Hi, I'm Victor.

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Learning to Risk. Risking to Learn.

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See yourself. Show yourself.

04/22/2015

[Written in Chicago on February 3rd]

I rode my bike today. It was 10 degrees. The roads were a mess: ice, slush, puddles, black snow. I arrived to my destination looking disheveled and used my gloves to brush the salt and muck from my jeans. I tried to straighten my trendy black overcoat, but couldn’t remove the brown splotches. My backpack took the brunt of the mess, looking as if it had been bathed in mud.

It takes everything in me to not feel embarrassed – to walk confidently into meetings and convince myself that people don’t care about appearances. I’ve arrived to share my ideas, to invite them into a mission, to connect others to remarkable people. Forget about looks. There is something bigger at play. Right?

In my mind, however, I know what it’s like to judge someone by their looks. I have noticed the messy bike rider and actually thought to myself, “I hope I don’t look like that.” The truth is that sometimes, I do.

But, I’m also the guy who sticks to what I value.

I don’t need a car.
I like to travel on my own schedule.
And I believe exercise is sweeter than being crammed on a bus or train.

So, I shook their hands. They toured me around their beautiful office. They fed me an amazing meal cooked by their in-house chef. We shared our stories, dreams, and hopes — most of which revolved around taking risks and learning.

I don’t know if they’ll join my work. But, I do know that they didn’t care about my splotchy jacket or my muddy backpack.

Show people what they should see and they’ll look past the rest.

Update: That team is now collaborating with me to build something really special.

I’m a gambler

04/15/2015

I sat there…staring at the screen.

The words and numbers seemed to have a life of their own – taunting me, laughing at me.

I read the email again, just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.

“I’m sorry, Victor. I know I said I could…but I can’t.”

We spent weeks talking through all of the possibilities of how we might work together – sharing concepts, discussing  angles, and making plans. Phone calls. Trips. Dinners. Hurried bike rides through the snow.

All of that time and money, seemingly down the drain with one, digital, immaterial sentence.

People are a gamble.

You can do all of your due diligence. You can start slow and make sure everything is reciprocal from the start. You can share coffee meetings, find references, and even move slowly by starting with small projects.

No matter how cautious you are, if you’re dealing with people, you’re taking a risk.

People are messy and unpredictable. Even the most stable-minded person can rethink a commitment and decide other things are more important.

But, I love it…

Students
Staff
Instructors
Organizers
Clients
Donors
Connectors
Friends
Mentors
Partners

It seems my life is full of bets.

I’ve lost big. But, I’ve won bigger. The parts of myself that I love the most are the ones that have been shaped by people who’ve taken a chance on me. Their time and energy, even when they didn’t know if I’d follow through, has multiplied my hope, softened my heart, and inspired me to do the same with others.

People are unpredictable.

But, to me, they’re a gamble worth taking.

Adventuring

04/08/2015

I love adventure. On most days, I find myself wanting time to simultaneously fast forward and move more slowly – to see and savor what will come of the journeys ahead.

I believe many of us, on some level, have a desire to feel as if we’re embarking, venturing, or exploring. Whether literally or figuratively, we want the chance to pack our bags and hike a trail that hasn’t been cleared. But, doing so will lead to unfamiliar places.

We will get cut by the brush.
We will get chased by wild animals.
We will lose our way.
We will wonder if we should turn back.

But, adventure doesn’t just consist of challenge.

The sky will inspire us.
The horizon will lure us.
The conversations will warm us.
The curiosity will fuel us.

And, eventually, we will reach a summit. Time will force it.

When we do, we’ll see another trail ahead. We’ll look around and question whether or not it’s worth it. In most cases, it will be.

Therefore, this adventure…today…is merely the continuation of the last trek and the spark of many more.

Let us live as such.

Experimenting

04/01/2015

I deplaned at San Francisco International Airport. As I stepped into the trendy, bright terminal, I teetered between confidence and doubt.

Did I really belong as a guest at Stanford?

I brushed off the doubt and committed to enjoying the ride by conversing with anyone who had the time. The next seven days of that fateful spring week in 2013 led to some of the most formative conversations of my short career, many of which included my gracious host, Erik Olesund.

Now, two years later and after a few more collaborations, I’m packing my bags and preparing for another project with my heroes and friends at the d.school, including Erik himself. This time though, the stakes are a bit higher as they include projects, presentations and trips to Berlin and Paris, all of which begins this Monday. But, let me back up before I continue…

Ever since stumbling into the space of designing education through experience, I’ve wondered what it might look like to support thousands of people who need to design a leap of their own. Experience Institute has become our anchor – the school where pioneering thinkers, makers & doers dive headlong into this concept. The school has been a landing place for some of the sharpest and kindest people I’ve come to know.

But, what about individuals who can’t make it here? How do we reach them? What type of helpful tools and resources should we create?

Now that 2016 is around the corner, Ei’s surrounding team and I have wondered if Leap Year 2016 could be the year to package everything we’ve learned and share it with others.

During a recent trip to the d.school, I popped into an all staff meeting and hinted at the idea. It seemed to strike a chord of excitement and curiosity. A couple of months later, they found a way to continue including Ei and this Leap Year concept into their work around researching the future of higher education, building upon Stanford 2025.

This time, we’re part of the d.school’s Experimenter Studio, and it’s as awesome and mysterious as it sounds.

For the past two months, we’ve been scheming with various staff and students. Part of the plans have included prototypes of a Leap Kit – tools that might guide someone through creating their own season of learning and growth. We’re also writing a workshop to help leapers get started and developing a way to train individuals who want to start a leap group in their own community.

All of this will begin taking flight on campus with small groups of students next Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, I’ll join a team entitled d.global as they explore new types of design thinking methods in Berlin and Paris. At times, we’ll even combine d.thinking and leaping into one evening.

The friends involved have been working harder than ever to prepare for the experiments. We’re designing, printing and assembling kits, running through plans, promoting events, and preparing for the gatherings. It’s been a season of dreaming+building and we’re loving it.

I’ll keep you posted as things take flight, but if this work interests you and you’d like to help, could you consider spreading the word about open applications for Ei’s Fall Class? We’re looking for a special group of students to join us in Chicago to design their education with more tools and brilliant teammates than ever while also being on the ground floor as the next Leap Year Project takes flight. Simply share a tweet or send an email pointing someone to this blog post (ie: “Applications are now open for @expinstitute’s 2016 class. Learn more at: http://bit.ly/1C5dPMT”)

And, wherever you are, if you’re building something that feels bigger than yourself, and you’re teetering between confidence and doubt…just start a conversation with the next person you see, listen closely, and enjoy the ride.

You never know where it will take you.

Stop yelling

03/25/2015

It was the end of a long day. I had to attend one more meeting, then I could unwind.

I hopped onto my bike and began my journey down the busy streets of Chicago. Luckily it was one of the city’s first warm days in months. The sun was shining and the air seemed fresher than usual.

I pedaled faster.

The street I was riding didn’t have bike lanes, which isn’t abnormal for Chicago. However, this is an especially busy street where some sort of delineation between cars and bikes is needed.

As I was pedaling up a slight incline, I veered just slightly to my left, only to be greeted by a car that was weaving in between lanes to get ahead of traffic. He gave me a startling honk and whizzed passed me within millimeters of my handlebars. The sound and wind nearly knocked me over.

I was furious.

As I watched the car speed away in reckless fashion, continuing to aggressively switch lanes, I wondered if I could catch the driver and set him/her straight.

I pedaled faster than ever, powered entirely by my anger. As I rode, I squeezed between cars and dodged pedestrians like a madman. During this focused car-chase-mode, my mind rehearsed every possible scathing thing I could say or do if I caught up to the imbecile who had the gall to nearly kill me.

To my surprise, the vehicle came into my sights at a red light. I quickly made my way to the driver’s side of the car and noticed the window was cracked open.

This was my chance.

Then, during the final moments of approaching the old Honda hatchback, an odd sense of perspective came over me, “What would yelling/screaming/cursing do? What’s the point?”

As I began to open my mouth, all I could say in a gentle voice was, “Hey, sorry about that back there. There’s no bike lane, so it get’s tricky on this street. I’ll try to stay further to the right.”

The man, dressed in a slightly wrinkled blue button-up shirt, was probably nothing more than a young business professional on his way home to a newborn, or an evening event with a significant other, or an important work meeting. Perhaps, he was simply frustrated by something else that happened earlier in the day.

Whatever the case, my remarks caught him completely off guard. All he could stutter as I began to ride away was, “Yeah…no bike lane…tricky. Thanks!”

I pedaled more slowly for the rest of my ride. I thought about the sour mood I would have been in if I had reacted in the other manner. My actions may have followed us for the remainder of the day and made us even more upset. Instead, this stranger and I were in a slightly better state of mind.

I know the world isn’t always a great place; but, I’m not sure yelling at it will make it any better. Take responsibility for your part in being here and do your best to make it a little sweeter.

Life will be better for you…and, probably for the rest of us too.

friendshape

03/18/2015

If I was a circle, I’d put you in the middle so you would always feel embraced.

If I was a square, I’d make my home under your feet so you would always have a place.

If I was a rectangle, I’d be a bed so you could always find rest.

If I was a line, I’d split myself into dashes and trace all of your steps.

If I was a curve, I’d be the bottom of your boat so you could sail the seven seas.

If I was a triangle, I’d be the tip of an arrow so you could hunt all of your dreams.

 

This is an exploration of a different type of writing. It’s an invitation to add, subtract, edit, and share with someone close to you. If you’re able, send me what you make or write. I’d love to see it. 

You’ll Only Have One

03/11/2015
I squatted into the awkward position. I didn’t know where my hands started and where my feet ended. All I knew is that the instructor, a fit and gentle man in tight athletic clothing, was constantly reminding me to center myself on my intention.
As I followed the next instruction to “twist towards the heavens,” I wondered how anyone could center anything with their spine digging into their kneecap.
Nevertheless, I felt my my muscles stretch and retract and my bones bend and release as I unbound myself from the twisted, seated, crow-tree-table-dog pose (or something like that).
It has been refreshing to spend more time focusing on my health. I have taken classes at various gyms, explored two different yoga studios – and I’ve become a member at a new rock climbing wall. I even purchased climbing shoes and a harness for my weekly visits.

Very few things changed to make this possible. My workload hasn’t lightened, my level of income hasn’t increased dramatically, and my modes of living/transportation are just as simple as before.

But, it’s not just about making time, it’s about getting to the point where we crave those hours. It’s invigorating to feel our bodies be pushed in unique ways. We feel younger, more fit, and more focused over time. Yes, life’s stresses will still present themselves, but they’ll be managed in a different way.

Take care of your body and itll take care of you.
Despite our greatest technological feats, you’ll only have one. 
Treat it as such.

Sharing Leads to Learning [TEDx Manuscript]

03/04/2015

Last weekend, I gave a TEDx talk at the University of Iowa. I attempted a new format and a new angle, while also trying to condense 3 1/2 years of work into 8 minutes. It was a great challenge that rattled my nerves and pushed me to rethink every part of how I present.

Trying new things is never easy. But, those are the moments when we learn the most about our craft, our style, and ourselves.

The manuscript of the talk is below. Or, if you prefer, I’ve recorded the audio for you here.

Thanks for reading,
v

Title: Sharing Leads to Learning

Introduction
I pulled into the empty parking lot on a cool spring afternoon. I had just spent 30 minutes explaining to my friend Dan that, after nine months of exploring business school, I wasn’t sure the investment of time and money was wise for me. I told him about an idea to leave my work for a season and design my own education. As I put the car in park, I had begun my long spiel about the challenges of the idea – finances, family and societal expectations, and general failure.

Dan’s only response in this tense moment – my confusion and doubt swirling in the car…almost making it musty – was, “Oh…what a grand adventure…

I sat there puzzled. I had just shared an audacious idea and my deepest fears, and he shed an entirely refreshing light upon it.

Shortly thereafter, I resigned from a job I loved to design my own Masters, which would entail twelve projects around the world in twelve months all focused on design, business and social change. It would be called, the Leap Year Project.

I started a blog and a newsletter to share my journey with a group of friends and family and asked several of them to subscribe at $10/month to help fund the idea. In return, I’d share monthly learnings and find ways to connect the community throughout the year. The projects led me all over the world – from working alongside architecture firm, NBBJ, creating an art installation for a new onsite healthcare facility for Microsoft, to telling stories of positive change in Cairo during the Arab spring, to helping organize thanksgiving dinner on Skid Row with Union Rescue Mission.

Along the way, I invited others to take risks or “Leaps” to create change.

Over 250 people from around the world spotted the project, took a leap, and shared their stories.

2012 culminated with book of vignettes that was funded by the community on Kickstarter, a TEDxtalk where I staged my graduation, and the start of a new type of school called Experience Institute – where we’re exploring how to help others design their own education through experience.

[Pause]

On the surface, this may come across as some sort of vigilante, solo-millennial-mission-impossible gone (fairly) well. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That conversation with Dan on that day in April 2011 was the first of a host of conversations.

It seemed that the more time I spent thoughtfully and humbly sharing my journey, the more I learned and grew.

Sharing ideas
During the beginning days of working on Ei, I met a friend named Erik Olesund at a holiday party in Chicago. After talking for a bit, he mentioned that he attended Stanford, volunteered for the student radio station and that he’d like to share a conversation about higher ed on-air.

That conversation with Erik led to a visit to Stanford’s campus where I had the chance to meet with the team behind the d.school.

I learned of a project they were working on to explore the future of four parts of the campus:

  • The Library
  • Accreditation
  • Resident’s Life
  • Experiential Learning

They didn’t just tell me their ideas, they were genuinely interested in what we were attempting, and over the following months, our first five students and I had the chance to collaborate on projects and plans for @Stanford.

For the d.school, the project culminated with four provocations to higher ed entitled Stanford 2025.

For Ei, we gained new friends, and a deeper understanding of what we were building and why it mattered. Now, as we continue our second class, those ideas are shaping our curriculum and our relationships.

[Pause]

There are contexts when sharing may seem like a sign of weakness. But, I’m learning, when we loosen our grip on what we think we know and have, we strengthen ideas and relationships.

Sharing Resources
Now, to give you some quick context about Experience Institute, it’s a 12 month program that begins in September.

Students range from 18 to 39 years old, mostly strangers, and they begin in Chicago where they meet in-person for quarterly meetups that entail intensive classes and group projects.

We focus on five core competencies: Self Awareness, Community Building, Storytelling, Operations, and Human Centered Design. Since we meet quarterly, all of our staff and instructors are practitioners who are mainly funded by full-time jobs.

And, we haven’t spent exorbitant finances on a campus. Cities are our campus. Our Meetups have been held in every type of space from furniture showrooms to co-working spaces to rock climbing gyms. In each space, we consider what our offering is to the people who invite us into their space.

Student Experiences
The students then design their time in between by pitching companies for apprenticeships or pursuing ideas of their own.

Host companies share problems & goals & resource…students explore ways they can be helpful while building skills.

It takes something as age-old as an internship and mutates it into the core of one’s education and into a truly meaningful part of a company’s culture.

Students have completed an array of things ranging from award-winning sound design projects to building typhoon-proof earth-ships in the Philippines.

And, at this very moment.
+ Jonathan is working alongside a new design high school in the Bay Area
+ Toph is working with an digital strategy agency in Spain
+ Nicole just finished a stint at Dev Bootcamp where she learned how to code

And, Ei didn’t place them there necessarily. Sure, we have a network of host companies, but if we held everyone’s hand to the front door, much of the experience would be lost. Rather, we give tools, build a community, and teach a process for finding problems and pitching those teams to help find solutions. But it’s those companies and individuals who’ve responded by sharing space, sharing projects and providing compensation for the students’ time.

Along the way, students document their journeys through photos, videos, blogposts, newsletters, and other mediums to share how their growing. And, weekly coaching calls with staff help to bring the group together to solve problems and continue exploring how the content meshes with their work.

[Pause]

There is an ecosystem of learning based on a shared economy that makes designing education more feasible than ever. Companies receive great talent and energy. Students gain practical experience that builds their portfolio, their confidence, their skill sets, and their relationships — all without crippling debt.

Closing
As we look specifically at the realm of higher education, I’m insatiably curious about how to elevate the role of this type of self-designed education.

So much of education has been who am I doing this for: parents, future employers, society at large.

But perhaps the questions should be,
“Who am I doing this with?
What am I sharing rather than what am I getting?
Who might I become, rather than how much will I make?”

Hopes
My hope is that someday, every company will leave a seat at the table for a learner. And, perhaps, more importantly that each of us will remain learners throughout our lives.

And that anyone who’s at a point of transition would not only consider designing their education through experience as a means to blunt cost and achieve necessary skills, but that doing so would be seen as a credible and transformative way to learn and grow for anyone, anywhere of any background or stage in life.

It won’t be easy. It’ll take time and energy, and sometimes, things won’t work.

But to that I say, “Oh…what a grand adventure…

 

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.

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