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Fixing the Washer

03/29/2017

He was as old-school Chicagoan as you can get.
Loud. Plump. Simultaneously respectful and slightly crass. Nice. Hard working.

I’ve never had to fix a washer. It’s a big machine, so it seemed intimidating.

I’d watched several videos and discovered that the issue with mine was the boot seal – the large, rubber piece between the front-loading washer door and the rest of the machine. If compromised, water leaks. And water was leaking.

Even though I’d watched several repair videos, I still decided to hire someone. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Frank. Frank Bhode.

Frank Bhode walked in, confident he could solve the problem. His confidence bordered arrogance.

The first trip was routine. He assessed the situation. We tried a few alternate fixes. Those solutions didn’t work. So we ordered the the new seal and I paid a deposit. By the time he left, I was uneasy about his ability to complete the job.

For his second trip, I blocked the entire evening. I’d hoped my hunches were off and that Frank could make quick work of the project.

But I was wrong.

At every turn, he either asked for a hand or I’d hear the sound of metal clanking joined by violent grunts and decide to leave my work and walk back to the machine. At one point, I had my computer open, showing him the videos I’d watched and then we would execute the task together.

As frustrated as I was, I was also fascinated by the machine. It was big, complex, well-built, and intimidating. On the other hand, it was like a simple puzzle. Everything had its place. And with a little patience and thoughtfulness, everything found its place.

We finished the job together. The final step was to run the washer to make sure it worked properly. We started a cycle and held our breath.

No leak. We were successful.

He was glad to be done. So was I. We high fived and chuckled at the experience we just shared.

Before Frank left, he offered me a job. Sincerely. But I declined.

I’d learned all that I wanted to about washers.

How do you spend your days?

03/22/2017

Get up before 7. Don’t snooze the alarm.

Make bed.
Short shower.
Brush teeth.
Get dressed.
Make & eat breakfast while listening to the news.
Ride bike to work while listening to upbeat music.
Lock bike across the street.
Answer emails.
Set up meetings with students, universities, or companies interested in Ei.
Work on creative tasks that require time alone.
Share conversations with Ei Fellows who are designing their year.
Laugh about something with a teammate. Hard.
Co-lead a workshop for a corporate client.
Answer more emails.
Host one of the meetings I set up earlier in the week.
Unlock bike.
Ride to the grocery store.
Buy a few nice ingredients.
Ride home.
Check mail.
Go for a run. Do sit ups and push ups.
Cook while listening to an audiobook or podcast.
Eat dinner.
Call a family member or friend.
Daily writing.
Read poetry or a novel.
Fall asleep before 11.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

– Annie Dillard  “The Writing Life

How do you spend your days?

How do you want to spend your days?

Three things that matter most…

03/15/2017

There are only three things that matter:
Why you’re here.
Where you fit in.
Who you’ll be.

That’s it.

Not money. Power. Prestige. Possessions. Looks.
Or anything else temporary.

Knowing why you’re here gives you purpose. When you have a deeper purpose, your character has a true north. It’s what guides your small decisions – the ones you make when no one is looking.

A sense of fitting in with someone or a community gives you confidence. When you start new relationships, you don’t need something from those individuals. You begin to give more and take less. The more you feel like you belong, the more you can give.

Knowing who you want to become guides the big decisions: where you go to school, what job(s) you take, where you live, who you marry. When you get lost, look at the vision of who you hope to be. Then, go that direction.

Your responses to these questions may overlap. They should. But they should also be different enough for you to have a few anchors for how you live your life.

And don’t worry about figuring all of this out at once. You may drive yourself crazy. But when you start to worry about the things that will fade, come back to these questions. Wrestle with them. Discuss them. Remind yourself of how you answered them in the past and notice how your answers are evolving.

Everything else will, and should, matter far less.

Knowing Better

03/08/2017

I stood in front of the massive piece of work.

Its dark colors and many dimensions were mesmerizing. I didn’t know what I was looking at. The mystery lured me in.

My family and I were visiting the Kansas City Art Museum. It was the first time in 2017 we were spending time together since dad passed. We were filling the time with good food, walks, games, and films. On Sunday, there was just enough time to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

I’d never been to an art museum with my mother. It was sweet to see how intently she looked at everything. Her comments about several of the pieces were simultaneously childlike and profound. She’d point out minor details. She’d ask how we thought something was made. She awed at anything gold. She loves gold.

When we entered the modern wing, I wandered on my own. I found myself captured by this massive, mysterious piece.

Then, I heard my mom’s quiet voice behind me: “Unbelievable.”

I looked at her, surprised that she admired it. I had no idea my mother would appreciate such a modern piece. She could tell I was surprised.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”  She quietly said in her soft, Middle-Eastern accent.

I nodded my head in agreement, mouth slightly opened.

A few minutes later, I asked her about it. She went on to tell me how much she loved art and history as a child. She asked me if I knew various artists and if I liked their work. And though neither of us are experts, we talked about Pollock, Rothko, Seurat, Degas, etc.

I was floored.

How have I been my mother’s son for so long and not known about her appreciation for art? I felt ashamed and inspired all at once. My heart did something I didn’t know it could do: I respected Issis Saad even more.

I’m sure you know a lot about the people around you. But there are probably things you don’t know. There’s a question you haven’t asked or a story you’ve never heard. It can seem odd to ask seemingly random questions at various points of a relationship, but the conversations will lead you to new and meaningful places.

Because the real power in all of our relationships isn’t just knowing one another, it’s learning that we are all in motion. Always growing. Always changing. Always learning.

There is magic in that.

So get to know someone you know. Better.

And see what happens next…

Giving Gold

03/01/2017

Have you felt it lately?

The world seems a bit more off than usual.

It’s as if there’s a national head-cold going around. More people are groggy, grumpy, and calling in sick more than usual. Because of that, people are turning to an array of things to find solace.

But the best medicine isn’t more money or more entertainment or more stuff.

It’s encouragement.

The act of helping your friends, communities, and teams look ahead and see opportunity, or to look at one another and see possibility, that’s what drives people forward through challenging times.

One of my most talented bosses used to start each week with a “Monday Morning Stand” where each of us would share one celebration from the prior week. It led us to an array of high fives, cheers, and congratulations.

Every. Week.

It was such a memorable practice that I carried it over to Ei when we began.

Yes, some weeks are challenging. But we believe that encouraging one another helps us see our own potential.  And driving towards that potential is what leads us to reaching it. That’s why we celebrate our accomplishments and point out growth after we finish projects.

Some may think compliments and encouragement are signs of weakness or a shallow need for validation. But sincere and honest encouragement is gold. It’s fuel. It’s what good, kind, and driven people are made of. And it’s what they give.

It will seem odd to dole out compliments without notice, especially when the world seems to celebrate the brute, brash drive of the loudest voices. Encouragement can seem odd or awkward.

But as George Bernard Shaw once said:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.”

Your team, your community, and our world needs your encouragement. Especially now.

The best part?
This is something you can do today.

Send an email or text message.
Make a call.
Write a note.
Pull someone aside.

You can even do it now. It only takes a few moments and it will make their day. Maybe even their week.

And I have a feeling it will make yours too.

Have a great Wednesday,
Victor

ps: If you decide to encourage someone today, let me know. I’d love to know the story. Send a note on any social channels to @victorsaad. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Open Doors

02/22/2017

He greeted us at the back entrance of the shabby, nondescript brick warehouse. It was a gray winter day.

Thirteen graduate level students began to funnel into the old space on Chicago’s Southside. None of us knew what to expect. We were nervous. We were excited.

Experience Institute was beginning a 2-day project with a group of people working in a field that none of us were well versed in: Urban Agriculture.

The man who greeted us was Derek – a tall, confident, lean man with graying hair just long enough to tie behind his head. He wasn’t very emotive; but there was enough kindness in his voice to know he was glad to see us.

The interior of the warehouse didn’t resemble its rough exterior. It was filled with bright lights, handmade wooden furniture and containers, interesting technological contraptions, and rows of luscious plants tucked into every corner.

We had been transported into another world, into Sweet Water Foundation.


Just a few weeks earlier, my colleague Aaron and I were considering how to best help Experience Institute’s year-long Fellows deepen their skills in the Design Thinking process. They’d already received an introduction at the beginning of their year in September, but now it was time to take it up a notch and source a project from a community organization during our second of four “Meetups.”

Our theme for the meetup was Community and Food, so we sent emails to our friends to find a relevant organization that could use a group of ‘consultants’ for a few days while two instructors taught the skills necessary to make an impact.

When Emmanuel Pratt replied with the information about Sweet Water, we had a good feeling. Meeting him and hearing his passion for the people and work confirmed that we found a great match.

Sweet Water Foundation teaches sustainable farming, woodworking, and agriculture, but its true mission is to build community and redevelop neighborhoods from the ground up. It brings young people and local residents in, lets them find places where they can connect, and then supports them in taking increasing responsibility and leadership. But SWF is so busy with its many projects that it hasn’t established rhythms for consistently capturing and sharing those stories.

So, we got to work.


The next two days were packed with interviews with the amazing staff, young people, and community members who surround the foundation. With each conversation, our Fellows grew more inspired by SWF and humbled by their grit and resolve. Lots of organizations talk about the importance of community building. SWF walks the walk. The staff, whether their trade is carpentry, agriculture, or cooking, spoke first of their relationship with the kids who come to Sweet Water.

The kids talk about what they’ve learned about plants and fish and nutrients. But what they all come back to is how Sweet Water feels like a family–how the adults have wrapped their arms around them (figuratively and literally).

And the neighborhoods SWF works in are far from simple. We studied the history of legalized segregation and disinvestment in communities of color and how the ongoing legacy of those political forces can still be found in everything from unemployment and underemployment, high rates of foreclosed homes from the subprime mortgage scandals, struggling schools, and heavy crime. It’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of those challenges.

But Sweet Water leverages urban gardens, aquaponics and home renovation as a means to build hope and camaraderie on a daily basis.

After few days of interviews, research, and brainstorming, our fellows presented their ideas for helping Sweet Water more effectively tell these stories. Ideas ranged from a portable “Stories To Go” box that staff and youth leaders could use to interview and capture stories from visitors, to a simple method for measuring immediate impact of educational programs, to a system for engaging philanthropists, to a redesign of their website.

SWF is working on bringing some of these ideas to life. But, as is normally the case in these situations, I think the time with SWF was even more beneficial for us than it was for them. Their open door to Ei nourished us and taught us, once again, that learning and collaboration happens best when doors remain open.

Thanks to Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom for helping to write and edit this piece and the EXP4 Fellows for their thoughtfulness and hard work. And special thanks to Emmanuel Pratt, Roman Titus, and the team behind Sweet Water Foundation. We are in your corner. 

One Thing at a Time

02/15/2017

There’s an unspoken expectation of everyone in society. It’s so prevalent and so common, that we’ve all been poisoned and no one knows it.

Every so often, someone will point it out. We gasp at its presence and vow to avoid it at all costs. Yet, as quickly as the air rushed into our lungs, we forget and accept it.

It’s the expectation that we should do more.

It drives us to want to create more things. Make more money. Cram more into each day. Complete multiple tasks at once.

It’s why we text and drive.
Try to schedule two meetings with different people around the same time and place.
Open multiple tabs in our browsers.
And why our task lists and folder systems and notification settings are all overly complicated…(or even that there are programs specifically designed to handle those things).

Everyone is expecting more of you. Your parents. Your peers.Your managers. Those who went before you. Those who are watching you.

Because you are privileged.
You are smart.
More translates to better.
You should be able to do more.

This is tyranny. The expectation is enough to not only drive you mad, but also keep you from your best work and relationships.

There is a reason that when you see the finer things in life, they are more simple.

Healthy dishes, well-made cars, timeless furniture, solid crafts. There is less involved – less ingredients or bells and whistles or “extras.” Our best products or experiences bring about a sense of calm. And the few details that remain have been agonized over. That’s why they are considered sophisticated, elegant, smart. The maker decided “more” wasn’t their target. Instead, they aimed for excellence and longevity.

As you can, do a few things well. The less the better.
You’ll fly further, higher, and be able to help others do the same.

Empathy

02/08/2017

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Thoughts about US. It was one of the most widely read and shared pieces I’ve written. Even though the readers of these Wednesday Words hold an array of varying beliefs, every response was gracious, thoughtful, and kind. Some of you even chose to create your own list of centering beliefs. It’s been great to read your thoughts. Thank you for replying and sharing.

One of my friends and someone I greatly respect wrote the following response. It’s a helpful critique and addition:

I don’t know if you’re conscious of it, but there’s an unwritten word woven through every thought in this essay: empathy.
It should be the filter through which we as humans view every interaction. While I like the somewhat simplistic mantra of ‘all you need is love’, I think the real key to bridging divides is by challenging ourselves to see the world through the eyes of another without judgement. It seems simplistic to have to articulate this fundamental truth, but people have a really hard time setting aside ego and personal preconception, and just listening. Lord knows I have to be reminded from time to time, but when I do, in general, I find my life enriched and my connections stronger.

Thanks for the inspiration. We’re gonna need a lot of it in the days ahead.
– Timothy Hogan

Those words have stuck with me.

Empathy is the act of listening. But not just listening – it’s pausing, placing yourself in the other person’s shoes, and staying there with your eyes wide open.

The longer you stay there, the more you’ll see and feel the world in the same way as that person.

It’s the best kind of listening.

There’s been a lot of anger over the past few weeks. Understandably so.

But our greatest act of growing together as a community is pausing to see where others are coming from and why it matters to them. It’s a gift that settles the most tumultuous situations.

Because the opposite of anger is not being more calm.
It’s being more empathetic.

Leap

02/01/2017

She didn’t know it would be so high. All she knew was that it felt higher than she’d ever been.

She looked down.
Stepped back.
Walked to the edge again.
Looked down again.
Stepped back.

She repeated this sequence several times.

Every so often, the fear would steal her breath and replace it with doubt.

She was too old for this.
She wasn’t in the right shape.
She’d never done it before.
She could get hurt.
It wasn’t worth it.

“It’s easy to walk back down. I saw someone else do it. That’s what I should do.” she thought to herself.

She stopped standing at the edge.
She felt safer a few steps back.
She leaned on the railing.
She contemplated.

She couldn’t go back now. She was here. Others had gone before her. They were better for it. She knew this wouldn’t be easy before she came. The decision to back out now would follow her. She’d regret it.

“This won’t kill me. At least, I don’t think it will.”

1…
[breathe]
2…
[step]
3…

Leap.

Your turn.

___
Inspired by Ten Meter Tower, a mini-doc by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson that was recently featured in the New York Times.

 

Thoughts about US

01/25/2017

After the events of the last few months, my head has been swirling and my newsfeed has been dizzying.

So I started writing a few very clear, common-sense things that could help me re-center. Good and simple truths about democracy, community, and country. I think I’ve taken our freedoms for granted and one way to change that is by wrestling with the issues with pen and paper (and keyboard). I ventured into some tricky territory, spaces that I’m still navigating, but here’s where I am so far:

I believe…

If you have a different sexual orientation than me, you deserve just as much love as anyone else. In abundance.

If you are of a different race or color or from a different socioeconomic background, we still have more uniting us than dividing us.

Someone being from the Middle East does not mean they are a terrorist. I know this well.

I believe women deserve respect. And so much more than respect. Equal pay. Equal rights. Equal everything.

If you’ve done something wrong, you deserve a second chance. If you keep doing things wrong, I want you to get help.

I believe if you’re a child from any part of any city of any size, I think you should have access to the same, quality education as a child from any other family in your city. And it should be great. Which means we need to invest heavily in our teachers and their success. Not just money, but our time. A family’s goal should not just be to afford education, but to be involved in one another’s learning and development.

If you are my neighbor, I think we’re better as allies than enemies. One of our greatest contributions to this world is exemplifying how to coexist, despite our differences.

If a bully kicks someone while they’re down, we should do something. We may not be able to fight everyone’s fight, but we can rally our friends and inventions to be helpful when others are in need.

The earth is changing, and not for the better. A lot of that is because we take too much from it. We need to be thoughtful about what we use and how much of it we use or else it will stop giving. We are smart enough to create new ways of reusing, sharing, and even giving back to the earth. Doing so will ensure a longer and happier life for our kids and their kids. This means changing our habits and definitions of success. That seems impossible. But if we do this together, it will be easier and it will be worth it.

If you’ve earned a lot of money because you worked really hard for it, you shouldn’t be targeted to give it away. That should be up to you. But sharing a planet, a country, and a community comes at a cost, for all of us. If we consume less and give a little more, more of us can be more healthy and cared for. That’s good for you, me, and everyone around us, too.

The rules surrounding governance are complex. But I believe we shouldn’t pass those complexities down to the people they are meant to serve. Our most delightful and helpful technology and designs should be pointed at helping all people navigate basic needs.

The job market is changing. An expensive four-year degree gained in a classroom is losing its relevance and seeding generations with more debt than anyone can or should handle. We need to create more bridges into the marketplace through internships and apprenticeships earlier in higher education. Those experiences ought to be a frequent and fully accredited part of education. Educating people is about more than just vocation. It means guiding students to think, to question, to appreciate beauty, to understand history, embrace difference, and be comfortable with ambiguity. Education should prepare people for jobs, absolutely, but also for living thoughtful, empathic, fully human lives.

And society is moving and progressing too fast for us to simply cram all of our education into our younger years. Learning is not a product, it is a practice that ought to be directed by the learner and celebrated by society as a whole.

Things like democracy, country, and freedom are complex. The past few weeks and months have proved that. Each of us needs to wrestle with those topics on our own and with our communities. Or else we will get swept away by party, religion, or a figurehead and, in turn, never understand or or strengthen our own beliefs. That’s when democracy begins to crumble and fear and hate rise – when we have no foundation in basic truths that ought to be fundamental to democracy.

So when does freedom come under fire? What is worth fighting for? Which belief is preference and which ones help a country create a place for people to live happy, meaningful lives?

 

Find the time to recenter yourself around a few truths that you believe. Find people who are doing the same. Meet them. Disagree with them. Decide what’s foundational to democracy and freedom…and celebrate those things. And when you differ, remember what unites you.

– Victor

Ps: Special thanks to Dane Johnson & Michael Lawrence for helping me edit this piece, and more importantly, discuss these topics with me.

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