Tag experience

{ Kintsugi } A Beautiful Visual Metaphor To Help You “Fail Forward” …*

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they fill in the cracks with gold. They believe that when something is damaged, it becomes more beautiful.”

I came across this delightful quote earlier this week while reading an article about failing forward. These days, with the growing popularity and accessibility of methodologies like Design Thinking and Lean Startup, the concept of iteration–a slightly more glamorous variant of the term “failing forward”–has become increasingly mainstream. Given the critical role of failure in learning and innovation, I am all for this failure revolution. Yet, it is not failure for failure’s sake that we are celebrating but its transcendence. We try something; we fail; we pause and reflect on what we did and where we went wrong; and hopefully we are able to extract some valuable lesson(s) from the experience that will inform our decision-making and behavior in future scenarios.

The transcendence of failure–the movement from raw input (this does not work) to reflection (why did this not work?) to insight (this is where we went wrong/what we could have done differently), is a process. And all processes have an inherent emotional component that cannot be ignored or brushed aside. The emotional responses accompanying each failure will vary greatly based on the circumstances– from the inconsequential to the heartbreaking. The hardest failures to transcend, the ones that are most painful to reflect upon, work through and learn from are usually the ones that blur the boundaries between verb and noun–those instances where we find it difficult to separate our sense of self from our actions; where, “I failed” toes the line with, “I am a failure.”

On an intellectual level, it’s easy to tell oneself to reframe, to approach the failure as a learning opportunity, a gift in disguise, a growing pain. But having failed many times at many things, sometime rather catastrophically, I know all too well that in the midst of experiencing our most painful failures it can be extremely difficult to pay attention to our intellect. When you’ve spent a full week in the same pair of sweatpants unable to peel yourself off from your couch, it can be quite easy to become cynical about the idea of reframing failure. It may feel as though this particular failure is final, as though there is no redemption possible, no lessons to be learned; just a lifetime of mediocrity spent in your own failed company. I think that it is precisely in these times that the beautiful Japanese notion of kintsugi becomes a powerful aid and effective prompt to help us emotionally engage with the process of transcending failure.

What I find fascinating about the concept of kintsugi, which refers to the Japanese craft of fixing broken objects with gold or silver lacquer, is the fact that cracks and brokenness are highlighted and celebrated rather than dismissed or dissimulated. The broken object once repaired takes on a new value, becoming in some ways more appreciated than it was while intact.

I’ve been taking an online course taught by Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability in which she talks about the importance of finding good metaphors to talk about certain emotions–specifically shame–that we are incapable of speaking about on an intellectual level without our emotions taking over.

“People hear the word shame and they’ve got one of two responses; one, “I have no idea what you’re talking about and I’m pretty sure that happens to other people;” or two, “I know exactly what that is and I’m not talking about it.” We have a visceral reaction to the word shame.
Shame hates having words wrapped around it. When we speak shame, we cut it off at the knees. The reason metaphors are so helpful is because of our reactions to the word shame. And here’s the thing, if I talk to you intellectually about shame, I will lose you in about 10 minutes because you’ll know this is uncomfortable, it’s a little bit dark and it’s totally not relevant—”I don’t care what she’s saying.” It’s true if I intellectually talk to you about shame. If I walk you into shame, you’ll be like, “Oh hell yeah, this is relevant and I cannot hear a word you are saying because I am in shame.” Because shame is very much about the limbic system, it’s all about fight, flight and freeze. There’s no prefrontal cortex. If I’m staying up here in the prefrontal cortex, where we think, when that fight or flight system kicks in, our prefrontal cortex comes completely offline.”
-Brené Brown

I think kintsugi is an amazingly powerful visual metaphor to recall and focus on as we experience some of the most crushing and painful emotions that result from deep failures. The process of transcending failure is quite similar to the practice of repairing broken ceramic with golden bonding. The object having been repaired emerges more beautiful, more valuable than when it was intact. In the same manner to applying gold to the fragmented pieces, engaging in the process of transcending our failures allows us to grow, to come out stronger and wiser than before the failure.

Next time you find yourself unable to intellectually motivate yourself to engage with the process, I urge you to remember the beauty and the lesson of kintsugi.

Kintsugi: The Art of Broken Pieces from Greatcoat Films on Vimeo.

Milton Glaser on Why Doubt Is Better Than Confidence, How How You Live Changes Your Brain & How to Surround Yourself With People That Energize You …*

I was thrilled to discover Milton Glaser‘s essay, 10 Things I Have Learnt, which he adapted from a talk that he gave at a conference for the American professional association for design in 2011. While the lessons Glaser learned over the course of his long and immensely successful career are aimed primarily at other designers, many of his insights (which I’ve previously featured here and here), speak to all individuals compelled by the desire to live full and meaningful lives. I have selected some highlights from three of the lessons that Glaser shares, which I found particularly relevant to rethinkers * but be sure to head over to Design Indaba for the full essay, which is well worth a read in its entirety.

Enjoy

 DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CONFIDENCE

 

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a yoga class where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believe you have achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course, we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN 

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. He believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have.

I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of four or five, after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed.

Well, what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street, my brain could be affected and my life might change. That is why your mother always said, “Don’t hang out with those bad kids.” Mama was right.

I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC. AVOID THEM. 

In the 1960s there was a man named Fritz Perls who was a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history; it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much, but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Source: Milton Glaser’s “10 Things I Have Learnt”

{ Connect & Empathize …* } “Try to be kind because nastiness is always so tempting.”

{ Connect & Empathize ...* } "Try to be kind because nastiness is always so tempting." | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others, so that we can experience others as if from within their own skin, as well as from within our own.”

–  Daniel Stern, MD & research psychiatrist at the University of Geneva

I’ve had the kind of week that forces one to stop, take a step back from the noise and [re]consider what’s really important: the others. All the beating hearts, pumping, thumping, warm, fearful, hopeful, awed, flawed, glorious and wondrous other beings that give meaning, depth and richness to our lives.

Try to be kind because nastiness is always so tempting.”

. . . * 

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker …*

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Naples, 2014 – Artist Unknown …*

 

I’ve been trying to get up earlier recently and to motivate myself to get out of bed before sunrise, I have made the first hour of my day all about play and reflection. I read books that are just for pleasure, I journal, I drink my coffee unhurriedly, I look out into the darkness and listen to the birds begin to stir while my cat purrs besides me. It’s splendid.

This morning I was reading some interviews with Alberto Giacometti, and found the following passage to express splendidly so many aspects of what it means to be in the world as a rethinker …* From being able to live comfortably with the unknown (and the unknowable); being willing to reconstruct anew one’s understanding each day; questioning one’s assumptions daily without letting ego or fear get in the way; not letting one’s ideas and work become too precious; to being able to appreciate the intrinsic joy and inherent rewards of the process. Hope you will be as inspired by this glimpse into Giacometti’s experience as I am 

I do not work to create beautiful paintings or sculpture. Art is only a means of seeing. No matter what I look at, it all surprises and eludes me, and I’m not too sure of what I see. It is too complex. So, we must try to copy simply in order to begin to realize what we are seeing. It’s as if reality were continually behind curtains that one tears away… but there is always another …always one more. But I have the feeling, or the hope, that I am making progress each day. That is what makes me work, compelled to understand the core of life. And to carry on, knowing that the closer one gets to the goal, the further it retreats. The distance between the model and myself tends to increase continually; the closer I get, the further away it moves. It’s an endless search. Every time I work I am prepared to undo without the slightest hesitation the work done the day before, as each day I feel I am seeing further. Basically I now only work for the sensation I get during the process. And if I am then able to see better, if as I leave I see reality slightly differently, deep down, even if the picture doesn’t make much sense or is ruined, in any event I have won. I have won a new sensation, a sensation I had never experienced before. 

Source: Why Am I A Sculptor? – An Interview with André Parinaud

. . . *

“A Benchmark Anchored in Reality Forces You to Articulate a Clear Point of View About What’s Truly Important”

"A Benchmark Anchored in Reality Forces You to Articulate a Clear Point of View About What’s Truly Important" | rethinked.org

“Always going back to a benchmark anchored in reality forces you to articulate a clear point of view about what’s truly important.” – Diego Rodriguez

I found this excellent insight from IDEO‘s Diego Rodriguez as his contribution to LinkedIn’s Best Advice series. Recounting a time at IDEO when his team had produced a wide array of dazzling prototypes, Rodiguez shares how they felt stuck in deciding which one to select:

IDEO founder David Kelley strolled by to say hello and to watch us demonstrate our ideas. He listened patiently as we explained our dilemma, and responded with one simple question: “What’s the best alternative available to people today? Choose compared to that.”

Behind David’s powerful question is the best innovation advice I’ve ever received:

Compare to reality, not to some imaginary standard of perfection.

The truth was that even our least amazing prototype was miles ahead of the competition. It also happened to be the simplest concept, and the one that most tightly addressed the actual needs we’d heard from people we had interviewed and observed. Even if it didn’t fulfill our fantasies of perfection, we chose that option as the way forward, and we ended up nailing it: our award-winning design sold like hotcakes. Fifteen years later, it’s still in production, making people happy.

This is a key insight which speaks to one of the core tenets of design thinking: that the solution be created from a point of deep empathy and understanding so that it truly serves the need of the target audience, not the ego of the designer.

Some say that rooting your choices in reality is a sure path to mediocrity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dedicating yourself to understanding what people really want — how they’ll experience a product in the real world — forces you to get away from your desk and make a tangible difference. Instead of just talking about a grand paradise of what might be, putting in the effort to understand people’s day-to-day lives, and then actually producing something that works, is what separates a true innovation from a merely good idea.

Great innovators dream, but they are also relentless about comparing those dreams to the real world, and acting accordingly.

Source: Best Advice: Want to Achieve Excellence? Compare Ideas to Reality

{ Start Walking } Rethinking Uncertainty …*

{ Start Walking } Rethinking Uncertainty ...* | rethinked.org

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the second lesson- start walking.

My biggest personal goal in walking the Camino Frances was to practice growing comfortable with uncertainty. My decision to walk the Camino had been very last minute and, frankly, when I set out I had no idea what I was doing (seriously– did you read my post about how it wasn’t until about 10 pm the night before I was setting out that I realized my sleeping bag wouldn’t fit in my pack?!), where I was going or how I would get there.

WHEN IN DOUBT, FIND A PLACE TO START & BEGIN 

Luckily for me, I got plenty of opportunities to practice being/thinking/doing uncertain. Each day was an unknown, which, of course, they always are, but the stakes felt a tiny bit higher when out on the road. Most days I didn’t know where I would end up or if I would find a place to sleep. I would just start walking and go from one yellow arrow to the next. I had bought a greatly detailed (if insufferably sentimental) guidebook and hoped it would get me to where I was going. It turns out however, that I didn’t even need the guidebook as there are yellow arrows pointing the way to Santiago all along the road. All I needed was to find the first arrow and go from there.

Picasso famously remarked, “To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” Drawing, walking, living–all require that one starts somewhere. Often, when we start, we don’t know what we will make, where we will go or whom we will become. We don’t know because we can’t know, because the acts of drawing, walking and living are transformative– we grow and change as we act. And while we may not know whom we will be at the end of our journey, we can be sure that we can make it the whole way one line/arrow/decision at a time.

BE AWARE OF HOW YOU FRAME UNCERTAINTY & RETHINK AS NEEDED

The second thing that I understood from my daily experiments in the uncertain, is that uncertainty is not an either-or proposition, it is a spectrum of options. This seems like an obvious statement, and perhaps it is to you, but whilst walking, I realized that I was unconsciously framing the idea of uncertainty as a highly reductive binary of what I could know, predict and affect versus utter catastrophe. It was a tremendously valuable insight as I realized that I hadn’t even been aware of how I was appraising the concept of uncertainty until I felt my unease and sense of impending doom relax and fade each time an unexpected outcome proved less than catastrophic (which they always did.)

Throughout my journey, I sometimes arrived in tiny towns where every last bed was occupied, but something always worked out–I slept on dusty mattresses on gym floors and wrestling mats in locker rooms. While neither of these options come close to my idea of an ideal place to sleep, I must say that those nights spent on gym floors were some of the best sleeps I had the entire journey and some of my fondest memories of laughs and bonding with fellow pilgrims. Not only was the uncertain and unexpected not catastrophic, it often proved delightful, better even than what I could have been certain of.

start, take a chance & rethink …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally | rethinked.org

“All our worries are left here” – Rock found on the side of the road …*

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the first lesson- travel lightly.

It was not until the night before I was to set out for Santiago that I realized my sleeping bag would not fit in my pack. After spending a good hour trying various alternate packing arrangements and a panicked last minute phone call to my father, I decided to tie the sleeping bag on the exterior of my pack, which was already covered in extra stuff, “just in case.” I struggled a bit to get my pack on, stepped on the scale and discovered it was 14 kilos, well over the recommended five percent of one’s body weight. But caught up in a glowing feeling of victory after having managed to tie my sleeping bag (however precariously) to the outside of my pack, I felt quite sure the five percent recommendation did not apply to me.

Over the next two weeks, I hauled my absurdly heavy pack up and down mountains (some significantly larger and steeper than others). My collarbone bruised, my feet became swollen, and my back ached. I persevered until the fateful morning when I woke up to find that my feet had become so swollen that no amount of pushing and pulling would get them in my boots. Listening to the advice of new friends, I decided it was time to part with some of my stuff. I shipped ahead to my destination my sleeping bag (!) and some other things I hadn’t used. The moment I left the post office after having surrendered my gear, I immediately began to imagine worst case scenarios of myself shivering with cold while being devoured by the bed bugs which were rumored to be found all along the Camino. What happened for the rest of my trip truly surprised me—I was not cold and I did not get bitten by a single bed bug. Everywhere I stayed, the people running the Albergues (pilgrim hostels) lent me blankets. One night, the person sleeping on the bunk below mine caught bed bugs, but somehow, even without my permethrin treated sleeping bag, I emerged bug free.

{ CAN I AFFORD TO CARRY THIS EXTRA WEIGHT AROUND WITH ME? }

A few weeks after shipping my sleeping bag, I had dinner with a lovely man who was also walking to Santiago, an Australian sculptor in his seventies. We talked about various aspects of the experience we were sharing and he asked me how I dealt with the never ending snoring in the Albergues. He admitted that he sometimes would get aggravated by the snoring and shared with me a mental trick he used to deal with negative feelings as they crept up. He imagined each negative feeling as a weight, some weighed 400g, some 200g, some a kilo. Each time he felt annoyed about something, he asked himself if he could afford to carry this additional weight around with him. More often than not the answer was no.

I loved this little mental trick to let go of negative emotions, and I have practiced it often since learning about it. It has had two main effects; the first is that I simply let go of petty annoyances. The second benefit of this new method, is that if I find myself carrying the extra weight of anger or resentment and I cannot seem to just shed it on my own, I now feel much more inclined to speak up and resolve the issue rather than steam quietly. Either I drop it or I address it, but I’ve understood that I can’t afford (neither do I want to) carry superfluous weight on this journey.

{ TRAVELING LIGHTLY = LIVING DELIBERATELY } 

There’s a quote from Jonathan Harris that I love and which I’ve previously shared here on rethinked:

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” 

Walking 500 miles helped me understand these words in a new–or perhaps simply more immediate–sort of way. Our attention and our physical capacities are limited. It may sound a bit trite, cliché to the point of banality even, but it’s an unavoidable characteristic of our human condition. We can only carry so much, both on our backs and in our heads. The wonderful thing about being human however, is that once our basic needs are met, we have the freedom to choose what we will carry. Some of us may not realize that we have the agency to choose what we carry, and too often, even if we are aware of our power in owning our attention, we forget about it and get swept up in squandering it on things and emotions that do not help us thrive and flourish.

Travelling lightly then, to me at least, means living deliberately; it means being aware of and selective with what we let in to our lives, both physically and mentally.

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy …*

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org

Hola rethinkers* Elsa here, back from my camino! Had a truly splendid time and made it all the way to Santiago. Walking 800 km has given me plenty of time to think (a really really good combination and ancient tradition this walking and thinking business). I’m excited to share with you some of the insights and discoveries I made on my trip but as I’ve only just got back and barely had time to digest my experience, I’m going to write about something completely unrelated which happened this past weekend: I got to hang out with a six-year-old—correction, a six-and-a-half-year-old— and I was struck by how much adults, especially those interested in challenging the status quo and developing their capacity for empathy, stand to learn from young children.

MEET MY NEW FRIEND MATHIEU & HIS LEGO HERO FACTORY TOYS–BULK & STORMER

I met Mathieu at his parents’ house where I was having a long Sunday lunch. He sat at the table with us to eat a bit and then disappeared around the garden to play. When dessert was served, Mathieu came back for some ice cream, holding in his hand a Christmas catalogue. I asked him if he had started making his list for Santa and if he’d show me what it was he wanted. We went over the catalogue together and he explained the various delights of each toy he had circled. I then asked him what was the one toy he most hoped Santa would bring him, to which he answered Lego’s Hero Factory before disappearing to his room to bring back two specimens.

I spent over an hour talking with Mathieu about his Lego Hero Factory toys and playing with him. I could hardly say which of us had the most fun. But the reason I wanted to write about my encounter with Mathieu, goes beyond wanting to brag about my awesome new tiny friend or my love of all things Lego. Having no children of my own, I rarely get the chance to hang out with the six-and-a-half-year-old crowd and that’s a real shame. I’m passionate about storytelling, empathy and the architecture of change and as my time with Mathieu showed me, we (the part of the population who no longer values half years in our age) have much to learn in all three of these interrelated domains from children.
STORYTELLING 101 – WHY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CANNIBALISTIC JUMPER & CANNIBALISTIC COCOON MATTERS
 
What quickly became apparent to me as Mathieu and I played with Bulk and Stormer is that the toys were artifacts from an incredibly rich imaginary world, one which Mathieu inhabits very comfortably. Mathieu painstakingly explained the origin story of the Hero Factory world, the main hero, (Evo, for the uninitiated) the good guys and the bad. When I tried to rephrase what he had said to make sure I had understood, I confused the cocoons and the planters several times and each time, Mathieu patiently corrected me. Once I had gotten the full back story, we started playing and caught up in the excitement of the game, I started making what can best be described as attack noises – “Grrrrrrrrr,” “pooowww,” “watch out!” Mathieu looked at me a bit embarrassed and then said, as nicely as he could, “It’s a machine, it doesn’t talk.”

 

I think the fact that Mathieu corrected me each time I confused the cocoons and the jumpers or when I got carried away with battle sounds was critically important. He sensed my genuine interest in entering the Lego Hero Factory world and took it upon himself to guide me in. Each imaginary world operates according to a specific set of rules (so while vegetal cocoons attack robots in the Hero Factory world, machines do not speak or make battle calls) and it is these shared laws that keep the world bounded together and allow it to be a shared imaginary space. Creating these rules and then exploring the possibilities of the worlds created within them is what fiction writers, dreamers, and rethinkers * of all type do. It is no secret that soft skills are becoming increasingly important as the pace of change accelerates and the collective problems we face become increasingly wicked. We need people who can craft solid, inhabitable alternatives–“what ifs” that offer better, more sustainable futures for more people. And that starts with storytelling and storytellers. We need to cultivate and amplify children’s natural capacity for creating imaginary worlds and we need to learn from them how we ourselves might regain that wonderful and critical ability to ask “what if?” and run with it.

 

EMPATHY & PLAY – JUMPING THROUGH FIRE REGULARLY WILL HELP KEEP YOU NIMBLE IN YOUR ABILITY TO ENTER OTHERS’ INTERNAL WORLDS
Not only are children naturally adept storytellers, they are also able to grasp with ease the nuances of others’ stories (I think the proper buzzword to describe this aptitude, these days, would be creative listeners). In many ways, each of us, carries and inhabits his or her own world. Our reality is constantly mediated by our perception; our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others is shaped by a mix of past experiences, character traits, hopes, neuroses, tensions and dreams. In essence, empathy is about being able to experience what an exterior situation might feel like when viewed from the particular lens of another (an Other’s internal world). Children do this extremely often when they are at play, seemingly without any effort. Just a few weeks ago, I was having a drink with a friend on a rather deserted village town square while two little girls played nearby. The girls were running around and jumping, taking turns yelling, “now water, now fire.” Evidently, they were on an epic journey through the elements and shared a common imaginary space, worlds away from the physical environment, that had them running around panting with excitement. They were able to take turns designing the world and could seamlessly go from their own internal reality to that of their friend’s, experiencing with equal ease and immediacy what was in their friend’s mind’s eye as what was inside their own.

 

It’s interesting to note this link between play and empathy, how they seem to go hand in hand naturally. Perhaps it is because we try to stamp out our own playfulness as we age that we become more and more stuck within our own world and less able (or willing?) to enter into those of others. My advice? Go play with a tiny human.
play & rethink …*

{ Re Experiencing } NYC Through New Eyes

This week I’ve offered up my couch to a backpacker (actually, my air mattress), and it’s been wonderful to re-experience NYC through a foreigner’s eyes. An Australian I met in Portugal this summer asked if his buddy could crash at my place while visiting NYC, and I happily obliged. So last Tuesday night, Lulu arrived at my doorstep for his first experience of the USA.

This experience provided me with an opportunity to really think deeply about what I felt represented NYC, and what somebody should do if they only have one week here. We went to a lot of the main tourist attractions — Times Square, the Staten Island Ferry, Empire State Building, High Line, Central Park, WTC memorial — to name a few. This was actually fun and interesting because I grew up in New York and had never even been inside the Empire State Building before. I also got to explain the events of 9/11 as somebody who was here, to somebody who was halfway across the world.

We ate iconic and delicious food, including real New York pizza, bagels (everything with scallion cream cheese, tomato, and lox), burgers (chipotle, Jackson Hole, Umami), and Chipotle.

View from the Staten Island Ferry

View from the Staten Island Ferry

Umami Burger

Umami Burger

 

I also let him see slices of my everyday life. We commuted up to Columbia and walked through the campus. We went to an arcade bar on the Lower East Side and drank PBR and played Miss Pac-man. We met up with my friends for nachos and craft beer. I got to experience my own day-to-day through the eyes of a person who up until this week had never been in a building with more than 6 stories. I re-appreciated the wonders of 1am Chinese food delivery from Seamless, 24/7 public transportation, amazingly tall sky scrapers and unbeatable waterfront sunsets. He heightened my sensitivity to things I had never noticed about my own life, like how it almost always smells like delicious food everywhere in Manhattan or how random strangers can shout super rude things at you (it barely registers to me).

View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

Ultimately, I think the experience cultivated reflection about my own life and gratefulness for this dynamic, crazy place I call home. This speaks to the importance of changing perspectives, re-experiencing something with fresh eyes, and appreciation of what is all around us. Is there something in your own daily practice that could use a fresh perspective?

{ Thoughts on Travel } the people and the lightness

Elsa recently posted about her desires to travel light and then left to do just that. While she is gone, I’d like to reflect a bit on my own recent travels, the people I’ve meet, and thoughts on materialism and the joys of having nothing but a backpack and your passport.

I love to travel. I’ve spoken in the past about my trips to [ The Grand Canyon ] and [ Israel ]. In total, I’ve been to about 26 different countries for varying amounts of time. Of course, traveling is amazing for the beautiful places you see and the cultures and differences you are exposed to.  But for me, backpacking is as much about the local people, the fellow backpackers, and the feelings of minimalism that I get when I arrive in a hostel with nothing but my 50 liter Gregory pack.

The Locals

Meeting locals takes skill and luck and willingness to leave your comfort zone. It can be near impossible in countries where the locals don’t speak your language and dangerous (especially as an American woman) in certain countries. But when I look back on my trips, some of my most salient memories are of conversations and experiences with locals. In Sapa, Vietnam, I arranged a two day trek through a local female-owned and run company that has local women escort tourists through their towns. These women became fast friends as we talked about different cultural norms about femininity, marriage, and dating as well as the portrayal of “America” in their community.

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In Cape Town, South Africa, we met local college students in a bar that ended up becoming friends I keep in touch with to this very day. A few were from Johannesburg and when we flew there later in our trip, they picked us up from the airport and had a full day planned to show us everything they loved about their city, from the touristic (Nelson Mandela’s home) to the not-so-touristic (their favorite fro-yo place in town). Recently in Morocco, we chanced upon meeting a Moroccan-Canadian who spent two full days showing us his city and introducing us to his neighbors and friends.

I’ve learned far more about other cultures and cities from locals than from any other experiences in my life. Navigating differences in culture and language and learning from one another, we all left with amazing feelings of how both similar and different we all truly are.

Fellow Backpackers

I also have a soft spot for fellow backpackers. The types of people who venture out of their home countries to travel for months or years are generally more open-minded, friendly, and interesting than most people I’ve met in life. They also have plenty to share about and from their home countries, and at this point I have an international group of friends that I would not trade for anything. From a psychology perspective, there is something extraordinarily bonding about having new, exhilarating experiences with someone. I’ve become friends with people from very different walks of life that I likely would never encounter or think I could have something in common with had we both been in NYC. I’ve also learned from my fellow travelers who often have different values and philosophies on life than my own.

Lightness

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After a month backpacking Europe with WAY too much stuff, I’ve been packing increasingly less stuff each time I go somewhere. THIS is a post from my 2012 Southeast Asia trip where I listed everything I decided to bring. I don’t have a more recent packing list, but I definitely packed almost half of that for my recent month in Portugal and Morocco.

I’ll admit that I am far more materialistic than I’d like to be. I love my apartment and all of the things that I’ve accumulated over the years that adorn it. Many of these items are attached to important memories, others I enjoy for aesthetic or functional purposes. That being said, there is something indescribably freeing about venturing into the world with so few possessions. A lighter backpack makes my burden feel literally lighter. I feel reduced down to the core of who I am. It’s also very liberating and satisfying to live successfully with so few items and to realize how little we actually need to thrive and function in everyday life.

In response to Elsa’s query about how others live with the contradictions and tensions of materialism and minimalism, my answer is that I do both. I come home to my possessions but I leave with very little on my back. I prefer to alternate between these lifestyles and am thankful that I am currently able to.

Relating this back to rethinkED, I believe that travel is an integral part of my personal growth and wonder. Without these journeys outside of my everyday life, I would not be able to appreciate and enjoy the daily grind that I return to. Meeting new people reinvigorates my interests in human behavior, seeing those less fortunate reaffirms my decision to work in education research, and thrusting myself into new and sometimes scarily foreign environments forces me to rethink my values, my strengths, and myself.

 

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