Building Together – Finding Inspiration in Your Circle

Community is deeply important in regards to success, social support, and development. When I look at the community of family and friends that support and build me up, I can’t help but be inspired, hopeful, and deeply grateful. These are the people I love, I support, and care about. One of my intentions is to better express my gratitude toward them all.

The initial idea for this post came last Friday after I sat down with my badass mentor, Lisa Hadden, who does all kinds of great work related to Asset Based Community Development. To quote her, “The greatest diversity is the proliferation of gifts to your community. Our communities should allow space for people to become great.” This struck me in a way that resulted in a great deal of reflection over the weekend. Who was in my life doing amazing work? How could I support them? How can I share their stories?

I thought about mentors, friends, family members, and people that I’ve just stayed connected to in one way, shape, or form. The second inspiration came from catching up with my girlfriend. We talked about proactive strategies related to social issues related to education, politics, and enacting change. She’s a boss, challenges me to really be invested in ways I wouldn’t normally be, and she reminds me that there is good in the world.

The last note focuses on a friend and brother that has been in my life for nearly 10 years. Zo was on Snapchat discussing his journey toward joining the US Navy, having a beautiful baby girl, making long term plans for success, and where his life is headed. Seeing your friends succeed as well as find their niche creates a great sense of pride. He also dropped a few musical gems in between the positive notes.

I look at my circle and see tons of inspiration – My family is doing well (parents, brother, cousins, and so on). My best friend is moving to Georgia soon. My college best friends are in their careers and thriving around the country. Lastly, I LITERALLY (not in the ironic way) have friends on every continent, except Antarctica, that are fighting for good causes, building business, sharing their creativity with the world through music and art, and so much more.

Years ago I had the savior approach many passionate people have at some point or another. “I have to be the one to do it.” “This is my burden to bare” “It has to be me” mindset that can really cause you to do more harm than good. Great friends and mentors serve as a reminder that we, as a community, make the world better. “The world needs less ME and more WE.” Happy Monday, everybody.

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Office Spotlight – Jesi Ekonen

Etsy Shops. Just Follow Your Art. Associate Director. Jesi is the creative genius who doubles as a Student Affairs professional who basically does six jobs. This spotlight is particularly special because I’ve known Jesi for a little over six years now. She interviewed me for LAS Competition Day in 2010.

Knowing Jesi has been a privilege. From the great conversations, to the times she’s pushed me to become a better professional, and all fun and funny moments in between, Jesi has been a tremendous mentor and friend over the years. She loves Dan Ekonen, Betty White and Mr. Jones. She’s wildly talented in the realms of art, whit, and sarcasm, which resulted in the creation of Just Follow Your Art (http://etsy.me/2eqYyTC). And she’s just cool.

Jesi and I share a love of wine/champagne, leadership development, all things potato, and just giving a damn about making the world better in big and small ways. Knowing Jesi has helped me become more creative, professional, and thoughtful. I’ve been lucky enough to work with you, learn from you, and just celebrate good times. Thank you for all you do, Jesi.

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Jesi Ekonen is the Associate Director of the Leadership Institute at Central Michigan University

Office Spotlight – Sarah Fiorillo

From the Grad Coho (Grad Cohort) to the Grave (Grad Cave), Sarah Fiorillo has been as cool as they come. Do you need a friend that is weird, but in a cool way? What about one who challenges you to be better? Well that’s Sarah Fiorillo.

The first time I met Sarah was in a Small Group Communication class. She was in a group called Kitty Power. My group was less creative, and decided to be Incredibly Awesome. After that course, we never crossed paths again. That was until we both started grad school. Over the last year, Sarah and I have shared an office, bottles of wine, presentations, facilitator roles, classes, and roles in several murder mysteries thanks to Jeremy.

Sarah is a supportive individual who thrives in creative environments. From bouncing ideas off one another to Instagram photography, we’ve had some cool memories and lots of laughs. One semester stands between us and graduation. It’s been a good run FeFe. If you’re thinking about going to grad school, make sure you’ve got good people around you. It’ll make all the difference.

 

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Sarah is the Coordinator of Leader Advancement Scholarship for CMU’s Leadership Institute. She is pursuing a career in Higher Education.

How a Messy Room Showed Me the Love in My Life

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I wanted to end today one a positive and grateful note. Too do that I’m going to talk about a realization I had several days ago during a wonderful conversation with a beautiful, passionate, and amazing friend of mine. We talked about love and community and friendship and the importance of recognizing it in our lives. (For my grammar friends, I apologize for that sentence.)

I vocalized that I was looking for love in my life and I wasn’t finding it for the longest time. To set the stage for how I realized my life was full of it, we have to go back in time; I mean wayyyy back to some childhood days. I was messy kid (there’s a difference between messy and dirty). My school shirts landed where they landed, I hated folding my laundry, and my favorite excuse what that geniuses have a place for everything, even when others don’t recognize their organization system. Everything was in its proper place even if it looked like a tornado hit my room. I spent many Saturdays trying to find the easiest way to hide clothes rather than simple folding them and putting them in their place.

Fast forward to my first year of grad school and moving into the housing provided. I am much more organized and I actually put my laundry away. However, I never set my room up to feel like a home. Tables, couches, a bed, a mini fridge and other items all seemed to go in the most practical place. For a year, I felt discontented and unsettled. The arrangement didn’t fit my needs. So I decided to get rid of a few things and reorganize a few objects here and there, which resulted in my room feeling welcoming and reminiscent of home.

You may have ask yourself why does any of that matter and why hasn’t he gotten to the point about love. I’ve purposely delayed the message about love because it is one that is deeply personal. Though introverted and deeply thankful for my private space, loneliness does set in from time to time. In a favorite poem of mine, one of the lines reads, “…Many fears are born out of fatigue and loneliness.” I felt like I was losing my friends and that I was disconnected from those that are important to me. Once I changed my room around, I realized that this could not have been any further from the truth.

At the beginning you found a collection of paintings, books, journals, travel themed items, and many other objects that are all physical representations of the care and love that my friends have for me. I share this because people have different ways of showing affection and care in friendships and relationships. My life is full of love because of the people in it. How they express love is not for me to decide. However, it is my decision and responsibility to see their love through their behaviors and actions. It is also my responsibility to express how I need love to be shared with me. Communication and openness are deeply important practices for friendships, partnership, or relationships of any kind. Love is all around you, you have to be open to seeing it in the ways that others give it.

Food and Life – Final Trip Reflection

Until today, I couldn’t find a way to really bring my trip to a close. Writing a final reflection on such a tremendous journey seemed to be a daunting task. So much happened in three short weeks. New friendships were formed. I saw beautiful, natural places. I slowly explored cities and towns. I ate, drank, laughed, talked, woke up early and stayed up late into the night with strangers and friends. I realized that every decision was intentional. I made decisions about what my life would be like each day, but I remained open to how the experiences would unfold.

Today, I used a skill I learned in Certaldo, Italy. I made my own pasta. Luckily, I stayed in at Fattoria Bassetto and they offered a cooking class. It is definitely one of the highlights of my stay. The entire process took about four hours between the preparation and cooking. After that, seven or eight of us (myself, other guests, the owner of the guesthouse and the chef) shared a meal together during dusk. We talked and laughed during the entire meal and enjoyed one another’s company. We worked to prepare something that all of us would share together. What an interesting way to live?

Traveling has helped reveal the best parts of who I am. It’s given me clarity and insight that I could not get in any other way. Together, consistently and patiently, we worked together to achieve something that would benefit the entire group. These subtle, but deeply important, lessons revealed themselves day after day during my travels. Food and cooking was the avenue through which I was able to recognize the importance of working collectively and methodically, but also with heart and care for others in mind.

My trip has shown me the value of intentionally caring for and working alongside others. I’ve known this inherently, but by intentionally embracing this mindset, I will be better able to help others draw out the best in themselves like others did for me. Like a chef who must draw out complex flavors and marry them together in a way that reveals the food’s best features, I will work to bring together people of differing cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, and histories in order to create a more beautiful, caring, and just world. It is with much gratitude, happiness, and peace that I’ve written this reflection.

Many moments were shared with beautiful, interesting people and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

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