Julian’s Winding Path
I first met Julián Bronstein a decade ago while I was facilitating a trip for global social entrepreneurs. At that time, he was making a pivot from a job that was crushing his soul and health to something that he thought might nourish him in a multitude of ways. Julián, 37, resides in Córdoba, Argentina and transitioned from being a real estate broker and public auctioneer to professional clown and social entrepreneur.
What is your current title?
The formal one: Consultant helping groups boost creativity on organizations and projects.
The one in life: Musician, clown and cook. I entertain others.
Who is your current employer(s)?
I’m self-employed. Working for local governments and the private sector.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I give talks and host events on topics that I'm passionate about. I design entertaining and friendly events that promote citizen participation. I systematize and order all my content in easy-to-replicate manuals.
For example, for a local government I developed a series of debates for young people about their present and future in which the main means of communication was memes. My main focus is to make traditionally boring spaces/events entertaining.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
I wanted to drive a taxi around the city, meet new people every day, and engage in conversations. At that age a cab was the place where I heard the most amazing conversations. Cab drivers have a great personality, they talked about any topic and made me laugh. And it still has many of the things I love– driving, laughing, and talking.
What did you learn about work that you learned from your family?
The good thing (from my dad): becoming friends with my work colleagues.
The bad (from another person in the family): I had to learn that being a leader is about creating the best conditions for my colleagues to succeed, rather than abusing my power and using fear to lead.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
When I started volunteering in the third sector, I discovered that most of the skills that seemingly had no place in traditional workplaces were not only welcome but highly valued.
While working in the state as an innovation consultant, I also discovered that for social innovation solutions to have an impact, they need to work to create partnerships between social organizations/entrepreneurs, who bring the most important innovations, and the private sector, who contributes quality to the processes and a vision that can ensure it is sustained over time, and the state, which that can give it scale to reach the largest number of people.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
I pursued five college degrees, including Law, Industrial Design, Psychology and English translation and quit ten jobs in eight years. I then specialized in Real Estate and Public Auctions which I did for two years.
The fact that one week I was selling houses -my last “traditional” job- and the other I was doing clown and magic shows at a hotel for Valentine's Day. And feeling good about it.
I chose to pursue clowning next because I missed laughing out loud, I was always sad at that point of my life. I didn't expect clowning philosophy to be as profound as it was. I learned that when you let others know your grief and pain and help them laugh that you are closer to helping to heal those wounds. You see, the clown in each of us is the most transparent expression of ourselves, with all the personality traits that we think are less likable because we all seek to be loved. Our clown invites us to share what we hide, give it away to the audience and connect with a healing laugh.
I began to generate connections with people thanks to the fact that I share my fears, sadness, shame, absurdities, and also joys as a way to heal myself. This makes it acceptable and ‘normal’ for others to do so too. When people laugh, they aren't really laughing at me or my clown, rather they reflect on their own shame and absurdity, and on the things they also hide to feel more likable.
My clown, Narcissus, has also given lectures at the top universities talking about social responsibility. This led to a position training youth serving nonprofits across the country and eventually to my serving as the Director of the TEDx program in Córdoba for two years.
Why did you pivot?
My mom is still waiting for me to answer this. The first time it was because I was in a deep crisis. I just couldn't go on like this, it wasn't an option because of the level of sadness and disconnection with myself that I felt. The second time, in fact as I write I am living it, to have a better understanding of what I want to apply my skills and energy to.
Yet, I also don't really care if I realize my current goals, because experience tells me that as I progress, opportunities that I could never have seen present themselves, and some I will take. Today, I understand that what guides me are not my goals, but my values and search for well-being. That's how I communicate when I start a project, I make short- and medium-term commitments and I propose meetings later to evaluate if I have something else to offer after those deadlines have expired, or if I need to move on to another adventure.
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
I wasn't happy with my previous job. I feel that I took the corporate tools from the dark side of the force, transforming them to generate a positive impact in my communities.
But I had to learn a set of complementary skills because those same tools worked in horizontal organizations. I had to learn to verticalize them with Group and Conversation facilitation techniques. Being kind is the skill that helped me the most to unite both worlds.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
The feeling of failing socially. Feeling that I was no longer a trustworthy person to do business with because I gave up careers and important jobs.
Probably one of the hardest things was not having a name or title for what I wanted to do next. There was no information or people around me to admire. The way my friends and colleagues wanted to help me was by giving me opportunities to go back to those I had left, because I couldn't explain to them what I wanted to do. They had a hard time understanding that I needed to move away from “great and secure opportunities.”
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
- Put the focus on people, not only on processes and results.
- Celebrate small milestones.
- Take into account the mood of the team, take the time to have personal conversations.
- Ask the team to take care of me too.
- Cook for the team. A table with delicious food and people chatting is the great connector.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
Do not rush.
Take the time to understand what you're running from and what you'd like the finish line to look like. Do not plan 5 or 10 years ahead, think about the next 6 to 12 months and schedule spaces to evaluate how you are doing. Part of my problem was thinking that I could decide in a few months what the rest of my life was going to be like. Less pressure, more careful experimentation.
I know that not all people have the luxury of time in the midst of a crisis, it seems important to me to turn to your group and make your needs known to those who are there to help you.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
After pivoting, my confidence went through the floor because I had no one to compare myself to professionally or learn from. In addition, most people didn't understand what I was proposing. But I was confident that my closest friends and colleagues saw something that I couldn't when they said, "Go, Juli, Go.” So, I kept going even though I didn't believe in myself. I knew how bad I felt in my previous job and my only goal was to get away from that, to find activities and places that made me feel the opposite. Once I found them, I stayed there. I was chasing the emotion of feeling good about myself. Over time, that escalated into a great professional career, unexpectedly and without my seeing it coming.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
At the same time I pivoted, I was diagnosed with Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease. In context, I felt people perceived me as less trustworthy, I had to take whole weeks off to rest. When I came back, I felt I had to work twice as hard to make up for lost time.
Missing important spaces such as meetings, after-office and even saying no to promotions because I didn't trust that my body would withstand the impact was very cruel. Only now, after 15 years, was I able to understand that my body has another rhythm that I have to respect. And with that came an enormous well-being that allows me to do many of the things that I didn't dare to do before.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
I want to connect with leaders and share tools with them to incorporate humor into their meetings, presentations, and events. I also want to help them create memorable experiences while engaging with their audiences. And in doing so, I hope to have a good time.
What social media links, if any, might you like to share in the piece?
LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com/in/eljulibronstein
Instagram - www.instagram.com/eljulibronstein