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Allowing the Big Shared World Creativity to Flow

From October 2014 to December 2015, I traveled the world with my three questions, venturing forward with the spirit of what I like to call “planned spontaneity.” I had some ideas of where I would go, people I could meet up with, and a general route I would take, but I was completely open to altering those “plans” when an enticing opportunity or destination presented itself. During those fifteen months of on and off travel, I was in complete flow with the Big Shared World journey, immersing myself in whatever experience the path led me to.

In the process of creating a travel memoir about the Big Shared World journey, I launched a crowdfund campaign to pre-order a self-published book. Admittedly I was a bit ambitious in my editing and publication turnaround times, but working on the campaign gave me a much needed break from the massive book document that was ruling my days. Creating the video and campaign content allowed me to look forward in a meaningful, productive way. There was the journey, the writing about it, then the sharing of it. And I was eager to get to the sharing part.

In creating the crowdfund campaign, it felt like a substantial way to re-engage with the people who initially supported my endeavor and were constantly asking for updates, while also reconnecting with the people who brought my journey to life. When people asked, “How’s the book coming?”, I could point them to the campaign page as an indicator that it was on its way.

In the process of reconnecting, the campaign video made its way to my high school’s Facebook page, which received a supportive comment from a retired high-level administrator. I asked to grab coffee to hear her thoughts on how I could share this message with high school students. The first coffee was three hours, followed by another coffee meeting the next week, and the next. It wasn’t long before she mentioned seeing my project as a children’s version of my book (an agent in New York had said the same), and I let the idea sink in. The concept turned into a coloring book about cultures in Minnesota, which turned into an activity book, which continued to evolve over the 1.5 years it has been in production. In hindsight, the production of the activity book was similar to my original journey. They both took much more time and energy than expected, they both transformed along the way, and they both took on a life of their own that I felt honored to be part of.

Last month, I made a big decision to fulfill that crowdfund campaign perks with the activity book instead of the travel memoir, or “book book” as I refer to it. I wrote a long update to the campaign supporters which sums up my thoughts about this decision. The full message is below.

Heading into 2019, I am excited to lead with the launch of the activity book, and to start sharing the work on a whole new, public level. In the co-creation process of producing and launching this book, I have enjoyed conversations that tie the whole original BSW endeavor with this new activity book concept. To me, it is one of the tangible takeaways from the lessons learned during the travels. It is the first of much more to come, and I am so looking forward to the continued journey ahead!

To see the “book book’s” crowdfund campaign, visit the Indiegogo campaign here.

Dear BSW supporters,

It’s been a while since I last shared an update from this campaign. Prompted by Indiegogo, I used to send monthly progress reports until a very dear friend of mine said, “Colleen, your updates just remind us that you aren’t finished.”

The truth is, I totally underestimated the time it would take me to produce a book of high enough quality that felt worth sharing. Since completing the campaign, I’ve worked with three editors, one manuscript reviewer, and even shared a 90,000 word unfinished version of my manuscript with a local book club. While some of this has been helpful and strengthened my book and confidence, some of the feedback made me doubt my work and author ambitions entirely.

Finishing the travels at the end of 2015, I felt satisfied by an initial sense of accomplishment. But as soon as the jet lag subsided and the welcome home’s were over, I felt massively overwhelmed by how to synthesize the experience into an interesting, digestible, compelling narrative. I had done this remarkable global expedition, but the travel was simply the means to the final deliverable. I always set out with the intent to write a book. It was part of my pitch: “I’m going to travel the world, ask people the same three questions, and write a book about it.”

During the book writing process, I’ve felt the pressure of artificial self-set deadlines, especially the one created by launching this campaign. Back in the winter of 2017, I had a manuscript, and it needed editing, but it also needed space to breathe. Many professional authors advise to write your “shitty first draft” (a widely accepted industry term), put it in the back of a closet for several months, work on something else, then come back to it with fresh eyes and renewed energy. As a novice author, I didn’t factor this wisdom into my book writing plans.

After venturing the world and talking to strangers, I turned into a bit of a recluse, often to avoid the perfectly valid question, “How’s the book coming?”

Without the book in hand, I felt unaccomplished. When I shared this sentiment with those who asked about the book’s progress, some people understood and assured me that nobody actually expected me to complete and publish a book within a year of my return. Other people didn’t understand why I couldn’t just get it done. Regardless of their opinions, I knew the quality of the story I wanted to tell, and I wasn’t going to put a book into the world that felt half-baked. All it takes is scrolling through some 1- and 2-star Amazon reviews to know that bad books can haunt authors much longer than a delayed one.

Reluctantly, after realizing I was so far in the weeds with my manuscript that I felt both lost and stuck, I decided to put the Big Shared World book away for a while. In the meantime, I completed an activity book about cultures in my home state of Minnesota!

After navigating vulnerable conversations about my progress with the travel memoir, I was intentional in my decision to keep this new project more behind the scenes. Mainly, to avoid the question, “How’s the activity book coming?”

It was never a secret, but I decided to protect the creative vision and process of this new endeavor by working on it less publicly. I wanted to nurture the idea, give it space to grow and transform, and invite the proper experts to shed light on how best to trim and enhance it. I was able to take ownership of the timeline and vision without the added pressure of people waiting on it, or having certain expectations of what it was going to be. The recently finished 48-page activity book has taken over 1.5 years from idea to publication, proving that quality products just take time. In the end, I am extremely proud of the work that has been done to bring this idea to life.

Our Minnesota Community: A Big Shared World Activity Book never would have been a thing if it wasn’t for this campaign. It was through seeing my video on Facebook that I reconnected with a high-level administrator from my high school and we started to have regular coffees, brainstorming what else I could do to leverage the BSW journey and mission. The conversations evolved into the idea to create a children’s book to celebrate the diversity of perspectives in my home state. I channeled the insights from traveling around the world into a project that centers around curiosity, conversation, and connecting right in my own backyard. In a way, creating such a local tool for engagement has felt like a natural, but unexpected, outcome of the BSW journey.

In the coming months, I’ll be launching that book, and sharing more about the backstory and effort around its creation. There will be companion lesson plans and videos to go with the content in the activity book. I’ll be doing my best hustling to get the book in front of parents, teachers, and other interested Minnesotans.

So, how does this relate to you and this campaign?

I’ve made the decision to send out the campaign perks with the activity book instead of the travel memoir that was promoted. It’s not that I don’t believe in myself to finish a book about the BSW journey. But I have come to understand the pressure this campaign has put on me and that book. I want to free myself from the stress of knowing that people I care about have financially supported the production of a book I have yet to complete, and enter the new year without the burden of owing anybody anything. For those who don’t agree with my decision, please let me know so that I can refund your contribution amount, with no hard feelings. I fully understand that you didn’t back my campaign to support an activity book about cultures in Minnesota.

It is my hope that by getting this campaign monkey off my back, it will give me the freedom to dedicate my energy to the successful launch of the activity book in the new year. I also hope it will open space for new creative energy to re-approach the “book book”, as I like to call the travel memoir. I’m not going to put another artificial deadline on that book. I know there are people who feel the answers to the questions become less relevant with each day that passes (several people – friends and strangers alike – have spoken this sentiment to me), but I know that there are timeless stories and lessons from that journey. Honoring the BSW journey and the people who helped move it forward inspires and guides the continued mission of my life. I hope that anyone who was part of that initial endeavor sees the alignment of this new book, and the potential for so much more that is yet to come.

This week, I will be reaching out to confirm mailing addresses for sending the perks and activity books. I look forward to connecting with you all and hearing updates from your lives. I appreciate each and every one of you who believed in me before, during, and after the Big Shared World journey. I do not take your support for granted and am sincerely grateful for your contribution to me and this campaign.

All the best,
Colleen

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Finding Screen-Life Balance in Generation Hashtag

I recently heard someone say, “If there wasn’t a hashtag, it didn’t happen.” I recently rolled my eyes. I ate breakfast this morning, didn’t hashtag it, and guess what — still happened. #MicDrop

It’s comments like these that inform the latter of my love-hate relationship with social media. But on the upside, there’s a lot I love about these online platforms for engagement. These conflicting beliefs on using social media leave me struggling to find a meaningful screen-life balance in this hashtag driven world.

 

MY TOP 5 LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUES WITH SOCIAL MEDIA:


LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUE #1:

I LOVE social media because…
It provides the ability to connect with nearly anyone, nearly anywhere.
I recently completed a global travel adventure that brought me to 40 countries over 15 months. I set out on this journey with the goal of asking people the same three questions along the way to better understand what I call our Big Shared World (more info on this journey here). Before embarking, I spent some time looking at a map and thinking about destinations, but much more time working on the controlled element of my trip — the three questions.

I wasn’t too concerned about the travel logistics. Thanks to many apps and websites, arriving in a new place is as easy as ever to navigate quickly. I’d traveled enough before to know that open ended itineraries usually allow for better experiences, as well as the flexibility to let people you meet along the way change an afternoon, or entire destination on the road.

I also wasn’t too concerned with how I’d connect with people around the world. By the power of “snowball networking” (taken from the research term snowball sampling when study participants refer the next batch of participants), I figured I’d manage on the go and find plenty of people to talk to, learn from, stay with, and make up the overall interactions of my experience. This peace of mind was likely a subconscious function of the power of Facebook.

I still remember the feeling of anticipation I had when I was finally ready to share my project plans and make it “Facebook Official.” On October 1, 2014, I took off. It was also the first day I announced my ambitious journey to the social media world. I wrote a blog post on the plane ride to San Francisco, connected to airport wifi after landing, and pressed “publish.” The next few days, I excitedly refreshed my notifications to an ongoing flood of likes and supportive comments that came in, confirming my hopes that my network would lend me their couches, friends, and insights along the way.

Below: The “Facebook Official” post for me and Big Shared World.

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I HATE social media because…
We now live in a world with “technology tunnel vision.”
If I was interested in going into a medical field today, I’d either study orthopedics (specifically necks and thumbs) or optometry (eye muscles related to peripheral vision). These are areas I personally believe will be greatly affected by our excessive use of smart phones and screen based devices. Before my travels, I wondered if this obsession with our screens was just an American habit, but I quickly learned it is prevalent everywhere there is an abundance of smart phones. Around the world, there were countless people I saw with their heads down, thumbs tapping away at screens. Some countries were even worse than America – yikes!

Below: The most crowded, yet quiet city I visited was Tokyo. Many with their screens up, heads down.

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I found it disappointing to see so many people going through life with their heads down. Thus, I worry about technology’s impact on narrowing our vision — philosophically and intellectually. A quick search on LinkedIn pulled up nearly 15,000 job openings for “User Experience Expert.” These positions are filled by brilliant people who expertly curate our online experiences. Without us even realizing why, there are certain sites we enjoy using more than others. One of my personal favorites is Huffington Post for news, which uses reader data to determine the articles that appear. While I get disappointed with the prevalence of Kardashian type stories on the news site, I more often than not click through the story and add to the very reason that it is considered high-value content in the “Suggested For You” section. Because who doesn’t find their vapid empire frustratingly fascinating? I also love how Amazon has designed an online shopping experience similar to having a friend in the physical aisle with you, to remind you what you might also want to buy based on what’s already in your cart. Oh right, I need batteries. Thanks, Amazon.

I recently spoke about this phenomenon of curated online experiences during a presentation I gave on “Being a Millennial in this Big Shared World.” I shared about the ability to connect with diverse people and ideas around the world, alongside the rise of our society’s “technology tunnel vision.” This is where the curated content experience is narrowing our viewpoints. Social media sites are perhaps hiring the most clever User Experience Experts. These people build algorithms that present content unique to each user, based on their previous site activity. The more we use the site, the more individually unique our experience becomes. The more unique our experience is, the more we come back to the site. Thanks to their expertise, we don’t just refresh our self-selected newsfeed, we continue to add suggested pages they put in front of us that are recommended to follow, based on our preferences. From people we may know, organizations we may support, products we may like – we are constantly adding layers of cement to our already existing “technology tunnels” in which we view the world through.

Established researcher, Sherry Turkle, wrote about some negative effects of technology on everything from in person interactions, to self-esteem in her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.Her basic premise is that we’re more connected than ever before, but we’re not actually connecting. For those with less time, watch Turkle’s Ted Talk.

Turkle states, “We expect more from technology and less from each other. Technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. We are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we are designing technology that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control.”

Turkle mentions “sociable robots,” which is a topic unto itself as far as whether these invented machines are going to be an asset or detriment to humanity. It was while asking someone my third question, “What do you think the world will be like 50 years from now?” that I learned of the term singularity.

A research engineer said, “Some people think in the near future computers will be as, or more, intelligent than humans. That they may take over the world. It’ll be like a holiday [vacation] for everyone. Or, like The Terminator.”

And if you want to see something that will really give you the heebie-jeebies about the future of socialized robots, see this clip from CNBC aptly titled, “Could you fall in love with a robot?” The lead designer of human-like robot Sophia talks with her conversationally, and speaks of a future in just 20 years where these robots will be walking among us, and “truly be our friends.” I watch a clip like this and am baffled to believe that we live in this incredible, interconnected world full of amazing humans to connect with, yet people feel the need to build a robot to be their “friend.”


LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUE #2:

I LOVE social media because…
I can learn a lot.
The amount of posts to various social media platforms every day means that the information available to people with internet access is immense. Thus, the ability to learn new things is infinite.

According to statistics:

  • ■ Facebook’s over 1.4 billion active monthly users send an average of 31.25 million messages per minute.
  • ■ Twitter’s 288 million active monthly users tweet an average of almost 350,000 tweets per minute.
  • ■ Over 30 billion photos have been shared on Instagram since it was founded just five years ago.
  • ■ YouTube’s over one billion users upload an average of 300 hours of video every minute.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of material out in the social media universe. Sifting through it to find the substance can often be the challenge. And thus, the hashtag was born.

I HATE social media because…
There is a constant expectation to post.
During my travels, I always felt a pressure to post. While I understood most of the encouragement was from friends and people I met who were genuinely interested in following along on my adventure, I still struggled to find the desire to end an enriching day abroad trying to encapsulate it in a post. With Facebook being my personal comfort, I turned to my Big Shared World page for solace by creating photo albums from each destination. Despite my best efforts to keep my Facebook profile updated, every person with a smartphone kept asking me to post on #Instagram.

While I certainly welcomed suggestions for my journey, I found myself almost defending the reasons why I chose to post or not.

“You should be blogging your stream of consciousness.”I don’t want to give the milk away for free!

“You should be on Instagram.” Ugh, I know! I know!

“You should be connecting with other travel bloggers.” I’m not a travel blogger! Travel bloggers review hotels and restaurants at exotic destinations. I’m traveling with a research project.

“You should be writing more.”I write every day, but it’s not in the form of a blog post. It’s a chapter for the book, it’s a response to a place I visited that I want to research more before I fully develop my opinion and understanding of it and share that with the world. It’s an email home with connections to personal issues, or my family’s, that is all part of the larger experience for me, but not something I can share quickly in between destinations.

“You should stop making excuses and be more active online.”Sorry I don’t have time to be more active online. I’m #BusyLiving.

It wasn’t for lack of content or witty captions. I took thousands of pictures, and in our soundbite world, I’d walk around and think of taglines of which I never posted. Before I actually took the time to turn the thought into a post, I had moved on to the next picture worthy moment. I could either have my head down and share the experience, or just look up and experience it. I chose to be more in the moment than about it.

After country 32, I finally did it. I uploaded my first photo to Big Shared World’s Instagram page. When I started posting, it was an activity for me. I’d go to my Facebook album, download photos to my phone, copy/paste the captions into an email and send it to myself to replicate the highlights from the album to my new Instagram feed. I thought I was doing a great job catching up until my new friend from Istanbul Facebook messaged me, “Hey Colleen, I must unfollow you from Instagram because whenever I look at Instagram, I see only your photos. It’s too much Colleen.”

Not long after, my very social media savvy friend from New York called and said, “I see you’re getting the hang of Instagram. Maybe too much?” My brother would text, “#overposting.”

I became jealous of people like Bill Bryson or Studs Terkel, respected authors who researched and explored life with an element of travel, prior to the age of social media. They were able to build a brand after their journeys of discovery, taking time for adequate reflection. I imagine they could immerse themselves in the experience, pause and reflect, write about it later, and not get a book deal based on the interaction of their followers along the way, but the substance of their overall analysis. And while I understand the importance in today’s social media driven world to build these platforms for sharing, it’s overwhelming – not to mention, having to write the larger story.


LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUE #3:

I LOVE social media because…
It’s bringing strange bedfellows together around important causes, current events, and issues.
I understand the value of the hashtag and using social media as a mobilizing force for good. After listening to a rant about my aversion to posting, a friend invited me to a luncheon in Washington DC that he was attending. The event was put on by a local non-profit’s communications team on the topic of “Breaking Through in the Media.” The room was full of smart individuals, all connected to really meaningful organizations. Many had valuable insight on how they used the convening power of online platforms to bring more attention to their cause. This was the opposite of superficial. The social media skeptic in me walked away from the event thinking –yeah, that’s super great, but it all is only relevant because people are so obsessed with their online existence today, and the only way to reach them is to show up effectively on their screens.

 

I HATE social media because…
People think Hashtag Activism is making a difference on its own.
The same friend who invited me to the luncheon hosted a panel event one week later. The speakers were all heavily engaged in various social issue movements. One audience member asked about their thoughts on the future of Hashtag Activism. This is the concept of social media being used to rally support around a specific topic of social concern, perhaps best exemplified by #BlackLivesMatter or the #Occupy movement, campaigns that have directed massive attention to complex issues like race relations and income inequality, respectively.

One of the speakers said that the weakness of #Activism is when people who come together with a hashtag think that’s enough:

“Just because you get a hashtag doesn’t mean you won the battle. Just because you tweeted something doesn’t mean you are done with the work. You now have to find the solution.”

There is definitely a positive effect from the use of social media platforms to mobilize energy and support around an area of concern. As the event speaker pointed out, however, these are complicated issues and calling attention to them is only step one.


LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUE #4:

I LOVE social media because…
Baby boomers and beyond can connect with the younger generations.
I sometimes think I must sound like an 80 year old grandma trapped in a 29 year old’s body. But it’s actually the 80 year olds who are getting social media right, #IMHO (in my humble opinion).

I have a colleague in his sixties who is one of the most consistent voices in my Facebook feed. He shares his beliefs, his work, his family life. And it’s well received by his friends who “like” his posts and often comment with their support, and sometimes a friendly debate. There isn’t a feeling that he is trying to show off, more just showcase what’s going on in his life. I enjoy our Facebook friendship as it makes it easier for us to continue our off-Facebook friendship as I can follow along easily on what he’s been up to in between those interactions.

I think the older generations (baby boomers and beyond) have used social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, as the tools they were designed to be – online mechanisms for sharing opinions and information in a streamlined, mass consumed way. I am happy to hear about grandparents and great aunts, cousins, etc., all able to stay connected with their family no matter where they are geographically. While at the pool in Arizona enjoying retirement, older relatives can follow along on sports games, dance recitals, and other life events and accomplishments that are not possible to be in person for. The power of communication apps like FaceTime and Skype allow this generation to stay connected like never before.

It’s my generation I worry about.

I HATE social media because…
The Hashtag Generation doesn’t know how to connect without #SocialMedia.
I haven’t always been so conflicted with social media. Facebook ruled my world in college. Back in 2005 when I graduated high school, future university students signed up for the earliest orientation possible so that they could get their .edu email address and gain access to the exclusive student-only website, TheFacebook.com. This was about the same time the site joined the iconic likes of Cher, Bette, and Madonna, and became known exclusively by its one name, Facebook.

I remember I had a flip phone and I would have to go back to my dorm room to check my computer in order to see if anyone had posted on my “Facebook wall.” You see back then, it wasn’t about status updates, it was about wall posts! You had one shot at a profile picture and could write some information about yourself in the bio section, but your social “cool factor” was left up to what other people wrote to you on your “wall.” If one of our friends had said something particularly funny, we’d all say, “Oh, post that to my wall.” Even though Facebook wasn’t yet in the palm of our hands through our flip phones, it was definitely on the top of our minds.

Sometimes Facebook would add a feature or change their layout and you would overhear people talk about these updates at the student cafeteria – if Facebook changed, we all had to adapt to it. At first design, it was so college-centric that you could add your courses and find fellow classmates. In fact, I made one of my best friends through posting a message on her wall. It was something to the effect that based on her profile interests of travel and shopping, we should be partners on future class projects. With graduation and .com emails becoming the norm of their average user, Facebook eventually announced that it would open to the public. Chaos ensued on campuses as people realized this meant their parents could become members of the once exclusively .edu site. The history of Facebook changes is fun to reminisce, but it highlights the fact that as these technologies have evolved, so too has our use of them in daily life.

Generation Hashtag (aka millennials) grew up as globalization took over the world, and with it, exponentially increased the amount of technology and communication tools. One look at the evolution of the cell phone showcases how something that seems impossible to live without today has only been around since most of this generation was a baby. Mobile technology and the internet grew into its commonplace role in society, making millennials the first generation where technology was infused into our socialization process.

When I think about the impact of social media on my own generation, I can’t even begin to grapple with my fears of what this virtual reality is going to mean for the next generation. From how we communicate with our best friends to how we date, I see the quality of our interactions going down. For those who grow up in an age where tablets are a part of the elementary school classroom, and social media profiles are allowed before they are even teenagers, I can only imagine how technology will permeate into their socialization process along the way.


LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP ISSUE #5:

I LOVE social media because…
It’s addictive.
While I can harp on the annoyances of social media platforms all day, I would be a hypocrite to say that I’ve found a perfectly healthy screen-life balance. Technology is one of the greatest addictions of our time. Countless studies have shown how social media makes us feel good about ourselves. From the self-esteem gained through people liking our content, to the ability to manage the impressions other people have of us, these platforms allow the opportunity to be an optimally edited version of ourselves. Taking time to craft a thought before we post allows us to be more clever than a real time conversation would. Using filters on our photos allows us to edit everything from our backyards to our blemishes so that our lives appear more beautiful and vibrant than they actually are. Social media allows us to have control over the way others perceive us. As online consumer behavior researcher Liraz Margalit said, “on a subconscious level, we are re-inventing a more positive version of ourselves.”

Social media allows for our natural psychological desire to connect to be satisfied, but in an even more satisfactory way. From an average user who posts occasional thoughts and photos, to bloggers who have established online careers becoming “influencers” in their areas of expertise, social media creates an experience that maximizes the potential for positive feedback. And if there unfortunately happens to be a naysayer amidst the followers, we can just delete their comment and block them as if they don’t exist.

What’s not to love about a world where our screens are like rose colored glasses, if that’s the filter you choose to use?

I HATE social media because…
I really would like to have an uninterrupted, substantial conversation with a friend.
Through reflection, including the writing process of this post, I realize that I mainly hate social media because of what it does to my in-person interactions on a daily basis. When I traveled and approached strangers around the world to answer three meaningful questions about their values and beliefs, people thanked me by the end of our conversations. It was like I had opened up a part of them they were happy to tap into again. Many people said they don’t have these kinds of conversations anymore. I only asked three questions, but it made an impact on them. I believe social media has become a hindrance to the quality of our everyday interactions.

I miss the days when you went to a meal with a friend and:

  • ■ They didn’t take 10 minutes once the meal arrived to capture the perfect angle of the food.
  • ■ The only device used was a fork and knife, not a cell phone which seems to always be next to the silverware line up of today.
  • ■ They didn’t check their phone every time it buzzed, beeped or rang.
  • ■ They actually looked you in the eye and had a full conversation without glancing at their phone.

I miss the days when you invited a friend to lunch and they didn’t bring everyone who had their phone number or email address with them to the table. Today, it’s like two people are getting together at one table, then the booth across from them is the peanut gallery full of intruders to the conversation. It’s a work colleague’s question about an ongoing project buzzing through, a different friend confirming their later plans, a confirmation of a new friend, an update on a sale at their favorite boutique. These all buzz through, and with each glance at the phone, diminish the value of the interaction in front of us.

If we don’t have the self-control to put our phones away for a lunch with a best friend, then I worry the same as that research engineer who introduced me to the meaning of singularity. If technology becomes smarter than us, and we’re already letting it become an extension of ourselves and invade the moments that should be just between humans, then maybe one day it will take over.


In conclusion, I’ll probably need to just #GetOverIt.
I do spend time wondering if social media is a passing phase. As I traveled the globe and asked people about their thoughts of the future world, there seemed to be a lot of wavering on which direction we’ll go. I had plenty of conversations with people who thought that individuals would eventually get sick of living through our screens, and look for a more authentic experience. Many others think we’re definitely going the way of the robot.

Will there ever be a day without Instagram? Apparently the engagement platform does have some cause for concern, with Instagram interactions dropping 40% in 2015. Interesting to note, is the recent news that Instagram will no longer be chronological, but curated. Even if Instagram somehow becomes less popular, there will likely be a new technology platform that takes over. Snapchat, Periscope, Vine… just to name a few of the social media sites on the rise.

Below: A street art piece by LA-based Morley, posted on Instagram

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My overall hope is similar to the answer my high school theater teacher gave me for his vision of the world in 50 years: “We will have evolved technologically to such a point that we will have come to understand that all technology are just tools to make this world simpler and therefore will allow that to happen.”

If that means a few less filters to edit our living experiences through, then that would be a future I look forward to. I can only dream of a day where we collectively establish a more healthy screen-life balance between our curated online worlds and the real one that takes place offline. For now, I’ll just have to #GetOverIt.


And in the meantime, follow me on:
Instagram!Facebook! and Twitter!
I may not post often, but it’ll boost my confidence to know you’re there.

And don’t forget to ANSWER THE BSW 3 QUESTIONS!!!

 

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16 Goals for 2016

It was the end of November when I sent an email home to my core family members saying I may end the trip early, citing being over “living out of ziploc bags and a suitcase” alongside my desire to “set up my own place again, have stability, and sleep in the same bed for two weeks in a row!” I was considering cutting my Africa travels short to fast forward to India and the Big Shared World finish line.

It was the thoughtful response from my older brother John that gave me the spark to keep going.  While he wrote that he’d be happy to have me home safe and sound… “On the flip side, right before you left, you told me that on this last leg, that you didn’t want to skip or miss out on anything and didn’t have a set date to be home.  It was more of an “I’ll be home when the work is done” type of attitude. So I’d hate for you to have spent so much time, energy, money, etc. and then cut the last leg short for any reason… I think when you are able to see the finish line on a project, sometimes people have a tendency to not run as hard to that line as they had the first part of the race. If you don’t think you’d have any regrets being done, then I’d say head home, but if even a small part of you says that this was my plan, I’m already on this end of the earth, I may as well finish strong, then finish what you started…

Its not like when you are done with the traveling part you are done done.  You still have a ton of work to do…”

To know my brother and me is to know we have a little bit of an ongoing sibling rivalry, with some oldest/youngest tension in the mix. We are part of one of those families that is extremely involved in each other’s lives. With that comes the pleasure of having a strong family support system no matter what life throws at you, but also the natural opinions that come from being in close proximity to each other. John was the only person in the first stages of my initial idea to travel the world with three questions who actually challenged it. I was so hurt to not get his immediate approval, but by the time I finished crying to my peacemaker middle sister about our conversation, he had taken the time to email me an apology for coming across as unsupportive. He wrote paragraphs full of ideas and insights, and finished with the simple thought that humbly summed up some of the emotion behind both our responses; “I’m jealous that you can even think about an adventure like this!”

It was fitting to me that at the end of this global journey, one that I’d like to think has made me a better individual in the process, it was my brother who had become my source of energy to finish strong. Continuing my journey in Kenya after hundreds of responses to the BSW questions, I had my first answer that truly shocked me. To the question “what does a good life mean to you?,” a bright eyed young woman answered that her life had been full of difficulties making her not actually know what a good life means. After finishing the other questions and turning to a more casual conversation, she stunned me again as she asked what my answer to the question about a good life was so that she could have something to strive for. As if that wasn’t profound enough for a reason to have kept going, it was also in Kenya where I reconnected with a colleague who spends time between Nairobi and Washington DC. Just as I thought heading home would help satisfy my craving for future stability, we spent time in Africa discussing ways we can work together in the future. And when I go to DC this coming week to find a new place, I have a full day meeting for a project we’ll be collaborating on. Highly doubtful that all would have transpired had I not kept going.

Alongside encouragement to keep traveling, my brother’s email finished with some wise foresight of what I faced when I return to the “real world” that my BSW journey had arguably taken me away from. This reality is one with fast paced expectations, constant updates, and rewards for the most cleverly curated content, where significance and substance are often treated with less interest than the trivial and topical which is easy to like and share.

As my brother’s email supportively reminded me of all the immediate pressures of the world I would return to upon arrival back home, it gave me the foresight to begin making a list of goals for the new life I would like to establish upon my return to “reality” after being away. While certainly I have seen and experienced cultures that have vastly different values than those in my home country, many of which I relate to much more than the ones under which I was raised, I still desire to not only live within the one I come from, but thrive here. For me, the new year’s biggest challenge will be to consistently incorporate all the beautiful lessons I have learned while away as I establish my new life back home.

MY 16 GOALS FOR 2016:

1. Create a home conducive to hosting friends and family.

I have always loved to have a home where people feel comfortable coming to. As I look at places to live in Washington DC, I don’t just think about if I can live there, but if it’s a place I’d see a friend sharing a coffee on my couch, or enough space to host a couple friends passing through town. I have a lot of favors to return when it comes to crashing on a couch!
2. Cook delicious food.  
It’s not just important for me to eat healthier, but to learn more about food through cooking and all the benefits of certain spices and flavors. As well, to develop a comfort in the kitchen where I can really enjoy preparing meals for friends and family. In Thailand I took a cooking class where I learned to make a Thai chicken basil stir fry that has already become a family favorite! The joy of serving this to rave reviews has been an awesome feeling to experience.
3. Really enjoy the moments with the people in front of me.  
While traveling, I was in a different time zone from home most days, and people didn’t expect an instant response from me. I learned to put my phone away. Most of the notifications don’t actually matter, and true friends don’t seem to mind a little delayed reply, especially when my communication is more focused as I try to give everyone my actual attention when with them. Now that I’m back in the US, one of the most annoying things to me is being with my friends I haven’t seen in months, and having their phones on the table, checking it while we talk, letting other people come into our time together. My phone now remains in my purse as much as possible!
4. Stay genuinely connected with people I’ve met.
Thanks to Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, email, and a million other ways, I look forward to having more time to reconnect with all the amazing people who have made the BSW journey so incredible and rich for me.
5. Volunteer.  
Now that I will have a permanent address for a bit, I’d like to establish a permanent connection to the community I live in through service.
6. Establish physically healthy routines.  
Of course every New Year goals list has to include to workout more, but I also mean to walk a mile instead of calling an uber and getting a bike when I move to DC for the longer distances.  I specifically remember the feeling of health in Copenhagen with all the bike lanes and bike baskets full of people’s daily needs. While I could definitely use some more dedicated workouts, an overall healthy lifestyle is most important to me.
7. Buy a real alarm clock.  
The bigger goal is to establish more healthy and routine sleep habits.  At a retreat in Bali, we were constantly told of how bad the light in technology is for restfulness at night. Using a phone as an alarm clock makes it easy to also use it as an end of day sleep distraction, and beginning of day wake up procrastination. For tips, sleep advocate Arianna Huffington has dedicated a webpage of sleep and wellness content to learn from.
8. Grow spirituality and learn about faiths that help others on this path.
I started the BSW journey a pretty comfortable atheist/agnostic, and have happily ended more spiritually open and curious. While I am in no way trying to ascribe my beliefs to an existing religion, I do look forward to learning more about all outlets people use to find purpose and meaning with their time on this planet.
9. Develop my hobbies! Do more random things to the fullest!
I love people that are avid about their side interests. When I went to a writer’s conference this fall, I met people who are passionate closet authors. They go to their completely unrelated day job at 9 am, after waking up at 5 am to clock in several hours writing their sci-fi young adult romance novel. While I intend to make writing a major priority, I want to develop side hobbies that wake me up at 5 am to do before I write.
10. Spend money effectively.
Nearly any person that sold me something along the BSW journey will likely tell you that I enjoy a good bargain, from the process to the price! I am happy to see articles confirming my good decision to spend my own savings on experiences rather than things, but it’s important to be sure to get the most bang for your buck wherever possible so that you can experience as much as you can. Especially through international travel, you start to see the value of money in a whole new light. As I move back to the US where the most successful businesses are the ones who convince you of all your material needs, I hope to maintain healthy spending habits that allow for more life adventures to come where I can splurge on unique one-of-a-kind Moroccan rugs and Indian furniture instead of more mass produced things I really don’t need.
11. Use commute and waiting time productively.
Listen to more podcasts! While on my cross country road trip through South Africa, I listened to so many podcasts for the first time ever. It was great to learn so much and be entertained instead of just singing to Adele’s “Hello” on repeat.  (Not that I didn’t do that a lot too…)
12. Learn new ways to make life easier.  
This probably means that instead of writing journal entries in my notes section on my phone, emailing them to myself, then copy/pasting them into a word doc, I should probably just use evernote, google docs, and other more direct means of useful technology and apps to store my thoughts and information.
13. Write more thank you notes.
Being gracious is actually good for YOU. And we all know it feels great to be appreciated and thanked for our efforts. So it’s a win-win to actively work at thanking more people.  I’d like to make this a constant practice.
14. Read more books.
I’m guilty of buying a lot of books on Amazon that make my shelf more sophisticated than my mind. Taking the time to actually read is something I want to establish in my life. Once I check off item #7, then I’ll incorporate Bill Gates’ daily practice of reading an hour every night before bed.
15. Share the Big Shared World experience.  
This blog marks the beginning of the new year and a more stable location environment than the last year which included over 40 countries. One of the hardest things for me was to allow myself to just be in the moment and remove the pressure to always share what I was doing in order to build a following. Now that I am home, I look forward to growing the existing platforms I have established for sharing, and increasing the BSW presence on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and who knows what new mode of communication in the year to come!
16. Write a really awesome book!
Last, but absolutely not least is to really spend time putting together a read that is worthy of the amazing story that the Big Shared World journey really was!
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I love the photo above that my friend’s dad snapped of me at the Sikh religion’s most holy site, Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India. While it appears I’m busy texting or Facebooking, this was me doing as I always did in moments of inspiration along the way – writing thoughts for my future book!! 

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Writing My Way Into BSW’s Third Act

I have spent the better part of the last couple months in “writing mode” which means I’ve been thinking about the story of this big journey I’ve embarked on. To be totally honest, some relationship struggles that came up on my last travel leg had me pretty down, questioning my energy level to finish what I started.

 

Knowing my end goal of writing a book, I decided it was time to get productive and start processing the experiences I’ve had thus far. I even found myself an amazing book coach who gave me a master class in story writing as I shared with her the events of my story. While I’ve never had a therapist, it felt like therapy sessions as she informed me that I was in my “low point.”

 

It’s been powerful to see myself as the main character of my own story – rooting for a happy ending to this big endeavor I set myself out to do. And what’s really great is that I finally feel like I’ve risen from my low and am ready to embark again. According to my book coach, this begins my “third act.”

 

In the midst of lots of reflecting over the past couple months, I’ve organized my journal entries and notes from along the way. I came across this statement I wrote in Bali. I am so appreciative of the people who encouraged me to go in the first place. I don’t know if I’d be selfless enough to support a journey of this magnitude for someone I felt so close to. For those individuals, and they know who they are, I thank you greatly. You are the backbone of this enlightening journey.

 

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What part of someone’s day do you want to be?

We’ve all heard the phrase advising not to judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Jonathan Novick, a 22-year-old man with Dwarfism helped us do just that by filming peoples’ reactions to him during a day in his life. By putting a camera in a button on his shirt, we experience an average day in Jonathan’s life living in New York City. From the subway, to the streets, to a restaurant, I can personally say that I’ve never experienced the reactions to him that Jonathan did just in that day. I imagine it must be exhausting to keep his head held high while he challenges others in this short video, “Don’t Look Down On Me.”

In the end, Jonathan challenges viewers:
“I’ll ask that the next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like. Think about all of the events of their life leading up to that point and think about their day. And think about, what part of their day do you want to be?”

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#MCON: Exploring “The Power of Influence”

This time last week I was on the plane home after attending the MCON conference in Chicago, Illinois.  Start to finish, I was really excited to be participating in a conference with a presenter line up, and audience, full of DO-ers. You see, in the community of people heard saying “I want to make the world a better place,” it can seem like there is no shortage of conferences to get people together and talk about just that – their desire to be a part of the response to today’s issues.  The sentiment is lovely, but the execution can feel underwhelming as many times it can feel like an imbalance between the desire to do, and the actually doing.  At MCON, I walked away feeling like I had just interacted with people who were waking up every day to DO GOOD.

 

Perhaps the reason that MCON is more about actually doing than just talking about potentially doing is because it didn’t even start as an in-person conference.  In 2011, MCON’s brilliant founder Derrick Feldmann and his excellent team of researchers at Achieve decided they would host an interactive online event to share their research on millennial engagement around causes.  The event was a success prompting 2012 to double in participation, and grow in content to really strategize on how to connect with millennials effectively.  Demand driven, 2013 brought the first in-person conference.  2014 and last week’s 2015 conference brought several hundred fortunate people together in Chicago, alongside many more thousands tuning in from home and work.

 

The backbone of the annual convening is the release of Achieve’s Millennial Impact report which delves into the topic area of how the Millennial generation connects, involves, and supports causes.  This topic is interesting and important to millennials ourselves as well as the baby boomers who are often supervising us, marketing to us, or even trying to cross generational borders and genuinely connect with us.  “The Power of Influence”, MCON’s 2015 theme, is described well by Feldmann’s comments in the report, stating, “The Millennial generation is influential. From their buying power to their handle on the limitless potential of social media, Millennials can address issues and be a voice for causes like no other generation before them.”

 

The MCON conference lineup was back to back full of incredible leaders, from founders of small start ups to leaders of multi-nationals, and to the lead singer of the band O.A.R. (which I have a massive new respect for knowing how heartfelt and mission-driven of a person Marc Roberge).

 

Some standout MCON speakers and attendees:

 

KIND’s CEO Daniel Lubetzky –

In a candid talk about his snack food company KIND and several other ventures for social change, he shared his appreciation for failure and humility as he’s grown his company through passion and a lot of hard work, and a strong vision “to make the world a little kinder one snack and act at a time.”  I’m sure every person in attendance wanted to either hug him or work for him by the end of his time on stage, or perhaps both!

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Inspiring to meet such an incredible man full of good thoughts, strong work ethic, positive energy, and a bunch of other things that make KIND my new favorite snack brand!!

 

Cordes Foundation’s Stephanie Cordes 

The reason I found out about MCON and one of my favorite friends on earth, Stephanie shared insights of the growing field of millennial philanthropy and the trends she has seen through her time as Vice Chair with her family’s foundation.  With a special focus on fashion, Stephanie talked about this generation’s attention to conscious consumerism and desire to live their lives ethically and with attention to the greater community.

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Stephanie Cordes sharing insights on trends seen in millennial generation philanthropy and overall spirit of conscious living and consumerism. 

 

Conscious Company Magazine’s co-founders Maren Keeley and Meghan French Dunbar

These two millennials had the idea to create a magazine that talked all about the trends, companies, organizations, movements happening in a world where consumers are focusing on the impact of the products they consume.  Fiercely entrepreneurial and incredible examples of turning a dream into reality by just hitting the ground running, CC hosted a booth with their first three issues of the magazine.  Beautiful, sleek, and full of awesome info – get your copy today at Whole Foods across the US!

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Having a blast with the CC co-founders at their #MCON photo booth!

 

Miir’s Bryan Papé

Founder of the Seattle-based water and bike company who spoke about the values behind his social business, where purpose is just as important to the company’s business plan as profit.  As well as giving a great talk about founding and growing his company, he was kind enough to answer the Big Shared World questions.  An entrepreneur to the core, amidst his answer to what a good life means to him, Bryan said, “Pursuing your dreams and kicking down doors – if I didn’t kick doors, I wouldn’t be here. Traveling and being open to new ideas. Never being concrete or too certain of something – open to uncertainty. And empathy is really important.”

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Enjoyed chatting with Bryan Papé about his awesome company and excellent BSW insights.

 

Even the volunteer ushers were amazing people, such as El Chen from University of Michigan who has spent her time curating prison art exhibits where some of the images had me totally breathless.  Hopefully more to come on this in BSW Voices!

 

For more information on the conference and the many more incredible speakers, be sure to check out #MCON on social media and their website: www.MCON.events

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The Feeling of “Never Enough”

Since October, I have been to 24 countries and asked my three questions of over 450 people officially.  That’s not including the several hundred other people I interact with along the way and casually explain the concept behind Big Shared World, which is usually followed by an incredibly stimulating conversation of their thoughts on the world and my project in general.

 

I have been back and forth from my family’s home in Minnesota six times amidst this journey, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for several weeks.  When I go “home” I also like to include trips up north Minnesota to my family’s lakeside cabin, and trips to Washington DC where I catch up with my closest friends and professional contacts.

 

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Enjoying being home in Minnesota with my brother and sister and niece Gianna

 

On the backend, I have been managing a website redesign which has me so proud to be writing this post from the beautifully constructed new site thanks to my friend Ryan’s family’s company SEADEV based in Danang, Vietnam where I visited just a couple months ago.  After complimenting the website for Ryan’s music career he told me of the connection and I was immediately excited to get to Vietnam and work with the team myself to start plans for the revamp that you see here today.

 

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With the SEADEV team in Vietnam (Ryan with the thumbs up in front)

 

A lot of people, my friends and family included, would say I’m doing great, accomplishing what I set out to do.  But somehow, in this world where achievement is measured by the amount of likes on our most recent Facebook post, I feel behind my goals.  I’m supposed to have thousands of followers by now, be blogging constantly, sharing my insights along the way, and leveraging those remarks to get picked up by relevant online outlets that could help promote my journey.

 

But that’s not MY journey.  That’s my journey for the sake of others’ amusement.  In the spirit of what I’ve set out to do, I have found myself constantly attracted to other peoples’ journeys.  My reading list is full of female travelers who have uncovered a new place, and in the meantime, a new part of themselves, previously untapped and now forever changed.  I have taken great note of individuals I come across who did something life altering, whether it was a cross country move, a defining relationship they started or ended, a topic they studied, or anything that took them on a different course from the one they had originally set out on or planned.

 

My journey is a very personal experience amidst a lot of global interactions.  Sometimes it’s a person that’s totally different from me who says a word I’ve heard a million times before, but somehow in the way they use it, the word has a whole new meaning.  For instance, when I was in South America I heard a lot of people say the biggest threat to humanity was “contaminación” which translates to contamination, or better known as pollution.  Viewing environmental degradation from the meaning of the former has a much more profound implication to me, as something is not just dirty but impure.  This started the follow up exploration of what development means to the people of these countries, and what the true costs and benefits are from their perspective.  Many times my interactions have me learning about peoples’ relationships and family values, or thoughts on our society’s expectations for these.  I’ve shared with many people along the way my own difficulty with my sister’s painful divorce.  After nine years of building a life together, two of them as a married couple, our whole family was shocked when her husband went outside their marriage, all while their little daughter was just six months old.  A large frustration from my end has been the role the family is expected to play in celebrating a couple’s love during their wedding and marriage vows, but the complete backseat expected to play when someone decides to dishonor those.  It’s been difficult to process that this behavior is apparently perfectly allowable in today’s world of family values.  Being the most pure person I know, I have watched my sister cope as her now ex-husband contaminated not only their marriage and family, but the essence of who my sister is and all the goodness she embodies.  While my sister is coming to terms with her own life journey through this circumstance, it has been an intrinsic part of my own due to the closeness I have with my family, and the way in which we share our joys and sorrows together.  Through sharing this story along my journey, however, I have had people share their stories of betrayal and hurt, and have heard extremely powerful examples that give me hope that my family’s own situation will be better than the one we had all planned for by making space for a more worthy future, despite the aggravating process to getting there.  Another notable element of my personal journey is collecting new friends that thanks to the ability to stay connected these days, I hope will be in my life for decades to come, crossing paths along the way.  Just this week, I went landmark hopping in Washington DC with Amanda, a Swedish girl I met in Cambodia while she was interning for Nomi Network, an anti-human trafficking organization I have a connection to.  Not only are my new friends a positive takeaway from my Big Shared World journey, but I have seen connections with friends and acquaintances alike deepen as I have shared this experience of my personal findings amidst this global exploration I have embarked on.

 

capitolAt the US Capitol with Amanda

 

As part of my time in Asia, I knew I wanted to attend a retreat of some sort.  In this magically spiritual part of the world, I thought it was important to connect with a higher purpose in some way.  Thanks to the power of Facebook and a friend of a friend liking a post, I came across the link for Realign Retreats, a weeklong experience in Bali, Indonesia specifically meant to help on-the-go entrepreneurial types unplug for the week and “download a new internal operating system” as they liked to say for us to relate to as we learned new practices and techniques for mediation and mindfulness.  At the beginning of the week, we had to identify a word to focus on as our intention for the retreat.  Mine was “clarity.”  It was less about Big Shared World and more about the personal clarity I hoped to experience in order to allow greater focus on the objectives of BSW.  In the end, and especially after a day of silence, I really just missed home a lot and realized that taking a whole week to focus on my personal life only made me homesick for the people who were supporting me from the other side of the world.  A fellow retreater had the intention word “enough.”  I didn’t relate with her word as much as some of the others, but it resonated with me this past week as I evaluate my own feelings of not doing enough.  The gap between what is done and what is to be done makes for the feeling that no matter what we do, it’s never enough.  When you wake up thinking you’re not doing enough, it’s not a motivating way to start the day.  You feel the weight of all that isn’t rather than the pull toward all that has been accomplished and just the mere act of continuing that which helps to grow, even if it’s little by little.

 

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Realign Retreat intention bracelets

 

We live in a fast paced world.  From my many interactions with people about the world we live in, this is arguably not the most positive trait of our modern world.  Sure, we have days that are so full of fun and excitement thanks to the ability to get around with ease, but there is a general longing I’ve heard for days where it takes a full day to accomplish something simple, but meaningful.

 

While acting as a tourist earlier this week with Amanda, I was intrigued during the tour of the Ford Theater (where President Lincoln was shot) to learn that his inaugural journey into the nation’s capital in 1861 was on a 13-day train tour from Springfield, Illinois.  With the first airplane flying in 1903 and the first commercial airline founded in 1919, it’s a wonder to think of all the progress that’s been made in our world before the age of modern transport, modern technology, and modern social media updates and communication.  With these musings, I cannot help but think of all the advancements we take for granted every day, and also wonder what means of connecting today will be outdated and surpassed in the times ahead.

 

Alongside the pleasure I take from reading modern travel journeys while on my own globetrotting adventure, I also love to gain insight from social commentaries of decades and centuries past.  It’s an honor when people hear of my project and think of a legendary work such as Studs Turkels’ Working, which documented American workers in the early 1970s, a time largely focused on agricultural and industrial production.  Going back further, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, a French Aristocrat’s observations on equality and individualism, among other impressions he made during traveling the United States over nine months in 1831.  These works, full of Tweetable content, Instagramable images, and Facebookable insights, were developed in a time where thoughtful journeys worth sharing understood the value of time and space for contemplation and sincere reflection on what was being witnessed and experienced.  Perhaps their historic relevance in today’s world is because of the timelessness that comes with heartfelt, topical, reflective analysis that is valuable both in the moment, and for generations to come.

 

dc windowWritten from my current makeshift “corner office” in Washington DC

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Tres Preguntas: BSW Latin America

In just over a month, I took the BSW questions south to seven countries in Latin America. The whirlwind experience was full of so much warmth and hospitality, I felt like I could have settled down and stayed in each destination for over a month! The beauty of BSW is that the questions allow for me to meet people and interact on this uniquely intimate level so quickly.

What does a good life mean to you?
This question elicits a person’s most precious life elements whether it mean strong relationships with family and friends, a career that gives their life value and meaning, or the simple appreciation for having their basic needs met. This question wonderfully sets the tone for a warm BSW conversation about a person’s values.

In your opinion, what is the biggest threat to humanity today?
This question is where I most often hear, “wow, that’s a big question.” It’s not an everyday conversation. Sure, we here the news everyday and are impacted by global issues, but it is not everyday we sit and think about what the most pressing of those issues really is. When we talk about threats, we think about what exists in the world that can take away a good life as we know it. This taps into our fears for our own existence, the existence of our family and friends, and any other human element. This question provides a depth to the conversations that form the most personal elements of the BSW interactions for me.

What do you think the world will be like 50 years from now?
This question combines the first two in asking people to think if their own good life is going to be better, worse, or same in 50 years time, given the threats that humanity faces. It is here in the BSW experience where my own future outlook ebbs and flows as I learn what others around the world think our collective future entails. I hear the word “hope” a lot, with people differentiating what they “think” and what they “hope” the world will be like. For some, there’s a real feeling that we’re nearing end times, that we’ve exhausted our resources and lack the combined empathy and urgency to really alter the future path. For others, there is extreme optimism from the energy of the next generation across the globe that wants to be a part of making the entire world a better place.

For me, the recipient of these answers, I feel so much appreciation for each person who takes the time to give their honest thoughts and opinions. I learn something different from every single person, and I truly cherish each interaction along the way. Each place is defined by the people I connect with, which makes the whole experience overwhelmingly wonderful and gives my extroverted self the oomph to keep on going this incredible BSW Journey.

As a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the stories that help BSW Latin America take form…
In the overview of the journey below, each country is linked to the Facebook photo album.

BSW started mid-January in MEXICO with a stop first in Mexico City. While many questioned the safety of this massive city, I felt perfectly comfortable staying in an Airbnb in the beautiful Roma Norte neighborhood. Big thanks to Ramses, a friend I had met through my work with Who Cares? a film on social entrepreneurship. Ramses works with Ashoka U, the premier organization in promoting and aiding in the development of the next generation of change makers around the globe, especially through education. Ramses welcomed me personally, and introduced me to several other savvy, bright thinkers to learn from during my time in Mexico City. After a few days there, I flew to the coast city of Manzanillo where very good friends, Dave and Lani from Minnesota, have a place. The Minnesota hospitality traveled with them down to Mexico and I was delighted to spend time with them and meet their group of friends which included a large amount of Canadians who also seek warm refuge in the cold winter months. While BSW hasn’t made it to Canada yet, I definitely have some awesome new friends who opened the invite!

After Mexico, BSW took to South America starting in BRAZIL. I flew to Sao Paulo and was greeted by my old boss and good friend, film director Mara Mourão. After over a year of working together remotely over Skype and email, it was fun to see her in action and meet her colleagues and friends who have supported her efforts from another hemisphere. Also a treat, to meet her clever son Theo and spend time with her generous husband Wellington while staying at their home. From Sao Paulo I flew to Rio de Janeiro where I must say was one of the highlights of this leg of BSW. How can you not love a city that has a beautiful beach lining it for miles on end. From a friendly Airbnb welcome to my last hours in the city spent on a favela tour, I met some of the most kind hearted people during these days. A major highlight was dinner with Marcelo and his wife Daniela. I met Marcelo on an airplane flight from Chicago to New York five years ago and shared my enthusiasm for international development after working with a farming project in Kenya. This conversation changed the course of my life forever when a few years later he remembered my excitement while he watched Mara’s film and thought he would be missing something big if he didn’t connect us two. Long story short, I’ve been citing Marcelo as part of my most influential reasons I am doing what I am doing today, and he had no idea the effect he had on my life. It as a real treat to spend time with him and his family. I am very grateful for my 10-year tourist visa to this beautiful country – I will certainly be back!

From Brazil I flew to Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA . My first impression of this city came in 2007 when I spent a month studying abroad in this gorgeous place. Back then, I was swept away by the city’s intoxicating energy. Upon arrival, noticing landmarks and places I had walked before, I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered what an impact this city had on me. I was fortunate to stay with Mara’s best friend from childhood Gisela, who is a top diplomat for Brazil, currently posted in BA. The glimpse into her life was enough to have me questioning whether I should take the foreign service officer exam immediately or continue on with BSW as planned. I stayed BSW course and had drinks and coffees with several friends of friends who were all wonderful reflections of this magical place.

From Buenos Aires, I took a night bus to Mendoza, the main wine region in the country, and one of the best in the world. I enjoyed a vineyard tour literally right after I woke up and got off the night bus. The next day, I was thrilled to see the family vineyard of a friend from New York. My friend Laura’s mother Emma generously hosted me as I passed through and I enjoyed a charming visit to their Dolium Vineyard, as well as a lovely neighborhood stroll through downtown Mendoza. These are the moments that are truly surreal as I travel and am so kindly welcomed from extensions of the people I am lucky enough to know and call friends.

Another bus and I arrived in Santiago, CHILE. This stop was a highlight not only because the city is very beautiful and full of excellent dining and lineups of activities to keep busy. The highlight was really in spending my days with Roberto, a friend of Julio who I had met in Mexico City and asked the BSW questions of. It makes perfect sense that these two are friends because they both have such soft hearts and strong values, an excellent combination for a man. Roberto showed me around Santiago, and also a day trip to Valparaiso and Vino del Mar. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I’ve never seen a more colorful, artistic neighborhood in my life.

While I loved my experiences in major Latin American cities, I knew it was important to get some different places and perspectives to add to the BSW sampling. While looking on the map and asking people along the way, I decided on La Paz, BOLIVIA and was thrilled with my decision the moment I landed. Here was a capital city with so much buzz and life, but still so different from the cities I had traveled through in the previous weeks. My eyes were in heaven with all the bold colors of the hand woven tapestries lining the shops in the streets. Some of the people looked like postcard images of times past, especially the older women with their big skirts, blankets carrying babies or groceries on their backs, and some even in the popular miniature top hat. On the same street, most of the next generation looked plucked from any other place. The mix of old and new was stunning, even on a rainy day.

From La Paz, I traveled around Lake Titicaca, which is half claimed by Bolivia, half by PERU. The people who live along this increasingly popular tourist path have seen their communities change more in recent years than in many generations past. It is an odd feeling to be part of the very problem that seems to be bothering people – how to appreciate the benefits of a tourist industry while maintaining the identity and culture of a place steep in traditions. The epitome of this being Machu Picchu, which I was surprisingly able to include in my BSW journey and happy to cross it off the traveling bucket list.

The final stop of this whirlwind tour was COLOMBIA. With a best bud from DC flying to spend the weekend in Bogota, to new friends thanks to another DC friend sharing her family and friends from home while she’s living and working in the US. The hospitality in Colombia was the perfect hug goodbye from BSW Latin America. It left my thankful for all that had made up the experience, and also very excited to go back to some of these places in a different capacity one day…

And now as I publish this from Seoul, South Korea, it’s officially time for the next BSW chapter to continue!!!

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Five Truths of a Personal Journey

While in Sao Paulo, my hosts suggested we go to the movie Wild, a film that tells the story of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) who walked over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to halt the downward spiral her life had become following her mother’s death. While I would never be capable of such a physical and solitude-filled feat, I was drawn by Cheryl’s commitment to the process of discovery that comes with embarking on a personal journey that will change the course of the rest her life.

In the midst of my own journey of discovery, I noticed parallels between Cheryl’s journey and that of mine with Big Shared World. While each person who sets out on a path of reflection is remarkably unique, there are overlapping themes that can be found throughout.

YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
When I first shared the idea with my parents and asked for their approval, my mom said, “Colleen, you don’t need permission to do anything.” Wait, what?!? I can quit my jobs, move my stuff home, and just spend down my savings account while traveling the world for an indefinite period of time?! Her response, “It’s your life. Nobody can tell you what to do and not do. Plus, it makes a lot of sense. This is what you do. You travel the world, it’s always been part of who you are.” After this conversation with my mother, the woman I trust for advice on my most important life decisions, I knew it was entirely up to me to say yes to the journey of my dreams. At that time, it all felt like an ambiguous dream, even myself questioning how exactly it would come together.

In Wild, Cheryl sees a book about the PCT and immediately feels compelled to do it. She doesn’t ask anybody if they approve, she just started to plan for the experience. I can relate to the moment in her hotel room the night before she embarks on the trek. Arms full of supplies, a bag of brand new items from REI – she’s ready as much as she’ll ever be, and at the same time could never be fully ready for what is ahead until it presents itself.

Whether the journey ahead is 1,000 miles, or around the world, it has to be owned by the person who sets out to do it. And once one has decided to leave life as they know it behind and take on this personal endeavor, the rewarding experience is deeper than anything someone could ever give you permission to do.

YOU MUST HAVE SOME ELEMENT OF PERSONAL FREEDOM
Not too many people who are extremely satisfied with their job, perfectly settled into life, making regular payments on a house, car, and other expenses, would have the idea to just leave it all behind for a bit and go start a new course. This is what vacation is for – to get away from one’s regular life for a period of time. A life altering journey, however, requires an element of personal freedom, for better or worse, from the above mentioned.

In the film, Cheryl was at a point of no return and needed something completely different to change course. When I originally shared my idea, people said it reminded them of Eat, Pray, Love, a story about a woman who gets divorced, needs change of scenery to change her life, and spends equal time in Italy, India, Indonesia, eventually meeting the love of her life and writing a book about the experience. My initial response to that comparison was that I was not actually trying to eat, pray, love my way out of my real life. Instead, I was trying to take my reality and confront its relationship with the rest of the world. To evaluate myself and my life within the bigger issues of today’s global society. For me, it was a weird time. Working jobs from my couch in a tiny expensive apartment in Washington DC which I lovingly referred to as “my box.” When my sister’s world started to spiral out of control, I spent most days working from her couch in Minnesota. I’d fly back and forth, making my expensive box even less worth the price. With one job naturally coming to an end, the other not completely fulfilling me, and my back of mind desire to write a book, when this idea came up, I thought, YES. I’m going to go. It’s now or never and I’m definitely doing it now.

YOU WILL FEEL CRAZY AND QUESTION WHAT YOU’VE SET OUT TO DO
Cheryl starts the trek repeating with each step, “What the fuck am I doing?” Her friend’s voice in her head, “It’s okay to quit at any time.” She keeps going, she struggles immensely, and is rewarded immensely. She completed her journey and ultimately achieved her goal to discover herself in a new way and move forward in a positive direction when she was finished. And now, that story has been turned into a movie.

My own journey has definitely had moments where I wondered how on earth I thought of doing this thing. While 95% of the experience is full of the most amazing moments of my life, 5% is stressful. I have a friend who I call to vent so that my family doesn’t worry about me in these moments. It may be a long travel day or a confusing one where I took the wrong train or bus, it may be an awkward interaction with someone that has me feel uneasy, or sometimes it may be the ridiculous case of FOMO (fear of missing out) where I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed of friends back home and wonder why I am not wired to desire a more “normal” life. In these fortunately few and far between moments, I call this friend and say, “Ugh. This happened. And while I know I am so fortunate to be on the most incredible journey of my life, I had a bad day and need to tell someone about it.” He listens, lets me vent, then reminds me that it is a temporary situation, and tomorrow is a new day, where I will likely be in a new place, needing to be open and excited to take in all that entails. And then I get to that new place, or that new conversation, and it all feels right again.

YOU WILL BECOME FULLY AVAILABLE TO THE MOMENT YOU ARE IN
I’ve been traveling about three months – October in the United States, November in Western Europe, and since 2015 in Latin America. At first, I would get mad at myself if I didn’t do enough, talk to enough people, see enough of a place… but then, I’d have an amazing interaction with someone that would not have happened if anything leading up to that moment was different. So I started to find peace in whatever way things went and realized that there was no such thing as a perfectly planned day or checklist of how to spend my time wherever I was. I accepted that the best way to experience this journey was to become fully available to the moment I was in, whatever that entailed.

Near the end of the film, Cheryl passes a young boy and his grandmother on the trail. It felt intentional, whether it be God or whatever force that brought the two to each other, it was a spiritual moment. I have had those interactions with people that feel like the questions I ask have done more for them than for my own understanding of their answers. As people thank me for interrupting their day, my heart fills up with the ability to do what I am doing. These interactions are just the beginning of moments of confirmation that this journey is worthwhile and exactly where I need to be. I have no idea what next week will look like, where I will be, what I will do, who I will meet. For friends who wish to meet up with me along the journey, this is endlessly frustrating. But for me, and the journey, it’s a beautiful feeling to be free and open to wherever the road takes me.

YOU WILL INSPIRE PEOPLE
From the start of this whole endeavor, people have not only been supportive, but have encouraged me by telling my how inspired they are by the fact that I am even doing it. Everyone can relate to a journey because we all are on one – life. Some people are able to leave “normal life” behind more easily, or are more compelled to leave it behind. We all have struggles, desires, frustrations, and dreams. Everyone knows the value of experiences in their own life that changed their course forever, and people respect you for making a commitment to a new direction in a very big way.

Whether it be Wild, Eat Pray Love, The Motorcycle Diaries, An Idiot Abroad… the list is endless of people who, like myself, just went. They go, they come home, and they are likely to never regret the experience that compelled them to leave normal life behind for a bit and experience the world in a way they could never do without giving themselves permission to step outside their comfort zone and see what comes.


The beautiful sisters and voices of First Aid Kit singing the theme song from Wild:

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Ongoing Challenges – A reflection on MLK Jr. Day

Back in November, I woke up one morning in Copenhagen, Denmark to news of the Ferguson trial verdict in Missouri. My heart was heavy as it didn’t feel right what had happened. I read of the riots back home, as well as the peaceful protests. I felt proud of the solidarity no matter what race was standing up to the issue of unjust race relations in my home country. I must have drafted a Facebook post five times, each time carefully choosing my words and the appropriate link or civil rights activist quote, then each time deleting those same words. My mom’s prudent voice was in my head, “When in doubt, don’t.”

I walked into the living room of the Airbnb I was staying and spoke with Kirsten, a retired social anthropologist and my gracious host. She translated what the local radio was saying about the news from the United States, my home country. A young black man had been unarmed, and shot to death by a neighborhood watch man, he was not going to be punished for the life he had taken All sides of the story were being told in the news, but no matter how the story was situated, it never felt right.

Yet, I was in doubt for how to effectively communicate how it made me feel in a way that felt worth sharing. Instead, I “liked” the posts of friends and public figures who had words that helped guide the feelings of that day.


Today, my own social media news feeds have been full of references to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of which the day’s holiday is named. It has reminded me of the experiences I had learning about the Civil Rights Movement while traveling just a few months ago. Above is a photo of the final quote on the way out the door of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama which was part of the BSW United States tour. After walking through a historical re-creation of sorts from the events of the bus boycott, I was in awe of the amount of creativity and perseverance that went into the desegregation and legal rights of black individuals in this circumstance and time.

Privilege is a word that I am drawn to as I explore global threats and the current outlook for humanity. Someone along the way told me that privilege affords people the ability to not think about their privilege. Whatever the privilege may be, it often seems to be the way it should be – it just is the way it is. From this perspective, Dr. King’s quote struck me.

As a white American young female born into a family and life where a rather vast set of opportunities are available to me, I only know that perspective of what it means to live my life. I only know what every day in my own two feet feels like to walk. I can think all day about others, try to empathize their realities, relate in ways that bring us together. But even someone who looks, talks, and walks similar to me is still different that me. And I must respect that, just as I must respect differences that are even further from what I recognize as my everyday life.

I will never know exactly what it is like to be anyone other than myself. What I do know is that I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who worked toward a reality where all individuals can stand along side each other and share in the privilege to have a future full of opportunities to become their best selves in a world which will embrace whatever that means. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a wonderful example of a person who embodied these ideals and beliefs. On this day, I write this reflection with hope in my heart that the best is yet to come for all of humanity.