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.


Office Spotlight – Dan Gaken

I listened to the Cubs fight song while writing this if that tells you anything about Dan Gaken. Last night the Cubs moved onto the World Series for the first time since 1945. History was made; much like what has been achieved under the leadership of Dan Gaken.

Over the years, Dan has served as a mentor, supporter, champion, and advisor to many students across the country. Though he gets to call CMU home, Dan has done some tremendous things for the lives of students around the United States. From the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) ESPN speech to the HEEYYYYYY LAS yell to get everyone’s attention, Dan has stewarded the resources and energy of CMU’s Leadership Institute for nearly 20 years. He’s not old. He just started early.

Much of that time as an individual professional staff member with the help of students and volunteers. Because of his commitment and effort, CMU has truly dedicated support and resources to giving every student on campus the opportunity to discover the leader within and to gain the skills to be their best. I’ve been around long enough (not that long) to see the office increase from two professional staff to the current seven. Much of that is because of the compelling arguments, the unrecognized humble service (thanks for that term Denny), and the consistent belief that leadership is for everyone.

In the slide show, you’ll only see one photo of him at work because he as has a balanced life. He and his partner Erin have a baby girl and a bigggg puppy, Wrigley. Our team in the Leadership Institute is much more than that. We’re a family committed to empowering students to give a damn about the world and making it better. We get to do that because of the vision casted by Dan Gaken and all the work that came before we showed up. Thanks for all you do, Dan.


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Dan is the Director of CMU’s Leadership Institute, a Cubs Fan, Husband and Dad, and a Wrigley enthusiast.

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.


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

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.



The Big Picture!

You can dive deeper into the details if you can already see the big picture. Leadership is about crafting a larger vision for yourself and others, and filling your journey in with the little details. Follow me, as I take my journey as a Graduate Student in CMU’s Leadership Institute to see how my work, thoughts, experiences, and happenings fit into the big picture of making the world a better place! Hopefully, with all the little details I’ll share, you’ll be able to begin to see The Big Picture of a world inspired and ignited to do amazing things for the good of others!

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