A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

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 – Hannah Long

From her love of plants to veggie burgers (irony…am I right?), Hannah is a character in the best way! She adds a lightheartedness to the office that keeps us on our toes. Hannah and I had the pleasure of working together during her last undergraduate semester with the Ignite Leadership Program (Miranda Joynt was her co-coordinator).

Last year we shared weekly meetings and now we share the Grave (Grad Cave) w/FeFe. Though we’ll only get one year as grad students together, we’ll definitely have many memories to share. One of those memories is when my mom decided to give her a plant, which happened this week.

If you know Hannah, you know that fun, bulldogs, and bird doubles are not to be missed. That’s the energy she brings to our team. She keeps us fun as well as productive. She stepped into the graduate assistant role right away took off running (not literally). She’s been a great friend and team member in the Leadership Institute and we’re lucky to have her.

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Hannah Long is a graduate assistant in CMU’s Leadership Institute completing her first year of graduate school in the Master’s of Arts in Higher Education Administration.


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.

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.