Hi, I'm Victor.

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Learning to Risk. Risking to Learn.

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Do hard things first

02/25/2015

When you wake up in the morning, you are the strongest.

Sure, you may need a cup of coffee (or two), but your mind has recharged, your heart has calmed and your body has rested.

You have two choices: face what challenges you with your best energy, or wait until tomorrow to consider it again. Usually, the latter is the beginning of never.

Sometimes, doing hard things isn’t a matter of time, it’s a matter of energy and fear. The hardest things are the ones that make us wonder if we can become as great as we hope to be. If we attempt the hard thing and fail, then we may lose hope. If we do it and succeed, then we may find ourselves facing even greater challenges.

Either way, it’s a place that swells with uncertainty.

Still, if you wait, it may never get done. Or worse , your hardest and most important work will be completed with less than your full ability.
So, do it now. It’s important work, and it needs your best.

To Risk…

02/18/2015

In all my speak of relationship, it’s humbling to admit that I sometimes shy away from connection. With each new person that crosses my path, I know there is a chance they may change my life, for better or worse. If I allow it, someone can influence how I think about myself and how I will see the world, possibly for the rest of my life.

The hesitation deepens when I realize I have the same potential impact. Will my presence in one’s life leave them better or worse, wounded or with hope? Whether I care to admit it, I have that power. All of us do.

Therein is the core of risk – to attempt to love and to let ourselves be loved.
Some of life’s greatest risks will have little to do with money or travel or school or possessions, and everything to do with who we care for, how we care for them, and the willingness to let others care for us.

To risk is to love.

To love is to risk.

Humans & Heroes

02/11/2015

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be a hero. You know…the one who saved the day. I envisioned myself fighting evil villains, saving people in the nick of time, and secretly using my powers to give the underdog an advantage.

I learned quickly that, though I hope to be ready for those valiant moments, they rarely happen.

So, I tried my hand at simply helping anyone at anytime – doing what I can do. It worked fairly well. I gained favor, got invited to several work parties, and people thought I was the “Nicest. Guy. Ever.”

That seemed fine until an honest realization surfaced: I wasn’t actually paying attention to people. I was just doing things for them. My acts of service were a mask for who I am (or who I’m not). I was helping because I didn’t think I was a good enough hero, not necessarily because I truly cared for the person across from me. Helping was just a way to feel good.

[Yeah. I said it.]

Heroism is honorable, but it has its downsides. Thankfully, I’m not a hero. I’m just an ordinary guy and, sometimes I’m the one who needs to be saved.

I think that makes me human. And the more human I am, the more I can honestly relate to who you are and the better the person I can be to and with you.

Sometimes we do need heroes. But, mostly, we just need humans.

Being a Station Wagon

02/04/2015

When I was in middle school gym class, my teacher would make us run the mile. He would divide us into models of various cars. The fastest students would be Ferraris. Then there were the Mustangs. Then VW Bugs. Eventually, he arrived to the Station Wagons. Since I was quite the plump Middle Eastern boy, I was in that group.

As I ran, it was my goal to catch up to the next group, but I never could. Why were fast kids at the front of the line anyway? And why did they get a head start? Shouldn’t Station Wagons leave first so we could all finish together like one big happy car family?

(Sorry…I’m still bitter.)

I ran as hard as my flabby legs could handle, but I always finished last.

When I got to the finish line, however, I realized something interesting: most of the kids who were ahead of me were just as tired as me. They had run their hardest and they were spent – sweating, panting, kneeled over. Sure, they were faster, but we were now at the same place…the finish line!  

Some races should be raced with speed, but life isn’t that type of race. It’s long. Really long. It may need urgency, but urgency is not synonymous with speed. At the finish line, everyone will have run the best they knew how.

So, it’s ok if you see people seemingly ‘ahead’ of you. You’ll catch up to them eventually – whatever that means.

Just don’t stop running.

Sincerely,
The Station Wagon

_____
PS: We just opened nominations for Experience Institute’s 2016 Class starting this Fall. If you know someone who should join the program, nominate them here: www.expinstitute.com/nominate. It’s going to be a special year.

Thanks for your help.

Be there

01/28/2015

Sometimes, you need to be the one to make reservations. You’ll meet after a busy day and walk to the restaurant, recalling major events of the past few weeks and sharing a few laughs; but, you know there is more beneath the surface.

You’ll sit down and look at the menu and realize the food is slightly more expensive than expected. You’ll suggest to split and they’ll offer to order an extra side.

Then, you’ll need to listen. You’ll hear about the challenges of work, school, home, love, distant dreams, lingering sadness, and the challenge of managing everything at once.

But, you won’t just listen. You can’t. You’ll need to be vulnerable too – sharing your recent joys, failures and ambitions.

The waiter will interrupt at awkward times.

The food will become nothing more than a prop.

The bill will come too soon.

You’ll schedule the next chat before you leave.

You’ll hug.

And, as you walk away, you’ll realize there was nothing more important than being there, for those moments, and with those people.

Making Sense of Chaos

01/21/2015

On the surface, it may seem like there is order in the universe. The days consist of twenty four hours. The sun creates light. The night gives stars and moon a chance to shine. Animals live in the wild while humans live in cities and villages. The earth spins. The planets rotate. The seasons change. Life starts and ends each day.

But if we look more closely, we see a remarkable number of things that cannot be explained: love and anger, hope and fear, dreams and uncertainty, youth and death, kindness and malice. At closer look, the universe is utter chaos – simultaneously orderly and unpredictable. It leaves us clawing to know anything and hiding what we wish we could explain.

Amidst the chaos, there is one powerful thing that offers a dose of clarity…beauty.

Beauty has the profound ability to focus even the most distorted lens, just for a moment.

A painting, a song, a home, a piece of furniture, a speech, a view of nature.

When we see or hear beauty, we experience something that has been made. It is the wonderful collision of intention, passion, and craft.

It allows a ray of light to pierce the blur of our fast-paced lives – illuminating a path that has been traveled in order to make sense of this world. When we find it, we are inspired. We are moved.

Because when we see beauty, we catch a glimpse of who we are and what we are capable of.

Myths of Recognition

01/14/2015

Last Monday, I received news that I was included in 2015’s Forbes 30under30 for Education. I felt a great sense of gratitude and pride. And, for the rest of the day, I had friends and family from all corners of my world congratulate me. It was one of the most memorable days of my short life and I am beyond grateful.

It seems, however, there are a few myths that develop when something like this surfaces. Here are ten that I’ve heard (and felt) over the past week and some accompanying thoughts:

1. You have it all figured out.
Not a chance. I have grand ideas of where Ei should go, and I’m charting paths to get there, but I’m sure there will be twists and turns along the way. The only thing I know is that my intentions are set and I’m going to give this my best shot. Everyday. And, I’m going to need a team of people smarter than me to get there.

2. Everyone likes you.
Not even close. I’ve received a few pats on the back, but there have been just as many critiques, disappearing friends, and jarring conversations. One of the most memorable discussions was in 2013 with a billionaire who was, somehow, on the board of business schools at University of Chicago and Northwestern. He invited me over to his mansion, where I thought he wanted to discuss a partnership. Instead, he told me what I was doing was foolish. I’ll never forget that conversation and I still revisit his points. However, make no mistake, you should want people to be vehemently opposed to your work. If everyone liked you, your style or your ideas, then you’re actually doing something wrong. Nothing great succeeds without opposition.

3. You make a lot of money.
By the world’s standards, absolutely. But, over the past 2 ½ years, I’ve averaged well below the supposed “market value” for an annual income. I hope to be in a different financial position in the coming years, but for now, I’m constantly reinvesting into Ei and Leap Year Project and exploring where my work meets its greatest value. This is also a testament that money isn’t the only or most important resource. I believe, wholeheartedly, that relationships are the most powerful means for change. I think the work we’ve done thus far is a glimpse of that.

4. You did it alone.
That’s like saying that one kid ate all of the cake at a birthday party. I had a chubby childhood, but not even I could do that. Everything I do is with remarkable people. And, anyone who does anything well is probably in the same boat. So, pass the milk.

5. You never make mistakes.
Pshh…just talk to my students, coaches, staff, friends, parents, or neighbors. And, if you do, make sure to bring a cup of coffee and a giant notepad. It’s going to be a long conversation.

6. You lead a big team in a fancy office.
If by “big” you mean two people and a group of friends, and by “fancy” you mean the amazing co-working space NextSpace. Then, yep…you’re spot on.

7. You are fearless.
I love heights. I think speed is thrilling. I’m more curious about death than afraid of it. But…failure? I turn into a little boy on Halloween in Transylvania. So yeah, there’s that.

8. You dreamt of getting attention.
If that was my dream, I would have started a Youtube channel for acrobatic cat and baby videos. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that Ei and our work gets noticed, but it’s not why I’m here. Attention is a poor target that, when aiming for provokes disdain, and when hit, causes fleeting highs.

9. You have arrived.
Far from it. This type of thing normally catches people mid-build. What you see are blueprints, a foundation, and some framing. Chances are, you won’t see any of us with our feet up sipping on a piña colada after this type of recognition. Our greatest work is yet to come.

10. Now, you have to succeed!
Success has a wide spectrum of definitions. There will always be pressure to grow bigger and reach more people every year. And, if we don’t, then some people may deem this as unsuccessful. But, I can’t (and don’t) think that way. I’m meeting amazing people and working on something full of meaning. And I’m trying to do it with integrity and care for those around me. It can’t fail; it can only change directions. And, in the words of Jim Carrey from his inspiring commencement speech, “You can fail at what you don’t want… so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Of course, all of this is speaking for myself. Look up the other 30Under30 and you may find different cases. They are wildly talented and diverse in their giftings.

But, whatever the case, know that I’m incredibly honored to be included in this year’s group. I’ll explore how this creates new opportunities as Ei opens applications for a 2015/2016 class and prepares to launch LYP 2016.

And my word to you today is simply this: find the problem you want to solve in this world, work tirelessly to make it better, find great people to work with you, beware of your projects becoming your entire identity, and let recognition come and go as it does.

Here’s to turning 30,
Victor

An old friend

01/07/2015

It takes time to become an old friend. But time passes at its own pace. We can’t hurry the depth and breadth of understanding that comes with months and years. That’s why loyalty is so special. It’s what deepens and sweetens friendships.

The world is better with old friends – people who know and are known by others. Those relationships become strong bonds that teach us how to be better spouses, parents, family members and teammates. Those friendships become the places we visit as life hurls its best.

But, the only way we’ll find old friends, is if we take the time to be an old friend.

Find the people who know your story, get to know theirs, and as time passes, fight to keep them close.

You’ll find yourself growing old with the best of people.

Trust me.

I can’t fly alone

11/19/2014

When I was seven years old, we had a gazebo in our back yard. Tree branches hung over the roof low enough for me to climb to the top. One day, I mustered the courage to make the ascent. Once I arrived, I felt I had reached superhero status – perched atop the roof of a skyscraper as the perfect embodiment of Superman, Batman, and Spiderman trapped in the chubby body of a middle eastern boy.

I looked to the ground, then to the sky, then to the ground. I could travel back to humanity through mere mortal means, or I could implement my newfound imagined abilities and take the audacious jump before me.

I chose the latter.

It ended poorly.

Thankfully, my mom heard my cries for help and came to bandage my wounds. Then, to my surprise, she picked me, placed me back atop the gazebo, and told me to jump again.

I had always thought of my mother as slightly kooky, but this request had moved her to utterly insane. In my toddler wisdom, I declined the ludicrous request.

She assured me that I would not hit the ground if I tried again. It would be different this time. When I asked what gave her such confidence, she simply told me to trust her.

So, I did what any self-respecting boy would do at that point. I closed my eyes, opened them again for a moment, saw my mother give me a nod, and then leapt for the heavens.

This time, rather than falling to the ground, I began to fly through the air. My super powers had kicked into full swing. I never touched the ground as my 5’ 3” middle eastern mother whooshed my hefty body through the backyard, laughing and making the best sound effects she could.

I learned an important lesson that day. I can’t fly alone.

And, neither can you.

 

Make it good

11/12/2014

Throughout the course of your life, you will spend a great amount of time working. The amount of time will range at various seasons, but for most people, much of life will be spent working on something and with people.

You have the option to let your work rule you or to rule your work. Your job is yours and no one else’s. It’s your time, your heart, your sweat. What you put in is what you will get out.

If you put in angry, disgruntled hours – that’s what you’ll receive.

If you overdo it and push yourself to the point of burnout, you’ll get burnt products and relationships.

If you exert little or unimaginative effort, do not expect exciting discoveries.

But, if you put in creativity, passion, diligence, thoughtfulness, and resilience, you will find yourself tired, but full of joy and excitement for what’s to come.

Work is what you make it. So, make it good.

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