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Every year, around my birthday, I look back and write lessons I learned (or re-learned) throughout the year. This little practice is mainly just for me, but I thought you might find them helpful too.

It’s a complex time in our world and history, but I still feel so lucky to be here. Thanks for remaining part of my life and work. Even though I don’t know all of you, I’m grateful for you.

34 Lessons From Being 34

1. Anything flies with energy and commitment. Anything.

2. Include your friends in seemingly mundane decisions. Discuss your finances. Talk about health checkups. Discuss your career path. Talking about those things regularly makes them easier to approach.

3. If you’re starting a business with your friend, ask a coach/advisor to join you. You *will* disagree on things and it’s good to have a third-party “coach” before that moment surfaces.

4. If you don’t plan to have kids, start a savings account for your friends’ kids. Put a small amount of money in that account every month, enough to have $1,000 or so by the time they graduate. Then around that time, take each person out to dinner and tell them they can take a trip anywhere in the world — you’ll cover airfare. It will be wildly special to share this moment you’ve thought about for years.

5. Get good at asking for what you need.

6. College is broken on nearly every level — costs, admissions, outcomes, etc. But I believe in linking arms with these institutions to be a part of their evolution. Find the people who are really working to change things for the better at your university and join their efforts.

7. It’s ok to be a nice person. The world needs more of us. But “nice” does not mean you can’t be bold, disciplined, fight for what’s right, and hold people to their word.

8. Find a few older friends, people who’ve lived a good life. Befriend them. Care for them. Ask them questions. They will be some of the most special people you know.

9. The world is not your oyster, it’s our planet.

10. Do your very best. That’s all you can do.

11. It’s time to pick a side and point of view regarding equity and justice for Black people. That doesn’t mean your views won’t shift or grow, but you can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch Netflix until this is over.

12. Kids don’t need heroes, they need people who keep showing up and know how to say I’m sorry.

13. If you’re in a position to get a credit card, be smart about how you set it up. Take time to find the ones with the best sign-on bonuses and cash back and use them for things you were going to pay for anyway. It really is worth a few hours of research.

14. Set a process for how you store files on your digital devices. Especially your laptop. Clean your desktop at least once/month. Close all of the tabs on your browser regularly. Shut down all tech a few times a month for at least a day. It’ll improve your workflow and make you less stressed.

15. Whenever possible, use basic organizational functions to make life easier. Organize your spices alphabetically. Organize your fridge by size of items. Organize your closet by color and item. The idea is to reduce strain on your brain for the easy things so you can focus more on the hard things.

16. Infuse your home with textures. Wood, brick, stone, paper, plants. Do what you can to remember that the glass and metal in your hand is just a fraction of what exists in the world.

17. Everyone is making it up. Even the person you most admire. The only difference between them and you is they kept trying.

18. You don’t have to be especially charismatic to make someone feel welcomed or cared for. And that’s all anyone really wants when they’re around you.

19. If you’re going to be late, let them know. But generally, be early.

20. Take 20 minutes to write down on a sheet of paper what “winning” means to you. Sit with it for a week and make adjustments as they come to mind. Then give the list to one of your best friends. When you feel lost or defeated, call them to remind you of what you wrote.

21. Decide what a healthy day looks like for you. (ie: exercise, shower, breakfast, meditate, write, make things, emails, make more things, dinner, unwind, sleep). Sometimes that gets tossed to the side because life happens. Pause, reset, and get back to it.

22. Give credit as much as possible. The people who helped you get here are part of your family. Treat them as such.

23. Obsess about your customers’ needs.

24. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s ok to keep white Christmas lights up beyond the holidays. Especially to brighten your home during shelter-in-place.

25. Your results are directly tied to your commitments. If you are always trying to “save” your partner, you are committed to being in a bad relationship. If you eat unhealthy, you are committed to being unhealthy. If you don’t take the time to meditate or journal, you are committed to being anxious. The only person who can change those commitments is you.

26. When planning an adventure trip, start with the hardest part of the adventure. Then end with something you can indulge in. And make sure it’s long enough to feel rested before going back into normal life.

27. Never paint a wall in your home a stark white. Stick to 10% gray. It’ll still look clean, but hide just enough of the daily wear.

28. Don’t pay someone to take care of your plants or garden. There is nothing better than coming face-to-face with an object whose entire life and beauty needs nothing more than a bit of slow care and attention.

29. If a friend asks you to officiate their wedding, say yes. Watching your friends walk down the aisle from the vantage point of an officiant is an unforgettable moment.

30. Travel with your parents. Watching their faces light up in new places will be some of the best experiences of your life.

31. Launching a new product is 10-15x harder than you think it will be. Kickstarter is a great way to see if you’re actually serious enough about bringing an idea to life. Whatever you do, just remember that a product is not ready until it’s been in front of your customers multiple times.

32. Doing things out of obligation leads to resentment. Feeling resentment leads to entitlement. And living in entitlement makes you a shitty person. Instead, do things out of CHOICE. That will lead to gratitude, and gratitude leads to generosity. And generous people are the best.

33. Even the most productive people take naps.

34. If your birthday plans get cancelled because of COVID, ask your friends to just send you a story of their favorite memory with you. Tell them to write it as if they’re sipping on their favorite beverage or smoking a pipe. Don’t open any of the stories until you’re in one of your favorite places, maybe on a rooftop you’ve visited a thousand times. Read the stories slowly. Laugh. Cry. And soak up all of that good energy for the next lap around the sun.

PS: For the next 24hrs, everything at the Ei store is 34% off and domestic shipping is free. Just use the code 34Lessons. Hope you find your new favorite tool.

Black Lives Matter


Usually on my birthday, I share a list of lessons I’ve learned from the past year. And though I’ll do that soon, today is different. 

Today would have been Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She would have turned 27. Instead of celebrating with her family and planning her future as an EMT, she was senselessly killed 12 weeks ago. She’s just one name on a long list of names whose birthdays should be celebrated this year. 

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are the clear result of a racist and prejudiced system. Being Black in America has been synonymous with being the “enemy” or “unsafe.” It’s been that way since a boat filled with Black men and women landed on these shores centuries ago, not as explorers, but as slaves. 

How does a society travel the sideways path of believing it’s ok to treat people so unequally? When does someone adopt the idea that an entire race should have to fight harder for their safety and security? And how am I part of the problem with my own biases and privileges? 

If you’re struggling to understand the depth and breadth of racism, there are a slew of resources that are being shared by brilliant Black authors and leaders. If you need a starting point, watch this video by Trevor Noah, or this simple animation, and then sift through the resources in this doc

As for me, I know I speak on behalf of the entire team at Experience Institute when I say that we believe Black Lives Matter. We stand with our Black students, leaders, and friends during this time and always, and are examining how we might redesign our current programs or build new ones that imbue equity and justice.

Personally, I’ll be making donations to NAACP Legal Defense and Educational FundColor of Change, and Campaign Zero.

Today my heart is with Breonna’s family. And my mind is on these issues. There’s much work to do. Let’s get to it.




Every year on my birthday, I look back and write lessons I learned (or re-learned) throughout the year. These are my own opinions and reflections—each with its own story of why it surfaced. I hope a few are helpful reminders for you. 

Thanks for being part of my life, work, and world. I feel really lucky to be here.

  1. Good, lasting growth almost always takes time. Deep roots have to push through a lot of soil.
  2. Pay attention to what you pack when you travel. The things you bring reveal what you like and value the most.
  3. Most of life is about managing down your wants.
  4. A person only needs a few nice things.
  5. Sit in the sun as often as you can. Even for a few minutes.
  6. Sometimes you’ll need help. The sooner you ask, the easier it is for someone to jump in. If you think you need a hand, then you probably do.
  7. There is no special formula to love and relationships. They require a lot of attention and work. But if you stick with them, they give much more than they take.
  8. If there’s an app on your phone that’s taking too much of your time, delete it during your most important times in the day/week. Then re-download it during your down-times.
  9. Don’t do email on your phone.
  10. If you’re having trouble completing something, give it a specific deadline. Then add a reward to completing it and add a consequence for not completing it. Make sure you actually gain or lose something you enjoy. Finally tell someone you admire to hold you accountable to the task at hand.
  11. Only control what you can control. That list is longer than you think. And the most important thing on that list is your perspective on any given situation.
  12. Comparison is toxic. But in small doses, it can teach you a lot about yourself and whatever you’re working on. You’ll know you’ve allowed too much when you stop celebrating how far you’ve come or being grateful for what you have.
  13. When hugging someone you love, hold them one extra second longer than you think you should. That moment is a mix of slightly awkward and magical.
  14. When the sun is setting in a beautiful place, think about someone you care about deeply. Later, call that person and tell them you were thinking about them while the sun was setting in a beautiful place.
  15. Moving your body isn’t optional.
  16. Find one or two days a month where you turn all technology off. Make no exceptions.
  17. Use conditioner daily and shampoo weekly.
  18. Stress can be toxic. It will eventually impact your body in ways you never expected. Nothing you’re doing is really worth that amount of stress.
  19. Be nice to people. Life is complex.
  20. Attention is a commodity. You own it. Everyone wants it. And it’s finite. Use it wisely.
  21. Loneliness isn’t a bad thing. How you handle loneliness can be.
  22. If you feel down emotionally, it’s ok. Love that version of yourself fully. Then begin to work through it using art, conversation, exercise, etc. But you’ll never find your way out if you don’t acknowledge and accept where you are.
  23. When you have someone to kiss, kiss them slowly and often.
  24. Bringing people together for a meal is always a worthwhile way to spend your time.
  25. Don’t wish you were someone else. It’ll sell short who you are and were meant to be.
  26. Own whatever you can. Your home, your data, your most valuable things, etc. Everything you don’t own is controlled by someone else.
  27. Hope brightens life. Whatever fuels your hope, do more of that.
  28. There are people and circumstances that bring you to peace. Spend more time with them.
  29. Some people confuse brashness with strength and warmth with weakness. But you can be strong without belittling or dividing people. Despite who the media highlights, the ones who can balance strength and warmth are the ones who change society, business, and lives for the long run.
  30. When you lose a loved one, they show up again and again. On the train. During a movie. On a flight. In the waiting room. While biking to work…
    That can be both one of both the most painful and sweetest parts of life.
  31. Read a lot. Say a little.
  32. Take time to understand where you find your worth. If it comes from bad places or people, you’ll find yourself doing awful things you never thought you’d do. If it comes from good places, you’ll attempt amazing things you never thought you could.
  33. Every year, around your birthday, take an hour to write as many lessons as you can. Keep them somewhere safe.

Halting Wednesday Words (For Now)


(Photo by Mikito Tateisi)

After my December break, and reviewing my own Wednesday Words from the past four years(!), I’ve decided to take a longer pause from these weekly writings to try a slightly different direction. I’ll be studying, writing more poignant pieces around higher education, career navigation, and storytelling, and sharing those writings on a more infrequent rhythm.

By doing so, I hope to create more researched pieces, helpful downloads/tools, and richer stories that nudge you forward. Personally, I hope to grow into a better writer, educator, and communicator throughout the year.

In the meantime, the team and I will still share occasional updates about Ei. The things we’re building for the workplace, Stanford, and a new university partner will hopefully be helpful to you or people you know.

So keep building and stay tuned for a few fun experiments.

Thanks for being here,

Taking a break


It’s hard to believe how much has happened over the past 12 months. Experience Institute took our largest leaps to date. Some things landed better than expected. Other things hit the ground and shattered. On the personal front, I lost my father to cancer, settled into my first real home, and joined a new team & class at Stanford. It never ceases to amaze me…how much can happen in a year.

Now it’s time for a break.

Every December, I press pause. I stop publishing, delete my social media apps on my phone, and just let the fast-paced holidays run their course.


Doing so has become a healthy rhythm. It creates space for personal reflection and to check in with close friends, past students, and people I admire. And it gives you one less thing in your inbox during this busy season.

Do you still work during this time?

Yep! It’s an exciting time around here. Next week, we’re shipping over 1,000 copies of The Shapeless Shape. Our team is graduating our 10th class of Leap Programs in the workplace. We’re writing a new business course with one of our favorite partners. And we’re gearing up for some of our most meaningful work yet for college & grad students.

Anything else?

I’ll also be taking a ceramics class, binge watching the 2nd season of Stranger Things, reading a few biographies (Biden, Cranston, Einstein), and popping into some of my favorite cities to see some of my favorite people.

One last thing…

This little outlet to write about life, learning, and the making of Ei continues to be a simple way to stay connected to remarkable friends, acquaintances, and heroes (aka: you). It’s a space I cherish. Thank you for another year of reading, replying, sharing, and nudging.

Now, go enjoy December with family and friends. I’ll see you in 2018.

Your Wednesday Writer,

Thanksgiving Words


Last Friday, I co-hosted a friendsgiving for the new group of incredible Masters students I’ve been been working with at Stanford. Everyone chipped in to help. The Executive Director and I planned the event. The staff organized the turkey and the space. And students brought their favorite dishes and helped transform one of the studios.

(Yes, that’s a Scandinavian fireplace video playing on the screen…)

We took the time to reflect on the celebrations we cherished and the food we enjoyed. We also debriefed the new “Leap” program we’ve been prototyping together. Over and over again, I’ve been challenged and inspired by the staff and students during my first two months on the team. I’m really grateful to be part of their world.

Before we feasted, we read a few words together. It reminded me of the power of pausing before special moments to set the tone. Below, you’ll find the passages we read. I hope these words or something like them will come into play during your time with friends and family this holiday.

Wherever you are this week, the Ei family and I wish you a warm, full, and joyous Thanksgiving.

Thanks for being here with us. We are beyond grateful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!


This might be used to open your Thanksgiving meal:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast,
a house into a home,
a stranger into a friend.
It turns problems into gifts,
failures into successes,
the unexpected into perfect timing,
and mistakes into important events.
It can turn an existence into a real life,
and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
– Melody Beattie

This might be used to close your meal:

May you experience happiness.
May you bring light to someone else’s life.
May you abide in joy.
And may you allow yourself to feel gratitude,
and to multiply that feeling by sharing it with those around you.


Creating a Weekly Writing Practice


Nearly every day, I write.

I sit down at a desk. Or on a couch. Or in a cafe. Or on a flight. And I take 10–30 minutes to write about anything and everything. What happened that day. How things are going. What things are working or breaking. What I’m learning along the way.

I don’t have to write a lot. 250 words. At least.

Every once in awhile, I miss. And on the weekends, I only write once.

Taken from one of my favorite places to write…the sky.

The first person to see these writings is my writing partner, Dane Johnson. You can read about our daily wager here. We’ve kept this rhythm relatively steady for nearly four years.

Each week, I look to the next few Wednesdays and think about which writings might be most beneficial or interesting to you — friends, Ei alum, peers, leaders, and onlookers. I try not to overthink it. As much as I hope you find these writings helpful, I really write because I believe writing is one of the most powerful ways to process my days, tell stories, and share ideas, so I need to practice. But I also want to build a community of people who care about the future of education and workforce development, and who are striving to improve our world. So, I often keep these three principles in mind when writing:

  • Authenticity: Write in my own voice. Don’t try to be someone else.
  • Consistency: Show up each week. Even if you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get better and that’s when some of your best work emerges.
  • Transparency: Share all facets of life and work. Not just the shiny stuff. Show the process of building, the relationships, the successes, the mistakes. This builds lasting relationships and empowers others.

There are weeks where everything I’ve written is a bit too personal, so I have to start from scratch in the eleventh hour — which takes me back to the college days of late-night assignments with electronica music playing and a dimly lit desk lamp standing next to a half-eaten turkey sandwich.

I digress.

No matter what, by Tuesday evening, I send one or two pieces to Aaron and Katie — my colleagues and friends at Experience Institute. Sometimes I include a few other friends depending on the topic. I share the writings via Google Docs so they can make corrections and content suggestions.

I read their suggestions and usually apply all of them. I’m rarely happy with the final piece. My writing ability still hasn’t matched my taste (thanks Ira Glass). But, I’ve committed to shipping something each week, so we move the words over to Mailchimp, our software for sending email, and send a test on Tuesday/Wednesday to make sure everything looks and works correctly.

“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
— Jennifer Egan

As the email gets finalized, I prepare to syndicate the words via Medium, Linkedin, Twitter & Facebook. I also add the piece to my personal blog which is more for me than anyone else. Katie and I block Wednesday mornings to do the final polishing and posting. Typically 8am-10am.

Then we schedule to send between 10am-1pm.

The email is read by 1,500–2,000 people each week, not including the readers who read the words on social platforms.

I don’t worry too much about growing that number, nor do I measure the ROI of the hours I spend. I began writing because I genuinely enjoy it. And I believe sharing a few helpful lessons and experiences is a meaningful thing I can do for and with you as Ei continues exploring how to improve the future of education and the workplace.

So, thanks to Dane, Aaron, and Katie for making this happen each week. And thank you for reading this note in your inbox, on Medium, or Facebook. This is as much for you as it is for me. And I’m grateful to share this space with you each week.

Now I’m curious, do you write? Why? How often? And do you post your writings?

If you have a practice, share it. And if you want to create one, let me know what it might look like.

If I’ve learned anything throughout the past few years, it’s that a little writing goes a long way.

“In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”
— Jane Hirshfield

Happy Wednesday,

Yay! Folder


Last week, I was off my game. It’s too soon to write about what happened. But something I’m putting a lot of effort into took a wrong turn.

I retraced all of my steps to make sure I fully understood how I got there. I talked to friends who’d been in similar situations. And then I spent some time with people I care about deeply doing things I really enjoy.

On Monday night, when a few bits of disappointment were lingering, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I revisited a folder I’ve saved called Yay!

I know. The title is cheesy. Super cheesy. But bear with me.

This is the folder where I save emails from people who’ve shared how Ei’s past work has improved their lives. There are notes from remarkable people who’ve read the Leap Year Project book, or graduated from our Fellowship, or attended one of our workplace programs, or used Leap Kit to design their next step. Many of those notes have come from people who receive these Wednesday Words. So, thank you. Really…those notes go a long way.

This tiny practice links to a grander philosophy. It’s called the Progress Principle — the simple act of noting and celebrating progress throughout your work. It’s what fuels small teams, big innovations, and some of the most important work in history. In the HBR article, “The Power of Small Wins,” by Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer, they tell some of those stories and then note:

“Of all the things that can boost inner work life, the most important is making progress in meaningful work.”

A Yay! folder is just one tiny way to do that. If you’ve never created something like this before, it’s simple and takes less than a minute to set up:

  1. Create a folder in your email provider called “Yay” or “Hooray” or “Good things” or “Celebrations” or something fun that you’ll remember.
  2. Anytime you receive affirmation for your work or a clear sign that something is going well, save it to that folder.
  3. Revisit the folder monthly, quarterly, yearly, or whenever necessary to remember the good things that have happened along the way.

Note: You can create the same thing physically. Just use a folder or shoe box and begin to save any mail/notes/mementos along the way.

If you’re taking any type of risk to make something meaningful, this space will become vital. It will remind you and your team how far you’ve come, push you to do even better work, and keep you positive along the way. So use it early and often.

Maybe even today.


PS: This video from Ei’s recent graduation was one of the more recent things in my yay folder. Thanks for supporting and celebrating our year-long fellows last year!

Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow


Yesterday was a whirlwind: 5am exercise, breakfast, prep for a class I’ve been teaching, ride through the rain to meet with an Ei alum, work on our website, give feedback to one of our corporate client projects, do some administrative work, eat a quick lunch, help another client learn about our newest workplace offerings, review the final covers for The Shapeless Shape (they’re beautiful!), greet participants to one of our evening classes, meet with a friend about a project for the city, ship two orders of Leap Kits, pick up dry cleaning, work on an interior design project for my apartment, do another exercise, eat a late dinner, journal, shower, and pack for a six-day trip to the Bay. I’m on that flight now.

For some of you, that seems like a full day. For others, that sounds like child’s play.

But this isn’t about which of us is more busy.
It’s about filling your days with the hard work of actually doing the thing(s) you truly believe in. You’re taking your thoughts, dreams, and conversations, and working as smart and hard as you can to make them come to life.

It’s going to take more work than you expect.
It’s going to push you to your limits.
You may feel pulled in too many directions.

At times, that’s ok. You’re doing it. Not just talking about it. That’s how change happens.

So, here’s to another normal Wednesday, full of gratitude for the chance to pursue our ideas, and to do so with imagination and relentless energy.

Because that’s what will make tomorrow all the better.

PS: The students in the class I’m co-teaching at Stanford are hosting their own Design Thinking workshop at the d.school on November 11th from 9am – 1pm. If you’re in the area, it’s a great chance for you to meet the crew, learn the principles and processes behind innovation, and connect with an amazing community. You can purchase a seat here: https://tinyurl.com/y838xzdt

“Yes!” Why Reaching a Goal Feels Good


That feeling when…

Your offer was accepted!

You got the job!

Your biggest client agreed to a new project!

You received the acceptance letter!

You finished a project and it went better than expected!

Someone sent you an email to say your work made their life a little better!


Those moments and the accompanying feelings are priceless. They’re worth celebrating again and again. But, why do those moments feel so good? Here are a few hunches:

Reach: You aimed far. You had the vision to see a little further and the courage to go for it. Now you’re in a better place because of it.

Struggle: You worked hard. At times, the odds seemed against you. But those extra hours of learning and toiling actually paid off. Now you’re more confident you can make it through the next set of challenges.

Community: At one point, you reached as far as you could possibly reach. Just when you were at your very end, someone (or a group of people) gave you the push you needed to get the rest of the way. And now you are full of gratitude, feel more supported, and in search of ways to help others.

Ability: You worked with the abilities and resources you had, even though they didn’t seem like enough at times. Now you have something new or can do something you couldn’t do before. You have more resources, a larger community, more knowledge, and most importantly, more hope for the future.

I have those hunches because that’s how I feel this week.

Over the past two years, I’ve worked with a group of friends to write and produce a children’s book. And over the past month nearly 600 friends, peers, and total strangers have pre-ordered The Shapeless Shape on Kickstarter. Now, tomorrow night at 10pm CST, the campaign will finish and we’ll be able to place an order for thousands of copies to ship in December and beyond.

There was no huge agency, firm, or massive ad spend for this project. It was merely a group of friends and a community that believed in the idea and message. Because of David, Edu, Matthew, Deb, Sandra, Christina, Daniel, the team at Grip, William, Manuel, Aaron, Katie, Cindy, and Ben…and hundreds of you, we’re all going to say, “Yes!” tomorrow night.

So whatever you’re working on, keep reaching, keep fighting for what you believe should exist, lean on your community, and know that you’re growing immensely along the way.

Thanks for being on this journey with me and others.

Have a great Wednesday,

PS: If you haven’t had a chance to pre-order your copy of The Shapeless Shape, just click here.

PPS: And if you’ve already pre-ordered the book and want share the project with friends, just any of the buttons below. Thank you!

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