You Can Have A Thriving Career & A Healthy Love Life, Sterling McDavid’s Proving It

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By Adunola Adeshola

Four years ago, Sterling McDavid took a trip to Vietnam with UNICEF, the world’s leading advocate for children’s rights. The trip changed her life.

With a new perspective for life and new sense of passion and creativity, Sterling quit her job on Wall Street and made up her mind to dedicate her career to helping the underserved around the world.

At only 28, Sterling has found the power to do what so many of us still struggle to do today: she’s managed to seamlessly merge her skills with her passions to create a business she loves. Sterling is the founder and CEO of the Starling Project. Like TOMS, the purchase of U.S. made candles empowers communities in need around the world with solar energy so that they too can have light, safety, health, and education.

But despite her many accomplishments, and there are many, Sterling takes a moment to pull back the curtain and let us in on life as a 20 something woman in love and in business. She shares how she made her monumental transition in her career, her current struggles, her wedding plans and her ultimate mission in life.

You’ve often mentioned that your trip to Vietnam with UNICEF in a sense changed your life. What was it about Vietnam and that trip, in particular, that inspired you to become the person you are today? 

When I visited Vietnam in 2013, I was working on Wall Street at the time. I had absurdly long work days as I am sure you can imagine. When I went to Vietnam with UNICEF and witnessed firsthand some of the worst poverty in the world, I couldn't help but think if I put in hours like I did at Goldman Sachs, that I could really change the world.

I remember hearing a child speak about being raped at the age of 4 and living on the street and I just knew I had to follow my calling to help children get basic human rights such as safety, water, food and education.

I witnessed many shocking moments on my trip to Vietnam that led to me taking a leap of faith to leave Wall Street and embark on a new path to help those in need around the world. 
— Sterling McDavid

When I got back to the states after my trip, I returned to Goldman with a completely different view on life. Within a week, I decided to let my team know that I was going to leave to pursue my passion.

I knew the sooner I could start working on my vision, the sooner I would start helping save lives, so I took a huge leap of faith. I then decided I wanted to get my creative juices flowing to craft a great social good idea, so I pursued an Interior Architecture degree at Parsons School of design. This allowed me to have another technical skill (I just build my parents a new home in Colorado by the way!), but it also allowed me to take courses in product design, graphic design, branding, etc. which ultimately aided in the development of Starling Project's branding.

After Parsons, I took a job in Paris working for an architecture firm where I helped develop a spa resort. It was in Paris where I got deep exposure into the world of fragrance and I couldn't help but think that a candle is something so simple, yet so lovely and that it could be something that has a giving-back component. That is when the Starling Project concept was born.

Caption: Sterling McDavid in Rwanda. The Starling Project will soon be funding solar projects in Rwanda with UNICEF.

Caption: Sterling McDavid in Rwanda. The Starling Project will soon be funding solar projects in Rwanda with UNICEF.

It would almost seem that life is a bit more colorful, purposeful, and meaningful for you today. What was life like for you before you created The Starling Project? 

I have always been someone to enjoy life and I have truthfully had a wonderful life growing up in Texas and moving to New York for what at the time was my dream job on Wall Street.

However, prior to launching The Starling Project I always felt a void in my life like something was missing. When I launched The Starling Project, I had combined my business skill set with my passion for helping others and I have never felt more empowered and fulfilled.

It really is a dream come true! I am also proud to have an entirely US-made product that is high quality so each person who purchases a candle can have the best of the best. 

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It's almost every person's dream to have major publications and well-known people recognize our passion and admire our work as much as we do. You've been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, InStyle, and Elle, among other places. But what stood out to me the most is the President's Volunteer Service Award you received from President Barack Obama. What was it like to have received such a prestigious award, how did it impact you as a person?

I was incredibly humbled to receive such a reputable award. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be recognized by a sitting President and I will never take it for granted.

It also was reassuring. It was a stellar reminder that it is vital to continue helping rural communities in need around the world. 

Sterling McDavid in Rwanda. The Starling Project will soon be funding solar projects in Rwanda with UNICEF.

Sterling McDavid in Rwanda. The Starling Project will soon be funding solar projects in Rwanda with UNICEF.

At just 28, you've accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. But, what would you say are some things that you are still struggling with as a woman in her 20s, balancing your business and life?

While I am proud of all I have accomplished thus far, it certainly is no walk in the park. I am constantly striving to make myself and my business better, but I am still the founder of a small startup company, so life can be pretty hectic.

Fortunately, I love what I do, so it often does not feel like work. But, I do find myself having a working dinner on occasion so I still haven't yet perfectly mastered the work/life balance.

I do think it is okay that my fiancé and I both spend time working together outside of our respective offices on weeknights and weekends. Some people think it's a bit crazy, but we are both totally okay with it. Let's be real, I would rather be in the same room with him even if we both don't speak much! 

How in the world do you find the time to plan a wedding with your busy schedule? You seem to be very organized, but I know wedding planning can be a stressful time on its own. What's your secret?

I think wedding planning should be enjoyable. It is such a special time in one's life! For me personally, having nearly two years to plan is probably the "secret." My fiancé and I both had a lot going on in our careers when we got engaged, so we decided 2 years would be ideal to make the process a little easier and less stressful.

I am a design fanatic, so truthfully wedding planning is really my fun side project. I must also admit that it also helps tremendously to have a fantastic planner. I am fortunate to be working with Virginia Edelson from Bluebird Productions in Aspen, CO (where we are getting married) and she entirely understands my vision for the big day and has helped me every step of the way! 

Some women in their 20s feel like they have to sacrifice their love life for an amazing career, but as a fiancé and soon to be newlywed, what advice do you have for women in their 20s who feel like they have to pick between the two?  

I am here to spread the good word: you can definitely have both a thriving career and a love-life. I think it is about finding someone who has a clear understanding of your work ethic and vice versa.

In my case, my fiancé and I are both incredibly dedicated to our careers, so we are both understanding when one of us has to work late on a Friday night or has to miss a planned dinner during the week.

However, that being said, we both value family and spending time together, so we make sure to make time. Sometimes that can mean that I have to go back to work for an hour or two after we have dinner together, but it is all worth it. 

How important is rest to you and what does rest look like for you? How do you find time to relax, rejuvenate and just be Sterling, what do you do in those moments? 

I think rest is incredibly important! I am an insomniac so I actually require less hours of sleep than your average person. Insomnia certainly has its negatives, but one major positive is that it means I typically get more working hours in a day than most people, since I often start working as early as 6am.

That being said, I do take breaks throughout the day which often includes yoga, quick 15-20 minute walks and a 5-minute mini meditation with tea.

I am a huge fan of being outdoors, so when I have a more time, I will go on a run or a long walk with my my fiancé or friends. I also think it is entirely acceptable to splurge on a massage once a month!

In just a few sentences, how would you describe your mission in life? 

My mission in life is to help provide a safe and healthy life to those in need around the world and to inspire others.


Want to keep up with Sterling? Follow the social entrepreneur on Instagram, @SterlingMcDavid. Visit her website, TheSterlingStandard.com for her latest articles on lifestyle, travel and design. And, head over to StarlingProject.org to purchase a candle and contribute to the mission of empowering communities around the world.