On a clattering bus dodging potholes in the Kenyan countryside, Fay Johnson realized that she hadn’t had enough time for dancing lately. It was 2012 and Fay had just finished a consulting project for Nuru International—an organization that aims to end extreme poverty—helping them increase the use of latrines in rural Kenya. She worked eye-to-eye with Kenyan community health workers. She watched them assimilate new skills and improve their communities. It was change she could literally touch.
Making this sort of change has many rewards, but Fay found that time for the simple things that bring her joy—dancing, painting, storytelling, photography—is not often among them.
A South African raised mostly in California, Fay’s parents made a point of introducing her to the wider world. “It was not uncommon,” she told me by email, “to spend Thanksgiving dinner with guests including Communist People’s Party officials, Indian professors, French scholars, Nigerian princesses and the children of political refugees.” She visited 26 countries before graduating high school. This global foundation, said Fay, “solidified my deep, personal commitment to the betterment of all human life, regardless of national identity.”
After college she moved to Washington, DC and worked with Human Rights Watch, the US Congress, and Oxfam America, all before getting a Master’s degree focused on behavior change communication. She founded a consultancy called Red Balloon Ideas to put all her education and experience into practice. Which brought her to this bus ride, traversing the vast Kenyan countryside, thinking about dancing.
There are things we believe in, things we know to be good and worthy of our time, like improving health conditions in Kenya. And then there are things we love. For some its music, for others teaching; for some it might even be organizing files. We can’t say why we love these things, or make a good argument as to how they are better than other pursuits. We just know that they open springs of joy within us. Before her bus dropped her in Nairobi, Fay decided to move the things she loved closer to the center of her life.
Through a good amount of research she decided to create a digital magazine to engage the world in the kinds of stories and ideas that molded her. She named it Deliberate Life. The goal, in the pattern of her upbringing, is to create a global community of people building a better tomorrow, with Deliberate Life as a venue to read about and share their common challenges, solutions, and stories. “I have set out to create something that I wish existed,” said Fay, “a manual, as it were, for what I should be doing if I want to make a difference.”
But nothing ambitious comes easy. Founding the magazine solo she has to constantly keep herself motivated and learn new skills like becoming a registered Apple iOS developer. And then there’s the emotional risk. “Whenever you put your heart into something, and it is out there with your name on it, it’s nerve wracking,” said Fay. So far the iPad-only magazine has been downloaded in 52 different countries. A community is growing. It’s small still, but with issue number three launching today for the iPad, you can bet that somewhere near San Francisco, Fay is dancing.