Hi, I'm Victor.

Higher education through real-world experience.


Leap Kit

Step-by-Step tools to learn anything through experience.


LYP Book

Stories of risk & learning from Leap Year Project 2012.

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Facing Challenges


For most of my childhood, I was pretty chubby. My middle school years were spent at the end of the pack during the mile-run and the bottom of the list for the pull-up & push-up contest.

Combine that with being an Egyptian kid with a first name that can be easily made into a girl’s name and you have a formula for getting picked on. My personal favorite was,

“Hey Victoria, what’s your secret?”

[said while mimicking my parents’ Middle Eastern accent]

It became easy to believe that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough to be or do anything great.

The best remedy for me was two-fold:

1. Face the challenge

My mother would regularly tell me to face life’s biggest challenges…to look them right in the face, don’t lose sight of them…and to simply say to myself: I am the greatest. Silly, I know. But the sight of her saying that phrase with gumption is one I’ll never forget. Issis Saad just might have been Muhammad Ali’s biggest fan. It eventually rubbed off onto me.

2. Do the thing

Simply put, actually do the things that I or anyone else thought I couldn’t do.

Eventually, those nudges led me to take up soccer, pick up the saxophone, join theatre, and participate in or lead service trips every summer throughout High School. My confidence began to build and I cared less about what people said.

But as I got older, each new endeavor brought with it a new set of bullies. My goals were lofty and I faced more internal doubts rather than childish name-calling. But there was my mom, helping me identify my challenges and making me say, I am the greatest.

Leaps don’t have to be huge life changes. They can consist of any project to learn or attempt something new. They’re meant to move you beyond your comfort zone, which inevitably means facing a challenge.

Mental Contrasting

I recently learned there is a scientific method to my mother’s sweet madness. It’s called Mental Contrasting and it’s meant to help you visualize success and face your obstacles. It’s relatively simple:

1. Positive. Start by envisioning your Leap. Write down several positive aspects associated with completing it. Hone in on the most important aspects and spend a few minutes visualizing them.

2. Obstacles. Write down the obstacles to achieving your goal. What’s in your way? What might stop you? Hone in and visualize a few of the biggest obstacles.

This works because your subconscious mind operates in the short-term. It’s hard for your mind to really see or feel the long term benefits while in the moment. You have to give it time to actually soak in the positive possibilities of completing your goal.

For example, training for a half-marathon has many long-term health benefits, but your short-term thinking subconscious will try to convince you that you’re pointlessly running in circles and that ice cream is a far superior way to feel immediately satisfied.

You need to lock in those challenging thoughts and counter them by visualizing the healthier, more physically fit version of yourself that’s going to be happier and able to enjoy the activities you love to do.

This technique translates thoughts of success into concrete emotions of motivation.

Know My Challenges

When we made Leap Kit, we included a section called ‘Know My Challenges’ to help you pre-plan for obstacles while you are in a positive mindset. How will you know if you are getting stuck? What’s the first step you might take when you need to work through a challenge?

The bullies are the things trying to convince you that you can’t do it. You have to look them in the eye and face them head on.

Your turn

So, what is currently holding you back from your Leap? What challenges might you face in the coming days or weeks?

Take some time this week to call those things by a specific name and visualize the specific benefits of completing your Leap. Bonus points if you share those thoughts with someone in your Community of Support. I’d recommend talking to my mom; but she’s busy dealing with me.

Keep Leaping,

Leap Story Submissions


I walked out of the elevator and onto the 21st floor of the iconic downtown building.

It should have been a familiar site. I’ve visited the office a hundred times for various meetings; but this time, something was different.

Globe lights hung from the ceiling. Drinks were being served. Strangers were beginning to arrive. A few people were pacing, rehearsing their presentations as microphones were being tested.

Three months earlier, a group of nearly twenty strangers from the world renowned creative firm, Leo Burnett, had chosen to work together and design leaps of their own through a newly launched program called Leo Leaps.

The participants’ projects ranged from making short documentaries and designing a line of jewelry, to creating AR/VR Storyboards and gathering staff recipes for a company cookbook. It was incredible to watch these busy professionals carve time for learning new skills and creating meaningful work.

After three months, the group was ready to host a special storytelling night to share their Leap Stories through 4-minute talks in front of colleagues, friends, and community members.

It was a remarkably special night. You can watch three of the short videos at the end of this note (more to come). They will make you smile.



In March, my friends and I began shipping Leap Kit – a tool to help you design a short experience or project in order to learn, grow or change something in your world. It’s been roughly three months and we’re curious: What Leap have you been working on? What are you designing or attempting? And…Would you be willing to share your story? 

We’ve just created a place for you to share your Leap Story with us. Can you take five minutes to do so here: www.Expinstitute.com/LeapStory?

Submissions are open until Sunday at Midnight. Then, next week we’ll read stories and personally reach out to hear more from you and how our community can continue supporting your endeavors.

This isn’t about being an expertly skilled and fanciful storyteller. You can start with a simple framework to put your story together.

In 1991, Kenn Adams developed the concept that nearly every story has a spine – the bones that make it stand and be seen. At the very core, a story is nothing more than a beginning, a middle, and an end. Beyond that, there are a few pieces that help a story take its shape. Here’s an overview of Adams’ StorySpine:

Once upon a time… (gives the listener a sense of where you are and when the story is taking place)

And everyday… (sets the scene and allows you and your characters to be known)

But one day… (this is where the story shifts, you are faced with a challenge or choice)

Because of that… (this is the choice that needs to be made)

Because of that… (this is the outcome of the choice)

Because of that… (this is the new scene, or reality, in which the character now lives. there are challenges,surprises, or tension throughout these days)

Until Finally… (the tension has built to its climactic point here and a new choice or outcome is presented)

Ever since that day… (the long-term effects of the choice and its outcome are stated here)

The moral of the story is… (what’s the point of the story? what was it all about? what are readers/listeners walking away with?)


In his writings, Adams shows how the StorySpine applies to the classic American story, The Wizard of Oz:

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Dorothy who was carried by tornado to the magical land of Oz.

Every day, she journeyed toward the Emerald City in order to ask the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz to help her get home.

But one day, she got to Oz and she met the Wizard.

Because of that, the Wizard told Dorothy that he would only help her get home if she killed the Wicked Witch of the West.

Because of that, Dorothy encountered many dangers and was successful in destroying the witch.

Because of that, the Wizard agreed to take Dorothy home in his hot-air balloon.

Until finally, on the day of their departure, Dorothy ran after her dog, Toto, and missed the balloon.

And ever since then, Dorothy learned that she always had the power to get home on her own, which she did.

And here’s the story of someone who’s taken a Leap, Hugh Weber of OTA:

Once upon a time, after 20 years away from his small, landlocked hometown of Milbank, South Dakota, Hugh Weber returned to the region to live with his wife and kids.

And everyday he felt pressured to keep his head down and not do anything to stand out – the same pressure that had pushed him to leave after he’d finished high school.

But one day he realized there must be others like him in the area who wanted to work together to build something new. So, he and his family decided to host events to empower regional creatives. But had no funding.

Because of that Hugh invested nearly invested his own money to host some of the initial community-building events.

Because of that he would have to sell enough tickets to the event to recoup his investment.

Because of that he became dependent on the support of the creatives in the region where he lived. He didn’t know how he’d be able to keep supporting this creative community without greater financial support.

Until finally, a friend told him to seek out a grant from a foundation that supports community-builders and culture creators. He and his creative friends sent a proposal for funding and the foundation agreed to help them!

Ever since that day Hugh and his creative friends (who collectively refer to themselves as OTA, because they serve the “ota” states: MinnesOTA, North DakOTA, South DakOTA) have been hosting empowering events that support community builders and culture creators in their region.

The moral of the story is that, in order to leap, we must often overcome a cultural inertia that is resistant to change and may frown upon standing out in the crowd.


The power of StorySpine is that it offers a simple structure to build your story. Include your own personality and details to make it yours.

Take some time and give this your best shot. You have the space right here: www.Expinstitute.com/LeapStory and you have until Sunday at midnight. 

If you need help, you can just reply or send a note to hello@expinstitute.com. The team and I are here to help.

So, what’s your Leap Story?

Leo Leapers

ps: If you would like to learn more about Leap Kit and purchase your own, stop by: leapkit.expinstitute.com.



On Sunday, I turned 31 years old. That feels old.

The first class of Ei’s new college program, Leap Summer, has confirmed this by jokingly saying, “Dang. You’re old.”

Everyone older than me is saying, “You’re still sooooo young.”

Recently, I heard that 30 is the new 20.
For today, I’ll stick with that idea.

Normally my birthday is a great time to share a list of quippy wise words. But today, I simply wanted to say: Thank you.

I’ve been working on building Ei for a few years now. That pursuit has included two Kickstarter campaigns, three year-long Fellowships, 15 Meetups with college & grad-level students, 50+ teammates, over 300 speaking engagements, 4,000+ meetings, over 200,000 miles in travel, and more social media updates than I care to count.

If you’re reading this, you’re one of the amazing people who’s supported these efforts in one way or another. You’ve hosted, invited, collaborated, designed, developed, edited, wrote, advised, cheered, funded, listened, and shared your stories along the way.

Without you I’m just a lone guy with a computer at a dining room table. But with you, I’m a friend, a son, a brother, a teammate, a writer, an entrepreneur, a designer, an educator, and a creator.

Thank you for reading these posts and supporting the work and ideals that my friends and I are pursuing. You’re part of a special season of life where I’m growing in leaps and bounds. I can only hope to share my lessons in ways that are helpful to your life and work.

So, thanks for being here. The past few years have been incredibly special. And I have a feeling we’re just getting started.

Happy Wednesday,

ps: The team and I just launched a new website for Leap Kit. Take a peek.

I’m on a limb


I’m on a limb.

I wonder if it will hold me.

Sometimes I get scared.

The wind picks up. My balance teeters.

I hear noises. I wonder if my limb is cracking.

I think, “I should go back before I fall. I should go back to the thicker parts of the branch. I should climb down.”

Then I look up. I see the number of branches – an entire forrest. I see others on limbs and watch how gracefully they move and work together. Some even leap from one branch to another.

I see the horizon.

Soon, I forget I’m on a limb.

Then, I hear a small voice behind me, “Is it safe out there? Should I come.”

I reply, “It’s not safe. Step carefully. You’ll find your way. You’ll be glad you did.”

I’m on a limb.

Everyone needs a Seth


I first met Seth Kravitz in 2009.

He had moved to Chicago after launching an incredibly successful venture. Once he got settled here, he started a blog about entrepreneurship, and I was hooked. In the sidebar of his website, there was a link that said: “Let’s Get a Beer.” It was something he did every Thursday. So I took him up on it…several times.

Seth quickly became one of the most important voices in my life. When I was considering an MBA, he was the first to tell me it might not be right for me. When I was designing the Leap Year Project, he suggested I create an understandable format for my year so people could follow along, which led to 12 projects, 12 months, in 2012. And when I was starting Experience Institute, he suggested that I eventually launch a few programs under the Ei brand (ie: Leap Year, Leap Summer, etc.).

It’s no wonder why I’m one of Seth’s biggest fans. And while I was focused on education, Seth has spent his days becoming one of the most helpful and generous connectors in Chicago. He built Technori into the 3rd largest monthly startup event in the country. He advised a slew of successful companies and leaders. He connected a ridiculous amount of founders, funders, and friends. And he did it all of it with tact and humility.

Now, Seth is handing Technori to another great leader and team as he pursues a new endeavor. Next Tuesday is his last time on the Technori stage, and he’s asked me to be the Keynote Speaker for the topic of the night: The Future of Work. If you’re in Chicago and available on the evening of May 31st, you should be there. I have a hunch it’s going to be a special night. Snag your tickets here.

It never ceases to amaze me how a person becomes an influencer. Often, we think it has to do with resources, intelligence, luck, or massive networks. Yes, all of those things are contributors, but if Seth has taught me anything, it’s that listening closely, bringing people together, and helping others succeed will lead you to the best places. Go out and find people you can do that for and find a person who can do that for you.

In other words, everyone needs a Seth.



One of my best friends also happens to be my writing partner.

Let me explain.

For two years straight, we wrote to one another nearly every night. The challenge was simple:

  • Sit down and write 250 words about anything. If you get stuck, just start with Dear ________(insert partner’s name).
  • Add the writing piece to a google doc and tag the partner.
  • Do it by midnight, five nights a week
  • If you miss a day, add $100 to our private paypal account.
  • If/when we reached $500, we would donate the money to a non-profit focused on helping kids write more (826 Chicago).

That’s it.

For two busy entrepreneurs who travel often, it was no easy feat. I missed at least twice.

Still, I decided to start publishing one of my better writings each week on a blog. He’d help me choose which ones were worth posting. And that’s how Wednesday Words was born.

Then, my partner decided to make things even more challenging. He decided to write a poem every single day for the last days of his twenties. 190 days to be exact.

That’s 190 poems – back to back.

Every morning, I’d wake up to see a new poem in my inbox. I’d make comments or suggestions – and he’d either accept them or defend his work. It was an incredible banter.

Now, he’s doing something that takes even more courage: he’s bringing a group of artists together to interpret the best poems through photography and design. Together, they’ve created a beautiful book called Rambles, and the project is nearly funded on Kickstarter. I couldn’t be more proud of him and the artists that have rallied around him.

My writing partner is Dane Johnson. He’s a truly special guy. And if you’re reading this, I think you might enjoy this book. You can back the project here. He only needs $1,400 within the next 15 days to hit his goal.

In any case, if you’re considering doing anything that challenges you, find a partner…set a tangible, specific goal…create a consequence and/or reward…and do the thing you were meant to do.

You’ll never know what will come of it, but I have a hunch the leap will be worth it.

Where do you hope to land?


When I was 10 years old, I thought frozen custard was amazing.

Nothing made me happier than stopping by Springfield Missouri’s famous Andy’s and indulging in a concrete – a full cup of custard blended with any decadent toppings of my choosing.

By the time I could drive, Andy’s became a routine stop for my friends and me.

As I grew up, I learned more about health and wellness. My favorite pastime was playing soccer and I eventually made it onto my college team. I started taking exercise more seriously and decided to begin living a healthier lifestyle on and off the field. By the time I graduated college, I was in the best shape of my life.

Last weekend, I traveled back to Springfield to visit my family. I must have passed the ol’ frozen custard shop a dozen times. I didn’t stop once. In fact, I didn’t even think about it until I sat down to write this note.

Where do you hope to land?

If you’re taking a Leap, you’ve spent time looking back at where you’ve been and how you got to this point: how you were raised, where you went to school, what things in the world inspired you, moved you, frustrated you, and the times you’ve felt most alive.

Those questions may have surfaced positive memories or challenging thoughts; but remember, where you’ve been doesn’t have to determine where you go. Decide where you want to land and let this short project become a new way to better understand yourself, your work, and your world.

This is the moment where you take a few steps back, lock your sights on where you’re leaping to, and prepare to sprint forward.

Start by envisioning what you’ll make and where you’ll be – whether it’s an anthology of poems, a dinner made from home-grown vegetables, art night for friends, or a presentation to peers and colleagues. Try thinking about where you’ll land visually. Grab a pencil or markers and sketch a picture of the end of this project. Don’t worry about making a masterpiece. Stick figures and simple shapes are just fine.

Here are a few questions to get help you begin:

  • Imagine yourself at the end of your project. Where are you? What are you doing? Who else is there? What did you make and how did you capture and share it?
  • What skills or abilities did you develop along the way, and how will you keep using them?
  • Imagine your Leap is being covered by an author, blogger, or newscaster. What would the headline be, and what photos would they include?

For those of you who’ve been following along on my Leap, I hope to read the first draft of the children’s book to a group of friends and their kids by my 31st birthday, June 5th. I also hope to have few sketches of the main characters. But most importantly, this project continues to give me a new, whimsical lens on the world – seeing my surroundings in an animated and narrative fashion – something I needed at this stage of my life and work. I’ll share more about that soon.

Alright, your turn.

Where do you hope to land?

PS: On May 18th at 4pm, we’re hosting a small Storytelling Night for a team of Leapers from Leo Burnett. They’ve been prototyping Leap Kit as a professional development program within the company. They’ll be sharing short talks about what they attempted and learned along the way. Space is limited, but we’d love to meet you there. Click here to snag your ticket.

PPS: If you’d like to purchase a Leap Kit, stop by our store.

5 Whys


Doing a project for the sake of doing a project is foolish.

If you want to waste a lot of time, do something only to gain someone’s approval or meet expectations you don’t really care about. Chances are, you’ll fail to inspire anyone, including yourself.

Action isn’t the beginning.
Knowing why you’re acting is the beginning.

Most projects, especially in traditional education, are created to help you learn a discipline or better understand content. Sometimes that’s helpful.

But the projects you remember – the ones that move others to action and celebration – are the ones where you know why they matter. You’re driven by purpose. You’re fueled by your understanding of and belief in that purpose.

This concept isn’t novel. One of the most watched TED talks in history is all about the power of Why. And one of the most successful political campaigns in history was led in tandem with this storyteller – a Harvard professor who teaches the process of organizing communities by using story to help people understand the why behind a movement.

Whether you’re narrowing down your Leap, or you’ve started working on one, you’ll take flight and stay in the air when you know why you left the ground in the first place.

An exercise to help you identify the importance of your Leap is simply asking “Why?” five times and placing each answer on an individual sticky note. Here’s an example of what this might look like. In this example, the Leap is to: grow a garden in 90 days and host a dinner using primarily food from the garden.

5 Whys

Why is it important to me to grow a garden?
I want to better understand where my food comes from.

Why is that important?
If I better understand where my food comes from, I’ll be more aware of the choices I make when I eat.

Why is that important?
When I’m not aware of my choices around food, I know I’m often supporting farming practices I don’t believe in.

Why is that important?
I want to leave the world a better place than I found it for my kids. And I know that many  commercial agricultural practices strip the land of nutrients and use harmful pesticides that pollute the land and water.

Why is that important to you?
I love my kids, and I want to create a better world for them and teach them how to care for their environment.

“What’s your Leap?” is an important question. But the one that you’ll visit more often – when you’re tired, when you’re busy, when you’re uncertain – is “Why are you leaping?”

Answer that. Then, keep going.

PS: Thanks for those who joined our first Leap Kit CrowdCast LIVE yesterday. If you missed it, you can catch the recording here. And if you’d like to purchase Leap Kit, snag yours here.

New Experience


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.

All of the ideas


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.

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