Contrapreneur on #NewBusinessCasual

A few years ago, Meg Wolf Young started wearing graphic tees to work with statements she wanted to channel that day. Things like "Killing It!" or "Human Woman," and "Spiritual Gangster." At the same time, she was getting questions from students at General Assembly about introducing radical ideas into traditional workplaces.

This started Meg thinking about how we show up at work. Out of this, #NewBusinessCasual was born. #NewBusinessCasual is about a future where we bring our personality into the work we do, where workplaces reflect the humans who work there, not the other way around.


For somebody who has never heard of it, what is New Business Casual?

New Business Casual is a grassroots movement focused on developing healthier and more sustainable work environments from the inside out. We are teachers, facilitators, visual artists, design thinkers, consultants, brand strategists, organizational designers, technologists and creatives. We believe in a future where workplaces reflect the humans who work there, not the other way around. Collectively, we are working toward developing a platform where access to tools and resources on is open and available to all who need it. 

How did the the idea for New Business Casual come to be for you?

It started with a flurry of questions about blending "You" into the work you do. Living in D.C., the "suit" culture runs deep. You see organizations more focused on the name on the front (business, company, non-profit, government agency, etc.) than the one of the back. This mindset shows up in moments like people getting excited about the one day a week they are "allowed" to wear jeans.

A few years ago, I started wearing graphic T-shirts to work and to teach, with statements I wanted to channel that day. Things like "Killing It!" or "Human Woman," and "Spiritual Gangster." I received a lot of comments. Mostly, I was met with curiosity from colleagues and students. At the same time, students at General Assembly would frequently ask questions at the end of a workshop about how to introduce concepts within their teams that were "more traditional," "not open to new ideas," "too busy," or "stuck in the way they do things."

I saw a different side to this question: how do you show up when you go to the workplace? How does that impact your teammates in hearing what you're bringing - whether that's a new way of designing a meeting, facilitating a workshop or building a product? I started using the #NewBusinessCasual and opening each workshop with the statement: "I'm Meg. I create products for people, and I show up tonight in New Business Casual, because I believe in a future where we bring our personality into the work we do."

We believe in a future where workplaces reflect the humans who work there, not the other way around.
— Meg Wolf Young
Contrapreneur on #NewBusinessCasual

You also teach personal brand & design thinking classes at General Assembly. How did you get into that?

I always knew that working with people was going to be a part of my life - but like most of us in college, I didn't know how. I met General Assembly when they opened in DC in 2012, while I was an intern at a financial policy consultancy. I was an Anthropology student, fascinated by the socio-cultural implications of policy discussion in places outside of the "Hill" - especially online. Twitter and Reddit became a bit of an obsession of mine, as I watched individuals (reporters, policy wonks, citizens!) create brands around real-time events, like "Too Big Too Fail," the role of "big consulting," and grassroots activism in the 2012 campaigns. In my "user" research, I fell in love with the human-centered design approach of digital community and Human Computer Interaction, leading me to General Assembly's UX (user experience) course, which I took in 2013, launching my career in UX research and design in software development. Within the next five years, I took more continuing education classes in development, design and marketing, switched jobs five times, each job leading me to what is now my absolute dream: bringing a design thinking approach to deliver tech-enabled solutions to market for caregivers in the US. My own brand developed along with my story, where I built personal and professional skills along the way. I love giving back to General Assembly in this way - using my own experience to help students in determining their next move. Whether that be moving into the tech or design industry, developing a product of their own, pivoting within a company, or changing the way the solve problems - it's rooted in foundation of human-centered thinking and collective growth.

This is all on top of your full-time job. Can you tell us about your work there?

Holy smokes, I am so grateful for my job. I wake up every morning and think about how to help people who care for others. There are 40 million people in the US that are spending more than 20 hours a week caring for someone else. And that's just what's reported, which as we know, means there is probably more. I have watched caregiving take shape in the lives of my family, my friends, my community. In my job, I focus on bridging the gap between AARP and tech companies, as well as other market leaders, to create new products and services that make the lives of family caregivers a little bit better. This could be transportation solutions (think Uber training it's drivers on door-to-door assisting of seniors), meal delivery (a future for Instacart?), ensuring safety in the home (smart home security) and identifying ways to increase independence in home and community. 

What does it meant to be a Contrapreneur to you?

Being a Contrapreneur means striving for purpose-driven work and defining how the world will look like when that purpose is achieved. As an example, I show up to each class with a specific purpose of delivering something of value to the humans present. When the class is over, the "world" in our little classroom has achieved a goal, whether that's a new way to problem solve, a personal brand statement or new ways to build a product backlog.

When I walk away from class, I learn a little more about this world, and the people in it. With my full-time work, and New Business Casual, I define broader goals that I believe will scale - empowering humans with what they need, when they need it - whether it's in caring for a parent at home, or in building a healthier working relationship. Contrapreneurship is a future where businesses such as these co-exist and come together through intentional curation and mindful collaboration.

Being a Contrapreneur means striving for purpose-driven work and defining how the world will look like when that purpose is achieved.
— Meg Wolf Young

Where do you hope to go in the future with #NewBusinessCasual?

I have a friend who refers to "jobbies" or job-hobbies, that create space for us to move into otherwise untapped parts of our potential. I take that mentality into teaching and new projects I work on. I see myself as a guide at General Assembly - I know the way of the river we'll go down together, but it's ultimately the students that create the ride. Similarly with New Business Casual, it is a platform for the many to share how they build healthier work environments, not a single person's soapbox.

I hope that New Business Casual's platform is ideally: accessible, adaptive, digestible and transnational. Something that can be shared widely (likely digital), a growing set of resources (workshops, virtual classes, coaching) that helps humans feel and be empowered to take ideas and skills back into their teams, whether it's two people working together or a team scaling from 10 to 50. As a hashtag, I hope it generates open and honest discussions about safe, inclusive and joyful workplaces and encourages voices otherwise stifled to speak up (and for those of us with the privilege to enable that, to do so) and grow together.


Tell me about an experience in your life that propelled great growth for you as an individual.

I went through a break up with a version of myself - in a moment where I walked away from the path I thought was right for me. I was working at an established startup where we were all pulling 60+ work weeks and I remember thinking, "this is what you have to do to succeed." I ended up in the hospital with stress, and while taking time to recover, I realized this would never be my life. My body quite literally rejected this lifestyle, and my brain finally caught up. While the next job wasn't ultimately the one I would stay in, that moment was huge for me. Walking away from "a path," and moving toward an unknown future, ended up being the best move I ever made.

What do you hope to see more of in the world? Less of?

More walking away from things that no longer serve us, less sticking with the things that don't. 

What are you personally doing to make what you want to see, and not see, a reality?

I heard once, "every dollar I spend is directly tied to a world I want to live in." I deeply believe this sentiment and apply in many areas of my life. I believe that my values show up when I do - whether it's with the guy behind the coffee counter taking a order, in front of the CEO of my organization, when I'm on my last nerve with my parents, in moments of frustration with someone who I struggle to communicate with.

Every minute, every cent and every ounce of energy and attention I have is something I can uniquely share with others, and I believe we should be mindful as we invest in ourselves, and each other. 

How do you recharge to stay energized to do everything you do?

I take time to unplug, nap, drain my brain onto paper, and pay attention to my mind/body needs. While I love humans, they don't give me my energy. Energy is an ebb and flow for me, as I suspect for many. I'm grateful for a partner, family, community and work team that understands my limits, as well as the importance of what I value outside of work, which makes me a better partner, daughter, friend, teacher, employee, teammate, and leader. Also, coffee (I share your enthusiasm, Sarah, for Bulletproof)!

Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

As we get going, I plan on writing more about New Business Causal here on Medium, and our soft launch website can be found at https://www.newbusinesscasual.co/. For in-person courses on design thinking, personal marketing and brand, see my schedule at General Assembly DC.

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Sarah Danu