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.

GUNCLE David

13739563_1791128711133617_2055942050_nToday, August 14th, is Gay Uncles Day. As a proud gay uncle of 10 nieces and nephews I have been somewhat negligent in my duties. That being said my oldest niece is around 10 and the youngest just a little over a year old and I’ve been abroad at school and travelling! But last night, in honor of this auspicious day, I watched one of the greatest films of all time. Auntie Mame.

Auntie Mame is a 1958 film about a 10-yr old orphan who goes to live with his madcap Aunt in New York City. Auntie Mame quickly makes it her mission to give her nephew Patrick an education in culture and living and to fight against the menace of the knickerbocker bank who controls Patrick’s trust.

Mame’s love for her nephew is apparent throughout the film and serves as a high benchmark for all gay uncles to achieve. I hope that at some point I can play that role for my nieces and nephews. That I can be a home away from home filled with exotic travels and auspicious adventures.

I haven’t played my part that well yet but in the coming years I hope to do as Auntie Mame did and “Open doors you never even imagined existed” for my amazing nieces and nephews. After all, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

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Travelling

In the span of two years my worldview has completely changed. In July 2014 I took my first international trip as an adult. No family vacations for me. This was me and some friends travelling. I spent a week in London on my own spending way too much on a hotel and visiting Oxford – changing my life forever.

I then met up with my friends in Dublin and had a blast. I enjoyed that first trip but considered it exotic and the exception to the rule that I traveled domestically.

The next international trip I took was in December of that year after being encouraged and persuaded by some friends. I went to Italy to meet a friend I’d made on a domestic trip. I didn’t speak the language but knew enough Spanish to survive in Italian and had my friend as a tour guide. That was exactly the trip I needed following a rough October & November.

At that point I was hooked and followed it up with a flight to Costa Rica for my birthday in March of 2015 to learn how to surf and enjoy the jungle. I met new friends there and learned that I am terrible at surfing. I had a blast and the next month went back to the UK to visit Oxford again before making my call on the program.

At that point I took a few months off knowing I’d be leaving soon and traveled to LAX, SF, SEA, CHI, DFW, NYC, and home to SLC. But in September 2015 – just a little more than a year after my first trip – I moved to the UK.

I started to focus on school for the first semester but by December needed to travel. I went to Israel in December, spent New Years in France, Valentines in Greece, Easter in Italy, France again in April, Berlin in May, Scotland in June, and Sweden in July. Since December I have traveled to a different nation each month and it has been fantastic.

Traveling has exposed me to new cultures directly – in a way that meeting people from various places during the MBA couldn’t fully do. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for all humanity and it has really helped to solidify my stance against xenophobia that seems to be sweeping across Europe and the United States.

By now I am limited only by time and cheap flights and with my internship ending in 6 days I have the biggest trip of my life coming up. On the 19th I fly to Barcelona for an amazing friend’s Bachelor/ette party. On the 22nd I land in Tokyo and spend 4 days experiencing the first country where I can’t at least read the alphabet and try to piece things together. And on the 26th I take off and then land 3 hours earlier in Montreal for a best friend’s Bachelor party before flying home to London on the 29th. Around the world in <10 days and I couldn’t be more excited.

I just packed my one bag that will accommodate the beaches of Barcelona, the summit of Mt. Fuji, and the clubs of Montreal. Because in addition to getting better at seeing humanity all around me I’ve gotten better at packing light too.

Analog Innovation

When I hear ‘Innovation’ my mind thinks ‘digital’. Maybe it’s because of the time I spent at Google or just in general the culture around start-ups but this is my default. I imagine a new website or app; maybe social integration or ratings into an application.

I think of a bed that manages my sleep from end to end. It measures my sleep, connects to my WiFi and controls the lights and temperature of my room to keep me in great sleep cycles. It might even control my laptop and shut it down so I can’t stay up late watching TV or my sound system to play calming white noise. That’s where my mind goes when I think innovation. A connected world.

But more often than not, innovation is much simpler than that. For razor blades it wasn’t a new Mach 7 Turbo Jet Glide by Gillette, but a simple ‘Our Blades are F***ing Great’ slogan and price point that made the Dollar Shave Club a $1 billion dollar acquisition this year.

One story I heard this week as a warning against consultants was about a toothpaste company who found they were shipping a handful of boxes without the tube of paste inside causing issues with their distributors. They hired some expensive management consultants to examine their operations and the team came up with a great system that weighed each box at the final stage of packaging. If a box was too light an alarm would chime and one of the line-workers was tasked with removing the package from the line.

After a few weeks the alarms stopped completely and the team was brought in to see why the new system wasn’t working. They checked the wiring, examined the logs, and finally spoke to the line-manager. He had been so frustrated by the alarm that he set up a large fan facing the line and it simply blew the boxes into a container if they were empty. It’s a simple and innovative solution that serves as a reminder to not over engineer a solution.

My favorite examples of this simple innovation happens in the men’s room. There are two key problems with Men’s room and they boil down to Splash Damage from the urinal. You could spend a lot of money designing a urinal that is mathematically calculated to reduce splash back no matter where the pressure is coming from.  … or you can put a small sticker of a target onto the bowl in a minimal splash zone and the problem is solved. Nothing makes it onto the floor and everyone is happy.

The second Men’s room innovation I love is found at the Georgetown Business School bathrooms where they have this simple design. IMG_20131207_094521For the women readers let me assure you – the designer is a genius. Normally men have to decide between risking splash damage from using the child-urinal or standing far too close to a man’s private space. As a rule you should always leave 1 urinal between you and the next person. Sporting events being really the only exception.

This design solves that problem beautifully without the need for massive Japanese robot toilets that produce a privacy hologram or anything else digital. They simply solve the problem in way that has significant impact.

Innovation doesn’t have to be digital and in fact should be platform agnostic but all too often we get caught up in the shiny new gadget, the expensive weighing-alarm system or a mobile app. But in reality Innovation is just a way to solve a problem that is outside the standard process.

Privileged to Be Here.

Today I am grateful for the privilege based on the country and family I was born into. I may have had my challenges – and they were very real challenges – but today I was reminded in such a stark contrast how much different my life could have been.

I finished up a day of work and headed out to a happy hour networking event for LGBT employees of my firm as well as some of the other firms nearby. An opportunity to get to know other LGBT workers in the area and perhaps do a bit of flirting. Its pretty standard and at this point in my life I’ve done far too many of these events to consider.

That being said, I’m looking to make new friends who have similar interests in a new city – its a great place to chat and meet people so obviously I went.

At the risk of sounding like a power-player gay I also – following that event – had another LGBT networking event. This one was for the Young Professionals for Equality Committee. YPEC is a part of OutRight International an organization that works with LGBT groups on the ground in local communities and hostile countries to save lives however they can.

I got involved with YPEC & OutRight following an event where I heard the Executive Director tell the story of how OutRight helped save 2 gay men from being thrown off a roof by ISIS. Tonight we heard from a handful of speakers including an Academic, a UK-based International HIV organization and Becki.

Becki is from Ethiopia and he goes by Becki in the LGBT world because it isn’t safe for him to use his real name. Becki and his friends have worked tirelessly in Ethiopia to push for the recognition of LGBT people. Full Stop. Literally to be recognized because the President tells the people that gay people do not exist in Ethiopia. And yet that is what they are preached to each week, and if arrested and convicted of being gay they have a potential 15 year prison sentence.

So Becki and his friends work to do what they can. Which at this point is to educate men who have sex with men that it is in fact possible to contract HIV through same-gender sex. Because they have only been told about the dangers of HIV transmission through straight-sex, they think it isn’t transmitted through gay sex. Because of this, these men don’t use condoms or lubricant and in fact they can’t really get either.

Becki came to us asking not for money, but for someone to help him build a website and a mobile app that can be translated and then shared so they can help get the word out. Becki and his friends are not trying to build an Underground Railroad to escape this world, but instead are working to build an Underground Safe haven.

I grew up with parents who love me for who I am and the privileges that comes from being born White, Male, and American. I owe it to Becki to donate more, to do more, and to engage as much as I can with groups like OutRight International.