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Learning to Risk. Risking to Learn.

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Different Ways

07/29/2015

Tensions were high. Voices were being raised. Hopes for a better future were being shared. A mix of anticipation, frustration, wonder and questioning swirled around the room.

I watched and listened as the small group of committed yet disgruntled educators ranted their rants and shared their qualms with current systems. I wondered why I was at the table with such a remarkable group of people.

It seems that Leap Year Project and now, Experience Institute, get looped into anti-college conversations – as my own way of brushing current systems aside and claiming “I have a better way” to education.

But, that’s not me.

It’s faddish and overly simplistic to put down current systems and tout a new way that will change everything. That style has been around since the beginning of playgrounds and politics. It’s a message that may have its place in moving people to action– especially within education; but it can be an unsurprising and unhelpful voice in an industry with a lot of noise.

It is far more generative to focus on the needs of real people and uncover methods that are merely overlooked, underrepresented and have potential to be remarkably powerful.

Because education isn’t about education, it’s about people – learning about the world, themselves, and how they’ll make their mark here. We’d be amiss to shrink it to programs and technologies. Yes, it needs to be organized, but if we try too hard to formalize it, it becomes nothing more than a mask for our desire for control – or our fear of losing control.

I truly wonder how we might elevate the role of experience within learning. I get excited about someone designing their education in the same manner as someone designing their own furniture, home, or anything else that requires creative, intentional thought. I’m curious what will happen as content becomes less of a focus due to its newfound ubiquitousness. Could the core of learning become even more rooted in community? Could cities be seen as classrooms? Could resumes be replaced by compelling, well-told story? Will the role of professor shift to a mix between practitioner and mentor?

These curiosities continue to fuel me as I prepare for some of the biggest risks of my short career. They’re a reminder of why I’m willing to take those risks.

Wherever you are, you too should raise your head, voice, and hands for what you believe. Find the people who are saying similar things. Let your frustrations lead you to listen and let your learnings move you to build rather than demolish.

The future will be much brighter with new roads and remodeled buildings, rather than picketed sidewalks and echoes of angry voices.

 

Act like it’s going to take time

07/22/2015

“You act as if you’re further along than you really are.”

The words felt like a strong right hook. He could tell I was affected by them, but the middle-aged, well-dressed creative director and design educator didn’t back down.

“Be honest with me. Tell me how long you think it will take for your ideas to come to fruition and then act like it’s going to take that much time. I’d be relieved if you told me you’re still 10 years away from reaching your goals. Show me you’re in process, don’t act like you’ve arrived.”

I didn’t have much to say in response. I simply took notes and asked a few questions.

When the hour passed, I was both relieved and wishing we had more time. I truly enjoy that kind of honest banter. But, it was also a jarring conversation.

We live in a society that celebrates quick growth and success. I can see the appeal of fast wins and understand the pressure to reach as many people as possible. Trust me.

But, growing bigger, faster, and more powerful is not the only thing worth pursuing. There are steps in between that you must learn to do really well, even if they seem less exciting than a final product or destination. Just as a painter wanting to create a masterpiece must learn the art of stroking a brush, you have to develop skills and traits that will help you create great things. Savoring and sharing those times will make you, your craft, and everyone around you better.

I’m not saying you ought not try things quickly, or you should overthink every detail. I’m simply saying you’re probably not there yet. So, be honest with how long it’s going to take to get there. And then…act like it.

Under Construction

07/15/2015

Recently, my good friend and co-founder of Kickstarter, Charles Adler, started a new project. He has commandeered a warehouse and packed it with interesting tools. He’s given it a title (Center for Lost Arts), raised some money, and invited a few friends to build something with their hands. Oh, and they have 30 days to concept, create, and complete their ideas. It’s an experiment in providing space and community around artistry and craftsmanship.

Last week, I walked through the garage door entrance and witnessed everyone working on their ideas. I passed newly minted peg boards packed with an array of tools, watched machines cut and print and work their work their magic, sat on plywood benches, and discussed all types of plans. Everything was at its beginning, a thousand things happening all at once, yet everything was just as it should be.

As I prepared to leave, I stood at the door and watched as individuals learned the tools and planned their next steps. At times a loud voice would yell over the noise, signaling for help or offering advice. It was one part orchestra and one part construction site – a fairly accurate picture of the rest of life.

All of us have our ideas and hopes. We work with the resources around us, trying to build things that are meaningful. If we look up, we’ll see most people are in a similar place. Oftentimes, if we simply give a shout, someone will offer a hand.

So, don’t worry about where you are today. Life is under construction, for all of us.

Just keep building.

Wonder

07/08/2015

I’m not that smart.

Really. I don’t know that much.

I haven’t read all of the books I’d hoped to read by now. I’m not well versed on every bit of history or geography or the sciences. I’m bad at math. And, I know very few key dates, places, and people behind major events in history.

I wish I were smarter.

I wish I were so smart that I could calculate the size of buildings at first sight and determine the number of wheel rotations during my bike rides and the ratio of small things to big things within dense cities. I wish I could ramble words you’ve never heard just to make you marvel at the number of syllables a person can use in a sentence. I wish I knew the names of all of the clouds so they would be impressed when I talked about them.

But, that’s not me.  I’m not that smart. Not yet. That may never be me.

I’m just curious.

I still wonder how buildings can be so tall and not get blown over by the wind.

I think bikes are fascinating. Wheels have always been one of my favorite inventions.

I’m genuinely surprised that every person shares at least one of the five senses. Many of us share all five.
That’s remarkable.

How does the earth spin at just the right speed?
How do the sun and moon hang in their perfect place?

How do love and math exist in the same universe?
(Seriously. Think about that.)

I’m not smart enough to compute all of it. Some people are.

I just hope those people are still curious about something. I hope they find things that stop them in their tracks and makes their eyes open wide and their jaws drop to the ground.

For today, all I know, is that you should never lose your sense of wonder. Few things are sweeter to the ear or more pleasant to the eye than a mystery or beauty that is truly noticed.

Imagination’s Move

07/01/2015

The sirens were screaming. Cars were zigging and zagging. We didn’t know if we were moving towards safety or moving into more trouble.

We pedaled harder. Faster.

To our right, a child skipping along the sidewalk with her pregnant mother close behind. To our left, a park with couples sitting, walking, kissing. Ahead of us, the open road and a slew of split decisions to be made.

She passed me to my right and nodded – nudging me to keep up.

The sirens finally caught up to us…and then, sped past us. It was simply a passing ambulance.
But the idea that we were being chased for some felony made us turn into imaginary James Bond figures for the evening.

As we rode to our destination, we took up the entire lane at times, glancing at the city as our playground and our home.

At dinner, we plopped into our seats – exhausted from the chase – and began to share stories of our recent adventures. Another busy day had passed.

Your imagination will move as fast as you let it. It will take you to wonderful places, no matter the day or the situation.

Let it move. And let yourself move with it.

Forgetting where you came from…

06/24/2015

I moved nine times while growing up – all throughout the Midwest.

Once, when my family was packing to move from Poplar Bluff Missouri to Monett Missouri, I snuck out of the house and ran to find a place to hide so I wouldn’t have to move again.

I ran to Brett’s house.

Brett was my best friend at the time. His home felt like my home. I knew the smells. I knew where the light switches were. I knew where to step so the floors wouldn’t creek. I knew the best hiding places.

My parents eventually came and found me. I hugged Brett and told him that I’d never forget him…that I’d come back to visit.

I dragged my feet as I walked to the car and stared at the picturesque two-story home for as long as possible as we drove away.

It was life before cell phones and email. Brett and I shared one or two (landline) calls, and a letter, but I never visited Poplar Bluff, or Brett’s home again. Eventually, I forgot it entirely; until I went to write this note.

Forgetting Poplar Bluff made room for other things, other memories, other relationships.

But, what I can’t forget is how I felt riding our bikes through the neighborhoods, making ramps with logs and plywood, learning to skip rocks, and being a pair of curious boys full of imagination. I can’t forget what that experience made me become today because there are countless threads intertwining and leading me back to those moments.

You may not remember every detail from where you’ve been. But, trace your steps often enough to recall the moments that shaped you.

Being reminded of your past will show you how much you’ve changed or maybe how you’re exactly the same. Let those stories be a familiar aroma, a catchy tune, a reminiscent image…

…just enough to point you in the right direction today.

 

Make it better

06/17/2015

I went to high school in a small town in Southwest Missouri. The three major sports were basketball, baseball, and football. Our soccer program was small, but a friend invited me to try out for the team and I fell in love with the sport.

There were few resources for the program. We had decent gear, but our fields were rough because the football players had first dibs for practices. We always had to fight for our place.

Thankfully, I had a great coach who was both stern and kind. Once, when we were complaining about our practice field, he quickly hushed us and said, “This is your field too. If you don’t like it, make it better.

Something clicked and we started doing just that. We put cones around spots that needed new grass. We zip-tied the holes in the net. We spruced up the bleachers before games. None of it was radical, but that field became ours.

I know it’s popular to speak negatively about our cities, homes, countries, etc. Some things just need a good rant; but, complaining will rarely fix things.

If you don’t like it, use what you have to do what you can.

Make it better.

Thirty

06/10/2015

A few years ago, I began using birthdays as a reminder to share key lessons from the previous twelve months. It’s been a practice of reflection and organizing thoughts. This list took a bit more time. Turning thirty seems to be one of life’s bold punctuations.

It would take too many words to capture everything, but these are a few things I wanted to remember:

  1. Hope and fear are equally powerful. The only person who decides which to focus upon, is you.
  2. Look into someone’s eyes more than you look at a screen.
  3. Your body isn’t replaceable. Treat it as such.
  4. You should fight for your family more than you fight with your family.
  5. Love people quickly. Fall in love slowly.
  6. Your work is only as good as your rest.
  7. Home is found where you have memories and you can be yourself. It should have little to do with material things.
  8. Just because the world is at war doesn’t mean we have to be.
  9. The most creative thing you can do, is play.
  10. Commitment breeds passion. It rarely works the other way.
  11. Great stories come from pursuing audacious ideas, not just thinking about them.
  12. Bitterness is rarely about someone or something else. You can let it go. And, in most cases, you should.
  13. Never skimp on anything between you and the ground. This includes shoes, mattresses, and tires.
  14. Sometimes, you think you will have found a shortcut for healthy eating, exercise and sleep. Chances are, you’re wrong.
  15. A few nice things are better than a lot of mediocre things.
  16. A lot of nice things dilutes the value of the most important things.
  17. Travel just enough to know how small you are and how much of a privilege it is.
  18. Takers make it to the top, but so do givers. The difference is who’s with you when you arrive and what you’ll leave behind.
  19. Don’t take yourself too seriously. In the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be ok. Enjoy these days.
  20. Inspiration doesn’t last. When it strikes, act quickly.
  21. Never make big decisions when you’re tired or alone.
  22. No one cares about your work as much as you do. This is both sobering and empowering.
  23. You don’t need more to do what you must. You probably need less.
  24. Find a couple of outfits you like. Make them your uniform. But, find one unique thing you can change that provides a dose of creativity & delight (socks, sneakers, watches, glasses, etc)
  25. Find something you like to make. Make it often. Then, throw everything away that’s not remarkable.
  26. Always have live flowers or plants in your living space. Remember, you’re not the only thing alive.
  27. Emails should rarely be more than five sentences. Everyone has better things to do than read or write more email.
  28. Comparison isn’t all bad. Just make sure you’re comparing to the right things.
  29. It’s helpful to remember people aren’t perfect. This means every interaction with a person will either make life better or worse for both of you.
  30. Your ability and willingness to reflect on the past will directly impact your ability and willingness to envision the future.

Here’s to growing older…and, hopefully, growing wiser.

Work hard. Leave work.

06/03/2015

You can work extra hours.
You can try to keep atop every email and request.
You can attempt to make everyone feel valued and try to leave a trail of goodness wherever you go.
You can give of yourself until you have nothing else to give.

But, the unfortunate reality, is that you will mess up. You will fail. You will disappoint.
If you accept this now, you’ll pace yourself.

When you wonder about putting in extra hours, you’ll do your best within a reasonable timeframe and then simply close the screen.

When you receive another invitation for a late night drink or an early morning breakfast, you’ll politely decline so you can write another poem or go for a longer bike ride or read a book over a cup of coffee.

When an interesting opportunity surfaces, you’ll find the simplest way to explore it and pass on anything that’s not directly related to your goals.

It will feel selfish or underachieving. But, it’s not. It’s you saving yourself for your best work. And giving the world your very best work is the most unselfish thing you could do.

Know when to work hard and know when to leave work.

Collaboration

05/27/2015

Collaboration is messy.
The more you try to work with people, the more opportunity there is for challenge and change – frustration and failure.

But, that’s not all collaboration is.

It’s surprising.

If you thoughtfully invite others into your work or step into their world, you’ll find yourself amidst a land full of opportunities. New eyes, extra hands, and fresh legs will help you see and do things you wouldn’t have imagined.

The danger lies in what humans do when they’re desperate, left out, or belittled. If you care for the people around you and value them, then collaboration has the potential to build the most beautiful things in a manner that will outlast everyone involved.

Perhaps, we shouldn’t just look for the work we’re passionate to do or the roles we’re excited to fill, but rather, we should search for the people we want to work with and simply find ways to join or invite them.

It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it.

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