Hi, I'm Victor.

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New Experience

04/27/2016

There are four ways to handle a new experience:

  • Run
  • Stare
  • Poke
  • Embrace

These may sound familiar. Here’s how I’ve been thinking of them lately:

Run. Your first response is “Nope, not going to happen.” And you head in the other direction.You distract yourself, hide behind excuses, make yourself busy, or maybe even physically run away.

Stare. Sometimes, you just look at the possibilities…closely. You examine every angle, make up every hypothetical situation, and talk to everyone about it. But, you never actually do anything. You just stare.

Poke. You decide you’re going to go for it, but really…you barely begin. You poke it, taste it, do it just once, and then you blame something or someone for not completing it. You’re kinda satisfied for trying, but you’re left wondering if you really gave it your all.

Embrace. You research and prepare. You’re uncertain about the outcomes, but whatever happens, you’re sure you’ll learn something. You set a few tangible goals, and go for it. There are challenges. There are failures. But you decide they’re part of the experience…so you keep going. There’s an occasional success or victory. You gain momentum. Sometimes, you’ll end where you wanted. Other times things will go wildly different than expected. But, you’re ok with it. This is a story you’ll tell – something that challenged you and taught you. Something that pushed you to see yourself and your world differently.

It’s not likely you’ll Embrace every experience. Just be honest with yourself and where you truly want to land.

You know the options.

Go for it.
v

All of the ideas

04/20/2016

It’s true.

Choosing a Leap feels daunting. It’s not just you. Anyone who’s considering making, doing, or learning something new is going to feel the pressure of possibility.

The idea of “Leaping” often evokes thoughts of major life changes like quitting a job, starting a company, making something amazing, or creating a routine that will last forever.

Those perfect visions seem nice, but they will keep you from getting started. Trust me, I know.

When designing Leap Kit, nearly everyone we met enjoyed the beginning stages of Leaping: time to consider what inspires them, moves them, and what they hope to know, feel, and do someday. But when it came to choosing a specific Leap, the options seemed too endless. All of us were curious how to help.

But then we realized…those ideas are a good thing!

Rather than choose one Leap, start by listing everything you might do. Seriously. Anything goes.

We’ve dubbed this practice, Leap Storm.

Time yourself for a few minutes and write every. single. idea. This is an especially great exercise to do with a partner or team. Focus on one person’s Leap and brainstorm for 8 minutes by yourselves, then reconvene for 7 minutes and share all of your ideas.

Then look at everything that you’ve written regarding your Inspiration and Future Me. Consider which Leaps align with where you’re coming from and what’s realistic within 90 days.

Lastly, within a few minutes of reviewing…go with what sticks out most to you. Just go with it. Take that idea and begin plotting your next steps (if you have Leap Kit, take that sticky note and flip it over to continue planning). Now, you’re on your way.

Don’t worry, things may change. But, you just simplified that grand vision into something smaller and doable. And the best way to test whether it’s going to work, is to quickly move forward with it.

Alright, Leap Storm.

Future Me

04/13/2016

I’ve been staring at my cursor for a while. This is tough.

Last week, I wrote about the “Inspiration List.” This week, I planned on sharing a helpful next step for Leaping: envisioning your “Future Me.”

But I’ve recently received news that my dad is really ill, and it’s been hard to think about the future. Things seem bleak. I’m actually posting this note while making an unplanned trip home to see him and my family. I’m nervous, sad, and kind of scared.

What in the world should I share today??

But if there was ever a time to encourage you to envision your future, it’s now – when life seems especially short and valuable.

It’s easy to get caught up in daily routines and usual rhythms. Every so often, you need to be jolted out of those regularities in order to re-calibrate and make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

What do you really hope to know? Feel? Do? And, are you spending your days getting there?

Future Me is your chance to answer those questions before you Leap. It’s a way to place the sketches of yourself on paper. As you design your Leap, it will offer a different sort of motivation – not just inspiration for why you’re starting, but direction for where you’re going.

Keep in mind a few things:

  1. Drawing can be helpful as you envision your future. There is a lot of research about how sketches help you think differently, generate a variety of ideas quickly, and foster deeper discussion with your community. Don’t worry about being perfect. As you can see in my own images below, anything goes. These are yours.
  2. Try timing yourself so that you focus, but don’t over-think it. In the Field Guide, we suggest that you set a timer for 15 minutes and write/sketch anything and everything that comes to mind. The more the merrier.
  3. At the end of those 15 minutes, pick the most important ones, the ones that seem most true to you, and attach them to your Map.
  4. If you need help getting started, try finishing any one the following sentences:

Know:
A topic or industry I hope to know more about is…
Someday, I hope to be able to teach or write about…

Do:
A group/team that I’d like to work with is… (Imagine what they’re doing, and the role you’d play on that team)
Someday, I will have created or made…

Feel:
In the future, people will describe me as more…
I will describe myself as…

 

Here’s a glimpse of a few things I envision myself doing in the future.

Future Me- Victor

Alright, your turn…

Future Me Blank

Looking Back. Looking in.

04/06/2016

I knew we were lost. But, we didn’t want to admit it. We were sharing lively conversation, enjoying the sights, and just taking our time.

As afternoon turned to evening, we realized it was time to head home. Even though we were teenagers out on a Saturday, we knew our parents would worry about us if we stayed in the woods too late.

But the challenge ahead of us became dauntingly evident. We didn’t exactly know how to find our way back to the main road.

We tried to simply go “back” the way we came; but we’d gone fairly deep into the wooded area and we were turned around. Everything looked the same and the ground was dry, so there weren’t exactly “steps” to follow.

The sun seemed to be setting faster than usual.

My friend and hiking buddy had an idea. “Let’s just go back to each of the lookout points we visited. Eventually, we’ll find where to go next.”

This would mean we’d have to hike for a longer amount of time. Going back to each site was definitely more ground than cutting straight to the road. But, the lookout points were easier to find and were short distances apart. It was our only hope as night was fast approaching.

Thankfully, we weren’t far from our most recent stop. From there, we traced the sights (or what we could make of them) and even recalled our conversations.

“I remember seeing that view!”

“And, that’s when you tried jumping over that log and didn’t make it!” [insert boyish laughter]

“That’s where we sat and talked about college decisions!”

Sure enough, we made it back to the road, just a few feet from where we’d parked.

__

Knowing what to do next usually begins by looking back or looking inward, not looking ahead. Study where you came from and things will always become more clear.

This is why taking a Leap starts with Discovery…and specifically, with Inspiration.

Paying attention to what has inspired you – caught your eye, piqued your interest, caused you to pause – is a great clue for what you value and where you ought to go. It fuels you through ups and downs by reminding you where you came from and even why you began.

In the Leap Kit we break it down into four  prompts:
Stories or Media
People I admire and respect
Some of the times I felt in my element
Things I wish were different in the world

Here’s an example taken from my own Leap Map:

Next up… Future Me.

Once you look back, then you can look ahead to where you hope to be someday (Future Me). But don’t worry, we’ll get there.

For now, start with inspiration…

Building Something Meaningful

03/30/2016

There’s a lot of hype about how great it must be to “build” or “make” your own thing – companies, products, services, super-secret-dinner-gatherings-in-obscure-places. But like most things that get hype, it’s much easier said than done. Not because it’s actually that hard, but rather, it’s easy to get in your own way.

Doubt and fear are powerful enemies to creativity. They have a way of inflating what you’re making into something with much more weight than it really has or deflating it into something you think will be worthless. Both of those feelings lead straight to excuses. You find yourself saying you’re too busy, you don’t have enough resources, or you’re not talented enough.

Recently, Ei’s good friends and accomplices at Drink Tank – Annie Swank & Kate Garmey – asked me to share more about what it takes to build something meaningful. As part of their new company focused on innovation through collaboration, they’re creating a video/blog series that illustrates responses to various questions from makers and builders.

So two weeks ago, Annie stopped by Experience Institute. She turned on the recorder, and in just one take…this was my reply to her question:

Take a look.

And if you’re so inclined, think about the prompt and reply with how you would have answered Annie’s question.

Then, keep leaping.
Victor

Now Shipping

03/23/2016

There once was a school of shapes.
Not like a school of fish that flow together,
but an actual place where squares, and circles, and rectangles
could learn to be the shapiest shapes ever.
___________________________________

For some reason, I never grew too old for children’s stories. I love the whimsy…the imagination…the adventure. I’ve been curious about creating a kid’s book of my own, but I’ve never been quite sure enough of my creative ability to pull it off. But as Leap Kits begin to ship this week, I’ve decided to finally pursue a project over the next 90 days as a Leap of my own and the words above are a rough start to the story.

I’ll share how I’m designing and pursuing the project along the way, but I’m curious: What is it for you? What have you hoped to learn, make or change?

This Spring might be your chance to begin.

Here’s a look at the tool that the Ei team and I designed to help you take those Leaps and how you can participate with a project of your own:

A Simple Process | Discover, Prepare, Act, Share
Discover: Leaping begins by exploring what moves you. Reflect on your past, examine your present, and brainstorm different leaps worth taking.

Prepare: As soon as you have a Leap in mind and a place you hope to land, take inventory of the resources and skills that will keep you in the air and the people who you’ll invite into your project.

Act: Leaping may seem like a grand endeavor; but, like all great things, it’s really just a series of small and thoughtful steps. Use this section to make your plans, set your goals, and roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Share: Each phase of your Leap will provide you with a set of valuable lessons, newfound skills, and new friendships. Documenting and sharing your journey will help keep you accountable to your goals and give others a chance to participate in the journey with you.

A Few Delightful Tools
If you’ve ordered the kit (or are considering ordering the kit), here’s a quick video about what you’ll receive and how to get started.

(note: try to do this first piece with a partner!)

A Growing and Caring Community
While making Leap Kit, we learned that nothing is more valuable than the people who support you. As soon as you choose a Leap, find 2-5 friends and set a regular time and place to work on your projects together.

Ei is also working to support and connect Leapers in different cities. You can share a tweet, Facebook update, Instagram, etc with the hashtag: #MyLeapand our team will reply. It’s also a great way to document your own Leap. Click on the image below to see what other Leapers are up to!

Screenshot 2016-03-22 19.17.00

We’ll also be hosting “Leap Nights” on the 29th of each month to gather people in local communities. If you’re interested in hosting a Leap Night in your area, just send a note to hello@expinstitute.com

What happens when I complete my Leap?
There will be three submission dates for your Leap Stories: June 15, September 15, and December 15th (roughly every 90 days). We’ll compile stories into a publication to share with students, friends, families, companies, and Leapers in all corners of the world. Someday, we hope to host Leap Talks to give you a stage to teach what you’ve learned and share stories of how you grew along the way.

Why does any of this matter?
For the past few years, a couple of friends and I have come to believe that education isn’t just something you consume, it can be something you create. It should be rooted in how you see the problems around you and the vigor by which you pursue learning how to solve those problems. If we think about education in that fashion – as something that can be made through thoughtful experiences – then anyone from any background can have access to a world-class education at any season of life.

Yes, it takes a different kind of thinking, a larger community, and a nudge to move beyond our uncertainties; but we have to start somewhere. Leap Kit might be that starting point for you.

If you have any questions feel free to send a message online and we’ll be here to help. In the meantime, I’m back to writing about shapes.

Keep Leaping,
Victor

PS: Order your Leap Kit at leapkit.expinstitute.com

Breathe

03/16/2016

[Every once in a while, Wednesday Words will be written in collaboration with an Ei Teammate or Leaper. Today’s note was written with one of the incredible year-long Fellows, Claire Jencks. Take a peek!]

Last Tuesday, I found myself sitting on a stage next to the owner of the largest ski mountain in the U.S, a Forbes 30 under 30 in Education, and a world-renowned architect. Thanks to one of Experience Institute’s close friends, Lilian Asperin-Clyman, I had been invited to speak at the Society for College and University Planning Conference in Tempe, Arizona. As I anxiously sat and waited to represent Ei, the moment felt surreal. Didn’t they know I was only a student? What could I possibly contribute to a group of Architects and University Planners? When would someone kick me off the stage? While staring at the sea of faces I took a deep, slow breath and acknowledged those fears.

In that pause I was able to reflect on the time I’ve spent at Ei since becoming a Fellow last September. I’ve gained more than I expected in terms of confidence, trusting myself and others, and feeling part of something larger than myself. I’m incredibly grateful for those gifts. And with a dose of reflection and preparation, I was able to share the following thoughts to the packed room of remarkable attendees:

1. Place matters.
Your “place” grounds learning and provides a safe space to reflect and grow. But the place doesn’t have to be a school. It can be a company, a project, or even a team. Find the place(s) you learn most and visit them often.

2. Mindsets are more valuable than answers.
It’s easy to claim a destination (ie: I’m going to x point). It’s much more difficult to define how you’re going to get there (speeding car, scenic walk, first class seat on a flight). The latter are mindsets – the vehicles we use to navigate and view life. Ei is great at building these. We create frameworks for staying positive, building quickly yet thoughtfully, communicating clearly, and caring for ourselves and our communities. These are essential to not only becoming more knowledgeable, but also growing wiser. It may seem popular to discuss your destinations, but what mindsets help you get to where you want to be in the way you’d hoped to arrive?

3. People before projects.
Relationships are the greatest engines for change. And supporting people throughout their highs and lows are the crux of moving ideas into reality. The more closely you’re tied to the needs of the people closest to you, the more life you’ll find in whatever you pursue. If you’re losing sight of who you’re serving, it may be time to pause and recalibrate your perspective and relationships.

All of that sounds way better when I write it here. During my talk, however, the microphone immediately fell off my lapel, the slide clicker refused to work and I almost knocked my water bottle off the stage. Still, I loved every second of it. Ei is easy to talk about. I believe in the journey my classmates and I are on this year, and I know firsthand how powerful purposeful experiential learning can truly be. I live it every day.

And so, in the spirit of learning by design, collaboration and place, a few friends and I have teamed up to launch something new. It’s called The Forge and it will be an artist residency program and maker-workshop in a renovated house in Detroit, MI. Over the course of each year-long residency, five emerging artists and designers will live, work and bring their ideas to life. In addition, The Forge will be open for the local community to come in and take workshops, learn new skills, and explore their ideas. Our Indiegogo launched last week. We buy the house this summer. We renovate this year, and in early 2017 we open applications for those five talented people. If you’re interested in contributing to the campaign, click here.

In any case, the next time you find yourself feeling uncertain about what you have to contribute, take that moment to breathe and reflect on your experiences. Chances are, you’ll have more to say than you thought.

Have a great Wednesday,
Claire Jencks

PS: Ei is thrilled to open applications for our new 3-month college program (Leap Summer) and the fourth iteration of our 12-month Fellowship (Leap Year). If you know someone who might be a great fit, nominate them here: www.expinstitute.com/nominate/. Thanks for building Ei with us.

The View

03/09/2016

I walked into the immaculate elevator and requested the top floor.

46 flights later, I found myself in a large, quiet lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chicago’s Loop and Lakefront. It’s a familiar sight that never ceases to mesmerize me. I was lured to the windows. I paused. For a moment, everything was calm.

“Can I help you?” a voice interrupted my daydream.

There were two women in the lobby overseeing the front desk which elegantly sat in the back third of the room. They likely watched me drift past them. If I was dressed any more casually, they may have called security. Instead, we began bantering about how amazing it must be to work from that space everyday. Finally, they kindly asked, “Are you here just to admire the view or do you have an appointment?”

I told them I was there to meet with one of the partners of the prestigious law firm.

“I’ll call and let him know you’re here.”

Soon I was greeted by two men in pristine suits. I quickly wondered if I belonged there. But as we began our conversation seated at the long wooden conference table, their gracious tone and genuine interest in Ei put me at ease. We placed one of Ei’s advisors on speaker phone and for the next hour discussed an array of matters regarding our legal affairs. It was one-part checkup and one-part exploration of our next steps.

Throughout the meeting, I interrupted several times to ask for the definition of a term or explanation of a concept. With every question, I had to admit my own lack of knowledge. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to shy away from questions and nod as if I knew what they were saying. However, the more honest and curious I was, the more interested they were in helping. By the end of our conversation, we had established next steps for the coming season.

That’s a picture of most of my meetings these days – sitting with people who are more experienced, financially successful, and incredibly well put together. I often find myself wishing everything in my world was further along. Instead I’m asking 100 questions and fixing countless little mistakes. Where I want to be is consistently ten steps further than where I am.

If you’re taking any type of Leap, you’ve decided to get out of your comfort zone, which means you’ll have moments of feeling that way as well. You’ll move through days and months of questioning yourself or doing work that’s not quite the quality you’d envisioned. The more important the leap is to you and others, the more you’ll feel it.

In the words of Ira Glass, fight your way through that.

Keep going through the conversations where you feel uncertain. Face the decisions that seem grand. Rather than being frustrated that you haven’t “arrived,” let your curiosity shine through and remember where you hope to land. With each thing you make and attempt, you will take a small step forward. You’ll learn more about your craft, your world, and yourself. Which means wherever you land and however long it takes, you’ll be better off than when you began. And I promise…at times, the view will be amazing.

Keep Leaping,
Victor

 

Preparing

03/02/2016
When I was in college, I looked for all sorts of ways to pay my tuition bill. In November of 2005, when the new Playstation 3 was about to be released, word spread that Sony had greatly underestimated the demand. There would be a shortage of PS3’s and whomever could snag one could potentially resell it at double or triple the cost to anxious gift-buyers. Two friends and I decided to skip class and camp out on the streets of Chicago for three nights. We calculated that we could make nearly $600/each if we each obtained and sold one of the coveted black boxes.
 
Brian & Mike, my accomplices, grew up around the mountains so they were in charge of prepping for our excursion. It seemed as if they packed enough gear and food to summit Everest.
 
We targeted a small boutique tech shop in Lincoln Park. It was a safe neighborhood with plenty of sidewalk space for our tent and gear. We arrived so early that we thought we could step away for warm sit-down dinner before our first night on the sidewalk. When we returned, we found one well-dressed, college-aged man with nothing more than a peacoat and a lawn chair. We were frustrated we’d lost the first spot in line, but we knew he wouldn’t last. And even if by some miracle he could make it for three nights, we’d still be able to purchase our PS3s.
 
During the first night, we heard him shivering and we couldn’t bear it. We invited him into our tent and let him curl up in the corner. When we woke, we caught wind that the shortages were even greater than everyone had calculated. The shop owner told us he might receive five units rather than the ten he’d ordered. Still, we were safe.
 
By the last night, our newfound “frenemy” couldn’t take it. He didn’t bring enough food, he wasn’t sleeping well, and no amount of our gear could keep him warm enough. He begged us to hold his spot in line while he slept at home and even offered us $100 to do so. I thought the idea was ludicrous; but Brian and Mike are better men than me and wanted to show kindness. They agreed to hold his spot, while I grumbled and went back to the tent.
 
In the morning, he came bounding down the streets bright and early. We greeted him with morning grunts and assumed our positions in line. Then, the shop door opened and the owner shared an awful piece of news: He had only received one unit.
 
I actually don’t remember what happened at that moment. I may have gotten so angry that I blacked out.
 
The young man paid for his device, thanked us profusely, and rushed home to list it on Ebay. Meanwhile, the three of us took our $100 and blew it on the most lavish breakfast we’d ever eaten…and tried to chuckle through the crazy idea we’d just attempted.
 
Taking risks is like anything else, it requires practice. At the beginning you’ll try things that don’t work. They’ll end too soon or won’t go as planned. That’s part of growth. Before you leap, step back and prepare for what might come – pack your bags, bundle up, grab extra food and materials and take a few good friends with you. Eventually, you’ll have to go for it.
 
Whatever happens, enjoy the process of what you’re doing and reflect on the decisions you made along the way. You’ll be better for the time you spent outside of the spaces you currently know.
 
And, ending with a good meal is probably a good idea too.

Making Home

02/24/2016

I’ve never been one to write New Year’s Resolutions. But I do enjoy the idea of giving a theme to the year – one word that will center me when I question what I should be focusing on.

Last year, the theme was Make and it fueled a near-maniacal pursuit of making a physical product, Leap Kit, to be both useful and beautiful.

This year, the theme is Home.

The word seems to be a globally evolving concept that can simultaneously illicit hope and sadness. When I was a kid, home was a physical place where I could sleep, eat, shower, and sprint through the halls wearing nothing more than my skivvies and a cape.

As I got older, I realized that kind of home is a luxury. I went to college in Chicago near a housing project called Cabrini Green and watched as underprivileged communities were displaced for new development. More recently, I hear the words “Refugees” and “War” as governments battle over politics and religion at the cost of people’s livelihood.

Personally, I’ve been a minimalist for the past four years. I can pack most of my belongings into a four-door sedan. But growing up in the midwest, I’ve always felt pressure to lean into the ideals of the “American Dream” home – a picturesque physical place to settle down and raise a family.

However, I think home is both a place and a feeling – being centered or where you’re supposed to be. It is something you make for yourself, share with others and, at it’s best, it’s something you take with you. So I’m curious about starting in a different place this year:

How can I help others define home for themselves?

No, I’m not able to build physical spaces for those in need (not yet anyway). But education is often the place people go when they’re at a point of transition. Even if they have a home, individuals who take the posture of a student look to institutions and new information to provide building blocks to make a better home. This is both figurative, a better home within to feel more confident and centered, and literal, a better home to spring from and retreat to.

There is much more to learning than sharing and absorbing content. It must also entail grappling with our values, beliefs, dreams and our definitions of necessity and success.

The more you know what home means to you, the more you will know what you need to learn, what you need to earn, and most importantly, what you can give.

And perhaps, when you can answer those questions, you’ll find yourself at home.

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