If You Want to Learn How to Swim, You’ll Have to Jump in the Water

Looking back, this last year might just have been the best one of my life so far. I’ve shared amazing experiences with extraordinary people, plunged head first into things I had zero experience of, succeeded, failed and learned. I’ve made a ton of new friends, had lots of laughs with old ones, and grown smarter, happier and hungrier than I’ve ever been before. And I can honestly say that VES is to thank for a lot of that.

I don’t want to just give you empty platitudes, though. You’re facing a decision – whether or not to apply for the board – that has a concrete impact on your life, and so I want to give you concrete examples of how VES has changed mine. By the end, I hope I’ll have convinced you that the right decision is to do it.

I first heard of VES when I interviewed our previous chairman and vice-chairman Miika and Rami for Wykyzine, together with our current marketing manager Pepe, back in our freshman year. In the interview they talked about how VES was formed with next to no budget, becoming a serious player in the local arena through spirit, passion and support from the right people. They talked about how they all had gone in not knowing what would happen, and grown a lot in the process. They had “jumped in the cold water”, as Rami put it. Back then I remember thinking “holy shit that’s cool, I want to be a part of that”, but I had no idea to what extent.

Shortly after the interview, VES had a team-building event where they talked about a crazy idea to arrange the biggest student-/start-up-event Vaasa had ever seen. I got involved with the marketing team of that event, which later became known as Harvest. Being part of Harvest was the first experience with VES that truly changed my thinking. I saw how a great team that works hard can create something spectacular with no money, something professional with very little experience.

I applied to the board in the fall after Harvest, got accepted, and as the first order of business, taken to Slush with thirty other people from VES (well, I was a volunteer but I never would have realized to apply if it wasn’t for VES). The sheer magnitude and energy of Slush, as well as the community behind it, blew my mind. I felt that I was a part of something bigger than myself, and bigger than just VES. This was a whole generation of people taking the future in their own hands.

During the year I’ve got more familiar with this country-wide family of young people. One of the first things we as the new board did was attend the Mikkeli Icebreaker -event, a weekend of hanging out and brainstorming with all the other Entrepreneurship Societies from around Finland. Since then, we’ve visited their events, had them visit our events, and had a bunch of get-togethers where we’ve exchanged ideas, planned collaboration and of course, had a lot of fun!

My role on the board has been that of a project manager. On paper, this means that I’m responsible for organizing our events and other projects, but in reality, our jobs are not that clear cut. During my time at VES, I’ve done marketing, event production, public speaking and video editing, to name a few. I’ve gotten to lead teams, communicate with people of celebrity status and plan the long-term strategy of an ambitious young organization. All of these are things I had practically no experience in. I’m not completely satisfied with all the things I’ve managed to do, and I’m quite proud of others, but whichever the case, I’ve had myriad chances to develop my skills.

During last summer, I also got an opportunity to work at a start-up in Helsinki, which would never have happened without the connections made through VES. I got to experience first-hand how tough it can be to push something totally new to the market and how many things an entrepreneur must juggle at the same time, but also how thrilling it is to lock down new deals with clients, and how free you are when you can make your own rules. I know it’s a cliché, but through this I’ve realized how important networks are. And VES does connect you with some pretty magnificent people!

Now, even if all of this sounds like a sweet deal, some of you might be thinking that you don’t have it in you. I know I was a year ago. I had seen all the awesome stuff the previous board had accomplished, and wasn’t at all sure that I’d be up to the challenge. But standing at the edge of the “cold water”, I knew I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t jump. At first, I might have floundered about a bit, but now I feel like I’m really learning to swim. You will learn, too, and the good news is you don’t have to do it alone!

- Arttu