What do you want to be when you grow up?

First Grad Vince

What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you decided a major? What are your career goals and aspirations? Where do you see yourself in five years? For many of us these questions bring anxiety if we don’t have the answers. We respond with witty remarks like, “I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow?” or “Adulting is really hard.” No matter how we respond I find that these types of questions always leave us feeling a sense of pressure to know what the next step is and how we’re getting there.

Today, my friend Jeremy asked me a few questions that caused me to reflect on my journey of where I am today and if I am who/what I intended to be when I was a child. As I reflected on this question, I realized that I couldn’t remember what my answer was to the grand question that people ask when your like five or six. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” In those moments all I wanted was Saturday morning cartoons, recess, and snack time. I digress. What I do remember are the experiences and the people in my life who helped me cultivate the necessary skills to be successful no matter where I ended up in life.

Picture little first grade Vince reading about the gingerbread man. “Catch me if you can! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” My first great teacher, Ms. Wilgot, ignited the feelings of creativity, magic, wonder, and possibility! Imagine me a tiny  first grader (I didn’t grow until eighth grade) running home to tell mom and dad that a gingerbread man was running around the school. In fifth grade, Mr. Wright, was a stern and decisive man who gave us no other choice to be good students behaviorally and academically. He taught us discipline and focus. In sixth and eighth grade, my english teacher raised our self-esteem by making us recite an affirmation that we were champions and that we were capable of achieving great things. In tenth and twelfth grade, my geometry and calc teacher challenged me and two other students to solve a problem with little direction and with the pressure of the class not taking an exam riding on our success. In college, my greatest mentors asked me questions and gave me opportunities to clarify my values and identify my convictions.

Although I can’t remember answering the question of what I want to be when I grew up, I now recognize that they were helping me gain skills and confidence that would be valuable for the rest of my life. Take the pressure of finding a finite category in which to place yourself and reflect on the values and qualities you possess that are applicable to any place. Creativity, organization, passion, focus and discipline, determination, self-confidence, critical thinking and problem-solving, advocating your position and taking time to understand the perspectives of others and simply being yourself.

I have an idea of where I want to land as a future professional, but the existing representation of a job or position has yet to reveal itself and in any case, I’ll build the resolve to create my own life. The people who have been most influential in my life have helped me cultivate character, skills, my personal interests and the qualities necessary for success. I am who I am and it’s taken 23 years to accept and cultivate this confidence and  sense of self-respect that I possess. I am unwilling to settle for anything less than an environment that helps me become my best self and cultivates my passions. I share that not out of arrogance or entitlement, but more so to honor those who instilled the conviction and belief that the world could be better by giving your best to it. To settle for anything less would be a disservice to their efforts.

Leadership Advice: 1) Cultivate skills that are transferable. 2) Understand and clearly articulate your values. 3) Explore opportunities that help you develop who you are personally and professionally. 4) Until you find the perfect fit, work diligently to find it. 5) You still have to work to sustain yourself. Work until you land where you want to be for a while.

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GO! GO! GO! Take the Trip!

Socttish Christmas Market

Scotland Christmas Markets

It’s been one month since I returned to the US from Ireland and the UK. In the past 10 months I’ve visited five counties and I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. In fact, I am in the process of planning a two week trip to Switzerland and hoping to volunteer in New Zealand in December. Each time I travel abroad or go somewhere I haven’t been in the US, I find that I hope to stay a little longer. I want to immerse myself in the community of which I am a guest. Last April, I went to Florence for a week and I recently spent nine days between Ireland, England, and Scotland from the end of December through the first week of January. By the end of 2017 I’ll have visited my top five places visit and a few in between.

Trinity College

Trinity College – Ireland

All I know is that I want to keep traveling. I want to keep learning from other cultures. I want to live in places that are completely different than where I’ve grown up and I want to know what other people experience. On my fourth night in Florence, I laid in bed and listened to From Finner by Of Monsters and Men. I roamed the cobblestone streets of Dublin while listening to Ego Loss of Grand River Avenue by Joe Hertler and The Rainbow Seekers. I listened to Sunshine by Pusha T in a London Cafe. I teared up at how beautiful the Boboli Gardens were in the Palazzo Pitti. I had fish and chips from a street cafe in Paddington. I ate pizza in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. I had conversations with bakery owners and an attorney from Argentina, an oil rig engineer from Australia, a girl who works in Grand Rapids, Ireland, a surgeon from Chile, a jovial women Ghana, a reserved man Kenya, a oceanography student from France, teachers from Canada and England, a mechanical engineer from German, an international student studying women studies from Finland, a finance manager from Switzerland who traveled to African countries months at a time and a couple who had retired from South Africa. I had gelato while watching the sunset from Michelangelo’s Square. I stood at the Cliffs of Moher and on the edge of the Burren while overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I slept in hostels, ran in the rain, lived out of a backpack, road coach buses up the Atlantic coast through rural towns in Ireland and I’ve taken trains up and down the Scottish coast while listening to Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack .

Florence

Florence, Italy

Traveling as a way of changing you. You become more confident in your decision making abilities. You learn to trust yourself and others. You recognize that you have to say no to somethings because you know that your experience will end and the only question that crosses your mind is, “why would I do that if I don’t want to do it?” You begin to understand that plans change regardless of how prepared you are. Imagine flying halfway across the world to a place that doesn’t speak your native language and your luggage doesn’t arrive until halfway through your trip? You adapt and keep going. You make the most of your experiences. You begin to feel like you don’t need as many things when you come home. You feel the need to get ride of literally anything that is of no functional use or holds no significant sentimental value. You begin to see that less is okay and that simplicity is a beautiful thing. Seriously, you’ve lived out of a backpack for at least a week. You begin to understand that your are capable of more than you may have originally felt your were. I share this only to say that these songs, these places, the people I’ve met, these moments are all a part of me and have led me to inspiration that I could never find anywhere else. These experiences will last me a lifetime and there are more to be had. TAKE THE TRIP, SAVE THE MONEY, PACK A BAG, MAKE THE TIME, GO GO GO! IT’S WORTH IT!

London

Central London – England

 

My Life or Master of None?

Warning! SPOILER ALERT! There are spoilers if you plan on watching Master of None on Netflix. Proceed at your own risk. To give you some context, I originally typed this with my thumbs on my phone because I started it at 3:00am and decided it was worth editing and posting by 4:00am. So moved it from the Notes app to my personal blog. (There’s a few leadership lessons in hear, even if they aren’t explicitly stated).

The amount of parallels between the first season of Master of None (I’m hoping there will be a second) and my life is uncanny. This post is about relationships, being a young professional, and turning difficult experiences into life changing moments. Some peaks and valleys await you if you continue to read on. It’s a bit lengthy so if you want to get to the lessons, skip the fun or funny, both ha-ha funny and some irony, and scroll to the bottom. The rest of the blog is anecdotal and only gives context to the last few points.

First we need to go back to May-ish 2014 and eventually we’ll arrive at present day. So I met a cool girl at an awesome place and we hit it off. Fast forward a bit we start dating, I have one more semester in college and the future is looking right. I roll into summer a happy man believing, with an idealistic passion, that I’m about to change the world.

Fall semester rolls around and I’m having the time of my life. I’m working with great people, classes are going well, I’m throwing my hat in the ring by applying to entry-level positions in places that align with my values and connect with my passion. I am also still dating aforementioned cool girl. Boom! It’s October and I drive 800 miles between Detroit and Mount Pleasant in one weekend. Four trips. Four days. I land my “dream job” but there’s a catch, I need to start at the end of October (still 2014). It’s cool, I commuted a couple times a week and in the spring I transitioned to full time. I was a young professional with a $50,000 salary with literally the minimum amount of expenses one could have after college. Life was good. (Future still looks bright and I start thinking about long term plans – fill in the gaps if you must).

New Years rolls around and I dance the night away in Grand Rapids with my best friends and it’s shaping of to be a great year…or so I thought. Cue dramatic sound effect – this isn’t what I thought it was going to be. My job became something I didn’t want to be part of, and as an idealist with passion for working with youth, I figured it would be a small fix. COMMUNICATION (when that breaks down – literally everything breaks down).

Fast forward to March 2015 things are a little rocky on all fronts; job, relationship, future plans, and so on. Now if you follow Master of None, you’ve watched Dev (Aziz Ansari) go through a series of events and experiences that cause him to evaluate what his life is like and what it could be like. (Having kids, spending time with his parents, racism in mass media, personal friendships, and lastly longish term relationships). Master of None was originally released November 6, 2015 – a month after my birthday (random unrelated aside). If you’ve watched the series and if you’ve read this far you’re about to be reminded/about to find out how the season ends. Dev and Rachel (Noel Wells) break up and Rachel heads to Japan. Her trip motivates him to do something he’s always wanted to do. What does Dev/Aziz do??? He goes to Italy.

Jump back to April 2015 after a series of experiences and events (quitting job with no plan for what’s next/having gone through a recent break up, and so on) – I get on a plane and fly to Florence, Italy (Aziz must have stalked my Facebook or something) to try and get control over my life. (BEST DECISION EVER – LOVED FLORENCE…GO IF YOU CAN).

Trip to Florence.jpg

Almost a year later – I realize that some of the most difficult, challenging, and confusing experiences in life can cause you to do something dramatic in order to find some control over your life in the midst of it all falling apart. (It’s dramatic on purpose). Sorta in Eat, Pray, Love fashion and now Master of None, I spent a year pursuing what I thought was going to be the next phase of my life – and ultimately I ended back up at square one (or so I thought – keep reading). I have many happy and inspiring memories and experiences from 2014 into 2015, but it didn’t last forever and neither did the difficulties. (Sidebar – I have no animosity or lingering frustration toward mentioned girlfriend or past job. I’m human and it took me a while to get past both experiences, but now I can share these thoughts from a learning perspective and with an appreciation for both of them).

Recently I had a series of conversations with co-workers, friends, family, and even strangers, and what I’ve come to realize is that even when you think you have it figured out, there’s a great possibility that life will change – sometimes for better and sometimes for growth. Trust the process, embrace the experiences (and the emotions that come along with it) and don’t be afraid to dive head first or go all in with some job, some person, on in some place and feel like you have to stay forever. That year, like a few others, has shaped who I am because of the people I met, the places I went, and the lessons I learned. Change is hard, but it is possible to navigate and come out on the other side a better person.

My last relationship partner inspired me to go after my dreams both directly and indirectly. I can’t thank her enough for that. She challenged to do what I love with all my energy and also that it was okay to have a change of heart (that took a while to learn). She also inspired to really embrace all of who I am – including the part of me that has always wanted to travel. I’ve been to five countries in ten months and I’m heading to Switzerland after my first year of grad school ends. I love learning about culture and other people. My job taught me that it was okay to step back and evaluate whether or not what you’re doing/supporting truly aligned with your values. It also helped me say no. If you say yes to everything you’re probably busy and tired – too busy to stop and too tired to keep going (been there, sucks doesn’t it?…it’s a vicious cycle, but worth breaking).

If you made it to the bottom, I want to personally thank you for reading it all, but also remind of the few things I’ve learned.

1) Fall in love, go all in, and if it doesn’t work out that’s okay. Might suck for a while, but it’ll get better. If it does – invite me to the wedding or whatever you do to celebrate your love – I love dancing (can’t dance well, but I love it. 2) Don’t be afraid to turn around or take a side step or do something different if you find that you aren’t getting what you need from your professional life, academic experience, or whatever you’re doing. 3) Take that trip, learn that instrument, paint your heart out, or do they thing you promised yourself you would when you had the time and money. There will never be a perfect time. 4) Give yourself time and a little bit of grace to become who you want to be. Life may happen fast, but it doesn’t have to be lived fast. 5) Lastly, don’t be afraid to make changes in your life and accept that circumstances change and it’s out of your control. It sucks sometimes, but that’s life.

Shout out to past relationships, previous jobs, airlines, Italy, and Aziz for making a dope show about my life and probably the lives of a bunch of other people.

Spark Round 2: Well Oiled Machine

Last week, the Leadership Institute kicked off two sessions of the Spark Leadership Series. We’ve expanded from our traditional offering of one session a semester and now offer two spring sessions of the Series, which allows us to reach more students than before. We now offer a session of Spark to develop and empower campus leaders in the Tower Residence Hall. This is possible because of our commitment to providing high quality programs with the help undergraduate students.

The Wednesday session of Spark resulted in record numbers and a new environment in which students can enhance their leadership potential through self-assessment, self-reflection, practical application, and finally peer-to-peer learning. The Thursday session was the best one yet! We knew it was time to expand to multiple sessions because our annual Thursday session has had repeated success with the recent transition from the Alpha Leadership Experience to the Spark Leadership Series. The LI is offering more programs to more students than ever before because we have a team that makes it happen. Special thanks to the Leadership Institute staff and the Spark Squad.

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