Building Your Future. Sustaining Your Passion.

In a world energized by buzzwords, instant gratification, and such an overwhelming amount of humble bragging (from myself included), I noticed that many people live by the phrase pursue your passion. I don’t disagree with this statement and I am one of the people who believes in this message. However, I think the process of pursuing your passion is much different and more extensive than people realize.

I first inarticulately described my vision for a better world as being “division-less” at the LeaderShape Institute in 2011. It was there that I was challenged to discover my passion and live with it every day. That journey has led me to a deeper understanding of my values, beliefs, and why I do what I do. I now understand that my passion is building interpersonal relationships across cultures through leadership, service, and exploration in immersion experiences. It has taken nearly five years for me to effectively communicate that vision for a better world. I want people to actively seek to understand others through interpersonal communication and shared experiences across cultures. I am still working to bring this vision to reality.

I returned from LeaderShape with a ton of passion, an idea, and no plan to effectively turn my passion into action. You can imagine how discouraging it was when my first idea failed in dramatic fashion. After returning to the drawing board discouraged and deeply confused as to how someone with so much passion could fail, I began to understand that pursuing your passion is much more than having an idea and a lot of energy. When building your future with passion at the forefront of your mind, you must keep in mind these things: 1) you need to clearly articulate what you want to achieve 2) identify the skills necessary for success, and 3) you have to go out and have a variety of experiences. I’m not saying to randomly select things to do. Your actions and decisions should be guided by your passion and vision, but don’t be afraid to deviate from that path in order to gain a new perspective, cultivate a new skill, or to simply enjoy your life.

Sustaining your passion is not about going the furthest the fastest, but rather actively making decisions that will help you achieve the outcome you desire or create the future in which you plan to live. It takes time to build something that will endure. My mother came to mind as I wrote this blogpost. She has owned and coached a trampoline and tumbling team for 12 years. In 2003, she started with 6 athletes and 5 panel mats. Now she has a 50 person competitive team and over 100 athletes who train in her facility, attend classes, or participate in clinics throughout the year. She also has a partnership with YMCA. Her passion is coaching others to develop into successful athletes and people with strong character. She’s produced national champions, national team members, and has helped athletes go on to compete at the collegiate level in a variety of sports.

Passion is enduring. Building the path to live it everyday is an active process that has to be evaluated frequently. I don’t believe all members of our generation feel as though they are entitled to everything they want, but I do believe that we want to understand the value of our work, contribute to the betterment of the world around us, and achieve our goals. We want to do this quickly, but it isn’t something that can happen overnight. We have to work through the process and build slowly and effectively. Building a sustainable future will require a constant renewal of passion and a profound commitment to continuously learning from our experiences.

“There is no need to rush in life. Just with one word at a time, your sweet life history will be written boldly in capitals and highlighted for easy access. Be sure you are passing the test of patience!” – Israelmore Ayivor



One of the greatest challenges we face in our lives is to be honest with ourselves, especially when it is a difficult truth we must accept. It is difficult to acknowledge our faults, flaws and things we want to change. As I spent a great deal of time reflecting on what has happened thus far in my grad assistantship role, I recognize that there are things I’ve done somethings well and there are mistakes that I’ve made, which I’ve had to correct. There were times when I felt confident in my ability to lead and other times when I felt like the most incompetent person in the room. I constantly feel a need to self-assess or internally evaluate my performance and, more often than not, I start and end my reflection with a great deal of frustration for not being where I think I should be at a particular point in time.

Recently, I was inspired by my mentor and supervisor to try painting to stimulate creativity and to learn a new skill. It has been a challenging and humbling process. (Kudos to all the artists in the world who create beautiful, masterful works.) I immediately recognized my inability to blend colors, paint smoothly, write letters, and manifest my vision into reality. It was frustrating, but one day I had a realization; I had to accept that I was awful at painting. I let go of the idea that I should be a decent artist right away, especially without any form of training whatsoever. I started enjoying painting after I accepted my inability to produce the outcome I desired. I do not posses the skill needed to achieve the outcome and I don’t have the experience to create what I want through painting. However, I do posses the ability to learn, practice, and improve. It takes time and experience to cultivate new skills, learn and retain new ideas, and to become more effective at anything.

Self-Assessment and honesty with self is truly important for growth and development. People are more likely to understand and endure the frustration of failure and the learning journey by acknowledging and accepting where they are and envisioning where they want to go. Discipline, humility, consistency, and honesty with self ultimately lead to a more productive learning experience.


The Spark We Needed

With the air of change all around us, CMU’s Leadership Institute is working to provide students with a more holistic leadership development experience than ever before. With change comes challenge, and the Leadership Institute staff found the right people to facilitate the change process effectively. David Walter and Natalie Woods worked alongside Assistant Director Jesi Ekonen as the Spark Leadership Series Co-Coordinators over the course of last year’s Spring semester and throughout the summer to create a new program that would introduce leadership to undergraduate students. In essence, they were the Spark we needed for change to occur seamlessly.

The LI’s programs follow an unwritten progression, and Spark is the introductory leadership program, in which students participate to identify their personal leadership style, understand how their styles relate to other styles, and for students to fundamentally understand that leadership occurs in different ways for every single person. Over the course of four sessions, students understand Fiedler’s Contingency Model, which follows the Leader-Match Theory. Different leaders are strongest in different situations. This idea rings true for our team; David and Natalie have different leadership styles and possess unique skill sets that aid in the success of Spark.

Participant Quote: “Spark changed my view of leadership. I thought leadership was being in charge, making all the decisions, and having all the answers. Now I see that everyone can be leaders in their own way and that I can learn from others when I take a step back.”

A short thank you:

David and Natalie, you’ve done a tremendous job understanding, creating, and implementing leadership development curriculum that has influenced the lives of many students. Thank you for being engaged and passionate staff members who contribute to the Leadership Institute’s success.

PS. Thank you Jesi Ekonen for the support in my transition as a Grad Assistant into the Leadership Institute’s staff.


Spark Leadership Series Recap Video Filmed and Edited by Bo Parker

Reflection and Renewal

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I found myself feeling stagnate, idle, and unchallenged after three months of being back in Mount Pleasant. I felt like I was having the same conversations, participating in the same social outings, living the same week over and over again. Admittedly, I was bored, frustrated, and overwhelmingly in need of change, challenge, and newness. However, leaving to a far away place, getting on a plane to dive into adventure would not have dissolved my frustration. Traveling to a different physical place would not have led me to the answers I needed.

One day, I was having a conversation with my friend and colleague Jeremy Heinlein when we discovered a shared dampening of creativity and feelings of stagnation. We recognized it  wasn’t rooted in our work. In fact, we both love our jobs, co-workers, and work environment. The Leadership Institute cultivates creativity, discovery, and a sense of journey and adventure through a variety of experiences. We recognized that our feelings of burnout were rooted in not doing what we loved to do as often as we needed. For Jeremy, he found that he had not been physically active through sports. For me, I hadn’t taken time to reflect on my experience. I was moving from one experience to the next without making meaning of the experiences.

Many of my experiences were new to me, provided me with challenge, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t see the value or significance in my experiences until I took time to critically reflect on what I learned and how I was affected. In my journal, from one day to next, there is a stark contrast in emotion, voice, and energy. Before reflecting, I wrote, “I feel like I am going through the motions. More and more I find a need for change and newness.”  The very next day, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on recent experiences and later that day I penned, “It takes stepping away in order to see the bigger picture. I hope I never lose sight of my goals and the value of working with people who appreciate me and challenge me to be better everyday.” It is easy to get lost in the daily details, which moves our gaze from the bigger picture. There is great value in reflection and it can lead to renewed passion.  It is important to have experiences, but it is equally important to make meaning of what we experience and recognize how we’ve changed after the experience has concluded.

Here are several questions I use to guide my reflection (not an exhaustive list):

  • What did I experience?
  • Who influenced my experience?
  • How did I feel during the experience? Why?
  • Now that I’ve had this experience, what do I know or understand about myself?
  • In what ways have I changed?
  • What are the connections between my experience, my current work, and my future plans?

Connections That Last

CMU’s Leadership Institute provides the Connections Leadership Conference (Connections) for students to enhance their leadership through informative and interactive sessions, while providing an environment for students create new professional and interpersonal connections. And I can’t forget to mention it happens at the Great Wolf Lodge Resort and Water Park in Traverse City, MI.

This experience was exciting, informative, and engaging when I was an undergraduate student. In returning as a graduate student and staff member, my attitudes toward the conference remained the same, but for very different reasons. There are two aspects of my experience that were deeply rewarding. The first was serving as an Institute Facilitator, which meant that a co-facilitator and I shared the responsibility of informing undergraduate students of the skills needed to properly identify the assets and needs in their residential communities, registered student organizations, and scholarship cohorts, while helping them create an action plan to use the assets to address the needs. Serving as an Institute Facilitator provided me with a new experience and increased responsibility for the developmental experience of conference attendees.

The second experience is related to building community and cohesion between our office staff. Our team does a stellar job at keeping one another accountable for maintaining a work-life balance. Connections provided a great opportunity for our staff to bond outside of our normal work environment. After our sessions concluded, myself and over members of the “Grad Cohort” as we call ourselves, and other staff members took time to explore Traverse City. I believe we have a close knit staff, but it is always great to deepen the connections through unstructured shared experiences.