Breakfast of Champions: Brian Garshelis
Aug 6, 2019

Words by Julian Andrews & Photos by Lauren Cutshall

Instead of asking the attendees of his YNPN Leadership Breakfast what they did for work, where they were born, or why they were in attendance, Brian wanted to know everyone’s theme song. The reasoning was simple — he didn’t want anyone to feel like they were defined by their job.

“We’re all human beings in the room. We are not what we do,” he said. “If I’m working, or looking for a job, or not in the right role, that theme song is still my theme song.”

It’s somewhat ironic that Brian wants to avoid defining people by their work given how perfectly his own work matches his charismatic personality, but it’s important to him that everyone in the room knows it wasn’t a straight path getting to where he is now. His journey was sometimes quite random and often extremely lucky — shaped by the connections Brian made throughout his professional life.



Investing In People

Brian is the Executive Director of New Sector Alliance, a multi-state nonprofit that helps young people who want to do work with impact. The way Brian and New Sector see it, this generation has a gift to give — they dream of doing work with meaning, and they’re willing to sacrifice in service of that goal.

But there’s an issue — development and opportunities for growth are massive reasons people decide to stay in their jobs, but nonprofits often put their resources towards program and mission instead of talent. That’s where New Sector fits in. Their work manifests in fellowships, mentorship and coaching and focuses on finding and nurturing people’s strengths — even if it’s not in the most traditional way.

“The future of work is not to say I was a miner therefore I am good at mining, I was a parent, therefore I am good at parenting,” said Brian. “It’s there are underlying strengths and core attributes that come from doing that work that can be applied anywhere.”

Brian’s work investing in young talent comes from a very personal place — throughout his career journey there were many people that took a chance and invested in Brian. He recognizes that, which puts him in a unique position to pass those experiences down to others.



A Real Story And A Fake One

Brian’s elevator pitch synthesis of his career is polished and impressive. He went from being a high-school debate coach to working in Amy Klobuchar’s office, then to a large early literacy program, and finally to New Sector where he moved up through the ranks to become Executive Director.

It’s a great story, but it’s entirely incomplete.

When Brian left his job as a debate coach, he had been interning in Senator Klobuchar’s office and hoping to turn it into a full-time position. But that didn’t happen right away. He got lucky after a few weeks of serving tables when someone in the senator’s office advocated for him. He was eventually hired. His job at the literacy nonprofit was as assistant to the CEO — a result of a somewhat random job search after he moved to San Francisco because his partner had an opportunity to pursue modern dance there.

Then the CEO that hired Brian left and his position was eliminated. After working through his feelings of betrayal, Brian met with the former CEO and asked for help. It turned out to be a valuable meeting.

“I asked of him in that moment, ‘I haven’t done the self-reflection, I don’t know what I’m good at, I don’t know what I want to do, maybe you know what I want to do,’” said Brian.

That connection helped lead Brian to New Sector, where he helped start the Twin Cities arm of the organization after a family emergency brought him and his partner back home.


Building Relationships… Real Ones

Brian is upfront about the fact that his career story is steeped in privilege. It is defined by people taking chances on him, believing in him and helping him out when they didn’t need to. Now, Brian is trying to help others find opportunities just as others helped him.

Brian is a passionate advocate of developing mentorship relationships with people you respect. Not one-way relationships of support, but full, human relationships that are mutually beneficial.

“I think the ongoing piece for me is if I’m labeling you as you are providing this for me, that doesn’t feel genuine,” Brian said. “What I would rather have is someone who I feel really close to.”

Though he might not have realized it at every point in time, it is the power of relationships that has driven Brian’s career from the very beginning, so it’s fitting that he now serves as a mentor to others. By filling the need for better talent development and personal growth in the nonprofit industry, he’s helping the next generation of leaders find their way.




Posted by Pollen on Aug 6, 2019

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