Suicide, a Survivor’s Guide

Tl;dr version – We do not talk about suicide and mental health nearly as much as we should. It is critically important to speak up about this – so to that aim I am telling my story 10 years later and ways I’ve learned to stay sane.

If you need help call The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or NAMI (1-866-488-7386).

Me pretending to be “happy” – August 2008
Suffering is one very long moment

A decade ago I was “happy”. I put on a veneer that everything was going well when just below the surface I was raging like Mount Vesuvius and as stable as the San Andreas fault. I didn’t have an outlet for that pressure, it broke me and I tried to kill myself.

In the past I’ve been vague and skimmed the surface about this because it is painful, deep, and emotional and honestly, because I still feel ashamed about it to this day. I’d allude to it as “about to give the ultimate sacrifice” or “in the past I went as far to create a suicide plan”. The only other time I’ve written about this it was clinical. Only 5 short crisp sentences stating what had happened with a link to the Trevor Project.

The fact that I tried to kill myself is a dark secret I carry with me and don’t talk about because I’m partially afraid of how much one night nearly destroyed everything. I don’t focus enough on the fact that I’ve had 10 years that by all rights I shouldn’t have had.

It is important that we speak uncomfortable truths and secrets and so today I will. Reading through my story it is amazing to see the power of hindsight. Things I thought were the end of the world seem trivial now but when I was in the midst of this darkness my view was distorted and it is only with a decade of time that I am able to see more objectively. Please forgive any typos as this was painful to write and harder to revise.

My Story
  • It was the fall senior year at the University of Utah – 2008 I was in DC for an internship and hadn’t met anyone else in the program
  • I’d transferred to the University of Utah after being kicked out of BYU for “struggling with my sexuality”. I hadn’t yet admitted to myself I was gay. I’d lied to my parents and literally everyone about why I wasn’t at BYU anymore.
  • On the flight to DC I finally said the words “Maybe I’m gay” to myself. In that moment every question I’d had over the years clicked into place. I’d felt incongruous with the world around me and finally I had an answer as to “why”
  • 30 seconds later I realized “Shit I’m also Mormon” – hence the major conflict
  • I spent the next semester figuring out what being gay & Mormon actually meant. I came out to the other gay kid in the program and he introduced me to my first gay bar which incidentally I have now outlived (RIP Town Danceboutique!). I went on my first dates, learned how fleeting yet fantastically meaningful a relationship could be, went to my first gay-friendly bookshop and realized that it is just another bookshop albeit with larger self-help & fiction sections and a flag out front.
  • I also dove headlong into researching everything biblical and clinical on homosexuality. From the original Greek version of the Bible that Paul’s epistles would have referenced to the latest research on twins where researchers were looking for the “gay gene”.
  • On any given week I would go from looking for a “cure” to my problem to instead looking for religious text that said I was normal and loved. I researched conversion therapy and the only reason I didn’t sign myself up for electroshock aversion therapy was because y research showed it was effective only 5% of the time and even then the effects of the “cure” lasted less than 5 years.
  • I did all this because I felt like my soul was being split in two. Saying that doesn’t do it justice and I lack the talent to describe it myself. The closest I’ve found to how I felt can be found in the play Angels in America when the Mormon housewife is having a mental break because her husband is gay. She is told:

“God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can’t even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It’s up to you to do the stitching.”

  • This is how I felt as a gay Mormon. My entire life had been ripped apart and I was left to do the stitching up and in the process had to decide what I kept and what was left behind. Would I keep the gay bits or the Mormon bits.
  • This is how I thought, in a binary. I couldn’t do both and so I had to pick one.  Faced with the choice to leave all you’ve ever known and throw it aside for all eternity or reject this new thing that for the first time made your life make sense. Two roads diverged in front of me and I had to choose. But my thinking was almost always on what I’d be giving up. On the negative. Rejecting family and eternal life with them or rejecting happiness. Even in that time of choosing I could only see the negative of those choices, not the positive and definitely not a possibility that there was more than just a binary.
  • So it was with this constant question in my mind that every day during my lunch break I’d take a walk through the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum just a couple of blocks away. I’d wander through oblivious to most of the art because I couldn’t see the beauty or the happiness in any of it. I was going to find a quiet place to think and work through this problem. I felt so weak for not being able to “just fix this” that I told no one. I just put on a smiling face, wrote my thoughts in journals, and kept white knuckling through it.
  • That meant the cycle between “I’m going to be gay” or “I’m going to be Mormon” went from a 10-day cycle to a 7 day to a 4 day to a 2 day cycle. I started flip-flopping my position on everything so much that I couldn’t do anything but get myself to work, get through the day, and then focus on this. It consumed everything I did. Finally I “broke down” and started looking for help from other people.
  • I started participating in online forums for other gay Mormons working through this on both sides of the coin. I reached out to YouTubers who had told their coming out stories. I went so far as to break down and tell my Dad when he was in town and then a month later just a few days after the bitter-sweet election of 2008 where Obama won and Prop 8 passed I told my Mom I was gay.
  • Let me tell you that it is not easy telling Mom that her baby wasn’t everything she thought I was going to be. After I told her I thought things were going to get better. I went from having no support network to having a couple of people I could lean on. Or so I thought.
  • Just 2 weeks later I still faced with this binary choice of which half of me had to die so that the other could live. This morning I reviewed my journals from that time and this quote stood out

“I feel as if I’m in an endless cycle that will keep me depressed then happy the depressed, etc until one side either the Church or gay breaks and gives UP. If this continues I will break and kill myself, I can see it coming  … … If I can’t break this cycle before next year I will need to commit myself to a psych ward”.

  • That’s where my head was at and one day things clicked into place in my brain and this seemed like the answer I’d been struggling to get to. Why be the one to choose when I could let Jesus take the wheel and have God tell me what I needed to do on the other side of the veil.
  • It was in that moment that I really had decided to do it but I was so mad at myself for making that choice that I decided to vent my frustration and blow off some steam by practicing some of my fencing kata. I didn’t have my swords so I took an old broomstick, went outside, and started through the motions to try and calm myself but they didn’t work. So instead I started to fight the imaginary foe that was a big tree nearby but it wouldn’t budge.
  • I hit the tree again & again & again & again until I had destroyed the broomstick and my hands were stinging and numb from all of the reverberations.
  • I picked up the pieces, threw them away, went upstairs, and cleaned up my hands not feeling any relief. In the bathroom I opened up the medicine cabinet and noticed the bottle of Lortab leftover from my wisdom teeth removal. So I took one for the pain.
  • I tried calling Mom but couldn’t get ahold of her so I reached out to my online community and posted about how I was feeling. I don’t remember if it was a goodbye note or just an obvious cry for help. After writing that I tried calling Mom again and this time left a voicemail.
  • In it I asked her to call me back, told her I loved her and needed to chat, and that “If you don’t hear from me, it’s not your fault”. Then I hung up and emptied the rest of the bottle of pills down my throat.
  • I got a call from one of the guys in the online group and he did everything you are supposed to do in that situation. He tried to get my address by claiming “he wanted to send me a postcard” but I told him no he’d want to send an ambulance.
  • I remember lying in bed trying to forget about this world protesting against this guy’s attempts to get me help and something I was saying on the phone triggered my roommate into action.
  • My roommate came over and asked me what was going on. I stumbled my way through it without really telling him much except about some of the pills. He went to ask our other roommate for help.
  • In that moment I ran out of the apartment, took to the stairwell and went up a few flights of stairs and hid in the laundry room just wanting to die.
  • The police were called and they searched the building until they found me and took me to the hospital. It just so happens that I was found by one of the gay cops on the force who, on the way over, shared his story with me and telling me I’d be okay, that it gets better … he didn’t understand.
  • In the hospital bed I remember the nurses saying I was having issues with my sexual identity and me internally raging that they didn’t get it. I knew I was gay that wasn’t the problem. It was that I was also Mormon and no-one understood what was going on.
  • They took me to the psych ward for observation and counselling. I remember they wouldn’t let me have my headphones to listen to music for fear I’d use them to hang myself. I met with a shrink who wanted to talk to me about how it was okay to be gay and how “in here all the problems of the world are on the other side of that door. In here you don’t have to worry about the pressures outside.” I stared and him and realized he didn’t get it either.
  • The cop didn’t get it. The nurse didn’t get it. And now the shrink didn’t get it. And worst off I hated being in that ward. It was for crazy people and I wasn’t crazy.
  • I eventually got to talk to my mom and heard how panicked she was by my voicemail the next morning (she had gone to sleep early and hadn’t heard the phone ring) and how she and my brother had tried to track me down.
  • I met with the shrink again the next day and this time he realized that the demons I faced came inside with me and that keeping me in the hospital may not be the best for me. Part of this was helped by me internally believing and thus truthfully telling him and everyone around me “After going through this I can promise you I’m never going to try and kill myself ever again”.
  • I believed that lie. I made them believe it too until they let me out. What they didn’t know was that in my head the key word was “try”. Like Yoda’s advice “Do or do not, there is no try” I knew my next attempt would have no calls, no room for error, no witnesses, just a note safety pinned to my shirt. Even hearing how my Mom panicked when she got my voicemail didn’t shake this resolve.
  • Somehow I convinced everyone of this lie and got out of psych ward in less than the 72 hour observation period and ended up back at my internship.
  • I went back to the old cycles of gay or Mormon but they were back to their 10-day cycles again. I had 3 weeks left on my internship before I went home and I knew that before my 20th birthday in March – if not sooner – I’d be dead. I was past choosing, I had decided. I was full on planning how with several situations as to how I’d do it.
  • Then after only a few days home I woke up to a primal scream from my mother yelling my name. Instantly the adrenaline coursed through my system and I was awake and downstairs. She couldn’t find her husband and he had left her some disturbing voicemails. We went looking for him and listened to more voicemails that made it clear he had was going to kill himself. We figured out where he’d gone and when we got there we discovered the police had already been there and taken him to the hospital. He was alive.
  • It was only then sitting in the hospital waiting room that I realized had been given a gift. I was able to experience first-hand what my Mom went through when she got my voicemails. The panic, the feeling of helplessness, the primal fear coursing through her veins. I got to see how my attempt had fractured her.
  • In that moment it became clear that for the first time that this suicide attempt wasn’t just about me. It wasn’t about what half of me had to die, which binary I chose, or how I killed myself. I finally understood how it would have deep, life altering ripples through everyone around me.
  • It would take the pain I was feeling and not end it, but amplify it and share it with everyone around me – forever changing their lives. Even writing this I can only imagine how these two attempts may have changed my Mom’s behavior when it comes to sleeping near the phone, and we both made it out alive.
  • I am extremely grateful to have had that experience but I got lucky. Far too many people don’t get that and are thinking to themselves “I’m never going to try to kill myself again”. That is why I had to share my story because far too few talk about this.
  • In the last decade I have been able to do some incredible things including living in 4 major cities, going to grad school at Oxford, working for Google & L’Oreal, seeing dozens of amazing musicals that touched my soul, help countless other gay Mormons stay alive and find meaning. I’ve met incredible friends whom I’ve shared my life with, traveled to almost 20 countries, been on incredible adventures and so much more.
  • Has it been all rainbows and sunshine – HELL NO! There have been struggles and pain. Loss and rejection. Frustration and fury. But in the end I have been able to hopefully do some good in this world.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

In order to push back the demon I had to make it about other people, not about me. But sometimes the stress brings me closer to that demon’s grasp and so I’m grateful for tools I’ve put in place to help make sure I never get anywhere near this demon again. Here are some of the ways I work to stay mentally sane. They work decently well for me but your mileage may vary.

  1. Get physical – Even if it’s just for a walk or a run let alone a gym session or a full on competitive sport. Activating my body activates my mind and helps me stay sane.
  2. Talk meaningfully with the inner ring in your life. – Your inner ring may be just 1 person or a handful, but the family and friends you tell just about everything to you should speak to regularly and meaningfully. Sometimes all I need is a quick check in with how their job hunt or move or travels are going but I know that – when shit hits the fan – I can call on them to help get me out if my head. When I find myself realizing my inner ring has shrunk because people drift or move on, that is a warning sign to heed.
  3. Find and embrace stories. From novels to comic books, business books to TV shows, movies to video games, or from the people around you. Find a way to hear other stories. They don’t have to be about struggle or mental health and please I hope they aren’t! Stories allow us to find our own moral lessons and learnings based on how we – in that moment – interpret them. When I find myself finding only melancholy meanings in stories that is a warning sign and so I look for something different.
  4. Change your routine. We are creatures of habit. We take the same commute to work, go to the same shops, order the same food and in the process form patterns and routines. When my routine becomes a mental rut something as small and simple as taking a different path to work or going to a different gym gives me perspective and gets me out of my own head. It reminds me that I need to get out of my mental health rut as well.
  5. Shut off the news. The news alert the other week about RBG falling down and breaking 3 ribs set the mood for half of my office and made everyone a bit more on edge. I stopped getting most alerts so that I could avoid the rapid-fire cyclical anxiety of news. Unless your job demands you have CNN on at all times then don’t. Reclaim your time.
  6. Change your music. Over the last decade I’ve seen how the music I listen to amplifies or dampens a mood. If I’m feeling down and listen to melancholy music I feel worse for longer. Putting on music with a brighter beat or more calming message works. It may take an entire playlist or two but it works for me.
  7. Explore a new culture. This one is huge for me. Be it through going to try new food at a local Ethiopian place or flying to Portugal (which I’m doing in a few hours). Seeing how a different culture responds to the same stimuli forces you to change your perspective. Travelling especially does this as you go from “they say elevator wrong” to ” they say elevator differently and that’s okay”. While a lift and elevator are small examples experiencing this reminds me to not think in a binary of wrong and right but to find a way to make things work best for me.
  8. Learn a new skill. When we only do what we are good at doing it is easy to see ourselves as failures when we fail at some new challenge. In reality we just haven’t experienced it or practiced it yet. We can build resilience by failing often in small and controlled ways. The best way I know how to build this is by trying something new. I went to Costa Rica and spent a week at surf school. I originally thought “yeah, I can do that!” Newsflash I could not. I got up 1 time for about 10 seconds and failed again and again. While I may not have actually learned the new skill I did learn how to fail and be okay with that as long as I keep trying.
  9. Journal. Writing things down with pen and paper in a quiet spot gives you perspective and lets you empty your anxiety onto a page instead of keeping it bottled up in your head. If I spend 5 minutes each morning with my iced coffee writing 10 lines about the shitty thing Karen from finance did helps me be more mindful during the day.
  10. Reflect. Spend a day a week different from the others. Don’t work, don’t stress, just set it aside. If I can take it and go to the park for a picnic, take a stroll, or go to an amazing choral church service I find it helps turn the release valve and give me a mental break. Often I’ll take my journal and write until I can’t write anymore thus combining a few activities.

These 10 things work well for me and help me stay sane because they try and slow down the crazy and give me perspective. If you are having a hard time know that you are not alone. You are not flawed. You are human.

We live in a crazy world and so I’ll leave you with the best description about anxiety & depression I’ve ever heard. It comes from a dear friend who was asked by his doctor where anxiety came from. He described it best when he said;

“I mean the brain evolved to pick berries out of bushes, chase antelopes or whatever, and run away from lions, but now I have a computer in my pocket that talks to satellites, i live in a brick box, and will probably live 70 years longer than nature intended, so that probably has something to do with it.”

If you are having a crisis please reach out to The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or NAMI (1-866-488-7386). If you need someone to talk to I am happy to help out as well.

Je t’aime Paris

When I was in first grade, my family visited Paris. The trip started off with me, as the youngest of 4, was given a bar of chocolate by my older brothers (7 & 9 years older). This was as we were boarding the flight and I eagerly ate the entire bar of chocolate probably before take-off. My parents were up in first class but not too long into the flight they were aware of my gluttony.

You see, my older brothers were not being nice, they were being older brothers. It was a bar of laxative chocolates, suggested dose for my age 1 brick. Actual dose I ate, 12 bricks. Chaos ensued on the flight over. So I arrived in Paris dehydrated and pooped out.

We played tourist to no-end on that trip with most of it spent in McDonald’s without play areas so that my dad could take work calls. We went to the Louvre and mocked the mimes. We went to Monet’s garden, ate cucumber sandwiches, and looked at the lillies. We went to Notre Dame and didn’t see a single hunchback or singing gargoyle. We went to the crown jewel of tourist traps to satiate a family of 6. The Hard Rock Cafe.

It wasn’t until getting into Paris last night and spending the day with Mom & step-dad walking and taking the hop-on hop-off bus around the city that I remembered a lot of these stories. It was today that I realized where my hatred of tourist traps comes from.

Like many strong emotions, this despise of all things tourist came from my childhood. From that long-ago trip with the family where all we did was stand in line, wait at McDonalds, and see old fuddy-duddy art that I’d learned about on Encarta.

I’ve been to Paris three times this year and am finally seeing what I missed all those years ago. I am seeing the Seine and the beauty that river cities hold. I am eating amazing food and watching the Parisians enjoy their city. I am watching the multiculturalism of Paris against the stark contrast of the drive to preserve the French way. I am falling in love with a city that for two decades I have mocked based on the worst travel of my life. I am so glad I’ve had the open mind to start this lovely journey.

As I learned from one of my mates at BYU as he tried to teach himself French … Paris, je t’aime.

Graditude for Time

Time is a weird concept. It can stretch for seemingly forever (like when you are watching the “Time to destination” clock mid-flight) and it can compress and seem like a month goes by in an instant. This week has definitely pushed my sense of time.

7 days ago I was working in London helping to devise the digital strategy for a financial services client. Since then I have been in 6 different countries (2 for layovers) Knowing that I had a flight to Barcelona I was literally counting down and messaged the group “2 hours until I leave work, 2 hours till I leave work 1hr 59 min until I leave work” as a joke about how ready I was to join my friends in Spain.

Once I landed, time took on a Spanish air where the pace of the country slowed down a bit and dinner stretched for hours but seemed like minutes as the company was amazing. Laying out at the beach meant time didn’t matter as long as the sun was up. Then on Monday morning I took off for Japan via Rome and lost an entire day of my life to travel. I left Spain at 11:30 am on Monday and landed in Japan at 11:00am Tuesday. I slept a little bit on the plane but not much. Time passed by so slowly that day.

After landing in Japan I hiked Fuji and the first hour seemed to last for 4 and the last 4 hours flew by as I’d gotten used to the climb. I seized back that lost time by delaying sleep and ended up paying for it later. I spent the next few days in Japan at breakneck pace trying to fit everything in and experiencing the fact that I couldn’t even if I lived in Tokyo full-time.

Then comes Friday – 7 days later and at 4:30pm I took off from Japan only to land first in Minneapolis in the past, at 1:30pm and then onto Montreal landing at 7pm still on Friday. I get to spend the next few days giving one of my best friends a fabulous bachelor party surrounded by his friends and the French boys of Quebec.

As I sat on my flight from Tokyo to Minneapolis I was chatting with the flight attendant as I stretched my legs and she asked about my travels so I told her about the crazy 7 days I’ve had and the 3 more that are left. In that conversation I realized how incredibly blessed I am to be able to 1. have the time and money to do such a crazy trip and 2. have the courage to pull off my vist visit to Asia sandwiched in-between two other trips.

I am truly grateful for the mentality I’ve been able to cultivate over the past two years that made the concept of finding a cheap flight and just going somewhere a reality. I am truly grateful to have jobs that afford me the luxury of a salary and time off that allow me to do so as well. This trip has helped me grow and will continue to do so and I consider myself lucky to be able to do so.

Now to the hotel where I will drop my bags and meet the crew for dinner.

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.

IMG_20160824_053505_01IMG_20160824_043448

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.

Women in the Workplace

In the class of 16 people, 9 were women 8 were men. Throughout the day 46 questions were asked by the men. 6 by the women.

This isn’t some grand social experiment, this is what I observed as a member of that class on my first day on my internship. I literally started keeping track because it was very clear that gender ratios had been kept in mind (awesome) for this group of undergraduates and MBAs however the men were still dominating the conversation. In fact, of the 6 questions asked by women that day, 3 were to another female presenter and 2 were to our internship manager whom we’d met already several times.

What is it about our society that pushes men to be more vocal and women to be more quiet – even in a highly selected group of high performers who represented the top 1% of almost 2,000 applicants?

As I’ve worked here for the past few weeks I’ve kept that question in the back of my mind and shared my observations with a few in the class as well. What is interesting to see is how this shakes out the higher up you look – and this applies to most any firm.

The higher up you go the more you find the women who have conformed to the male-role of asking questions. On one team I had a junior female team mate who at first wasn’t asserting herself into the conversation to ask questions until she gained a familiarity and had built a relationship with the person speaking, unless the person she was talking to was another woman.

Conversely on a different project I have a senior female member who has no qualms about speaking her mind and jumping in to ask the same questions and generally exuding the same behavior that I’d expect from men.

Today we met one of the few female partners in the firm and she is one of the first examples of where I’ve seen someone who balances the two different styles.

I don’t have a magic answer for this observation but as a white male I have a responsibility to ensure that women (and other minorities) are provided with an environment where their talents can come through and not where they have to force themselves into a box. I am by no means perfect at this but I wouldn’t have even thought about this question without several rounds of unconscious bias training and in particular this video from my friend Marie-Anne. Give it a watch.

The Past is Providential

Sometimes, what you are trying to run away from – catches up to you. My dad is a mining engineer by training and a serial entrepreneur by passion. Following a divorce and a rough & rocky relationship with my dad, I made it clear that I was NOT going to enter the family business, I was not going to ever work for my dad and nor would I be involved with mining. I was so adamant about this that Freshman year of college I declared my major as Pre-Dentistry because it was the furthest thing from mining I could think of. That and I’d always had an affinity to the character of Hermy the Elf

I’ve since moved on from dentistry and ran into a half-dozen other majors before finding a passion for politics. My brothers, on the other hand have all worked for my Dad. I escaped to the safe refuge of Politics which is known for its low divorce rate (HA!) and thought I was all set.

Then I saw how almost all of the people I respected had an MBA and so I looked into it. At first I was repulsed because I didn’t want to become the entrepreneur that my Dad was and wanted to avoid “business” as much as I could because of it. Eventually I got over that but only after starting my own consulting firm!

This week, while working on my main client for this internship, I was placed onto an internal project related to Mining. I just about died from the humor of the situation. In the end I reached out to my Dad and my brother to pick their brains and as I tried to recall all of the endless stories I’d heard over the years. They were more than happy to share and jog my mind which wasn’t paying all that much attention the first time around.

In the end, the value & insight I was able to bring to bear on the project was only because of my past. I’ve spent a long time running away from what I’ve been. From Mormonism to Mining. Today I had my view reenforced, my view that all of life’s experiences have value – even if it takes you a while to see it.

Trump – Media Manipulator

Donald Trump won the GOP Primary because he manipulated the media each and every day. I’ve had this thought in my head for a while but it came back to me this week as I was sitting on the tube reading the 2012 book Trust Me; I’m Lying the confessions of media manipulator Ryan Holiday the former CMO of American Apparel.

The book details the economic incentives that drive bloggers and the online news cycle of clickbait articles and scandal and how the author has used them time and time again to dominate media coverage and garner support for his clients. Holiday worked under the same media philosophy that Trump does, All press is good press. Especially in a world saturated by media where the worst thing is obscurity.

I’ve lived in this world so it took me a while to read this book, but for those who haven’t had the curtain pulled back Holiday does so succinctly in this paragraph:

“A portion of the advertising on blogs is sold directly by the publisher, a portion is sold by sales reps who work on commission, and the rest is sold by advertising networks that specialize in the remaining inventory. Regardless of who sells it or who buys it, what matters is that every ad impression on a site is monetized, if only for a few pennies. Each and every pageview is money in the pocket of the publisher.”

While 4 years old, this book remains relevant as the situation has only gotten worse. With the NYTimes selling articles to advertisers the entire publishing world has become consumed with getting traffic to its pages to resell as ads.

Because of this, it is relatively simple to manipulate the press and thus public opinion. Donald Trump is a master at this. He knew that as long as the story was focused on him then it would take the focus away from his opponents. If he wanted to take over 3 days worth of news, just simply say an absurdity and then either walk it back or enjoy the flocks of people with whom that rhetoric resonates with.

The purest example of this is that the day Ted Cruz overtook Trump in Iowa by 10 points in polling Donald Trump announced a plan to ban all muslims from entering the country. Trump knew that if he stayed silent the news would be incentivized to focus on Cruz’s surge. Instead he gave them a juicier story guaranteed to steal the attention and for which editors would get the clicks they needed.

If you are an editor which do you care about more, the truth that is boring or a sensational story that will boost your ratings? This isn’t a new phenomena as Ed Murrow once famously stated:

“If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.”

While this isn’t new, the media is today being manipulated to promote a xenophobe. We can change that by installing AdBlockers and paying for quality news. By disavowing Trump for the xenophobe he is but also anyone who supports his xenophobic philosophy.

Ryan Holiday concludes his book with this paragraph and it is how I will leave you today.

“You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. You cannot manipulate the news but not expect it to be manipulated against you. You cannot have your news for free; you can only obscure the costs. If, as a culture, we can learn this lesson, and if we can learn to love the hard work, we will save ourselves much trouble and collateral damage. We must remember: There is no easy way.”

London – The Best Kept Secret

London is the best kept secret of the corporate world. It is English speaking and time delayed by only 5 hours. That means when London goes home at 5, San Francisco is just heading into work providing you with coverage from coast to continent for 16 hrs a day.

London also is filled with productive employees who work hard but also realize, down to their bones, that work does not define them. They are more than ready to take off by 7pm and leave their laptops at the office. For context I once HD a job in DC literally a 12 minute walk from home. I was required to bring my laptop home.

Londoners also have a realism when it comes to relaxing with coworkers. Within 2 days on the job I knew my coworker was dating a “free spirited artist” and that his drink of choice was a lager.

He and I had had a handful of lunches together (Sad desk lunch is discouraged) and I know he values evening time with friends over morning time.

London work life gives you the flexibility you need to work and live.

London also recognizes the value in taking serious conversations about performance out of the office environment where a desk gets in the way of honesty. Instead they have them at the pub just downstairs.

The London work environment is rigorous and is hard work, but it manages to produce amazing work without sucking your soul away like NYC and to be honest, all of the US professional services.

I’m feeling very grateful for the chance to work here and look forward to my next review with my manager, this time over a Guinness.

 

The Union – Making the OxfordMBA Truly Unique

Union LibraryThis week, among all the other craziness, I had a chance to witness an Oxford Union debate. For those unaware, the Oxford Union is very different from the Oxford STUDENT Union. The Student Union (OUSU) is the student association in charge of clubs, parties, etc. The Oxford Union (The Union) is the debating society that brings speakers to Oxford and hosts a weekly formal debate with students and professionals on the topic at hand.

The Union is pretty new (for Oxford) as it was founded less than 200 years ago in 1823. It is separate from the University itself so that it is not governed by the rules of the University (which at times restricted certain topics of discussion like religion). As a Member of the Business school all 340 MBA students have been given a life-time membership allowing us to attend any event that the Union hosts. This week the debate proposition was “This House Believes the UK Has Surrendered Too Much Liberty in Pursuit of Greater Security” and featured three speakers on each side who for 10 minutes each worked to persuade a hall of 400+ students to either support or oppose the proposition. Truly it was debating at its best.

In the debate were two students (one on each side), Shami Chakrabarti the Director of Liberty (proposition), David Frum Bush 43’s speechwriter (opposition), a professor of liberty at the university – proposition (subbing in for an MP who was called back for a vote) and Dan Hodges a Daily Telegraph journalist – opposition.
The debate will be posted to the Oxford Union’s YouTube page in a few weeks and I encourage you to subscribe to their channel if you are unable to make it to the debates themselves.

For context, the Union’s membership base is roughly 1,200 students per year. At ~400 students, this makes the business school roughly a third of the membership and so the school is working on building a strong relationship with the Union. At no other business school are you going to get such top-notch speakers come each week. In the 8 weeks of Michaelmas Term we have 49 speakers signed up to come speak. Almost every day there is something happening at The Union and it is truly a unique, Oxford experience. I am truly humbled to be getting my MBA at such a fantastic university where in the next 7 weeks we have the following agenda scheduled.

Debates scheduled:

  • This House Believes the UK Has Surrendered Too Much Liberty in the Pursuit of Greater Security
  • This House Would Legalise the Sale of Human Organs
  • This House Would Not Wear the Red Poppy
  • This House Would Break Up Media Empires in Defence of Democracy
  • This House Believes Britain and the EU are Better Together
  • This House Believes the State Should Not Recognise Marriage

As well as the following speakers:Eric Cantor

  • Sir Elton John – Music icon, multiple award winner, philanthropist. The Union’s biggest catch this term.
  • Mo Adubu – Talk show host and TV producer, described by Forbes as “Africa’s Most Successful Woman”
  • Lord Alan Sugar – Entrepreneur and star of BBC show The Apprentice
  • John Amaechi – English retired basketball player who currently works as an educator and broadcaster in Europe and the United States.
  • Alesha Dixon – English singer, dancer, rapper, model and television presenter.
  • Emily Watson – English actress who gave an acclaimed debut film performance in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.
  • Eric Cantor – American politician, lawyer and businessman, who served as the United States representative for Virginia’s 7th congressional district from 2001 to 2014.
  • Ingrid Betancourt – Colombian politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist.
  • Thomas Newman – American composer best known for his many film scores. Newman has been nominated for twelve Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, and has won two BAFTAs, six Grammys and an Emmy Award.
  • Joshua Wong – Hong Kong student activist who is the convenor and founder of the Hong Kong student activist group Scholarism.
  • Laura Bates – founded the Everyday Sexism Project, which has been described as “one of the biggest social media success stories on the internet” in 2012
  • Yinka Shonibare – British-Nigerian artist living in London. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation.
  • Yanis Varoufakis – Former Syriza Finance Minister and Greek MP.
  • Vanessa Redgrave – British film icon, known for Oscar winning performance in Julia (1977)
  • Akala – English rapper, poet, and journalist. Originally from Kentish Town, London, his older sister is rapper/vocalist Ms. Dynamite.
  • Tim Hartford – English economist and journalist, residing in London. He is the author of four economics books and writes his long-running Financial Times column, “The Undercover Economist”.
  • Michel Roux Jr – French-English two-star Michelin chef at the London restaurant Le Gavroche.
  • Julius Malema – leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African political party, which he founded in July 2013. He previously served as President of the African National Congress Youth League from 2008 to 2012.
  • Mark Ronson – British music producer and artist, Number 1 with Uptown Funk
  • Andy McNab – Steven Billy Mitchell DCM, MM, usually known by the pseudonym and pen-name of Andy McNab, is an English novelist and former Special Air Service sergeant.
  • Nick Robinson – British journalist and former political editor for the BBC.
  • Joss Whedon – American screenwriter, film and television director, film and television producer, comic book author and composer.
  • Rio Ferdinand – English former professional footballer who played as a centre-back. He played 81 times for the England national football team between 1997 and 2011, and was a member of three FIFA World Cup squads.
  • Sir Jackie Stewart – British former Formula One racing driver from Scotland. Nicknamed the “Flying Scot”, he competed in Formula One between 1965 and 1973, winning three World Championhips.
  • Lewis Moody – Retired English rugby union player who played most recently for Bath Rugby and was part of the 2003 World Cup winning side.
  • Marina & the Diamonds – Welsh singer-songwriter.
  • Asifa Lahore – “First Out Muslim Drag Queen.”
  • Hozier – Irish singer and songwriter from Bray, County Wicklow. He released his debut EP, featuring the hit single “Take Me to Church”, in 2013 and his second EP, From Eden, in 2014.
  • Ruud van Nistelrooy – Retired Dutch footballer and current assistant manager for the Dutch National Football Team. He is the fourth-highest goalscorer in Champions League history with 56 goals.
  • Eva Longoria – American actress, producer, director, activist and businesswoman known for starring role in ‘Desperate Housewives.’
  • Marianne Faithfull – English singer, songwriter and actress, whose career has spanned six decades. Her early work in pop and rock music in the 1960s was overshadowed by her struggle with drug abuse in the 1970s.
  • Fredrik Reinfeldt – Swedish politician who was Prime Minister of Sweden from 2006 to 2014 and chairman of the liberal conservative Moderate Party from 2003 to 2015. He was the last rotating President of the European Council in 2009.
  • Lynton Crosby – Australian political strategist who has been described as a “master of the dark political arts,” “the Wizard of Oz,” “the Australian Karl Rove,” and “one of the most powerful and influential figures in the nation”.
  • Lance Armstrong – American former professional road racing cyclist. He previously won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, but was stripped of those victories in 2012 after a protracted doping scandal.
  • Kolinda Grabar Kitarović – Croatian politician serving as the 4th President of Croatia since 19 February 2015.
  • Celia Imrie – English actress, born and brought up in Guildford, trained at the Guildford School of Acting.
  • Frances de la Tour – English actress, known for her role as Miss Ruth Jones in the television sitcom Rising Damp from 1974 until 1978. She is a Tony Award winner and three-time Olivier Award winner.
  • Ruby Wax – American born, naturalised British comedian.

A Day In The Life at Oxford MBA

AHHHHHH I didn’t write a post for this week!

As you might imagine life has been a little crazy now that term has started. One thing I can say for certain is that this program is intense. If you worry about FOMO (that’s Fear of Missing Out for the uninitiated) then maybe Oxford isn’t the place for you. There is SO much going on each day that it makes deciding on classwork, networking, recruiting, and personal development look like a cake-walk. Let me walk you through my week.

This past week I had the chance to go fencing again and signed up for the club with my eye on making the team. I met one of my heroes John Amaechi, the first openly gay NBA player to come out. I met with the administration on improving LGBT efforts at the school and had a 1:1 session with an industry advisor who helped me structure my interview answers better.

I met with my fellow student council to talk through key issues and how to work together to help make the school a better place and I got the chance to hear Eric Cantor speak to the university about the 2016 elections. All of this was just Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday.

On Thursday my classes doubled-down and after a 9-hour day at the school I met with a prospective employer for a coffee chat, worked with the administration to fix a pressing issue for my section, and went fencing again. Friday was just as bad with IT issues, double rounds of classes again, a phone screen with a recruiter and then drinks with my section and then the broader MBA class at the Oxford Union.

Oxford BikeIts no surprise that I almost missed the formal Matriculation ceremony at 8am the next morning. Had I slept through it I would have had a tough time attending classes and graduating! After the ceremony we had two major parties I had to choose from. Naturally I chose both!

Sunday was more relaxing with services at Christ Church Cathedral (Its beautiful, go when you get the chance!) and brunch with a few friends before heading to the library and trying to get ahead of my reading for the week.

If reading that exhausted you, then I suggest working on some stamina because that was my week last week with this one looking to be just as amazing, fun, exhilarating and exhausting. This week isn’t inspirational but I hope I was able to give you a glance behind what a week in the life of an Oxford MBA is like. And I hope you forgive me for being so late!