One Year of Blogging – Number 50

This is blog number 50! I started using The Big Picture to reflect on my experiences a year ago this month. It’s amazing to think about all that has happened in a year’s time and to see it backwards by revisiting certain posts. Some highlights are My Life or Master of None, in which I compare my life with a Netflix Series staring Aziz Ansari, What do you want to be when you grow up?, which focuses on navigating life as a young professional and developing skill to land a job you want, and the recent Office Spotlights.

For this post, I want to talk about the benefits of blogging:

  1. My writing has become more precise and focused. Blogging has been a great tool to practice writing without pressure. I can write at my own pace, revisit thoughts, and make edits after taking a step away from it. Is my writing perfect now? Not particularly, but it has gotten significantly better. Some people are gifted writers. I am not one of them, but that doesn’t stop me from practicing. Progress not perfection is my current mindset.
  2. Reflection is immensely important for learning. I have learned many lessons hours, days, weeks, and even months after having experienced some event, taking a class, or participating in an adventure. Quiet, intentional reflection leads to a deeper understanding of some concepts, a heighten sense of self-awareness, and a strong connection to what I experience. It is one thing to take in new information. It is another to process the information so it can be applied later. (It’s also one of my favorite activities as an introvert.)
  3. Stories. Stories. Stories. Storytelling is powerful! I look back on some of my blogs and laugh my heart out. I look back on others and feel a sense of contentment because of how far I have come. While I have gotten better at storytelling, I must say I have a long way to go before I have mastered this skill. Stories bridge the past with the future, which allows us to revisit moments that are important to us. This was a lesson learned from a friend and mentor, Carlos Cortes.
  4. Lastly, I’ve learned that blogging is a simple way to connect with people. There is a human element to many of my posts and often times they serve as a mirror to what others may have experienced or are currently experiencing. Making simple, yet meaningful connections that are rooted in authenticity is deeply important to me. Being able to do that through blogging is an avenue that is only just opening for me. I’m excited to see where it leads!

Here’s to one year writing for The Big Picture.



Office Spotlight – Ellen Wehrman

Today’s Office Spotlight is for the cool aunt that everyone wants to talk to at holidays. The one who looks out for your best interests, but also gives you candy before dinner. Ellen Wehrman joined the Leadership Institute team a little over a year ago and she’s been on a roll since the start.

Ellen is passionate about her husband and kids, sharing desserts, and assessment. I’ve never seen anyone more excited about finding new and INTERESTING ways to gather data and figure out what to do with it. Ellen has also served as a guiding voice for me as a young professional. As one who is passionate about assessment, you can imagine she is passionate about feedback as well. As a young professional with a lot of passion, you can imagine how enthusiastic I am to share my thoughts and ideas. Basically, I need a lot of feedback to flush out my ideas fully.

Ellen has given me tips and coaching on how to balance listening and sharing ideas. She coached me to see that there is power in letting people get their ideas out fully before finishing someone’s sentence or chiming in every few minutes. (I promise it’s the passionate in me). Much like her coaching, Ellen follows this to a T and is a phenomenal listener and coach. It’s been great to have you in the office Ellen and have you as a mentor and coach. We also appreciate the treats, desserts, and candy before lunch!

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Ellen is an Assistant Director in CMU’s Leadership Institute.

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 ( 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 – Jeremy Heinlein

Superman is better… for the record, but we both can appreciate The Flash, Star Wars, conversations about community, culture, positive change, and just about anything (including Batman I guess). We also share a passion for Mexican food, sushi, and chicken and waffles. (Not all at the same time – that would be a bit excessive).

Have you heard of Kip Dangerfield (Jeremy’s LAS Competition Day Alter-Ego)? Well I didn’t either until I returned to CMU for grad school. Jeremy is a creative, passionate individual who adds positive energy to any room. If you’ve seen Parks and Rec, Jeremy is a blend of Chris Traeger and Tom Haverford; positive, excited and up for just about anything. In many exchanges over the last year, Jeremy and I have come up with ideas for a Roman-like communication forum to discuss and debate ideas, potato theme restaurants (copyright pending), and intricate future endeavors.

If you know Jeremy, you know you can always count on a positive environment with lots of laughs, movie trailers, and a willingness to help out whenever. Jeremy’s come in the clutch many of times when putting together programs for the Leadership Institute and Special Olympics. Lastly, I admire Jeremy’s admiration for Noelle, his fiancée, and how he treats her. You’re a stand up guy, my friend. So here’s to you, Jeremy and the many adventures to come.

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Jeremy is Executive Assistant in CMU’s Leadership Institute and is completing a Master’s of Art in Communication. He is a young professional seeking to make a positive impact on the world.

A Final Journey with LeaderShape (for now…)

The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind. I’ve spent time with the staff and fellow Program Coordinators for the Institute with LeaderShape. For those who who may be unfamiliar, LeaderShape is an organization that provides both national and campus based programs focused on creating a more just, caring, and thriving world. Yesterday and part of today, I spent time with their training team and other coordinators who put on and plan the LeaderShape Institute for their campuses

This is not my first experience with LeaderShape or the Institute, but it may be my last (hence the “for now…” in the title). In 2011,  I attended the program, in 2013 and 2014 I served as a Challenge Course Facilitator, and last year (2016) I had the opportunity to be a Cluster Facilitator. This year will be a little different. With graduation looming in May, I have to think about future opportunities, the job hunt, and where I want to be. Between now and then, I will be helping out in the Program Coordinator role.

How fitting it is that a program that introduced me to a life of possibility be the program that I now get to prepare for the next generation of students who will attend. As time has gone by, I’ve learned a great deal as a result of attending the Institute. Even more than attending, I’ve learned a lot from being involved in various roles. To me, five years is a significant amount of time to dedicate to anything, let alone an organization. However, my commitment to LeaderShape and making a better world makes five years seem like the blink of an eye.

A few hours in Chicago with people from around the country discussing leadership seems to be the best way to start my “last” LeaderShape and Institute journey. I reflect on the moments of my experience and the last thing I remember being said to me was You May Begin. Today, I’ve begun and cannot wait to experience all that will happen in between.


An Introvert’s Paradise – The Coffee Shop

The introvert’s paradise can be found in quiet corners, good books, in the sounds of noise canceling headphones that pour out simple, melodic music. It is in the company of others without the obligation to interact, surrounded by clear, non-distracting walls with windows that let just enough light in to feel the sun on your face. The entire place is speckled with small photos or local paintings for sale with just enough greenery to create the feeling of home.

I’ve found refuge in these places all around the world. I seek them out to reenergize, to find peace and quiet, to allow myself to be part of something that is happening without being the focus. Sonder, described as the understanding that everyone is living a life as vivid and interesting as my own, is a beautiful realization. Coffee shops allow me to disappear into the background, to be an extra in someone’s play, and to simply be where I am.

In fact, it is the place in which introverts can be observers, historians of sorts; someone to document what is happening in such a simple, yet meaningful place. Directly in front of me, a friend studying financial analysis with a disdain so evident that she checks her texts every few minutes. A stranger to my left who has tucked herself away from others to study. Walls covered with abstract paintings created by art students. Behind me a photographer editing photos from a wedding. Stock images and cardboard swans sit atop a mantle. White walls brought to life with red couches, brown wooden tables and chairs, and painted doors. It is simple, yet elegant – it is almost poetic. (Not poetic for the sake of poetry, but to feel effortless in its presentation).

A paradise in the sea of an ever-moving life. A simple, stillness created by a shared love of coffee.


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