8:00 but I realized that there was an email that had to get out before I left the house. So I ended up staying in my house until 10:00 in the morning researching for this email and getting all the information right because it had to get out – it couldn’t wait a half hour it would take for me to drive to work. I get into the office about 10:00 and greet my co-worker – actually it was around 10:30. Then we have a conference call at 11:00 where we work with experts around the nation on building energy codes. There’s 7 experts from around the nation that were analyzing changes that we made to a policy that we’re introducing. Someone suggested a bunch of changes so I couldn’t say whether the changes were good or not, so I called up – actually I emailed all of these building efficiency code experts and said what do you guys think about these changes. So I got them together on the phone and I said OK, it looks like there’s 6 different suggestions that you guys have. Let’s get them out and put them in order and go through them one by one and figure out what we’re going to do about all this. Got off the phone, my girlfriend called, talked to her while I grabbed some fried chicken across the street. Came back inside and fielded phone calls about a bill that’s been introduced that would eliminate the work that I’ve done here by defining nuclear power to be renewable energy in Missouri. Even though nuclear power isn’t defined to be renewable energy anywhere else on the planet, there is a prominent official who would like to see that happen in Missouri.

Host Marc Luber: And is there any chance that prominent official was given a nice amount of money for a campaign from the nuclear industry?

Renew Missouri Director PJ Wilson: Well, I have not yet determined exactly why this has happened, but I have my suspicions. So I prepared my testimony for this and I fielded phone calls from people that were upset and told them to go testify tomorrow as well and try to figure out who are the most powerful politicians I know that are aware of this and I can get to testify on it. Prepared for that for the next day. Then I talked to our lobbyists about where we are on the 4 different bills and sponsorship for those different bills. And got ready for tomorrow, made the game plan for tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll get up, I’ll go to our state capitol and I’ll testify on 2 different bills and I’ll network with lobbyists for the industrial power users and the Department of Natural Resources and various agencies and just facilitate that communication, see who’s excited about what, who’s upset about what, and who we need to talk to to get done what we need to get done.

Luber: Wow – so there’s a lot of variety, a lot of different kinds of people that you’re talking to. It sounds like it would be exciting on a daily basis.

Careers Out There guest PJ Wilson: Yeah, it is. Frankly, right now, I don’t really know where the day goes. It took years to get here but now it’s just a challenge of time management. It’s where do I – there’s way too many things to do in an 8 hour day. For a long time I worked 16 hour days and I found out that was not sustainable, just from a family, living standpoint. So you only have 8 hours to work with and how are you going to spend those 8 hours? You can’t forget to do fundraising, because then everything falls apart. So you have to prioritize fundraising. There’s certain things that you can’t forget to do. The quicker you can do those things you have to do, the more time you have to do the things that are more fun.

Luber: What about skills? What skills would you say have helped you to succeed and what skills would you think other people should bring to the table if they’re going to dive into this kind of a world?

Careers Out There guest PJ Wilson: You know, it’s all about communication skills. I don’t know if you have to study communications, I don’t know what that means but it’s about communication: verbal, written communication, intuition, it’s in resilience, tenacity, and ultimately that unwillingness to let go of whatever it is that you believe in no matter how long it takes. Instead of giving up on something, just think about a new way to approach it if you hit a dead-end. Ultimately, I should be able to approach people that think completely differently than me and have them agree to whatever it is I’m working on because they want to. I finally realized that I can’t convince anybody to do anything – the best I could do is to facilitate that communication so people can talk themselves into agreeing with me.

Luber: That’s like sales. That’s how sales works.

Guest: Yeah, it is. It’s selling ideas. Not you should buy this because I want you to, but you should buy this because you want it.

Luber: Yup. Exactly. And what about education? You said your background, your degree, was in civil engineering from USC?

Guest: Yeah, it was, which is still helpful because my engineering background gives me the ability to analyze things in a sort of comprehensive way. If you’re building a building and one element is not there, the whole building could fall down so you need a comprehensive view of things in that way. It’s the same sort of thing with policymaking. If there’s one word that’s wrong, the whole thing could be meaningless. My engineering background has prepared me well for this because of the sort of thinking training.

Luber: And would you say that other people who are watching who may be Poly Sci majors, or English majors, or even Psychology majors, could they all bring something to the table that would make them potentially just as successful as you have been with this?

Guest: Oh yeah. It might even be easier with a different degree. My engineering degree gave me no communication skills, let’s put it that way. But any of those degrees you just mentioned will probably have more training on that. The communication skills that I have, frankly, I got from non-university courses like Landmark Education, and a variety of different seminars and workshops. If you want to learn to weave baskets, you go take some classes on basket weaving. If you want to learn communication skills, you go take classes on communication skills. The one I haven’t taken yet is called How To Work With Difficult People.

Luber: Ha! If you find that class, let me know – I’ll sign up. I’d love to know what’s the financial path? What’s the salary like for someone who goes this route and how does one get paid?

PJ: Well, that’s a really good question because for the first year that I was involved with this work, I did not get paid for it. One way you could do this work is to not get paid – you can have another job that is either related or not related but it pays the bills and you sort of do the advocacy stuff on the side. A lot of people do it that way. One of the most prominent people that pushed this whole process in Missouri is an optometrist in St. Louis. He has 2 days off a week and he doesn’t know which 2 days those are. So sometimes, he can come help and testify on stuff and some days he can’t. But when he has free time, he does everything that he can to help and that was essential. For me, I wouldn’t recommend working without getting paid for a year if you could find a different way to do it, but that’s the way that I did it. At some point in that process, I called up the lobbyist I’d worked for as a volunteer and said what do I do? I want to get paid for this, not that I want to get paid but I want to do this work, and I need to get paid, how do I figure this out? And her answer was quite simply, you just have to take the leap. So how does that work for you? She said for me, I was lucky enough to be supported by my husband that first year or two while I was getting involved and getting a name for myself before I could actually charge clients. For me, I didn’t have that – my husband was Mastercard, I guess, at that time. Whichever way you start off, you reach a certain point where you say OK, I’m doing something that’s valuable – I’m doing something that’s of value to someone else. And those someone elses have resources and they like to pay people to do stuff, so I’ll present this and say here’s what I’ll do if you’ll pay me this money. Just having the confidence to do that, I mean, it depends on your background – maybe you’ve done that for other jobs. I hadn’t done that before – every job I’d had was just a salary job – here’s how much you’ll make, you get your raise, it’s pretty cut and dry. But to go in there and say hey this is what I’m going to do and here’s what I say it’s worth, it’s what you have to do at some point in the process. Now, that said, at the end of the process, when the organization has reached somewhat of financial stability, and after going through this sort-of heroic effort of working as a volunteer and then doing these sort of impossible things, we finally attracted the attention of some foundations. And so we now have foundation work, so instead of having financial stability for a month or for 2 months, you have it for a year and hopefully can get it for 2 years at a time. That’s really very helpful to reach that point because then I don’t have to worry about paying the bills for a year at a time.

Luber: And without saying what you make, if there’s any kind of range you can share that people, if they were to dive into a similar situation, where they’re being funded by a foundation or even they’re working for someone like you – directly for you, what can someone say they’re going to make in a year? Again, without saying exactly what you make, is there a range that someone could expect if they go down this path?

Guest: Yeah but it’s not good news. Working…..and it’s ironic….because the work that I’ve done in Missouri in the last 3 years has generated billions of dollars in renewable energy money that will be spent and I still haven’t paid off my Mastercard. That’s just the way it works in this country right now. If you want to work nonprofit advocacy work, then you’ll be making between $28,000-$35,000 a year to start off with and you’ll get some raises. It’s different from many other performance-based jobs or many other sorts of careers. The way you get a raise in the non-profit field is to quit your job or to threaten to quit your job. I know lots of people that have worked for years without a raise because small non-profits are typically dysfunctional and so they’ll just forget to give people raises all the time. So you really have to, if you know you’re doing something of worth, if a year has gone by and you know that you’re a lot more useful than you were the year before, then you’ve gotta go in and do 1 of 2 things: either you say look, I want a raise of this much or I’m quitting and they’ll do it, or you go out and you raise the money and you say hey, I raised this money, I want a raise to this level.

Luber: The sad part would probably be to hear what the salary is for the lobbyist that’s fighting everything that you’re doing. For the young lobbyist at the coal company – I’ll bet it’s in the high six figures!

Guest: Yup. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know….

Luber: The lifestyle of a job like this – it sounds like the days are as long as you want them to be, right? There’s always something more you can be doing – you can always be expanding your fight. And if you want to put in a long day, you could go around the clock. Otherwise you could keep it shorter. Is that right?

Guest: Yeah and how does time management work. It is really a challenge of time management skills. How well can you do. The best people I’ve seen at this are very well-disciplined. They’ll work a set amount of hours and they will leave and go spend time with their families. The worst spend too much time and they lose their families a lot. Because there’s no one saying the buzzer rang so you should all go home now, and there is an endless amount of work. I worked 16 hours on last Monday and 12 hours on Tuesday and I’ve worked 3 hours on Thursday because I had a bunch of other stuff to do.

Luber: Right. And generally, it seems like when someone is working in the non-profit advocacy world, you’re picking a cause that you’re so passionate about that you don’t care how long you’re putting in, how much you’re fighting and working and struggling, because it’s something that you care so passionately about.

Guest: Yeah, that’s exactly how it works. And if you don’t care passionately about it, then it just doesn’t work out.

Luber: Yeah, then it’s not the right fit.

Guest: People usually don’t take this kind of job unless they care about it a lot anyway because the salaries are so low.

Luber: Right.

Guest: So if they do take a job it’s because they actually want to work on creating the change that they want to see.

Luber: Makes perfect sense! And how do I get hired by you if I’m looking to get hired right now? I’m ready. I’m done with school. I’m ready to dive in. What do I do?

Guest: Well, you go to my website, www.RenewMo.org, and call my cell phone number which is on the website, and say hey I want to work for you.

Luber: OK. And what about if I live in Arkansas, or I live anywhere else in America, and I want to work for someon just like you? What’s the best way to find people like you?

Guest: This is going to sound smart-alec, but Google.

Luber: OK, yeah, just research.

Guest: Yeah, if there’s something that you want to do, then it would be really rare for there not to be an organization that’s devoted to creating this kind of change that you want to see happen. Chances are very high that there’s an organization or many organizations out there that are specifically devoted to the type of changes that you want to see happen. If not, then there are definitely organizations that are somewhat related to the kinds of changes that you want to see happening. And all of those organizations definitely have an annual conference. There is an annual conference for everything and they’re almost all in Vegas.

Luber: Ha. Give us some keys to success. What are some keys to success for people who are diving into this space and are going to try to kick butt like you are and make changes in whatever state they live in?

Guest: Keys to success are communication skills and relationship building skills and knowing when to pick your battles. One of my best mentors was also one of my toughest mentors, and many different times throughout the process of our last campaign told me to get over it. Whatever it was I was upset about, just get over it. Because whatever it was I was focusing on was not going to help yield the results that we were going after. And that comes back to time management – just figuring out how to use your time effectively. But that relationship building really is the most important thing because in this world of advocacy you need credibility. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have or what your background is. If you walk into a room and people don’t know you, you’re going to start at zero and you have to build that credibility up. So relationship building is key and then not taking that relationship building for granted. Not letting when you do reach a certain status of acknowledgement, not taking that for granted. So resisting the urge to walk into a room and say do you know who I am? You don’t know who I am? So humility, I guess. Relationship building, communication skills and humility are the keys to success. And tenacity.

ML: Great advice.

Guest: Really, the reason that I have been successful is because I have a non-profit work partner I’ve been working with on this. I don’t know if that’s how everybody works, but for me it wasn’t just about me identifying something and working alone. It was about me identifying something that I want to change and then finding a partner in that project to bounce ideas off of and to share resources with and to take turns being mad at people with and to celebrate the successes with. I think for me it would have been too lonely to the point of not really worth it if I had just been doing it alone and celebrating alone. I didn’t need a big cheering squad, but I have to have 1 partner in the project that I was doing it with. And honestly, the work that I’ve done has been 50/50 responsibility of her and I working on this.

Luber: And it’s through the non-profit that a lot of the money comes?

PJ: Yeah, that was another essential element. For people that are going to go out there and want to create changes, you can either just do it as an individual, you can make your own company, you can create a new non-profit, you can team up with existing non-profits. For me, I had to do both – actually all of the above. I started off doing it alone as a volunteer, then I made a company so I could work as a contractor. Then I asked other non-profits to support me and they did. Then I asked other non-profits to support me and I didn’t. So I made my own non-profit. Then, I found after this big ballot initiative, that I didn’t need my own non-profit. So I sold my non-profit for free to an existing non-profit that’s been around for 40 years. And when you’re working on issues of sustainability, it’s important to keep in mind the sustainability of your own organization. Even though I had to make some sacrifices by doing that, ultimately I acknowledged that I’m teaming up with an organization that’s been around for 40 years, so there’s a higher probability that it’ll be around for a long time. Longer than something than I just started up. I think that’s really key – finding other organizations that have been around for a long time and have similar interests. Staying true to your heart but also being willing to bend and willing to work in the styles of the organizations that are already out there.

Luber: Great advice. Now why is THIS your cause? Why is changing Missouri’s policy regarding energy important to you?

Guest: Well, I had no idea where electricity came from in a plug, when I plugged in my vacuum cleaner before. But it happened because of 9/11. I had just moved to San Francisco, and I was in this bizarre 2-week period between when I moved there and when my job started. So I was living alone in a hotel room. My only purpose in life was to find a place to live. My friend called and said have you seen what’s going on? No. He said turn on the TV. OK. So then I was just crying and crying and I had nothing to do. There was nothing I could do except for go across the street to Barnes & Noble and research what was going on. And I came to the conclusion that there were some problems with our dependence on the Middle East for energy. So I didn’t do anything with that. I went into the Peace Corps shortly thereafter. During my experience in the Peace Corps, I worked on water projects. The only project that actually got built was for a community that was without power. That community had one house with a solar panel on it that went to one light bulb and a radio. About 4 or 5 extension chords were strung together that went over to the guy’s cousin’s house on the other side of the community where he had a light bulb and a radio. That community was saving up their money to connect to a really unreliable power grid. I saw what happens when communities made that switch from no electricity to having an unlimited amount of unreliable electricity. They would immediately spend money that they didn’t really have on refrigerators and TVs. I once saw one community that had cable TV. It was just 1 station but they had cable around the neighborhood.

Luber: And where was this?

Guest: This was in Northern Honduras. Not that there’s anything wrong with big TVs, but it was too big of a leap – too big of a switch. What I thought at that point in time was, I wish I had the knowledge to provide a more gentle transfer, an appropriate technology. So then you could go from 1 solar panel to 10 solar panels instead of 1 solar panel to an unlimited amount of electricity that is unreliable. But I didn’t have that knowledge. So I thought OK, I love development work, so I’ll come back to the States and learn about renewable energy, and if I can make it happen in my home state of Missouri, where I speak the language and dollars and spent and politicians and lawyers are rarely shot, then perhaps I can help make it happen in Third World countries as well. After I got back from the Peace Corps, I came back to my home state of Missouri and was working as a solar and wind installer for some small-time installers around Missouri. I heard them complain a lot about us not having the right policies in place. I helped put on a festival, and one of the other festival putter-onners, had asked me what sort of policies we needed. And I just told her the same ones that people were complaining about us not having were the ones we need. She invited me to a meeting to come explain what these policies were, and woila – I was accidentally there and talked into being on a volunteer committee to talk every Thursday night at 7:00, get the lawyer together with a couple of other people that were involved and my role was just to make sure they showed up at the meeting. I’d call them ahead of time and say remember, we’re having this call tonight. That sort of thing. There were two policies we identified that needed to be passed. The second one is the one we passed on the ballot. The first one is called Net Metering. That’s a policy that allows people to put up solar panels and wind turbines to their house, and then when they’re producing more energy than they’re using, the meter spins backwards and they put the electricity back on the grid for their neighbors to use. But we didn’t have that policy in Missouri either. So we crafted both of those. A lawyer on the volunteer committee crafted language for both of those bills. The first one we were able to miraculously get done in one session. I didn’t so much as know that there was such a thing as a House and Senate in Missouri. I guess I knew that much, but that was about it. I had no idea what the process was for how a bill becomes a law. But I was just going along with the process, explaining what it was, and one day I sat down with the person they found to sponsor the bill. I’d made an Excel spreadsheet that said where every word of the bill came from and how it should be like it is and shouldn’t change. I gave it to him because I didn’t want to have to explain it any more – here it is on paper – here’s what it is. And he looked at it and he looked up at me and he said wow, you’re the best lobbyist I’ve ever met! I said I’m not a lobbyist, man, I’m a civil engineer. I just put this down to explain to you what this is and how it works. And he said yeah, that’s what a lobbyist does. I thought a lobbyist was akin to like an encyclopedia salesman or something. I didn’t know what a lobbyist really was. That’s how I learned what lobbying was. And so it was through that process – with that project, that was miraculously successful, we found out that the second policy, the renewable portfolio standard, would be impossible. It just would not – it had been attempted for 8 straight years and it had never gone anywhere and it was not going to. I knew when I saw a prominent Senator stand up on the floor of the Missouri Senate and say look – we all know we are not going to get a renewable portfolio standard through these walls. I thought OK, we’re going to have to take it and put it on the ballot. Missouri is one of 24 states that has that option of putting it on the ballot. If you’re in a state that doesn’t have that option, then you have no option other than to change your leadership. In Missouri, luckily, we have that option, so as soon as we got done with that session, I started a feasibility study for the statewide ballot project. At that point in time, I was roughly $15,000 in debt because my Mastercard had been funding my lobbying activities for that six month period. So I thought well, maybe now I can start to get paid for this work. Maybe someone will pay me to work on this sort of policy-changing stuff. If I’m going to be doing it anyway, I should ask to be paid. This was the defining moment – this is when the tables turned. I went to the two organizations that I had worked with and had been really happy to volunteer for and be the driving force to change this policy and I said hey, won’t you pay me a little bit of money to work on the next one. And they hesitated – well, I don’t know about that, I don’t know about actually paying you. I think that might have been the end of my career right then. But I woke up one morning and said a-ha – I need to come to the table with some money myself. So I called up 3 people I knew: 2 relatives and a friend of mine and I asked them all for $3,000. They all gave me $1,000 so I was able to come to the table and say OK, I’ve got $3,000, will you guys match it? And that was the beginning, I guess, of my fundraising and my policy future.

Luber: That’s great. So you just really were figuring this out on your own one step at a time just like any entrepreneur running a business, right?

Guest: Yeah, it was just out of necessity, really. I never wanted to do it. I was tired of listening to people complain about our lack of policies. So I felt like I had 2 options: 1, if I had a lot of money, maybe I could have paid some people to try and change it but I didn’t have enough money. So I felt maybe I could try and actually be involved in changing it myself.

Luber: Got it. So the problem on the table was that there wasn’t enough action moving forward in Missouri with green energy and greening the state, and you concluded that the policies needed to change to open up the pathways so that this stuff could get done and you made the policies change.

Guest: Yeah, you know, I think the biggest thing that I contributed to the process, looking back on it, for at least a decade before I got involved in Missouri, there were a couple of environmental non-profits. Even a little renewable energy non-profit. But they were focused on really small-time education. And when it came to policy, there were focused completely on defense. There were sooo many bad things introduced every year that they felt like the most they could do was keep up with playing defense against the bad policies that were being presented. They were really doing no offense whatsoever. When I got involved, I started to say hey, why don’t we just change some of these laws for the better. It was really sort of a divine intersection between my naivete and the times – we’d been in the Iraq War for 7 years at that point and we’re likely to be there for another 7 now. There was no end in sight and Americans were absolutely at wits end about it – it was time for something to change. And really the thing that everyone shared was a desire for energy independence. There’s no one saying hey, why don’t we get more dependent on the Middle East! Nobody’s saying that.

Luber: Ha, right.

Guest:That’s what we all had in common so that’s why we were able to go around and get that first bill passed. So we said OK, Republicans, Democrats, whoever you are, if you’d like to have the opposite of more dependence on the Middle East, then these are things we need to do. And that works. Even easier then than it is today. People are forgetting about that.

Luber: That’s really amazing. That’s really great. I like what you were saying about your naivete – sometimes that’s a benefit.

Guest: Yeah, exactly. My naivete was definitely a benefit. I remember when we sat down, it was so frustrating – I have some words of wisdom to pass on to other people that are going to be trying to go down this path – trust that little voice inside you, even if you know you’re naïve and even if you hear lots of resistance and lots of skepticism. In fact, lots of times it’s a sign that you’re on the right track! I remember when we sat down at the beginning of the ballot initiative planning process, we sat down with a couple of prominent people – x-Senators, and explained the plan that we put forth and how we thought it would be very popular and the time was right, it’s the right policy to do right now. And they said where are you going to get $1 million? I said I have no idea how where we’re going to get $1 million. You have experience in this sort of thing, so I was hoping you’d be able to help with that piece of the puzzle! They kind of shook their head like this young punk has no idea what he’s doing, and literally just walked away from the table. And I just looked in dismay – like yeah, that’s why I’m talking to you – because I have a good idea and you’re the one who knows what you’re doing. So working together we can get this done. Eventually, I found enough people that knew what they were doing that teamed up with me. So at the end of the process, people that doubted me originally just thought I got lucky!

Luber: That’s really amazing. Very cool. As you’re fighting the fight, how would you say that people view you? Do they look and say what’s this kid going to do – how is he going to change policy?

Guest: What I’ve learned so far that is a lot more effective than trying to make myself look a certain way is to try to make it not about myself at all. I get more effective the more I make it not about myself.

Luber: Now your focus, your next step, is going to be what?

Guest: What I’m working on right now is 4 different policies. So those 2 projects I did one at a time and I’m now involved in both the implementation of both of those policies and 4 new policies that have to do with energy efficiency. A statewide building energy code and a few other policies that are sort of obvious policies that almost every other state has but Missouri doesn’t have for energy efficiency. The goal is to pass 4 new laws in this session, right now in the next 3 months. But I’d say the biggest project that I’m working on right now is putting together the funding – building the non-profit that I helped create to be at a point where it’s sustainable, meaning that I could disappear and the work happens better than if I wasn’t here. That is the real trick that I think very few people figure out. That is what I feel is my quest to figure out. There should be a Renew Missouri, Renew Arkansas, Renew California, and Renew every state. Just a non-profit that’s dedicated to focusing on improving the energy laws. And they should be really efficient. Rarely is that the case. In Missouri, there was none whatsoever. Some states have some that are ineffective or different levels of effectiveness. Other ones have some that are really good – Wisconsin has a really good one called Fresh Energy, and they’re my role model – they have a staff of 25 people that focuses on this just for the state of Wisconsin. That’s my biggest project right now – taking the work that I’ve done, institutionalizing it, getting the funding secured, which means a secure membership, good relationships with foundations, well-respected by politicians, good network of experts, all those things, and then I could disappear and that machine could keep running itself.

Luber: Are you going to run for office one day?

Guest: That could be. I could run for office later on in life, later on in my career, maybe in my 50s or 60s. Now, I still don’t understand the sustainability thing. There’s still some missing pieces to the puzzle and I feel like spending more time in this culture is not going to help me. So I would like my next to be spend some time in a country like Denmark where there are no renewable energy debates or questions. They’re decades ahead of us on this issue. To see what that’s like. And in a place like Cuba, where there’s a lot more work to be done. And learn from them and then see how I can fit in to the……..on a bigger scale than just Missouri.

Luber: You love what you do?

Guest: Yup, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to hire someone else to do it.

Luber: Ha, yup – good move – definitely a smart move to do! Everyone as always at Careers Out There, you get real advice from real professionals like PJ here. PJ, thank you so much for joining us at Careers Out There.

Guest: Thanks Marc!

(C) 2010 Careers Out There

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