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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 a chance. 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 LYP 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 these things come and go as they do.

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.

Today is yours, live like it.

11/05/2014

I dare you to test the limits of normal, to dance on the edge of certainty, to skip along the shore of impossibility – dipping your toes in the cold water of what could be. Venture to swim turbulent seas. Lunge towards stars that seem within reach.

As you fly, let your toes graze the tops of skyscrapers – let gravity remind you that impossibility is just imagination’s canvas.  Let fear pass you by as quickly as time.

There is no greater joy than to see today for what it is and tomorrow for what it could be.

Today is yours, live like it.

The Curse of Vision

10/29/2014

Some people only see what is in front of them. They enjoy their lives in twenty-four hour periods that should be filled with whatever is necessary at any given moment.

Others see the horizon. Time is like an endless canvas and hope is their paint. They see what could be and work tirelessly to help others envision possibility.

Neither of these are better or worse than the other. Both can be dangerous.

The person of great vision is confined by their abilities (or lack of them) and is often in a state longing. They are required to fight for their vision – constantly in tension with what is here and what is yet to come.

The other can become paralyzed by apathy, immediate satisfaction, or self-absorption. Thinking of the future seems frivolous and talks of change are foolish.

Vision in small glimpses leads nowhere and in excess is disorienting. You must take the time to see what is here now, and celebrate it. However, you must also look to tomorrow and notice the vast expanse that time offers to build and improve the world around you.

Learning to see both reminds you that today’s decisions have the great power of shaping what tomorrow will become.

Don’t try so hard

10/22/2014

There is a difference between working hard and trying hard.

One requires diligence and the other requires an audience. You can tell pretty quickly which is taking place. If your best work surfaces only when you have, or are about to have onlookers, then you’re probably trying. But, if you love a craft because you see its potential, and you get lost in making it and improving it, then you’re exerting effort in its purest form.

Why you work is just as important as the way you work.

So, don’t try so hard.

Leading Hesitations

10/15/2014

Every once in a while, courage will pass by your doorstep. It appears after you conquer something that seemed impossible. It will brighten the way. As soon as it appears, lead it to your darkest places. It will guide you through treacherous paths.

Most of the time, however, hesitation sits on the porch of our lives. It lingers like an unwanted extended family member whose lineage we can’t recall.

Oddly enough, you must also lead those hesitations.

Coerce them to embark upon a journey to a far-off land where they will meet their old friends, uncertainty and comparison. Convince them that you have no more food to eat, no more time to spend, and no more need for their voice. Cast a vision for them to find the man who’s on the brink of something unjust or unhelpful. Let them find their home with him.

Lead your hesitations to another place. By doing so, you’ll leave room for courage to arrive.

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