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Thanksgiving Words

11/22/2017

Last Friday, I co-hosted a friendsgiving for the new group of incredible Masters students I’ve been been working with at Stanford. Everyone chipped in to help. The Executive Director and I planned the event. The staff organized the turkey and the space. And students brought their favorite dishes and helped transform one of the studios.

(Yes, that’s a Scandinavian fireplace video playing on the screen…)

We took the time to reflect on the celebrations we cherished and the food we enjoyed. We also debriefed the new “Leap” program we’ve been prototyping together. Over and over again, I’ve been challenged and inspired by the staff and students during my first two months on the team. I’m really grateful to be part of their world.

Before we feasted, we read a few words together. It reminded me of the power of pausing before special moments to set the tone. Below, you’ll find the passages we read. I hope these words or something like them will come into play during your time with friends and family this holiday.

Wherever you are this week, the Ei family and I wish you a warm, full, and joyous Thanksgiving.

Thanks for being here with us. We are beyond grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

This might be used to open your Thanksgiving meal:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast,
a house into a home,
a stranger into a friend.
It turns problems into gifts,
failures into successes,
the unexpected into perfect timing,
and mistakes into important events.
It can turn an existence into a real life,
and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– Melody Beattie

This might be used to close your meal:

May you experience happiness.
May you bring light to someone else’s life.
May you abide in joy.
And may you allow yourself to feel gratitude,
and to multiply that feeling by sharing it with those around you.

-Anonymous

Creating a Weekly Writing Practice

11/08/2017

Nearly every day, I write.

I sit down at a desk. Or on a couch. Or in a cafe. Or on a flight. And I take 10–30 minutes to write about anything and everything. What happened that day. How things are going. What things are working or breaking. What I’m learning along the way.

I don’t have to write a lot. 250 words. At least.

Every once in awhile, I miss. And on the weekends, I only write once.

Taken from one of my favorite places to write…the sky.

The first person to see these writings is my writing partner, Dane Johnson. You can read about our daily wager here. We’ve kept this rhythm relatively steady for nearly four years.

CHOOSING WHICH WRITINGS TO SHARE
Each week, I look to the next few Wednesdays and think about which writings might be most beneficial or interesting to you — friends, Ei alum, peers, leaders, and onlookers. I try not to overthink it. As much as I hope you find these writings helpful, I really write because I believe writing is one of the most powerful ways to process my days, tell stories, and share ideas, so I need to practice. But I also want to build a community of people who care about the future of education and workforce development, and who are striving to improve our world. So, I often keep these three principles in mind when writing:

  • Authenticity: Write in my own voice. Don’t try to be someone else.
  • Consistency: Show up each week. Even if you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get better and that’s when some of your best work emerges.
  • Transparency: Share all facets of life and work. Not just the shiny stuff. Show the process of building, the relationships, the successes, the mistakes. This builds lasting relationships and empowers others.

There are weeks where everything I’ve written is a bit too personal, so I have to start from scratch in the eleventh hour — which takes me back to the college days of late-night assignments with electronica music playing and a dimly lit desk lamp standing next to a half-eaten turkey sandwich.

I digress.

GETTING HELP
No matter what, by Tuesday evening, I send one or two pieces to Aaron and Katie — my colleagues and friends at Experience Institute. Sometimes I include a few other friends depending on the topic. I share the writings via Google Docs so they can make corrections and content suggestions.

FINALIZING THE WORDS
I read their suggestions and usually apply all of them. I’m rarely happy with the final piece. My writing ability still hasn’t matched my taste (thanks Ira Glass). But, I’ve committed to shipping something each week, so we move the words over to Mailchimp, our software for sending email, and send a test on Tuesday/Wednesday to make sure everything looks and works correctly.

“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
— Jennifer Egan

SHARING ACROSS PLATFORMS
As the email gets finalized, I prepare to syndicate the words via Medium, Linkedin, Twitter & Facebook. I also add the piece to my personal blog which is more for me than anyone else. Katie and I block Wednesday mornings to do the final polishing and posting. Typically 8am-10am.

Then we schedule to send between 10am-1pm.

THE AUDIENCE
The email is read by 1,500–2,000 people each week, not including the readers who read the words on social platforms.

I don’t worry too much about growing that number, nor do I measure the ROI of the hours I spend. I began writing because I genuinely enjoy it. And I believe sharing a few helpful lessons and experiences is a meaningful thing I can do for and with you as Ei continues exploring how to improve the future of education and the workplace.

THANKS
So, thanks to Dane, Aaron, and Katie for making this happen each week. And thank you for reading this note in your inbox, on Medium, or Facebook. This is as much for you as it is for me. And I’m grateful to share this space with you each week.

Now I’m curious, do you write? Why? How often? And do you post your writings?

If you have a practice, share it. And if you want to create one, let me know what it might look like.

If I’ve learned anything throughout the past few years, it’s that a little writing goes a long way.

“In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”
— Jane Hirshfield

Happy Wednesday,
Victor

Yay! Folder

11/01/2017

Last week, I was off my game. It’s too soon to write about what happened. But something I’m putting a lot of effort into took a wrong turn.

I retraced all of my steps to make sure I fully understood how I got there. I talked to friends who’d been in similar situations. And then I spent some time with people I care about deeply doing things I really enjoy.

On Monday night, when a few bits of disappointment were lingering, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I revisited a folder I’ve saved called Yay!

I know. The title is cheesy. Super cheesy. But bear with me.

This is the folder where I save emails from people who’ve shared how Ei’s past work has improved their lives. There are notes from remarkable people who’ve read the Leap Year Project book, or graduated from our Fellowship, or attended one of our workplace programs, or used Leap Kit to design their next step. Many of those notes have come from people who receive these Wednesday Words. So, thank you. Really…those notes go a long way.

This tiny practice links to a grander philosophy. It’s called the Progress Principle — the simple act of noting and celebrating progress throughout your work. It’s what fuels small teams, big innovations, and some of the most important work in history. In the HBR article, “The Power of Small Wins,” by Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer, they tell some of those stories and then note:

“Of all the things that can boost inner work life, the most important is making progress in meaningful work.”

A Yay! folder is just one tiny way to do that. If you’ve never created something like this before, it’s simple and takes less than a minute to set up:

  1. Create a folder in your email provider called “Yay” or “Hooray” or “Good things” or “Celebrations” or something fun that you’ll remember.
  2. Anytime you receive affirmation for your work or a clear sign that something is going well, save it to that folder.
  3. Revisit the folder monthly, quarterly, yearly, or whenever necessary to remember the good things that have happened along the way.

Note: You can create the same thing physically. Just use a folder or shoe box and begin to save any mail/notes/mementos along the way.

If you’re taking any type of risk to make something meaningful, this space will become vital. It will remind you and your team how far you’ve come, push you to do even better work, and keep you positive along the way. So use it early and often.

Maybe even today.

___________________________

PS: This video from Ei’s recent graduation was one of the more recent things in my yay folder. Thanks for supporting and celebrating our year-long fellows last year!

Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

10/25/2017

Yesterday was a whirlwind: 5am exercise, breakfast, prep for a class I’ve been teaching, ride through the rain to meet with an Ei alum, work on our website, give feedback to one of our corporate client projects, do some administrative work, eat a quick lunch, help another client learn about our newest workplace offerings, review the final covers for The Shapeless Shape (they’re beautiful!), greet participants to one of our evening classes, meet with a friend about a project for the city, ship two orders of Leap Kits, pick up dry cleaning, work on an interior design project for my apartment, do another exercise, eat a late dinner, journal, shower, and pack for a six-day trip to the Bay. I’m on that flight now.

For some of you, that seems like a full day. For others, that sounds like child’s play.

But this isn’t about which of us is more busy.
It’s about filling your days with the hard work of actually doing the thing(s) you truly believe in. You’re taking your thoughts, dreams, and conversations, and working as smart and hard as you can to make them come to life.

It’s going to take more work than you expect.
It’s going to push you to your limits.
You may feel pulled in too many directions.

At times, that’s ok. You’re doing it. Not just talking about it. That’s how change happens.

So, here’s to another normal Wednesday, full of gratitude for the chance to pursue our ideas, and to do so with imagination and relentless energy.

Because that’s what will make tomorrow all the better.

PS: The students in the class I’m co-teaching at Stanford are hosting their own Design Thinking workshop at the d.school on November 11th from 9am – 1pm. If you’re in the area, it’s a great chance for you to meet the crew, learn the principles and processes behind innovation, and connect with an amazing community. You can purchase a seat here: https://tinyurl.com/y838xzdt

“Yes!” Why Reaching a Goal Feels Good

10/18/2017

That feeling when…

Your offer was accepted!

You got the job!

Your biggest client agreed to a new project!

You received the acceptance letter!

You finished a project and it went better than expected!

Someone sent you an email to say your work made their life a little better!

“Yes!”

Those moments and the accompanying feelings are priceless. They’re worth celebrating again and again. But, why do those moments feel so good? Here are a few hunches:

Reach: You aimed far. You had the vision to see a little further and the courage to go for it. Now you’re in a better place because of it.

Struggle: You worked hard. At times, the odds seemed against you. But those extra hours of learning and toiling actually paid off. Now you’re more confident you can make it through the next set of challenges.

Community: At one point, you reached as far as you could possibly reach. Just when you were at your very end, someone (or a group of people) gave you the push you needed to get the rest of the way. And now you are full of gratitude, feel more supported, and in search of ways to help others.

Ability: You worked with the abilities and resources you had, even though they didn’t seem like enough at times. Now you have something new or can do something you couldn’t do before. You have more resources, a larger community, more knowledge, and most importantly, more hope for the future.

I have those hunches because that’s how I feel this week.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked with a group of friends to write and produce a children’s book. And over the past month nearly 600 friends, peers, and total strangers have pre-ordered The Shapeless Shape on Kickstarter. Now, tomorrow night at 10pm CST, the campaign will finish and we’ll be able to place an order for thousands of copies to ship in December and beyond.

There was no huge agency, firm, or massive ad spend for this project. It was merely a group of friends and a community that believed in the idea and message. Because of David, Edu, Matthew, Deb, Sandra, Christina, Daniel, the team at Grip, William, Manuel, Aaron, Katie, Cindy, and Ben…and hundreds of you, we’re all going to say, “Yes!” tomorrow night.

So whatever you’re working on, keep reaching, keep fighting for what you believe should exist, lean on your community, and know that you’re growing immensely along the way.

Thanks for being on this journey with me and others.

Have a great Wednesday,
Victor

PS: If you haven’t had a chance to pre-order your copy of The Shapeless Shape, just click here.

PPS: And if you’ve already pre-ordered the book and want share the project with friends, just any of the buttons below. Thank you!

Not There Yet

10/11/2017

If you receive applause, you’re not there yet.

If you make more money, you’re not there yet.

If someone you admire notices your work, you’re not there yet.

If you receive more invitations, accolades, likes, comments, shares, snaps… you’re not there yet.

If you’re able to vacation to far-off islands and take selfies while your friends slog away at 9–5 jobs, you’re not there yet.

Why?

Because most of those things are illusions, not destinations. They’re temporary visions in a desert of other people’s expectations and approval.

The only way you’ll arrive is if you decide your own destination and why it matters.

Lately, a few specific moments have reminded me where my “there” is…

  • Sharing dinner with a student who recently graduated our year-long program and hearing her speak with glowing confidence about the new job she just landed.
  • Reading The Shapeless Shape to one of my best friend’s daughters and watching her see herself in the story.
  • Making plans to share dinner with an old friend who needs a listening ear amidst a challenging time.
  • Helping a class of students get to know one another on a more personal level as they prepare for months of learning and work.

Of course, I want those things to expand — to change how higher education works for thousands of students each year; to infuse the workplace with more curiosity and creativity; and to inspire children and adults on every continent with a simple story. When people’s lives change for the better because they’ve learned how to make an impact, make a living, and walk through life with confidence, I’m there.

The better you know where you need to go, the more likely you’ll get there. And if you don’t know, it’s ok. Just beware of everyone else’s destination becoming your own. That’s a dizzying place, and not good for anyone. Especially you.

PS: Your notes and comments to last week’s words were inspiring and heartwarming. Thank you.

Good. Grief.

10/04/2017

Last week, I was traveling when a deep sadness blindsided me during a flight. Here’s what I wrote:

I wish my dad were here. I’ve been working really hard lately – to make the world a little brighter with a children’s book, to help students & professionals launch into their next step through Ei, and to work alongside people interested in changing higher education for the better.

But honestly, some of what has driven me lately is just being ashamed that I couldn’t show my dad more of my work before he passed away. Though he tried really hard, it was challenging for him to understand what I was doing and why it mattered. It made me question if my grand pursuits were meaningful…and whether or not I should get a normal job with a steady paycheck and an easier life. Instead, I kept pursuing what I felt was right. I know he was proud of me, but he didn’t have a chance to *really* see it. To read the book. To spend time with the students. To meet me for coffee on Stanford’s campus after teaching my first class. To greet me at the airport when I fly home for my little brother’s wedding.

We were very different people. But when I look back at his life, I think about how bold he was. Pursuing my beautiful mother from a prestigious Egyptian family, immigrating to the US for a better life, learning a new language and starting a veterinarian practice in a big city, accepting a job with the government that would move three boys around the country, fighting with his demons until he won. Magdi Saad was bold. So I know that’s what he wanted of me – to do the right thing…boldly.

________________

It’s funny how grief works. You think you’re ok. You have so much to celebrate. But then something happens or it just sneaks up on you like this. There are no quick fixes. You just need to give it time and let it pass over you.

And as I look at our world, I see a lot of grief – personally and societally. It makes me want to understand how grief works.

According to the famous psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages of grief include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There is no rhyme or reason for when you might enter any of the stages. In fact you can cycle through all of them within minutes.

So when I see the onslaught of messages about political issues or the despair over devastating loss, one way I fend off feeling overwhelmed is by seeking to understand grief and exploring how to care for those experiencing it. Anger is appropriate. Bargaining is understandable. As my friend Matthew Hoffman say, “It’s ok to not be ok.”

But there is hope.

Kubler also writes that the final step isn’t merely acceptance. It’s integration.

Integration is using the situation to take steps forward. You use your past pain to make healthy decisions and even counsel others.

As someone who wants to solve problems, I find myself wanting to rush to this “good” stage of grief. And I definitely don’t want to share the hard stages of depression or anger that can surface. But giving all of the stages the time and attention they need is what helps you heal well and move forward in a healthy way.

It takes time & work
All of us will handle grief differently. But the one thing everyone needs is patience – with ourselves and with others. Be honest about why you’re feeling and reacting the way you are. And as the fog of grief begins to pass, you can begin taking steps forward – to implement change and care for others.

In time, good will come.
And, if you let it, it will come from you.

New Year’s Letter (pt 2)

09/27/2017

One year ago, almost to the day, I started a small tradition called, New Year’s Letters. The challenge was simple:

Before October 1st, handwrite a letter to yourself that you will open on January 1st. The letter is due by the end of day on October 1st. Seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere safe.

It was a way to pause and recalibrate before the quickening pace of the fall and winter activities.

I just looked back at my letter again. It was hard to read. Here’s how it started:

Dear Victor,
You’re writing this letter while on the mend from the toughest year you’ve had in a long time. Your dad was diagnosed with cancer, one of your biggest ideas didn’t work, and some of your closest relationships fell apart…

But I love reading how it ended:

Not only are you still standing, but you’re moving forward. You continue to ask meaningful questions, build solid communities, care for your family and friends, and creatively approach helping people launch into their next step.

Your questions won’t be answered in the next three months. But keep doing the small things well. Exercise. Sleep. Eat well. Write. Read. Reflect. Ask for help when needed. Call your family often. Be surprisingly generous. And focus on only a couple of important things each day.

Your answers will come. And even if they don’t…you’ll be healthy and well. It’s going to be ok, Vic. Keep going.

There’s a lot more in the letter I can’t share. That’s how it should be.

And now…
I’m asking you to join me again — to pause long enough to check in with yourself.

A few guidelines: 

  1. Schedule time to write the letter between now and Sunday. 30–60 minutes should do.
  2. Handwrite the letter. Get off your computer/phone. Grab a pen and piece of paper. Handwritten letters are always more fun, especially when it’s your own handwriting.
  3. Place your letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope, write Dear (insert your name). And the words “Do not open until January 1st, 2018.”

What to write about
There are no limitations here. The audience is you. What do you want to remember about your year thus far? What have you seen? Who have you met? How have you changed? What do you wish were different? What have you celebrated recently? Where do you hope to be this time next year?

Compile all of those memories, thoughts, and bits of wisdom before the year speeds to an end. Use the sunlight of the summer and the freshness of the fall to capture important words before the cold takes over and the noise of “resolutions” rises. Then, as you start 2018, you’ll have your own words as clues and guides for your next step.

And if you choose to participate in this little tradition, can you leave your name/email address here: bit.ly/newyearsletter?

I’ll send a quick reminder on Sunday and again on January 1st. That’s all.

So go on, schedule those 30 minutes, turn everything off, and write that letter.
I’ll be doing this with you.

Victor
bit.ly/newyearsletter

Thanks, Mrs. Trippe

09/13/2017

Growing up, I was the chubby, Middle Eastern kid.

Except a lot of my elementary school peers in the southern part of the midwest didn’t really know where the Middle East was. They just knew I didn’t quite look like them…and that my parents had a funny accent that made them say “ze” instead of “the.”

Combine all of that with the usual tumultuousness of going through puberty and trying to fit in, and, well, you can imagine the roller coaster I endured.

Chances are you have similar stories of your own.

Enter my High School AP English Class
My teacher was Mrs. Trippe (pronounced, “trippy”).

During my Junior year, Mrs. Trippe gave us the most dreaded project of our High School education: The Junior Book Report.

While everyone in the class got to choose their book of focus, Mrs. Trippe took it upon herself to assign me a very specific book. Since I’m Egyptian, she thought it would be best that I read a book by the Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.

At first, I was open to the idea. But then I learned the book was 500 pages long.

Not cool, Mrs. Trippe.

Even though we had the entire semester to do the project, I waited until one week before the paper was due to begin reading the book. l sped-read like crazy and then worked on it for two days straight, skipping classes and drinking more Mountain Dew than I care to admit. On the day the paper was due, one of the brightest students in the class, Natasha, was kind enough to proofread the piece. She was a straightforward, no BS type of person who seemed to excel at everything. Nathash took the entirety of our typing class to mark up my paper and at the end simply said, “It’s good, but you still have a lot of work to do.

She handed me a piece of paper covered in red ink. I spent the rest of that day making the corrections and turned in the paper with 2 minutes to spare.

To my great surprise…
Mrs. Trippe was elated with my piece. She was proud of the way I embraced my culture, my family (I included interviews with my aunts & uncles), and my voice. I received an A.

But more importantly, Mrs. Trippe helped me find a place where I fit. I had a renewed confidence about who I was and why it mattered.

Mrs. Trippe was just one of my amazing people in my life at that time. I had remarkable teachers, band directors, soccer coaches, acting directors, guidance counselors…most of whom went out of their way to make sure I knew I had a place in their class, on their stage, and in this world.

Their time and energy is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the children’s book David and a few friends and I have been making. It’s a story about fitting in, finding your way…and the community that makes that possible. The final product is more special than I originally imagined, and I can’t wait for you to have a copy.

If you’re interested in this message and this book, just leave your email here and I’ll notify you when the pre-orders begin on Kickstarter so you can receive the early backer discount.

And, if you’re questioning how to fit or where to find your place, you’re not alone. Keep listening. And keep looking…

One. Step. At. A. Time.

09/06/2017

Last Saturday, I found myself on a really difficult hike: Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Difficult might be an understatement. If you’ve never heard of Half Dome (I hadn’t before last week), some call it the hardest hike in the park.

17 miles. 12 hours. 4,000 feet of elevation. More steps than I could count. And a final ascent that’s so steep, it can only be completed with cables.

OMG

At first, the hike seemed doable. But it just happened that last weekend was an abnormally hot weekend for the area. 90+ degree temperatures made the stairs, switchbacks, and slick granite surface even more challenging. And the final steps through the cable passageway pushed me to the very end of my courage.

Throughout the hike, I found myself developing a cadence as I pushed through the challenging parts:

One. Step. At. A. Time.

I took a step at every beat…making sure my feet and body were positioned well and I could see where I might go next. When the trail calmed down, I could look up and appreciate the incredible views. And when it would get tricky again, I’d return to the cadence.

Towards the end of the day, I began to think of the times I marvel at how people do hard things well. Starting a healthy business, raising a loving family, writing a thoughtful book, facing a life-changing illness, dealing with loss, rebuilding after a natural disaster, fighting for justice…the list goes on.

There’s no real magic to it. There’s no formula. Hard things are best handled one step at a time. One good, thoughtful decision after another.

Proximal Goals

There’s another term for this: “proximal goals.” In this classic study, researchers worked to help 7- to 10-year-olds with “gross deficits and disinterest in mathematical tasks.”

They divided the children into two groups: The first was told to set proximal goals (six pages of math problems in each of seven sessions) and the second group set long-term goals (42 pages of problems over seven sessions).

The children who used proximal goals completed the problems faster and were more motivated. And they solved 80 percent of problems correctly. The second group (long-term) only solved 40 percent of the problems correctly.

More importantly, the first group was more confident in their mathematical abilities. Proximal goals did more than help them solve the problems. They had fundamentally changed the way the participants looked at math.

Today

Even if you don’t know where you’re going or how you’ll make it to the end, define and take the next step. That’s all that matters for today.

And, every so often, be sure to pause and look around. The view will remind you how far you’ve come.

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