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The Election, The Inauguration, and The Importance of Coming Together

I have seriously struggled this past year to find the right words during the U.S. presidential campaign. I had an opinion every day, but never knew quite how to clarify it or where it fit within the mix of the endless coverage. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, everyone comes from their own truth. I love people who voted for the candidate I did not. One of my most favorite people on the planet voted for the opposite candidate. And that took some time to grasp. A week exactly. That’s how long I didn’t talk to my dad. 

During the election, and since the election, I have been drawn to the coverage that tries to actually better understand why people were driven to vote the way they did, on both sides. I appreciate journalists like Van Jones and Michael Moore who ask every day Americans, removed from politics, to share their viewpoints and concerns. And then after they ask the question, they listen to the answer, and let it inform their next question. 

My dad isn’t a bad guy. He’s actually a super wonderful human. So are a lot of the people who voted for Trump. Just as well as the people who voted for Hillary. Or Jill Stein. Or Gary Johnson. Or the people who didn’t even vote. 

We live in a world full of different opinions. Full of different personal truths. Even spending most of my living days under the same roof as my dad, we have very different personal truths. He has never once tried to sway my own political beliefs, apart from some off-humor email forwards that are sent in good fun. My dad wants me to grow into my own full self, just as he has been able to grow into his. And with that growth comes opinions and truths. He respects mine, I respect his. A Republican-leaning father, and his Democratic Socialist-leaning daughter. 

This is just a tiny example of two people who disagree politically, still choosing to love one another. It’s easier when it’s a dad and daughter. It can be harder when it is an aggravating next door neighbor, or an obnoxious coworker. But maybe to them, you’re the annoying one. 

I was really excited to watch Hillary become the first female POTUS. I was one of the people who never really felt passionate about her, but by the end, I was definitely with her. I even took the train to Philadelphia the night before the election to be a part of her final rally. The energy was overwhelming, and I had tears in my eyes as I took in what I thought was going to be the preview of an enormously momentous time in our nation’s history. 

November 8 came and I sat with friends at a bar in Washington DC as the room began to come to terms with the reality that Donald Trump was actually going to win. Certain swing states went red and everyone’s faces went pale. DC voted 93% Hillary, so there was not much diversity in emotions at a bar in the heart of the city that would soon be getting a new boss they did not want. 

I went home when the result felt determined. I fell asleep watching the coverage on my couch and woke up just in time to have missed Trump’s victory speech. I didn’t watch the re-run. I didn’t really watch the news the next day. Seemed all the anchors were wrong for months, so I didn’t really feel like it was worth my time to listen to their shock in the results, as well as their own skills and sources. 

The week that followed was weird. Living in DC, I decided to go to the White House the morning the President-Elect met with the President. I don’t really know why I felt compelled to do this, but there was something about watching the motorcade leave the White House while Obama was still inside that made it all feel real. Two very different men held the current and future role of leading our country, and essentially the world, in these critical times.

Election week confirmed my plan to leave DC and move home to Minnesota. I lived in the nation’s capital before I started my big travel project, Big Shared World. Through this initiative, I set out to travel around the world and ask the same three questions of strangers from all walks of life. I wanted to learn if other people value similar things, or worry about similar things as myself. It was being immersed in a city that thrives on conversations about big issues that made me realize just how disconnected the larger population felt from those issues. Back before I traveled, DC felt a bit like a bubble, and I wanted to go outside of it. 

Upon the Big Shared World journey’s completion, I moved back to DC. After traveling to 40 countries in 15 months, I was craving the opportunity to nest. After asking over 700 people the same three questions, I was craving the familiar conversations of old friends from before the travels. Nesting with these friends was nice for awhile, but I could tell I wasn’t really trying to establish strong roots in DC. I believe the past year’s election season attributed to some of my feelings. When Trump was elected, my desire to be based a mile from whatever was happening in the White House was low. If Hillary had been elected, I think I may have felt different. But, I’ll never know. Trump was elected, and I felt how I felt.

Moving to Minnesota is not as much about leaving DC, a city that I have come to truly enjoy and consider a professional home. Moving to Minnesota is more about surrounding myself with people who aren’t waking up every day in the DC bubble. It should be noted, my adorable niece is a Minnesotan, and spending more free time with her is a big incentive. But in addition to familial connections, I want to be surrounded by people who didn’t most likely vote for the same candidate as me. While my home state of Minnesota has a strong blue history when it comes to voting for the president, the state voters were nearly tied between the two candidates this past November. 

After Trump was elected, I wanted to put the lessons of my project to good use. I wanted to be closer to the middle of the country where peoples’ votes showed that we live in fearful times, with many people getting more excited about building walls to keep away from those who are different than them, than investing in bridges to connect us all. 

I traveled the world trying to understand different people and their viewpoints. I did a big project trying to promote what binds us all together in this big, shared world. I learned from all sorts of people who don’t look, think, pray, or talk like me. And it was amazing. And people are amazing. And learning from people is amazing.

I realized the week of the election that we need to talk to each other now more than ever before. We need to try to better understand each others’ truths so that we can have productive conversations about what people value and how we all can honor that. We don’t have to agree, but we have to be open to hearing what someone else thinks in order to find common ground.

During my travels, I was fortunate to spend a week at a spiritual retreat in Bali. This was the most Eat, Pray, Love part of my trip. I was immersed in this community of healers, and individuals deeply connected to the process of being healed. In this magical place, I met Peter, an acupuncturist from New Zealand. He came to teach our group Qigong, an ancient Chinese practice that incorporates movement to improve and enhance the body’s energy. Peter was incredible. Everyone at the retreat felt immediately vulnerable, yet cared for, in his presence. We all booked private sessions with him. To be honest, I was afraid of what he might say about me in front of others. I had a sense that he would disarm me in a way that I was not usually comfortable with, and I didn’t want this to be witnessed by the rest of the group. 

I booked his last session of the day so that I wouldn’t feel rushed. Everyone else left the retreat center for an energetic dance party. It was a bunch of yogis in Bali who come to have a big rave-like, but sober, dance party. It sounded fantastic, but I knew it was worth missing for time with Peter. I laid on the acupuncture table, for my first experience with the needle-pricking practice. We talked for nearly two hours in what may have been the most intimate conversation I’d ever experienced. It was as if Peter was connected to some higher message I was supposed to receive. 

“You need to put space around your opinions.” 

Mind you, this was over eight months in to my wisdom seeking global journey. I was supposed to have a pretty open mind by then. But as we spoke, he continued to challenge me on how firmly I held on to my beliefs. He told me that I am very sure of the way I see things, and do not allow room for my opinions to move, or grow, or change. 

I was a little defensive, thinking that I was more open minded than he was recognizing, but Peter was right. Even with my big question asking project, I went into the world with pre-determined hypotheses of what I would find. When it came to the personal issues I shared with him, I had my mind made up on what I thought. I had very little space around my opinions, and holding on to them was easy due to all the sources of confirmation bias in our world. Thanks to the way we Google, it is easier than ever to find articles and statistics that agree with us and help to strengthen our opinions. Even though I was asking the same open ended questions to everyone, I was hearing what I wanted from their answers. Luckily, I was writing their answers down word for word and could go back with an open mind and really hear what they had said. The more space around my own opinions, the more I was able to hear theirs.

The week after Trump was elected, and most every day since, I have had Peter’s voice in the back of my head. We all need to put space around our opinions. We all need to talk to people who voted differently than us, and try to understand their truth, and their motivating factors. 

We also need to know that a vote for one candidate does not mean that each person who voted for that candidate mirrors their every belief. I know this because I know my dad. He is nothing like Donald Trump. But he is a business owner, with Republican economic values, and he decided to continue voting the way he has for his entire adult life. I know from my conversations before, during, and after the election that my dad doesn’t agree with many of the things Donald Trump says, especially the ones that are derogatory. I think like many conservatives in the United States, he was a bit surprised by the fact that Trump was the candidate for his party. But I also know, that my dad is an extremely thoughtful man, and that he didn’t take his vote lightly. And he genuinely believes that President Trump will work hard to do a decent job in his new position. And while I hold a different opinion, I do respect my dad’s. And I hope he’s right. After watching Trump’s inauguration speech today, I do maintain my concerns.

Enough politics for one post. My point is that the election season was weird, and long, and very negative. And the time since the result has been shorter, but weird, and still very negative. Everybody is on edge, and the numbers show that people don’t feel very confident that what is ahead will be any better. 

I personally feel compelled to start getting out there more, talking to strangers, learning what other people think. This was what I set out to do over two years ago when I dreamed up Big Shared World. And what I learned through that journey is that whether or not we share any of the same opinions, we are all on this planet together, so we do share a lot of similar interests. We are connected, whether we like it or not. As a professor who studies poverty in South America told me, “When the United States sneezes, South America gets pneumonia.” The actions of the citizens in the United States are felt near and far. And it our responsibility to stay healthy and strong, so that those around us, and those impacted by us, can do the same.

I am going to use my voice and be heard just as President Obama called us to during his final address; to honor our citizenship and come together for the collective good. As he said, “Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere.”

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll share more of the stories from my eye-opening journey around the world, talking to strangers, learning what they think. And I will be more vocal in my passionate belief that the world needs to focus on anything that will help us feel more empathy toward each other. And I hope you will join me, and I hope we will rise stronger because of our ability to come together in this fragile moment in our big, shared world’s history.

I’ll be walking in the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday. It’s an event put together to show support of inclusive rights for women, among many other issues represented by progressive values. While I thought of sitting it out, staying away from the action in DC this weekend, it was my dad who was happiest to hear that I had decided to be involved in a meaningful way. He knows I’ll be sitting in front of my tv during all the inauguration festivities, and am only in town to march the next day. He supports me using my voice to be part of the chorus.

From my days singing while growing up, I am reminded that a powerful choir drowns out the voice of even its most off key member. While Donald Trump is just one of us, he has been rewarded through his newly elected position with the opportunity to hold a microphone and sing a solo. My hope is that the choir around him, his fellow American citizens, start to sing their song of unity louder and louder. And maybe, if we sing our beautiful song loud enough, it’ll be impossible not to join in.

With that, I leave you with one of my favorite moments from the Obama presidency. It came as a response to yet another senseless tragedy, but it shows the power of a good song to bring people together.

No matter who you voted for or what motto your hat displayed, America is great, and we are stronger together.

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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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Grounded Girl, Taking Off.

A family’s job is to ground you. Growing up, this was all too frequent for me after getting in trouble for speaking out of turn. But that more specific definition of “being grounded” is all part of establishing roots, knowing what is right and wrong, encouraged or punished. Our values are formed in this experience of growing up. This is why often when people can’t get along, it’s an innate difference of strong opinions, held firmly, due to upbringing and how one is grounded.

 

In my family, they also keep me grounded in the sense that I kept pushing back my BSW travel date for one more day with this crew. When I first came back, every time my little niece heard an airplane she’d point to the sky and yell “YaYa!!” (My name was supposed to be Auntie CC, which turned into YeeYee, which turned into YaYa, which we thought was perfect and stuck with.)  After a couple months waking up to play dates with my niece, I already miss her knocking on my door at earlier hours than I’d like to say “YAYA!!!!!” followed by the subsequent biggest, most amazing hugs I’ve ever had.  You try leaving that to fly to the other side of the world, it’s tough!

 

After a summer full of Minnesota family love, it was time to say goodbye and get back out into the world to keep asking my questions, learning about what other people’s beliefs are grounded by.  My family, not being ones for a quick goodbye, gathered around the steps of our cabin waving to me. I couldn’t help but take a video of the adorable moment.

 

“We love Big Shared World!!” -The Waterston Family 🙂

 

While I’d been feeling lazy postponing my start date, I kept trying to tell myself it all must be for a reason, everything is as it should be. Certain moments and conversations even this weekend at home had me believe just that – I was supposed to stay grounded, I needed to tie up a few more loose ends before I flew off again.  And then when I did finally board my international flight from New York to Prague, this sentiment was confirmed when I sat next to Daniela, a flight attendant who has used her standby benefits for countless adventures with her husband and two kids.  A woman who lights up with each story of a new place. Daniela takes so much deserved pride in moments that those trips find their way into her kids’ lives back home, proving that travel and cultural exploration make for more well-rounded, thoughtful individuals.  As firm believers in karma, Daniela and I both felt the seat assignments were perfect to share in the flight conversation together.

 

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Daniela and Me, on our overnight flight from NYC to Prague, Czech Republic.  

Thanks to good conversation, my sleep pillow hardly got used!

 

And when we woke up, we were in Prague.  No immigration form required, just walked off the plane, handed my passport to customs officer, and welcome to this beautiful city!  I met my Airbnb host to get into the apartment, took a long afternoon nap, and found myself a sweet neighborhood cafe where I settled in for the evening.  While sitting over a travel book, a refreshing lemonade-type drink, and salad, I took in the beautiful moment when you realize – now this is exactly where I should be.

 

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The view from my perfect Prague moment

 

And from this spot, I called my mother and let her know, I’m safe, I’m happy, and BSW continues!  My whole heart smiled when I could hear in the background, “YAYA!!!”

 

 

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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