Hi, I'm Victor.

Reimagining higher education and workplace learning


Leap Kit

Step-by-Step tools to learn anything through experience.


Shapeless Shape

A children's book about fitting in and finding your way.


LYP Book

Stories of risk & learning from Leap Year Project 2012.


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!

Not There Yet


If you receive applause, you’re not there yet.

If you make more money, you’re not there yet.

If someone you admire notices your work, you’re not there yet.

If you receive more invitations, accolades, likes, comments, shares, snaps… you’re not there yet.

If you’re able to vacation to far-off islands and take selfies while your friends slog away at 9–5 jobs, you’re not there yet.


Because most of those things are illusions, not destinations. They’re temporary visions in a desert of other people’s expectations and approval.

The only way you’ll arrive is if you decide your own destination and why it matters.

Lately, a few specific moments have reminded me where my “there” is…

    • Sharing dinner with a student who recently graduated our year-long program and hearing her speak with glowing confidence about the new job she just landed.


    • Reading The Shapeless Shape to one of my best friend’s daughters and watching her see herself in the story.


    • Making plans to share dinner with an old friend who needs a listening ear amidst a challenging time.


  • Helping a class of students get to know one another on a more personal level as they prepare for months of learning and work.

Of course, I want those things to expand — to change how higher education works for thousands of students each year; to infuse the workplace with more curiosity and creativity; and to inspire children and adults on every continent with a simple story. When people’s lives change for the better because they’ve learned how to make an impact, make a living, and walk through life with confidence, I’m there. Sometimes I wonder what others think of my point of view. Why don’t you let me know at BASEMENT FLOOD CLEANUP?

The better you know where you need to go, the more likely you’ll get there. And if you don’t know, it’s ok. Just beware of everyone else’s destination becoming your own. That’s a dizzying place, and not good for anyone. Especially you.

PS: Your notes and comments to last week’s words were inspiring and heartwarming. Thank you.

Good. Grief.


Last week, I was traveling when a deep sadness blindsided me during a flight. Here’s what I wrote:

I wish my dad were here. I’ve been working really hard lately – to make the world a little brighter with a children’s book, to help students & professionals launch into their next step through Ei, and to work alongside people interested in changing higher education for the better.

But honestly, some of what has driven me lately is just being ashamed that I couldn’t show my dad more of my work before he passed away. Though he tried really hard, it was challenging for him to understand what I was doing and why it mattered. It made me question if my grand pursuits were meaningful…and whether or not I should get a normal job with a steady paycheck and an easier life. Instead, I kept pursuing what I felt was right. I know he was proud of me, but he didn’t have a chance to *really* see it. To read the book. To spend time with the students. To meet me for coffee on Stanford’s campus after teaching my first class. To greet me at the airport when I fly home for my little brother’s wedding.

We were very different people. But when I look back at his life, I think about how bold he was. Pursuing my beautiful mother from a prestigious Egyptian family, immigrating to the US for a better life, learning a new language and starting a veterinarian practice in a big city, accepting a job with the government that would move three boys around the country, fighting with his demons until he won. Magdi Saad was bold. So I know that’s what he wanted of me – to do the right thing…boldly.


It’s funny how grief works. You think you’re ok. You have so much to celebrate. But then something happens or it just sneaks up on you like this. There are no quick fixes. You just need to give it time and let it pass over you.

And as I look at our world, I see a lot of grief – personally and societally. It makes me want to understand how grief works.

According to the famous psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages of grief include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There is no rhyme or reason for when you might enter any of the stages. In fact you can cycle through all of them within minutes.

So when I see the onslaught of messages about political issues or the despair over devastating loss, one way I fend off feeling overwhelmed is by seeking to understand grief and exploring how to care for those experiencing it. Anger is appropriate. Bargaining is understandable. As my friend Matthew Hoffman say, “It’s ok to not be ok.”

But there is hope.

Kubler also writes that the final step isn’t merely acceptance. It’s integration.

Integration is using the situation to take steps forward. You use your past pain to make healthy decisions and even counsel others.

As someone who wants to solve problems, I find myself wanting to rush to this “good” stage of grief. And I definitely don’t want to share the hard stages of depression or anger that can surface. But giving all of the stages the time and attention they need is what helps you heal well and move forward in a healthy way.

It takes time & work
All of us will handle grief differently. But the one thing everyone needs is patience – with ourselves and with others. Be honest about why you’re feeling and reacting the way you are. And as the fog of grief begins to pass, you can begin taking steps forward – to implement change and care for others.

In time, good will come.
And, if you let it, it will come from you.

New Year’s Letter (pt 2)


One year ago, almost to the day, I started a small tradition called, New Year’s Letters. The challenge was simple:

Before October 1st, handwrite a letter to yourself that you will open on January 1st. The letter is due by the end of day on October 1st. Seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere safe.

It was a way to pause and recalibrate before the quickening pace of the fall and winter activities.

I just looked back at my letter again. It was hard to read. Here’s how it started:

Dear Victor,
You’re writing this letter while on the mend from the toughest year you’ve had in a long time. Your dad was diagnosed with cancer, one of your biggest ideas didn’t work, and some of your closest relationships fell apart…

But I love reading how it ended:

Not only are you still standing, but you’re moving forward. You continue to ask meaningful questions, build solid communities, care for your family and friends, and creatively approach helping people launch into their next step.

Your questions won’t be answered in the next three months. But keep doing the small things well. Exercise. Sleep. Eat well. Write. Read. Reflect. Ask for help when needed. Call your family often. Be surprisingly generous. And focus on only a couple of important things each day.

Your answers will come. And even if they don’t…you’ll be healthy and well. It’s going to be ok, Vic. Keep going.

There’s a lot more in the letter I can’t share. That’s how it should be.

And now…
I’m asking you to join me again — to pause long enough to check in with yourself.

A few guidelines: 

  1. Schedule time to write the letter between now and Sunday. 30–60 minutes should do.
  2. Handwrite the letter. Get off your computer/phone. Grab a pen and piece of paper. Handwritten letters are always more fun, especially when it’s your own handwriting.
  3. Place your letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope, write Dear (insert your name). And the words “Do not open until January 1st, 2018.”

What to write about
There are no limitations here. The audience is you. What do you want to remember about your year thus far? What have you seen? Who have you met? How have you changed? What do you wish were different? What have you celebrated recently? Where do you hope to be this time next year?

Compile all of those memories, thoughts, and bits of wisdom before the year speeds to an end. Use the sunlight of the summer and the freshness of the fall to capture important words before the cold takes over and the noise of “resolutions” rises. Then, as you start 2018, you’ll have your own words as clues and guides for your next step.

And if you choose to participate in this little tradition, can you leave your name/email address here: bit.ly/newyearsletter?

I’ll send a quick reminder on Sunday and again on January 1st. That’s all.

So go on, schedule those 30 minutes, turn everything off, and write that letter.
I’ll be doing this with you.


Thanks, Mrs. Trippe


Growing up, I was the chubby, Middle Eastern kid.

Except a lot of my elementary school peers in the southern part of the midwest didn’t really know where the Middle East was. They just knew I didn’t quite look like them…and that my parents had a funny accent that made them say “ze” instead of “the.”

Combine all of that with the usual tumultuousness of going through puberty and trying to fit in, and, well, you can imagine the roller coaster I endured.

Chances are you have similar stories of your own.

Enter my High School AP English Class
My teacher was Mrs. Trippe (pronounced, “trippy”).

During my Junior year, Mrs. Trippe gave us the most dreaded project of our High School education: The Junior Book Report.

While everyone in the class got to choose their book of focus, Mrs. Trippe took it upon herself to assign me a very specific book. Since I’m Egyptian, she thought it would be best that I read a book by the Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.

At first, I was open to the idea. But then I learned the book was 500 pages long.

Not cool, Mrs. Trippe.

Even though we had the entire semester to do the project, I waited until one week before the paper was due to begin reading the book. l sped-read like crazy and then worked on it for two days straight, skipping classes and drinking more Mountain Dew than I care to admit. On the day the paper was due, one of the brightest students in the class, Natasha, was kind enough to proofread the piece. She was a straightforward, no BS type of person who seemed to excel at everything. Nathash took the entirety of our typing class to mark up my paper and at the end simply said, “It’s good, but you still have a lot of work to do.

She handed me a piece of paper covered in red ink. I spent the rest of that day making the corrections and turned in the paper with 2 minutes to spare.

To my great surprise…
Mrs. Trippe was elated with my piece. She was proud of the way I embraced my culture, my family (I included interviews with my aunts & uncles), and my voice. I received an A.

But more importantly, Mrs. Trippe helped me find a place where I fit. I had a renewed confidence about who I was and why it mattered.

Mrs. Trippe was just one of my amazing people in my life at that time. I had remarkable teachers, band directors, soccer coaches, acting directors, guidance counselors…most of whom went out of their way to make sure I knew I had a place in their class, on their stage, and in this world.

Their time and energy is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the children’s book David and a few friends and I have been making. It’s a story about fitting in, finding your way…and the community that makes that possible. The final product is more special than I originally imagined, and I can’t wait for you to have a copy.

If you’re interested in this message and this book, just leave your email here and I’ll notify you when the pre-orders begin on Kickstarter so you can receive the early backer discount.

And, if you’re questioning how to fit or where to find your place, you’re not alone. Keep listening. And keep looking…

One. Step. At. A. Time.


Last Saturday, I found myself on a really difficult hike: Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Difficult might be an understatement. If you’ve never heard of Half Dome (I hadn’t before last week), some call it the hardest hike in the park.

17 miles. 12 hours. 4,000 feet of elevation. More steps than I could count. And a final ascent that’s so steep, it can only be completed with cables.


At first, the hike seemed doable. But it just happened that last weekend was an abnormally hot weekend for the area. 90+ degree temperatures made the stairs, switchbacks, and slick granite surface even more challenging. And the final steps through the cable passageway pushed me to the very end of my courage.

Throughout the hike, I found myself developing a cadence as I pushed through the challenging parts:

One. Step. At. A. Time.

I took a step at every beat…making sure my feet and body were positioned well and I could see where I might go next. When the trail calmed down, I could look up and appreciate the incredible views. And when it would get tricky again, I’d return to the cadence.

Towards the end of the day, I began to think of the times I marvel at how people do hard things well. Starting a healthy business, raising a loving family, writing a thoughtful book, facing a life-changing illness, dealing with loss, rebuilding after a natural disaster, fighting for justice…the list goes on.

There’s no real magic to it. There’s no formula. Hard things are best handled one step at a time. One good, thoughtful decision after another.

Proximal Goals

There’s another term for this: “proximal goals.” In this classic study, researchers worked to help 7- to 10-year-olds with “gross deficits and disinterest in mathematical tasks.”

They divided the children into two groups: The first was told to set proximal goals (six pages of math problems in each of seven sessions) and the second group set long-term goals (42 pages of problems over seven sessions).

The children who used proximal goals completed the problems faster and were more motivated. And they solved 80 percent of problems correctly. The second group (long-term) only solved 40 percent of the problems correctly.

More importantly, the first group was more confident in their mathematical abilities. Proximal goals did more than help them solve the problems. They had fundamentally changed the way the participants looked at math.


Even if you don’t know where you’re going or how you’ll make it to the end, define and take the next step. That’s all that matters for today.

And, every so often, be sure to pause and look around. The view will remind you how far you’ve come.

Our last week


A few days ago, I took the elevator to the 17th floor of our office building.

When I walked into the lobby, I saw a group of people hugging, high-fiving, sharing bustling conversation. They were surrounded by bags and jackets strewn across tables and chairs. When a new, familiar face appeared, the entire group would erupt with welcoming greetings. It was a reunion of friends, travelers, colleagues, and family.

This is a usual scene for Ei Fellows returning to Chicago from their apprenticeships for our week-long meetups. And since this is the very last time they’ll be together before they finish their 12-month fellowship, the sense of camaraderie is more present than ever.

Over the past week, each Fellow has worked tirelessly on their final project – a 2-minute video that tells the story of their self designed-Masters. Throughout the week, a certain closeness has continued. Questions are thrown across the room and quickly answered. Meals are shared. Laughter is the common tool for breaking the sound of typing and clicking.

On Saturday, August 26th, this cohort will graduate by sharing those videos, along with a few brief talks about their experiences. We’ve also invited our friend and world-renowned designers and co-founder of Kickstarter, Charles Adler, to share a few final words. We’ll be hosting brunch, taking a few nostalgic photos in a quirky photobooth, playing games, and connecting with the other amazing people in the Ei Family.

All of this will be taking place from 10am-12pm, at Lost Arts in Chicago. There are a few tickets left and we would love to have you join us. bit.ly/eiexpo2017 (Use the code FRIENDS for a little surprise.)

Wherever you are today…
If you’re trying to build a deeper sense of community amongst your team, class, or friends, remember that you can’t rush it. Commit to completing something audacious, reflect on your progress intentionally, finish it boldly, and tell your stories with and for one another.

It’ll lead to your great lessons and memories.

Trust us.


Build to Think | A quick guide & worksheet on Prototyping


Two weeks ago, we hosted an event called Build to Think.
Nearly 30 freelancers, executives, and educators gathered for an evening workshop focused on how to solve problems visually and tangibly. The Ei team and our friend Megan Bhatia designed a simple worksheet and process to guide participants through a few helpful steps with a partner. The night was teeming with energy and discussion as a group of strangers dove in together.

We learned, once again, how helpful it is to step back and gain a new perspective as you navigate your work/life’s biggest challenges.

But stepping back isn’t quite enough. Asking helpful questions and paying attention to the right things will help you see more clearly and take your next steps with greater confidence.

Try it for yourself!
You can download a blank worksheet for free here.
And below, you can read through a step-by-step guide how to use it.

In any case, if you’re curious about the process of prototyping and exploring ways to navigate a complex personal or professional challenge, we hope this offers a nudge in the right direction.

Thanks for reading.
Have a great Wednesday!

After you’ve downloaded the worksheet, use the steps below to guide you:

1) Get ready. Get some sleep. Then, do something active, eat a good meal, and drink a lot of water. And turn off your devices. Doing healthy things helps you think in a healthy way.

2) Team up. Find someone you trust and whose opinion you respect. Ask them to join you for the rest of this.

3) Take Inventory of the good things. Before you begin, jot down a few places where you’re not stuck. Home? Work? Health? Style? Money? Etc. Name those things and smile. They’re in a good place.


4) Jot/Sketch. Pull out your Build to Think sheet. Start at the top. Write down the biggest challenges you’re facing. Here are a few examples of things we’ve heard in the past
+ Our office space is distracting and I can never get anything done
+ I’m not sure how promotions work at my company and I’m losing motivation to work hard
+ I have an idea for a new product, but I don’t have the resources to bring it to life
+ I can’t find a steady workout regimen

The list can go on forever. Start with your top three.

5) Review the list & pick one. Choose the one that feels most compelling to apply a new way of thinking and doing to. Think about the thing occupying your mind the most. Write that one on down and why it’s such a grand challenge.

6) Share a story with your partner. Discuss when that problem faced you most recently. Talk about what happened, who was involved, and how you felt at the end. The more details the better.
And when you listen to your partner’s story, be sure to ask “Why” (as in “Why did it make you feel that way?”) a few times. It’ll help you peel back the layers. It may even help you discover that the real problem is something totally different.

You’re doing great. Now’s the fun part.

7) Idea Storm
Pull out a pad of post-it notes or any sort of scrap paper. Both of you should quietly focus on one partner’s problem for 2 minutes. Think about all of the possible ways that problem could be solved and write one idea per note/piece of paper. Do this quietly at first.

Oh, and don’t restrict yourself at all. In fact, the more wild the ideas, the better. Go for quantity too. The more the merrier here.

8) Discuss your ideas. After the 2 minutes are up, quickly share your ideas with one another add any new ones that come up as you discuss.

Take a sip of your water/coffee/tea and then do the same exercise for your partner. Now you have some momentum! Awesome.

9) Narrow! After you have a table/wall full of ideas, narrow them down to the top 3-4 based on which ones feel like the biggest breakthrough, or the most delightful, or the most feasible.

Now, let’s make.

10) SHOW your idea.
Take one of those ideas and envision how you could bring it to life in a really simple way (the simpler, the better.) Use anything except words – draw an image of the idea. Or use whatever objects you have in your office, home, or apartment to build a low fidelity version of it. This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. The rougher, the better.

And the idea doesn’t have to solve the whole challenge. It just meant to help you get unstuck so you can take your next step.

11) Decide
Is this something worth trying? What can you do quickly to learn if this idea is worth taking to the next level?

12) Next steps
If you found something that could have energy or work, jot down the next steps. Who should you talk to? What should you make next? When can it happen?

By now, you should have a few ideas for getting unstuck, and you should have a clearer picture of what you need to do next OR what you don’t need to do next – all within a short amount of time.

That’s a tiny glimpse into the big idea called prototyping. We like thinking this way around Ei and we think it might help you too.

Return to this mindset often and let us know if you change or add anything along the way. We’d love to see how you make this your own! (say hello at –> hello [at] expinstitute [dot] com)

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