Mount Fuji – reflections on the climb

As you leave central, bustling Tokyo and head Southwest the scenery gradually changes from urban to farmland. You go through a tunnel and on the other side all semblance of city is gone and you find yourself surrounded by low mountains.

Then you round a corner and realize that those ‘mountains’ pale in comparison to Fuji. You instantly see the appeal and awe that has symmoned hundreds of generations to it. Here was my first glance at around 6:15 in the evening.IMG_20160823_181624

On the Mountain –

The bus pulls into the mountain trailhead at 7pm. The Sun has set fast and it’s dark all around. I grab some last minute supplies, put my headlamp on and head for the trail – start time 7:30

7:50 – I meet some Germans, Finns, and a Chinese girl all hiking at about my pace. We stop at the first station to catch our breath. The stars are out in force and at this altitude we are above the clouds so we can see the lightning reflecting off of them.

FLASH FLASH FLASH.

The lightning looks like bombs exploding in the night. The thunder sounds off. 6 miles away. The fog and clouds are rolling in now.

8:30 – I’ve miraculously overtaken a guided tour thanks to the power of a downloaded Spotify Playlist containing the empowering song ‘Make A Man Out Of You’ from Mulan. Yes. I was that guy on the mountain but it helped me push through to the station. The clouds keep rising with me and I keep pushing above them. As long as I can see the stars I know that I’ll be fine. The thunder and lightening surround us on all sides. It’s a beautiful and worrying sight to see.

9:30 – I met a pair of guys from the UK and chatted with them while we all caught our breath. They are Astrophysicists working on a particle accelerator just outside of Oxford, they are here in Japan to see their accelerator. We feel the first sense of rain and decide to press on. A sign says only 3.2km remaining. The sign lies. On Fuji distance isn’t measured in Kilometers but in time. At least 4 hours to go at this pace. The fog has caught up so I must press on. Only 3.2km I lie to myself. Only 3.2km.

9:50 – The last rest station for about 30 minutes. Climbing up to it meant pushing through the fog and mist. Fog so thick you could barely see past your hands and feet. Thankfully the fog moves slower than I do. I meet up with Jim and Richard (the Brits) and we check the time to the next spot on the guidebook. The booklet advises against ‘Bullet Climbing’. Climbing up in a single go, without proper rest beforehand and without long enough breaks at each station. According to the booklet if you bullet climate you “Will get fatigued, get hurt, or may become susceptible to sickness”. I have been bullet climbing. I let Jim and Richard go on ahead. I’ll rest a bit longer.

10:40 – We make it to the next station after taking a break to gaze at the stars and a beautiful moon. I am now 3100m above sea level. Trickster gods must be about tonight because we pass a sign that reads 3.1km. Thankfully at the next stop it says 2.7km and about 3 more hours. I’m climbing so fast that I’ll beat the sunrise by a few hours. I decide to rest some more before pressing on.

Midnight – I took a 30 minute break and caught a 10 minute power nap before hoofing it up here and am now resting for a bit. I met some tech startup Americans who recommended some bars in Tokyo in exchange for knowledge about Oxford and Harry Potter. It’s now 12:30 and they say it will take 2hrs to reach the top. Sunrise is in 4:30 so I’m making great time and can afford longer breaks to catch my breath.

1:45 – I stopped for some dinner at the second to last stop 80 minutes from the summit. Turns out the friends from tech land also worked on political campaigns in the US so we spent dinner on Mt. Fuji discussing US politics. If that isn’t a sign from the gods of Fuji I don’t know what is. I also break into my apple supply and had a fuji apple, on Mt Fuji. Here is a pic.IMG_20160824_014052

2:45 – I’ve reached ‘Station 9’ the last stop before the summit – 30 minutes and 500m from the top. Either it hasn’t been built yet or it was destroyed recently because it isn’t much more than an open space where a lot of people can take one last break to breathe deeply and drink water. I thought the lighting storms would hit us but we have been lucky. Even better though, they are raging on below us and in amongst the surrounding area of Mt. Fuji. For whatever reason the lightening is orange and yellow, I’ve never seen that before. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ll rest here and then continue on around 3.

4:00 – The last 30 minutes took 50 thanks to long lines of people. It definitely was the hardest part of the trek but I made it. In the last 150m my knee twisted and it made the going slow. Hopefully it’s fine after a rest on top where there are shops and restaurants and tired travellers all chatting and warming up in a long wooden hut.

4:40 – I’ve spent 30 in the hut getting coffee and curry rice and chatting with my neighbors. That’s how I met Jane (named changed) a Tokyo native who spent a few years in California and Indiana before just starting work as an analyst in Deloitte Consulting Tokyo. So here on the top of Fuji I meet a Deloitte employee just by striking up a conversation about the food.

4:50- The sun is peaking up above some of the clouds and I snap a few pictures. As I sit here waiting for some mist to clear up and the sun to rise higher I think about why I did this crazy feat and what I learned along the way.

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I did it because it’s been on my list and waiting another year just means pushing it off. I did it because of the wisdom that generations of climbers have sought in the act. I did it because it was there. And I did it to have 8 hours thinking and pondering about my life and the future.

Am I walking away with profound answers? No, but I didn’t expect to. Am I walking away with the knowledge that I can push through the elements to achieve what is set my mind to? Yes. Have I gained any insight into myself? Yes – that even in a country where my grasp of the language is minimal and I know litteraly no one, I can make new friends, find coworkers, have political conversations as well as astrophysics ones. I can chat up the philosophy PhD from Indiana University and discuss Confucius, Sun Tzu, and Musashi, and I can do it all full of energy, pep, and a zest for life that is energized by nature and pushing myself to do and be more.

I’ve got a 4 hour climb down and then a bus before I can crash and sleep for a few more hours. But all in all Fuji has been everything I needed it to be, whether I knew it or not.

Welcome to Japan

Ghibli studio’s Princess Mononoke was my first exposure to Japan. I saw it at a sleepover with a neighborhood friend after playing some video games and I was fascinated. After that the Pokemon craze took over my school with the card game first and the game-boy game second (Squirtle for life). I would watch Digimon on Saturday mornings, play countless versions of Megaman, and eventually sneak episodes of Power Rangers which I was banned from watching for some reason.

However, it wasn’t until high school that the real Japan took ahold of me. After fencing for a couple of years, my coach realized that I was treating fencing like a game and not with the honor and dedication it deserved. I think he also saw that it would be worth building up more arm strength as well. To solve these issues he started training me in Bushindo, the Way of the Warrior and specifically in Kenjitsu, the Way of the sword (Katana).

I was given a handful of books to read including Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai by Dave Lowry which details his training in Kenjitsu growing up in the mid-west while also telling the story of the Shin-Kage Ryu style of Kenjitsu. Shin-Kage survived as one of the most prestigious Ryu’s because the masters of the school were the personal teachers of the Tokugawa Shoganate for many generations.

I started my training with a Bokken, an oak practice Katana working to learn the forms, or kata, that formed the base of my practice sessions. I was gifted a Katana upon completion of my basic training and from there my lessons used a live (read: edged) sword. At this point my fascination with Japan was fierce and I studied a lot about it. But then I moved away from that coach, couldn’t find a teacher nearby, and stopped my practice in the Way.

Two years later, after being kicked out of BYU I was looking at clases to take at the University of Utah and I took introduction to Japanese for a couple of semesters. I then discovered that if I dropped my language and took two statistics courses I could graduate a year earlier and so again my love of Japan took a backseat.

In the past couple of years I have been distracted from Japan by a dozen things here and there, but 9 months ago, while reading a book on stoicism the lessons I’d learned at 15 started coming back to me. You see Stoicism and the Zen philosophy behind the Samurai are not that dissimilar. I picked up Autumn Lightening off the shelf and re-read it in an afternoon. The history of Japan flooded my memories again and I started finding connections to my life that I needed just then.

Since that moment I have read a half-dozen books on Stoicism, a few books on Stoicism, and 2 of the 3 original great texts of Samurai tradition. Katsujinken – The Life-Giving Sword by Yagyu Muenori the 3rd member of the Shin-Kage Ryu to serve the Tokugawa Shoganate in the 1600’s and Go-Rin-No-Sho – The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi the greatest Samurai to ever live.

This morning I landed in Japan and am on a train into Tokyo at the moment. As I see the country-side transition into city-scape I can’t help but feel the seemingly conflicting images of Japan. The Modern technological Japan that is reserved and economically driven complete with a Prime Minister who just donned a Mario outfit in Rio; and the Ancient, focused, disciplined, and deeply philosophical Japan of old. While they may seem conflicting I am certain that if I look closely enough I will see the influences and even practices in the daily lives I observe.

But to start off this journey, I’ll be headed to the root of wisdom in Japan – Mt. Fuji – where I hope to trod the paths of the ancients and pay my respect to the Japanese spirit that has absolutely had its own influences on my life.

Club Lounge Compassion

The worst human beings in an airport can be found herded into a single location. Not the security queues, or the ticket counter, or the 10am pub crew, or the Duty Free salespeople. Its the passengers in the premium club lounges.

Here you have an amazing set-up. Free wifi, comfy chairs, space to breathe instead of squished together shoulder-to-shoulder, free food, coffee, & drinks, free newspapers and news stations, and some of the best staff in the airport. But heaven forbid it takes 30 extra seconds to check-in or they have temporarily run out of orange juice, or heaven forbid someone asks if they can store your baggage in their holding area and all hell breaks lose.

You have people with a “don’t you know who I am” attitude being treated just the same as other people in the lounge. “How DARE you … don’t you know who I am? … I’m flying business class/million miler status/1k/diamond” or whatever BS rewards level they measure their self-worth by.

I saw it this morning at the Barcelona airport with all 3 guests in front of me and a pair of guests right behind me. The greatest offenders were the pair of elderly ladies on business class flights back to the US who reminded me so much of Netflix’s Grace & Frankie. They were affronted when they didn’t need to use their Amex Centurion pass because their business class tickets already granted them access.

When a member of the staff tried to make it better by offering to store her luggage in their secure room so she wouldn’t have to haul it the 25 ft to the lounge chairs one of them blew up. I was close enough to hear a few choice words hurled at the staff. While I didn’t hear these words, it wouldn’t have been out of character for this woman to hurl a solid “Why can’t you just speak English properly” to punctuate her ranting.

As I sit here writing this I see her in a comfortable leather lounge chair, with a cafe con leche, some Iberico Ham and Manchego cheese, and a mimosa … pouting – literally sad and upset at the world.

While I have been full of judgement this morning I should take a step back and ask myself “Maybe she has had a hard trip and just wants to go home. Maybe she recently lost someone. Maybe she is sick or injured. Maybe … Maybe … Maybe.” There could be reasons she could use to justify her actions but it held up a mirror to me and my behavior.

I’ve been that person before, its a long day, a long flight a head of me or behind me, and I just want someone to take care of me. I’ve lashed out inappropriately or just been internally frustrated at the situation. Lord knows it happened a lot in dealing with the bureaucracy at Oxford where my rant came out in the form of “Don’t they teach LOGIC at this University!?!” in trying to get something accomplished. (note: they don’t, they only ask if there is precedent so they are covered if it goes topside)

I don’t know if it is Spain’s relaxed vibe, if it was Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” motto, if it is the fact of writing these post each day and staying in touch with myself through them, or if it is something else. But I’ve found myself more and more approaching people who normally have to deal with entitled people like myself all day and instead of getting frustrated I get to know them.

I ask sincerely how they are doing, how long they have been working today and how long they have left. I joke that perhaps they need another coffee or offer encouragement that 2 more hours can go by quickly. I smile, I try to see them as a human and in return they see me as a human as well. Immediately I stand out and am remembered in a good way and they take care of me better than if I were just a jerk.

On flights I’ve seen this when I offer a small bag of mini-chocolates for the crew along with a sincere thanks for a job that may often seem thankless. While it started out as an attempt to get free perks, it has grown into a small and simple way to be a better person. On the last flight I did that one of the flight attendants caught me on my way back from the bathroom and remarked how – when she looked me up in the system – she was surprised to see that I was a Platinum medallion. She commented how she has almost never seen that basic human kindness from a medallion member.

Why is it that those who have so much take so much for granted? I enjoy flying because it is a way to remind myself about the humanity around me and a chance to practice empathy for those around me. They are calling my flight so I’ll post this now and I hope to get something out tomorrow before the Jet Lag kicks in.

Selective Hearing

“And if you look up you can see a gargoyle shaped like a unicorn” – After living in Oxford, hearing a British accent saying those words wouldn’t have struck me as odd, but I heard them as I wandered around the gothic quarter of Barcelona … in English … with a British accent.

I stopped in my tracks and looked around before catching a glimpse of a tour guide leading a group of about 25-30 tourists on a walking tour of the city. I didn’t have a ticket, I wasn’t a part of any of the sub-groups that made up this tour, but instantly I felt myself joining up with them. I trusted that I wouldn’t get lost and would learn more if I stuck with them versus travelled alone.

The guide was part of a company (New Europe Tours) that have tour guides who give free, engaging walking tours of cities for free and they are paid on tips. The company also sells other tours like a Tapas taste of Spain tour that do cost money but this one was free. So I joined up and got to explore the gothic quarter, learn about the unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, how that led to the rise of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

We went to the Jewish quarter and saw the 5 street section of Barcelona where Jews were forced to live in with a curfew of 10pm. with 10-20% of the city being Jewish this became a cramped part of town so much that the buildings lean inward as they get taller so they can accommodate more space.

We learned about some of the traditions of Catalan and about the various differences between Spain and Catalan before taking a break at a bar the tour company had a deal with. At that point I had to peel off and head to the Sagrada Familia but I went up to the guide and tipped him well for the tour I’d snuck onto because it was well worth it. I highly recommend doing these tours in whatever city you visit for the first time.

Later at the Sagrata Familia I was walking through, hearing Spanish everywhere I went when all of a sudden I heard “David? Is that you?” – Now naturally David is a common name and whenever its said I perk up. I turned around and saw my friend from the MBA who was travelling with us. We had come to the church separately but found each other. Later in the day this happened again at a restaurant.

I often find myself waking through London with headphones in – especially on the noisy tube trains – but I think I’m cutting off one of my sense whenever I do that. Headphones block out the world and isolate you from others more effectively than almost anything else. Had I been walking with my headphones I’d have missed out on a fun tour, a meal with a friends, and a meet-up in a gorgeous church. So while I may use headphones occasionally I’m glad that today I wasn’t and that I have this reminder to be present and see what happens.

The Power of Travel

We live in an age of unprecedented connection. Yesterday I finished my internship in England, it was a rainy London summer day when, at 5pm I hopped on a train to the airport. I boarded at 7:30 and landed in Barcelona in time for a late dinner and sangria with friends.

Today we woke up and started the bachelor party in style as we walked throughout Barcelona, got locked in a room with an hour to escape, ate phenomenal tapas, walked to the beach to enjoy the ocean waves, the beautiful sun, and each other’s relaxing company.

We are citizens of 4 continents coming together on an amazing cheap flight to celebrate our friends who are about to get married. We speak English, French, German, Spanish, Portugese, Tagalog, Romanian, Swedish, and probably more. We come from a dozen industries and backgrounds with many of us meeting each other for the first time in our lives. And yet, we are having an amazing multi-cultural time in a city that lives at a different pace from what we are used to.

We are blessed to be able to make a decision and fly down here for a week, financially, nationally, and attitudinally. We can afford to take the time and spend the money to travel. Our countries allow us to with relative ease and we have taken the time to keep a passport up-to-date. And we are unafraid to experience something completely new with a mix of old friends and new people who until yesterday were unknown and who tomorrow will be friends.

We get to experience the culture of a new city and a style of living that is so different from our own if only for a moment in time. For me, travel is about all of these things and is something that motivates and energize me. It makes me want to go to work so I can keep exploring and meeting new adventures head on.

This is something I only discovered two years ago but is something that I’ve learned to love intensely. What makes it more interesting is that I am actually following a trend among my peers. Did you know that 83% of U.S. lesbian and gay men have a current passport, compared to 34% of all adult Americans? We spend almost twice the amount on travel than the average American as well. It may be stereotypical but I love to travel because I get to practice and see tolerance of other lives and lifestyles and think it is an absolute shame that more people don’t get the opportunity.

These two things in combination came together today and I’ll let one of my friends explain it as he did this evening back at the hotel before dinner.

“You know what I find cool today, we had a big group of married people genuinely interested in your life. With you being comfortable being you. The way society should just be. People who just met you are 100% accepting because it’s not stigmatized like in the States. And people are actually “pushing” for more info – they are genuinely interested.”

Our world is getting more and more inter-connected. Easier to live, work, and push for greater experiences. Not just for gays like me, but for everyone. The news wants you to think the world is coming apart at the seams, that crime is on the rise and terrorism is at your door. The reality is, it’s better than we think and we just need to stay connected, experience something new, and learning more about each other.

Small and Simple Things

The smallest piece of information can have a monumental impact on your life.
At 19, I beat out the other candidates for an internship in DC solely because I knew the name of my Member of Congress and US Senators while the other candidates didn’t. That small detail in my head changed my life.
Why? Because that internship was taking a chance on a guy who had been expelled from BYU and was just starting to find himself at the University of Utah. It gave me something professional to put on my resume that wasn’t retail or restaurant work.
The internship gave me the connection I needed to pick up the phone and recommend me for my first salaried job in DC a few months later. That job exposed me to digital media and politics and got me hooked.
Because of that hook,  the job led me to Google where we were a client. Google where I caught a passion for more than just politics but the role of ‘business’ in a broader context.
That passion led me to apply and get into the University of Oxford where I have met some of the most amazing people who exposed me to what ‘consulting’ was really all about and who helped me practice and prepare for my interviews with Monitor Deloitte.
I just turned in my laptop at the end of my 8-week internship with Monitor Deloitte where I saw first hand how the skills I’ve picked up along the way could be used as a consultant. I’ve also seen the breadth of exposure to the business world and the hands-on depth with each client I could gain as a consultant. Breadth and depth that I can parlay in many directions moving forward.
The internship gave me a taste and worked partially like an 8-week long interview. Both the firm interviewing me and me interviewing the firm. On Wednesday I had my final exit interview with two partners in the firm and I think it went well.
If all goes well I could have just spent 1 yr accomplishing the difficult task MBAs around the world look to do,  the triple jump. Changing function, industry, and location all at once. A complete professional redefinement. From Political Sales in DC to Strategy Consulting in London.
I don’t know how it will go but I am hopeful. At the end of the day,  I wouldn’t have had this entire journey and opportunity had it not been for that simple, trivial fact in my head.
So thank you to Rep. Jim Matheson, Sen. Bennett and Sen. Hatch for landing me the first step on this journey. Thank you to the teachers and mentors who taught me to value learning for getting me to where I am today. And thank you to everyone who has made this journey as amazing as it has been.

Call Centers

Anyone who has sat near me for long knows I love and loathe call centers. At times I find them convenient and easy to use (Delta) and on the whole I use them to get things done faster than tinkering online myself.

But every once in a while I need a good rant. When I’m worked up about life and frustrated by bad logic I’ll do some life administration and call up a call center. I’ll look to score points by nitpicking the errors they make in logic or at times just call them on their bs.
Today I had the chance to visit a call center and see it first hand. I listened in to calls and saw the Half truths told to comfort the client ‘our system is slow today bear with me one second’ while stalling for time being chief among them.
I also saw how rigidly the staff are held accountable. With audits of their calls to see if they step one toe out of line. Their job is intense and difficult and it made me see the other side of the line for when I call in. They have very little power to make their own choices and I have to question, why.
When I call Delta now, and to be fair it’s due to loyalty status, I get connected to a representative who has a lot of flexibility in their job. They are empowered to make things amazing for customers within a range of options. They have helped me book a crazy itinerary on multiple carriers and then switch it all around because they saw a way to book it to save me $800.
Getting your organization’s customer service staff to be able to do that is hard. It takes a culture of trust in your staff and a level of sophisticated training, it takes investment that I lyrics a few places are willing to commit to.
While I can’t change a company’s culture and training from the outside I can change myself. I can stop being a jerk on the phone and start treating everyone, including those who are telling me a little white lie, with a lot more respect – respect deserving of the humanity they and I share.
Note: After only a month it happened. I missed a publishing deadline. I did write most of this article yesterday but unfortunately had a night out with work and wasn’t able to get to finish and publish this. I apologize and hope this occasion is rare. 

Life Skills

Answering the question “Where are you from?” is never easy for me. My family moved around a lot growing up and along the way I learned some critical life skills.

My ability to meet new people and form solid connections even if only for a moment comes (in part) from all the moves we made. But the more important skill I’ve learned is how to pack up my life and ship out.

With all the moves my family made we got pretty good at moving-truck Tetris. At rearranging things to make them fit with no gaps – be it in the car (stuffing with lose towels and other odds & ends) or in a suitcase itself (why leave shoes empty when you can stuff sucks inside them).

This skill has become so engrained in me that yesterday when I found out that my lease ended not on the 31st of the month, but 4 days before – while I’m en route from Tokyo to Montreal – My only concern was where to store my stuff. I knew that given 3-4 hours tops I could clean out my home, pack everything up tight, and be ready to move it somewhere.

I found that place to store my stuff this morning and as a result came home from a long day of work, made some dinner and unpacked the suitcase ‘d already made up for my upcoming trip. Before I had the luxury of using whatever suitcase I wanted. Now I had to maximize space on both my trip and my move.

Tokyo bagsNow, inside this small backpack, is everything I need for the beaches of Barcelona with a classmate’s last trip before his wedding; the humid climate of Japan including cold-weather gear, a sleeping bag, and hiking shoes for Mt. Fuji; and Montreal bachelor-party attire. All inside this – albeit overstuffed – backpack.

The rest of my belongings, from art, to books, to clothes, to tech, to fencing gear, to chocolate chips, to 9 suits/blazers all are in 1 carry-on roller, 1 school backpack, 1 laptop bag, 1 fencing bag, 1 duffel, and 1 backpacking backpack and 3 garment bags. IMG_20160818_002745All packed up in under 3 hours. It would have been done sooner had my big giant roller-bag not broken both zippers needed to close it as I was finishing up causing me to repack everything without that bag.

The only things not packed, are my clothes for tomorrow and Friday, and the laptop I’m writing this blog post on. It may not be as important a skill as cooking or making a perfect powerpoint deck, but it is a critical life skill that I’ve been taught again and again and again.

Working Hard – Or Hardly Working

Sometimes you work a 14-hr day. You get in by 7.30 and get started and by noon you have to pivot and get something completely different ready for a client meeting the next morning. So you grab a conference room, a bottle of water, and plenty of paper and get to work building something from nothing.

Ego goes out the window and you defer to the account lead’s vision as you divide and conquer a 20-page presentation. You bond, joke, and get closer as a team. The fire alarm goes off cutting off precious time you could have been working together. You learn that the guy sitting next to you grew up 2-doors down from your adoptive Jewish mother in DC. You bond some more.

You eat a few meals together, yell at each other out of frustration a bit, and at the end of the day have a solid presentation that is 90% ready. Its 10:30 pm and you are exhausted. You order up an Uber and pull out your notebook to capture a few hundred words to the blog you’ve committed to writing each day. And then your Uber Driver hears that you are American and launches into an amazing celebration of America because of something Joe Biden said to the Iraqi PM about how they (both old men) were going to live to see a free Kurdistan.

He then goes into depth about the 30-yr war that has been raging in Syrian Kurdish lands and how the Kurds have established 3 free and democratic cantons (similar to the Swiss). He talks about how they have been fighting ISIS who controls the land between two cantons. He talks about his cousins who used to live in the Mountains and were given the slur “Mountain Turks” but who now reject that and proudly call themselves Kurds.

He talks about secret deals with Erdogan and Merkel to keep Kurs out of the EU press or else Turkey will release more refugees into the EU. He says “Kurdistan is coming, its a region that doesn’t care about your religion. Where voting is based not on ethnicity but on living there.” He is energized with the pride he feels in his nation and the captive audience he has writing down his every word. He says:

“I eat my pork, I drink my beer, I have my fun 😉 and I don’t HAVE to go to Church.”

He tells me that every family of Kurds in Eastern Turkey has had a loved-one murdered or raped just because of their ethnicity. That this 30 years of violence has WOKE the rising generation who go meet up with resistance fighters as they are fueled by the hatred caused by these murders. – Yes he used the phrase #StayWoke.

He then tells me about the women of Syrian Kurdistan. The YPJ forces. The female battle units who are trained snipers who just this week helped liberate Manbji in northern Syria from ISIS control. One female solider said “It was complicated for us to save civilians from the area, but we did it. Terrorists are now fleeing. We will go after them no matter where they are heading to.” … We will go after them no matter where they are heading to. These are empowered women who, everywhere they go are leaving a trail of women who will #StayWoke behind them.

Women who have seen and survived ISIS and been liberated by other women who, by example show them that they can be strong and don’t have to take it any more. Women who sign up by the hundreds because they “take strength from YPJ fighters when we see them in the battle field.” The women who just this week burned their burqua and men who shaved their beards

The energy and passion and fight for his homeland reminded me of the Israeli women I met when I was in Tel Aviv. My college mate’s cousin who embodied the term sabra or tsabar. The Cactus that will stand there passively, but when attacked naturally fights back hard and tough and aggressive.

Its fitting then that when I looked up the Syrian Kurdish region one of the first articles I saw was about diplomatic channels opening up with the only other secular, democratic nation in the region, Israel.

I guess that sometimes you work a 14-hr day, think its over and then discover an entirely new and amazing story about an inspiring culture from a man so excited to share it. I could have shut down and asked him to instead turn up the radio. Instead I listened, took notes, gained a different perspective on the world and realized I’d been hardly working today.

Talking to Strangers

My internal mindset is a poor reflection of reality, particularly when it comes to myself. This creates a constant need for perspective that is reinforced every time someone calls me an extrovert.

Because to me, they guy who writes 500 words a day, who keeps his nose in a book, enjoys building spreadsheets to track my goals, who grew up with like 1 friend at a time and who literally played dungeons & dragons is a textbook introvert. But my friends and colleagues see a very different view.

They see David, first to raise his hand and ask (or answer) a question. David, ready to dive into a networking event and meet new people. David, unafraid to get called up onstage and draw/dance/sing etc at an event. David who tries to be everywhere and ends up being double or triple booked. They see a very outgoing and extroverted David.

What people don’t know is that I ask or answer a question because I want to understand even more. That I network well because I forced myself to go to events and not to leave until I got 1 person’s card … and then 2, and then 5. That I get up on stage in an attempt to not be called out for being the awkward wallflower. That I double-book myself so I can keep things surface level because *whoops, got to run*.

That being said, the more and more I experience other people and thing about my extroversion I find that my close friends are right. I am extroverted. I see it in the fact that I got up early and stood outside a polling place for 12 hours – literally talking to strangers about voting for my guy. That I went to rallies and made my voice heard. That I protested on the steps of the Supreme Court and went on camera for doing so. The fact that I do all this and as I do it more and more, gain energy from it.

Today I spent most of the day at a customer’s store approaching strangers and asking them to talk for a few minutes, asked them questions, got a feel for their experience, took notes and then moved on to ask someone else. Was I nervous in approaching people? Yes, who isn’t somewhat afraid of approaching the unknown. Did it paralyze me? Hell no. Did it energize me? Yes & No. In the moment I was energized. I was ready to go so much that during the lunch break I made friends with Kristos the Greek running the sandwich shop down the street to the point that if I worked there I could start becoming a loyal customer with a “usual” order in about a week. But when it was over, when we got on the train back to London and I stopped engaging with people I crashed hard.

But even now, 4 hours later, after time to level-out I find my base-level energy as being higher than it normally is. While I may have felt crashed (and mentally I was) when I did a mock interview tonight, the interviewer commented on my personality and emotiveness as a core reason why I would get the job (putting my mental farts aside).

Even writing this entry I feel empowered enough to hold off eating dinner and focus on this task. I guess what I’m saying is that my mental picture of myself doesn’t reflect reality. And it isn’t because the world doesn’t see why I do things, its because I don’t see what the world sees. The more I can see the truth instead of my own insecurities, the closer I can get to reality.