The Higher Purpose

Last May I participated in a leadership summit called the Higher Purpose Project in the mountains of Colorado, en route to an assignment in Australia to capture the spirit of the Whitsundays. As with so many signposts along my pathway, I landed in Colorado through a turn of serendipity, having met HPP co-founder Dan Adams at an event in Manhattan several months earlier, a gathering of young movers and shakers, entrepreneurs, adventurers, and fellow life enthusiasts. We hit it off, he invited me to attend, and I said yes because that's how serendipity works. Immersing myself in that community at that time in my evolution was a powerful experience. Through lectures, activities, and conversations with leaders and fellow participants, the Higher Purpose Project asked me to think bigger, to reflect on the big why—the higher purposebehind everything that I was doing and creating. Those are questions I continue to ask myself every single day. My primary focus today, the building of Firestarter Interactive, was but the spark of an idea at the time that caught fire and has grown into a community of collaboration and inspiration whose evolution I couldn't have mapped. The process continues, ember by ember, every single day, deliberately crafted and grounded in these deep and important questions. 

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I was recently interviewed for the Higher Purpose Project blog about the impact of the experience on my pathway and on Firestarter. I am happy to share the interview (quoted below), and honored to be the filmmaker-in-residence for the upcoming summit in Atlanta March 19th-22nd, tasked with capturing story and experience of this powerful community and gathering. 

 

Willa Kammerer is a filmmaker and storyteller who has learned to create value in unique ways within her community. She currently leads a digital agency called Firestarter Interactive based out of New York, NY. 

1. HOW DID THE VISION FOR YOUR CURRENT PURSUIT COME ABOUT? WHAT WAS YOUR “WHY” BEHIND COMMITTING TO THIS GOAL? 

In the seven months since attending HPP in Colorado, I have been envisioning and building Firestarter Interactive, a collaborative digital agency which grew from the seed of an idea about wanting to create something beyond myself and my solo pursuits as a storyteller and filmmaker. When I arrived at HPP, I knew I wanted to continue to capture beauty and tell authentic, powerful stories in different mediums, but on a wider scale and with fewer boundaries. Initially I didn’t know what the vehicle was, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Firestarter has evolved organically—and is very much continuing to—grounded in my love of collaboration and strong belief that we can do so much more together than we can alone by pooling our diverse strengths and talents.

Firestarter Interactive’s work is tri-part: we are a full-service digital agency specializing in authentic (brand) storytelling, a cross-disciplinary talent agency playing matchmaker between a creatives and clients/projects, and—what I’m most excited about—an inspiration network, sharing our own stories about what it means to construct creative, conscious lives, to be storytellers and beauty-seekers, and to take roads less traveled. Through our blog and a forthcoming video interview series, Firestarter podcast, and events, we create dialog around these core themes. Ultimately through our work, I hope to inspire others to step into their life purpose, with creativity and courage, and remember to pause and appreciate all the beauty in this world, in the little and the big.

2. WHAT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST LESSONS FROM THE BUILDING OF THIS VISION THUS FAR? WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST HURDLE? 

In the early part of building my vision, I didn’t have a name for it, I didn’t know how all the pieces of the puzzle would fit together (and still don’t, but I know a lot more), but instinctively I knew that for my vision to come into being, I needed to start building community around it. The greatest lesson I’ve learned throughout this process is that is sharing your vision and asking for support and collaboration is a critical part of building something bigger than yourself. With that comes its risks, rewards, and challenges. I have been tempted, at various points, to cede to seductive and glittering visions for the model and future of Firestarter from advisors and collaborators whom I respect; I have almost leaped at a couple of fast-growth cash injection opportunities for Firestarter. But instinct, heart, and authenticity have been my most important guides along this journey, and directed me pause before leaping into decisions that aren’t aligned with my purpose and instinctive sense of the right pathway.

Part of what separates Firestarter, I believe, is this deliberately crafted vision and organic, personal network-driven growth process. To grow in a way that is not aligned with my ‘why’ or to grow too quickly without fleshing out the philosophy and framework of my vision would undermine the soul and core of what I set out to do. This need to slow down the horse, reflect inward, and be deliberate about every step can be hard in our fast-paced world, particularly when ideas are met with enthusiasm, but I’ve learned it’s so important to stand in my strength and hold true to my vision. That said, I have learned the complete opposite is equally as true: to grow, one must be open to outside input, collaboration on one’s vision, and learn to delegate responsibilities. This is an art and skill that I’m learning as I go, improving day by day, and am grateful for the patience of my collaborators as we build our now collective vision.

3. WHAT WERE THE KEY INSIGHTS THAT YOU TOOK FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE HIGHER PURPOSE PROJECT? HOW HAVE YOU APPLIED THIS INSIGHTS TO YOUR GOAL? 

Participating in the Higher Purpose Project came at just the right moment for me, and really set in motion the building of this vision. I arrived to Colorado, on my way to Australia for a film assignment, with a vision of what I wanted to become—a location flexible media-maker, helping inspire others to see the beauty in the world, engaging with visionaries and thought leaders on questions of how to construct meaningful, empowered, creative, and healthy lives. Through conversations and exercises with fellow participants (like the Power of Eight), HPP reflected a mirror back on me, and made me realize that this vision of me was something I was already actively living, I just needed to step into that conception of myself and go forth with confidence and belief in myself.

HPP gave me the confidence to finally bring all of me into my brand: shortly after attending, I changed my logo and tagline from ‘Multimedia Storyteller’ to ‘Firestarter Storyteller’ to reflect the many extensions of my personal/professional life outside of making media—my passion for travel and nature, self-improvement, wellness and biohacking, creativity, community-building, and connecting-the-dots. From here, I’ve been able to seamlessly build my vision for Firestarter Interactive, an extension of my personal brand. Without deep belief in my vision and confidence in my role as a leader—which was greatly bolstered by participating in the HPP summit—I would not be able to generate excitement for my vision, or get the buy-in I need from collaborators to make it a reality. Fortunately, confidence and belief in a vision is contagious, I’ve learned, and the ongoing support I’ve received from collaborators and other members of my community has only continued to spark and stoke the Firestarter fire.

4. WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS PEOPLE CAN SUPPORT YOUR WORK? 

There are many ways to support my work with Firestarter Interactive. Starting with the most simple, you can head to the Firestarter website (www.firestarterinteractive.com) and sign up for our mailing list to keep up with the latest updates, ‘like’ our page on Facebook to see our news in your feed. We’re on Twitter (@firestarterIX) and Instagram (@firestarterinteractive), as well. If you’re a creative entrepreneur—from a cinematographer to a graphic designer, or an e-book expert to a code guru—interested in becoming a Firestarter collaborator, we’d love to hear from you as we actively grow our community of multi-disciplinary creatives.

On the other side of the equation, we’re a full-service digital agency interested in and experienced as a collective in executing a broad and interdisciplinary spectrum of projects. If have a vision that you want help building—from branding and web/mobile design, to video storytelling and podcasting, to developing the creative vision for workshop or event, and beyond—we’d love to collaborate with you to build and execute that vision. Finally—but first and foremost—Firestarter is a culture and a community, inclusive, not exclusive, grounded in our founding Manifesto (www.firestarterinteractive.com/about/). We are passionate about sharing stories about constructing creative, conscious, meaningful, and purpose-driven lives. If you are interested in sharing your story, your philosophy, your passion, your ‘why’ with our community, we’d love to feature you on our blog and spark conversation among our community. (Cross-posting and re-purposing of material that you’ve already written or published elsewhere is fine too, as long as it aligns with the Firestarter vision.) Firestarter Interactive is, in every way, a community, and we look forward to continuing to craft the journey and story together!

XPOSTX | Firestarter Interactive | Looking back, looking forward

I came to Deer Isle, Mainewhere I now stand (at my standing desk), writingback in September seeking light and space, nature, beauty, inspiration, and openness for creative ideas to unfold. I've found many of those things, but I've also discovered unexpected challenges: the unromantic reality of the 8+ hour drive between here and my other home base in Manhattan, negotiating the logistics of a semi long-distance relationship, and the unsettled feeling of not living fully in either place. But I've really been working on the practice of reflection and feeling grateful; on flip side of each of these challenges is something wonderful: the good fortune to have the flexibility to call more than one place home (and Manhattan and Deer Isle are two majestic places, at that), the joy of love, and the unexpected insights from the whiplash between the two places that would not otherwise arise. 

On the theme of light, space, and beautywishes from here, for you, in 2015 and beyondhere are some photographs from recent days and weeks on Deer Isle, which runs from tip to tip just about the length of Manhattan. 

As we step into 2015, I'd also like to inaugurate a new ritual, the posting of quotes or phrases on Instagram, to be collected on the Firestarter website. Here's one note to start, which has been posted on my makeshift desk on Deer Isle, reminding me to focus on the important things amidst the transitions. If you have a favorite quote or phrase that you'd like to be featured, please mention in the commentswe'd love to include it, and credit you! 

I'm grateful for the many gifts of 2014including the inception of Firestarterand excited for all the beauty, insight, inspiration, and collaboration that lies ahead in the New Year. Wishing you a warm, happy, and healthy ringing in of 2015!

XPOSTX | On Becoming: Firestarter Interactive

 

A introductory note (or novella) about my new venture, Firestarter Interactive, which will be the umbrella agency for most of my projects and collaborations going forward. 

Firestarter Interactive is born of everything I've learned to love, care about, create, and do through the course my life to this point. On the precipice of my thirtieth birthday, it’s the setting of an intention for the work, culture, and lifestyle I choose for myself going forward. Firestarter Interactive is an authentic digital storytelling agency, a community of doers and makers, a shared set of beliefs, a lifestyle, a support network, or more accurately, an inspiration network—I hope you will join us. 

Following a thread, finding philosophy

I've had many jobs, gigs, and projects over the years, but I've never had a job job. Living that reality—quite afield of the the conventional pathway, not by conscious exerted choice, but by knowing not how to do otherwise—has made me an fierce advocate for creatively constructing one's life, a champion of those having the courage to believe that following in footsteps and playing it safe is not the only pathway. I'm a believer in finding your thread, whatever it may be, committing to it and following it through all the twists and turns that weave the tapestry of you and the life you're actively choosing, all the steps of the way. If you say yes, if you trust, if you reflect, if you believe, if you follow (yourself, your excitement), you will find your way because you must.

The pathway is not always clear and without bush and bramble. I will admit that more than once I have felt on the edge of desperate and reason, and the thought of a solid paycheck hitting my account every week or two weeks (or however that works)—not to mention healthcare and benefits, and the infrastructure of work already in place—has seemed like such a carefree and enviable state in which to go through life. But that feeling has never persisted long. Through the darkness and bramble, there has always been light returning, stronger than ever, a sign that this pathway, the self-defined pathway, is the one I'm meant to tread in this world—what about you? 

When you work for yourself, you can't take your eye off the ball or take the backseat. Sunday through Sunday, that can be an exhausting reality. But if you’ve found that thread, you are your work and your work is you, and there’s nothing like it. You're building your own foundation, a reflection of your dreams, your labors, your vision, your way of absorbing the world and reflecting it back. To look upon that foundation, work within it, and build upon it is a powerful thing. I care so deeply about this career of mine—as an observer and storyteller, traveler, curator of objects and ideas, doer and maker, lover of wellness, happiness, beauty, and nature. All the things I've seen, people I've encountered along the way, and stories I've had the privilege to tell are embedded in its brickwork: colorful, rich, thick, and full of lessons and stories to continue to build upon. Whatever your version, this is the reality that I choose for myself and advocate for.

The intertwining of work and life, a desire to create

I've been largely single throughout my twenties as friends, classmates, and ex-boyfriends have dated, engaged, married, bought houses and started families of their own. For as long as I can remember, I envisioned this would be my fate: marrying and starting a family young, much like my parents, and creating a life and pathway with a soulmate by my side. But that has not been my story. I believe that through this, I have to come be and know myself more deeply, and crafted a life bent to my own ideas and intentions. The landscape of my future is open and I now firmly believe that when I do meet my match (if I do, which I'd like to) it will be with a strong soul and clear eyes—as me. 

Why this digression into my personal life? This career of mine that I've constructed, it's not so much a career as a lifestyle. A way of seeing and being in this world, of connecting, interpreting, projecting, and capturing, and it's all so intertwined. This sometimes feels like a contrarian view in the entrepreneurial world, where much of the (male-dominated) discussion is about compartmentalizing, working efficiently within distinct windows so that true freedom from work can be achieved. I respect this view and approach but it is not me. I've started to believe this is simply a more feminine approach to entrepreneurialism—we are biologically designed to multitask and blend our worlds gracefully, and I see many of my female counterparts and collaborators engaging their work/lives in a similar way—but that's probably a contrarian view, too. 

I do yearn to give birth to life of my own, to raise a family and build a shared culture and story of the most intimate kind, but on this eve of my thirtieth birthday, that's not been my story. And yet, this intense desire to build, birth, and create won't quit. Instead I find myself giving form to this vision, this feeling, this Firestarting dream. There's a selflessness that is often associated with motherhood. I'm not sure that's the most accurate word to describe my state in recent months, but I have felt compelled by something outside and larger than myself, pulled uptown, downtown, across state lines, and over oceans envisioning and sharing my vision, creating, and gathering my community, my tribe of collaborators and fellow champions for pathways uncharted, inspired ahead by the energy of collaborators and colleagues believing in all that Firestarter Interactive stands for and is to become. 

Evolutions, collaboration, empowerment

My twenties had a few distinct 'career' stages: the learning stage, the apprenticing stage, the doing-everything-myself stage, and now I've arrived at the I-don't-want-to-do-it-all-myself stage. The wisdom of a few more years has taught me the true value of collaboration and shared purpose. I know that I can't do and create on the scale and with the quality that I want to alone, but I know that we can as a we and not a me. At my summer camp in the Adirondacks we used to say, 'if we all do a little, we can do a lot.' This was referring to leftover food during our family-style meals, but I know the same holds true for running a business. Yes it's completely possible to be multi-passionate and multi-talented—I know myself to have many diverse passions and perhaps a couple of skills picked up along the way—but there are just so many moving parts of building and running a media production and lifestyle brand. Why do it alone? No longer is that my greatest aspiration. 

Fortunately we all have our own unique strengths and passions—I've seen it in my friends and collaborators, and know it to be true myself. Through the experience of trying to do it all—stretched thin and chaotically pulling it off to some degree—I know we are all at our best when we're doing the one thing or the handful of things that we love most, that we can focus on: our own distinct raison(s) d'´être. We are empowered in this role. In a helicopter above Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, camera in hand with the assignment to share my story and vision of the place, I was living my passion and purpose. I believe that everyone—as part of the Firestarter team and in life—should have the opportunity, regularly, to feel the sense of empowerment that comes of living that sense of excitement and purpose and creating with agility, within a context and framework that's supportive, connected, driven and directed. 

Why Firestarter

The name Firestarter came to me on a trail in the woods, my favorite woods in Franconia, New Hampshire, where I’ve spent a great deal of time throughout my life. For months I'd been feeling a deep pull—as Willa Kammerer, Multimedia Storyteller—to step out of the closet as one who does more than produce videos, though I do that with great passion, and bring my brand into alignment with a more holistic version of me. In the last couple of years I've immersed myself with great interest in the conversations and culture of self-improvement, entrepreneurialism, wellness, yoga, quantified self, life design and beyond, where words like warrior and trailblazer are the norm. On the plane to Australia last May on the brink of a life and career adventure, I found myself musing on that theme. I wrote some of those words down next to my name in my Fieldnotes notebook, along with others that define me, like travel, wellness, and creativity. ‘Wellness warrior’ was catchy, but a little stale and didn’t stick. That was the start of the thinking. 

About a month later, I found myself back in New England and alone amidst tall pines, musing again, though quite unconsciously. Somewhere along the trail, Firestarter surfaced in my mind and required no further consideration—that was it. Days later (upon returning to civilization) I hired a designer to help me re-envision my Multimedia Storyteller logo, replacing Multimedia (that's a given at this point) with Firestarter, and changing the color palate from graytones to earthy and fiery browns. Firestarter Storyteller feels sparky rolling off the tongue and like a more colorful, accurate description of me and my role(s) in the world. While I know little of traditional Chinese elements, along the trail this day I also was struck with the awareness that if we are composed of elements, I am surely earth and fire: relentlessly envisioning and inspired, this spark countered by deep, steadfast will to forge things into being in this world; a lover of the flurry and fury of creativity and passion, yet hopelessly literal and grounded, tied to nature and our physical world. I get lost in theory and abstraction, but can't help but live my own deeply, know it, share it. 

On synergy: fire breeds fire

I believe in and practice a holistic lifestyle incorporating work and wellness, passion and play. I work my best when I feel a sense of connection and synergy with the people I'm working with. In this hands-on, heart-entrenched work/life, I've learned it's a non-negotiable. As wiser people than I have reflected, our lives are how we choose to spend our days, and we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I want to spend my days happily and productively, batting a high average. With this in mind, over the course of the last few months, I've been working to gather a multi-talented tapestry of exceptional individuals that I believe have skill, philosophy, and great presence to contribute to all that Firestarter Interactive is about and is to become. 

What started in my mind as a one-dimensional digital agency has grown so much bigger and more important, to me, beyond me, and for all that it represents. Firestarter Interactive is an authenticity-driven interactive content and experience-creating agency, a curation hub, and a network of like-minded, life-minded collaborators that love to share inspiring stories of real people saying ‘yes’ to life in whatever language it may be. Firestarter is about living deep, creative lives and believing in beauty and possibility, exploration and adventure. It's is about finding your thread and feeling a strong personal stake in that which you choose to do in this world and this life. By envisioning Firestarter I struck the flame of a little match, and am humbled by the growing fire. I hope you will inspire and be inspired, and join the fire

Destination: Australia

 

More than a month in the maybe category of life, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been selected as one of five videographers to travel to Queensland, Australia at the end of May to participate in a video contest to promote tourism in the region. I’ll know many more details soon, but I’ve been on the edge of my seat in anticipation and am excited to finally share the official news! #24hoursQueensland

After my first major burst of international work travel—to Chile twice in 2010 and 2011, and Colombia in 2012—I resolved to take at least one international trip a year, for work or for pleasure (and when both coincide, as they often do in my world, all the better!) With this grand adventure on the horizon and tickets to Tuscany in July sitting in my inbox—to teach a travel photography course for high school students—2014 is off to a good start! 

A return to Middlebury College


I'm back in the Green Mountain State on the campus of my alma mater Middlebury College for a couple of days to talk with current students about this career I've fashioned and the twists and turns along my pathway that led from Italian major/Environmental Studies minor to multimedia storyteller.

I created this graphic a couple of years ago as I was thinking about this pathway myself. While my liberal arts education may not have taught me some of the technical skills that I rely on in my day-to-day, it instilled in me an openness to the world, the ability to think abstractly and in narrative, and the desire to do good, big things and create meaning. If you want to make a case against a liberal arts education, I'll make a case for it.

My education, and all the real-world and interpersonal connections it afforded me, have come into play in so many ways anticipated and unanticipated. The twists and turns through the evolution between the points (an evolution that will never end, nor do I wish it to) have been most interesting. I look forward to the unfolding of the next chapters and participating in the ongoing conversation that was started in this special place. 

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