Entrepreneurs Outdoors: Joanna Miller
This week we caught up with Joanna Miller - a beautiful night owl, avid walker, world-flirter and future podcaster for a very special edition of "Entrepreneurs Outdoors".
Joanna's birthday-inspired, Monday Sunrise club helped pave the way for the Detroit version (launching this May with Sunrise 001) several years later! Below, she shares insight into what led her to hold the first Sunrise meetup with her close friends and much more on her life outside the office!
The idea of a sunrise get together has come full circle now - back to Joanna's hometown of Detroit - with our very own Sunrise Club! In its inaugural year, it runs May through October on the first Wednesday of each month along the Detroit Riverwalk near downtown. Visit our Facebook page for more details and to subscribe to the events!
Joanna, where do you hail from and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in downtown Detroit. I've lived in San Francisco for the last six years.
What keeps you there and what do you do?
The weather and the spirit of endless possibility! I'm grateful to live someplace where you can be outside all year round. Even in the city you aren't far from the natural beauty of the ocean and mountains.
I work for a tech company called Asana, we make team collaboration software. I'm the lead of learning and development; I design learning experiences for employees to develop within their role or gain skills to move into different career paths within the company.
Where do you go to find inspiration for your work/craft?
Every shared experience is an opportunity for learning, self-discovery and meaningful connection with others. These are the values I like to infuse in the programs I run at Asana. For inspiration, I love listening to podcasts and attending talks or storytelling events like The Moth or Pop-up Magazine. I believe any topic can be interesting given the right approach and storyteller and these events give me a bunch of examples, questions, and stories to pull from for the workshops I put on at my company.
If you could be doing anything outdoors, what would it be?
Walking! I love strolling through unfamiliar neighborhoods or hiking in the Redwoods. I get lost in thought and blissed out on fresh air. I’ll tell you about one familiar city walk with a twist. The thing I enjoy most about walking is that it allows you to move slowly and see things from a more intimate perspective than other modes of transportation. You can stop, explore and make connections with people and places in way that isn’t possible on a bike or vehicle.
My favorite walk in San Francisco is to go from the Ferry Building, on the SF bay, to the Castro neighborhood via Market Street. Market Street runs the entire length of the city and right through its heart. Along the three miles between the pier and the hills of the Castro you see the landscape and community transition from tourists on the waterfront to professionals running in and out of skyscrapers to families sitting on the stoops of quintessentially San Franciscan, Edwardian homes. You notice new businesses and homes and can even take a moment to mourn the ones that have left.
A year or two ago, I was feeling isolated and not as connected to my community as I would have liked. I missed my train and decided to walk home along Market St. As I walked, lost in thought, I caught the eye of stranger. I must’ve been smiling because and they quickly smiled back at me instead of averting their gaze. That small, involuntary smile made me feel more connected and seen than I had in awhile.
For the rest of the three miles, I played a game, where I tried to see how many people I could get to smile back at me by smiling at them with my truest, most genuine smile. At first my goal was “catch” 10 smiles but by the time I reached my apartment I had more than 30. I now call this game “flirting with the world”.
For me it represents the idea that small interactions can have impact. The barrier to curiosity, empathy and connection is lower than we believe. Walking and being outdoors activates this idea in an accessible way. It makes me feel connected to body, my thoughts and in the best cases to my community.
What's one thing you've been scared to try?
I'm a pretty fearless person but like everyone, self-doubt cripples me sometimes. For years friends have been encouraging me to start my own podcast. I have the equipment and I've conducted a few interviews but I've been scared to take the plunge and publish my work. Maybe this year!
One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is, “She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.” It crystallized for me that seeking joy, born out of either struggle or peace, is my deepest value. The clearest paths to joy for me are building community and creating space for self-expression.
I’d love to combine these values into a podcast called The Joy Department. It would feature interviews and audio stories about challenging circumstances that have resulted in joy or a changed perspective.
Anyone who knows me well will ask, “What project are you working on now?!”. I always have something going on in the background and most are tied to my two primary passions: storytelling and women’s health.
What led you to create the Bay Area Monday Sunrise Club?
In the months prior to my 28th birthday, I was having a quarter-life crisis. I was unsatisfied with my job, questioning my relationships and looking for answers in a lot of places but finding few. Around this time, I was given this advice, "spend your birthday the way you want to spend the rest of the year," and I took it heart. Instead of a big birthday dinner, drinking and partying late into the night I decided the best gift I could give myself and my favorite people would be an unique shared experience: a sunrise dance party on Twin Peaks.
I'm a night owl and my birthday fell on a Monday but I wanted to stay true to the intention of the advice. Myself and about 20 friends from all aspects of my life got up at 6am, brought champagne, birthday crowns and a boom box and hiked up to the top of peak that looks over the entire city. When we arrived it was dark and the fog was so low that all you could see for miles were clouds and sky. It felt like we were on top of the world. Then the sun started to peek its head up over the clouds illuminating everything, the fog began to dissipate and our glorious, glittering city revealed itself. I asked everyone to share something that they were leaving behind that month and something that they wanted to begin. I was very moved by all the stories that were shared. We danced and toasted the morning until 7:45am then headed to work. It was the best birthday and the best Monday I had in years.
Over the course of the next week, I got so many texts and emails from friends that they had also had a magical week because of how it started with our sunrise party on Monday.
The experience prompted me to think, what if we treated every Monday like it was Friday? What if we waited for the beginning of the week with same anticipation and celebration we have for the end of the week? Approaching my days with intention has a had a profound impact on the way I show up for myself and others. My sunrise birthday showed me that I can share that experience …and Monday Sunrise Club was born.
The format is simple. We meet at Twin Peaks on the first Monday of the month. We bring warm drinks, music and our intentions of the month. I welcome everyone to celebrate Monday!
Do you have any advice for our community on making more time for the outdoors?
It can often seem daunting to make time to be outdoors, especially if your idea of "outdoors" is the idyllic, remote setting in a forest or mountains. I encourage the community to think about the activities you already have in your schedule and see if you can change the location of one or two. It might mean walking to work or to the store instead of driving or taking a meal outside instead of at home.
I try to start my mornings with a quick walk around my neighborhood; just 15 to 20 mins around the block to get me up and moving. It's usually the best part of my day.
In addition to shifting my mindset around what counts as being outdoors, I've aligned my efforts to get outside with my goals for the year. I love adventure and traveling but this year I'm unable to take much time off for personal vacation due to other commitments. Instead I decided that each month I'd like to have a "departure" from the city which for me is any destination 1-2 hours away from my home. I made a wish list of local spots that I've never visited in Northern California like Pt. Reyes, Bolinas and Mt. Diablo and every month I choose a new spot for a day trip.
Being able to cross 12 or more locations off my bucket list is a real motivator!
Know of an outdoor entrepreneur, digital nomad or urban outdoorist we should feature? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Entrepreneurs Outdoors".