Alyssa Martens

Professional Wordsmith & Education Entrepreneur
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What do you do for work? Give us a few reasons why you love it.
As a global teacher, I work with students from around the world to help them reach their educational goals. As a researcher and writer, I help companies effectively communicate their message to the outside world. The biggest reason I love what I do is the variety of my work. A typical day might consist of an early online lesson with a student in Europe who needs help applying to grad schools in the U.S, followed by a few hours of industry research for an agricultural technology firm, and ending with a few more online lessons with students in California or Saudi Arabia. I have an obsessive passion for learning, and my work allows me to help students and companies solve problems, but my biggest joy comes from teaching someone how to resource the tools and skills they need to face their obstacles and goals without my help.
 
What attracted you to your company? What keeps you there?
I could say it was my love of education that motivated me to build my own business, but that would be a half-truth. The reality of how I got here—and I believe this is something we don’t talk about enough—was through failure. When I graduated university, I had a Plan A: get my PhD in History at a top institution and join the Ivory Tower ranks of academia. When I found out that I had narrowly missed being offered a spot at my top choice program, I was at a total loss of what to do next. My Plan B idea—now my current business—came from a comment a college roommate had made some years earlier when we were taking a class together. She was struggling in the class, so the night before our exam, I re-taught her the material and she ended up acing the final. When our friends inquired about her high score, she replied, “It was finally explained to me in a way that just made total sense.” It sounds crazy to begin building a business based on an offhand comment, but it helped me realize that I didn’t need a PhD from a fancy institution to validate my potential, I could build my own credentials instead.
 
How did you become good at what you do? What steps do you take to keep improving?
Two things really helped me get to where I am today: a voracious reading habit and an exceptional mentor. I read about one book per week, at least 10-20 articles a day, and I am constantly listening to podcasts. It sounds excessive, but it allows me to build the frames of reference that I need in my work because being able to relate to people is the key to what I do. My mentor is who taught me how to be a researcher and teacher—she was my university professor and I don’t think there is enough space to comment on the countless things I learned from her, but I will say that finding an exceptional mentor should be the first step in everyone’s career.
 
What are your priorities outside work? What do you care about?
I’d say my love of traveling shapes my life outside of work. My background as a Swiss-born Canadian living in the U.S definitely factors into my passion for exploration. I grew up in a bilingual family and traveled extensively growing up, so my interest in seeing more of the world was fostered at a young age. It sounds cliché but I feel I’m most alive when I am traveling because new places force you out of your comfort zone and humble you.
 
How do you want the world to be different because you lived in it?
Without sounding too lofty, I would love to influence more people to embrace others’ differences instead of fearing them. I’m a historian at heart, and a few years ago I had an incredible opportunity to sit and talk with Elie Wiesel and his words constantly remind me of why we need history. I ended up interning at the Simon Wiesenthal Center—a global human rights organization—working in the archives and creating historical exhibits for the Museum of Tolerance. I spent a lot of time surrounded by archival material and in the company of Jack—one of the archive volunteers and a holocaust survivor. When Jack talked about his past, his stories painted a mosaic of profoundly sad but also utterly inspiring experiences, and what I realized from listening to Jack is that I truly believe sharing stories can help us better understand one another. The world is full of different religions, cultures, and histories and my goal is to continue to listen to and share the perspectives of radically different people in the hope that it brings a little more empathy and understanding into the world. You can watch Jack Voorzanger tell his incredible life story here.