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.

A Cry for Peace

In a year of xenophobia and hatred, we have come together in the spirit of humanity. I have spent all year watching Donald Trump creep closer and closer to destroying America. I spent passed the year working on my MBA trying to stay out of Republican politics and instead focusing on figuring out what I stand for and what I am willing to fight for.

Over the past months I took a bigger step outside myself an acknowledged that the pain and frustration I felt as haters throw judgements at me for being Gay & Mormon are the same if not easier than the pain and anguish that my friends hear hurled at them from positions of power.

I’ve spent a year being an immigrant in a country who had a major talking point during their last election all about kicking out the immigrants. I joke that I’m here to take their jobs but I see with greater clarity the danger that xenophobia has created.

That is why I am so happy that we have come together for yet another Olympic Games which were founded with the purpose of promoting peace and unity within the international community through the medium of sports. We get to gather together and celebrate humanity in all its forms. The only thing separating athletes is the flags they wear.

No one is afraid of Simone Biles because she is black but because she is America’s Princess FIERCE! No one is afraid that Tom Daley is gay, they are hopeful that he has a chance to bring #TeamGB a gold medal. No one is afraid of Rafaela Silva because she came from the favelas but because she could kick your butt in Judo. No one is afraid of Ibtihaj Muhammad because she wears a hijab but because she can fly down 14 meters of a piste with a sabre in her hand.

Most impressive of all is that no one is afraid that the Refugee team is going to bring secret ISIS agents but rather are inspired that we have a refugee team who represents the 21 million displaced human beings.

The Olympics are a time to put away racism. To put aside xenophobia. To silence the jingoists. Yes it is a time for intense nationalistic pride, but not because we think we are ordained by God with something unique, because – on a level playing field – we have a chance to outperform, outlast, outgun our fellow human beings. Lets keep the spirit of the Olympics going in our hearts and in our words.

Stay a Student

Aha! Eureka! The Flash of inspiration or insight. Sometimes it just hits you and you suddenly find a solution to a problem you’ve been working over in the back of your mind.

I absolutely LOVE this feeling and it happened just last night as I was trying to figure out how to build a presentation and make it rock. You see we have to give a presentation in front of the entire internship class and a panel of judges on what we did this summer. Its all very formulaic and pretty simple to do okay at. But its me, I want to do really well!

It had been on my mind since Friday night when someone had overheard my telling of a story to the intern who called me old. They were drawn in by it and mentioned that they hoped I gave that good of a performance during my presentation.

Since Friday its been on my mind … how can I give a meaningful presentation that works. I’d stared at the problem directly for far too long, chatted with a few people about it, and even sat trying to think about it from a new angle.

It wasn’t until I was working on something else and I heard a vocal track in a song I was listening to. The vocal was sampled from Missy Elliot’s Work It and the line was her “Flip it, Reverse it”.

Something about that lyric made a connection to the problem that had been on my mind. I started to run with that concept. I had to flip the expectations and reverse the way I presented at the event.

The formula had been very much – Agenda, Cases you worked on, what you did, what you learned, What you enjoyed over the internship with the goal of the judges to evaluate our ability to build and then present a 7-10 minute powerpoint.

I am going to flip this, and reverse it; leaning on the great resource of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” as I rebuilt the entire narrative around why I am on the internship to begin with. I am going to communicate this why by starting with a personal story that frames the Why and draws he listeners in. I’ll be using techniques of story telling I learned this year from Simon Bucknell who presented to us three times at Oxford on telling stories in business. I’ll lean on Margot Leitman’s book “Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need” that I took the time to read this year as well.

At the end of the day the slides I built and the content in the middle is very similar to before I had this flash of inspiration. However now it has a consistent theme that would never have happened had I not had this flash of inspiration. Had I not been pushing to make the presentation better, had I not been pushing myself to learn more from great teachers, and had I not been constantly reading whenever I find a spare minute.

I’ve had this flash over a hundred times and what is key is that it always interlinks things I’ve had in my mind recently or that I learned a long time ago. My brain skips a synapse and makes a new connection to material in my head and helps me make it better. This only happens when I keep my mind open and I’ve got a problem in the back of my mind that needs to be solved. It is a constant reminder that I need to stay a student in order to keep making things better.

Salt & Pepper Wakeup Call

“David, How do you have so much fun when you are so old?”

My heart sunk down to my toes and in the abyss I could feel the heat of anger at such an accusation.

“OLD? …. OLD!!?!! First off how old do you think I am and Second why do you think that means I have less fun?”

At this point the undergraduate intern had realized her mistake and tried to backpedal graciously by stating “Your like what? 21? 22?”

I could not deal with the conversation any longer. The following week this story was brought back up and in an attempt at defending herself she brushed the side of my head and said “Well you do have some grey hair here.”

Oooooooooh Child! – I had a talking to with her and told her a simple story that text doesn’t fully capture so I shan’t try. That was on friday evening.

Today at work, disaster struck.

After fixing my hair in the bathroom mirror I caught the light reflecting back into my eye.

“No, it couldn’t be. …. It couldn’t be. NO!”

I had seen it. No not the salt & pepper in my hair that the intern had rightly called out. Salt & pepper in my mustache. I felt an ugly, Luke Skywalker-esque yell swell within me. I held it back but I still feel it rising up.

I AM getting old(er). I had originally grown the beard to help play up my age, now it was happening all by itself.

Last week I wrote all about my childishness and adulting, but it wasn’t until today that I felt the wake-up call. I don’t have a plan yet and probably won’t write about it here because that statistically means it’s less likely to come true. But after I figure out what my next job is and where I’m living beyond mid-September, I’m going to whip myself into shape and start taking care of my body.

I’ll still have fun despite the erroneous thoughts of my friend, but I’ll work to do it more healthily for certain.

Why Fencers are Great Strategy Consultants

Fencers are great strategists both on and off the piste.

I just finished watching the gold-medal bout of men’s foil fencing having watched the bouts all afternoon. As I sat here in my London flat watching olympic fencing I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to my own life. After all I may not have been Team USA material, I did fence at Nationals and the Junior Olympics during my short fencing career.

What is interesting to me is how successful (American) fencers are which when I stopped to think about it made sense. The top fencing programs in the US are all at Ivy-league schools – not big state schools. Which means that in addition to being athletic, competitive fencers also have to be whip-smart. And when you think about it – while they may not be smarter than others, they end up being faster. This is because fencers spend all day outwitting an opponent who is traveling at 90 mph.

Fencers are able to take what just happened in an action, process it, and then respond immediately. The fencers at the top also respond correctly. They are able to take mistakes in stride and deal with failure and ambiguous situations. And they know how to understand and utilize the rules of a situation to their favor.

All of these skills are critical in a business function.  What is also interesting is how often you’ll find a few key books on a fencer’s reading list. The Art of War, The Book of 5 Rings, On War, and The Prince  – books that form the foundation of the business strategy literature. This is because coaches keep pushing fencers to think strategically about each action, each bout, each practice, each tournament, each season. And these books end up being seen on the same tables that sell extra blades or t-shirts at various tournaments.

Fencers also make good strategists because they know remain a student. At my first tournament my coach told me simply – “David, today you are cannon fodder; you will lose every bout and that is exactly why you are here.” He was wrong – I won my first bout due to dumb luck but lost everything else. But I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up, I was energized by it. I knew that I could be much better than I was but only if I admitted that I didn’t know anything. That mentality has stuck with me throughout the years and is a critical factor for success in business today.

I am excited to be at Deloitte where US Olympic fencer Gerek Meinhardt will be returning to after Rio. I am excited that the skills I learned through my years of fencing have value in the workplace.

Showing Up

95% of life is simply showing up and being open to experiences.

I am currently reading Michael Lewis’ book about the 1996 Republican Primaries and his log of following the candidates around. What struck me is that the access he was given was largely due to happenstance where he recognized the right person and said something.

What is striking is how much he I’ve seen this in my own life. For instance, today I spent the day with a friend who lives in Naples, Italy but who was up in London for the weekend. I met him at an Easter brunch this year through a friend who I met originally at the Detroit airport Delta lounge. Had I not been willing to chat, I would never have visited Italy when I did and would never have met these people in my life.

Just a couple weeks ago, in the span of a week I met three different groups of women in London who I struck up conversations with. Ultimately we all ended up sharing some Prosecco and getting to know each other. That only happened because I introduced myself to them for one reason or another.

And way back in 2009 I showed up to a political chat event and went to the networking event after. It was at that event that I met one of my best friends. Over the course of our friendship we have helped each other get jobs, traveled to Ireland and Stockholm and soon Montreal together. He has been there when tragedy has struck and when celebration is called for. Had I not shown up we wouldn’t have met.

There are definitely days when I want to just sit at home, watch TV or read a book, and talk to no one. But then I think of the opportunities I’d miss out on and I more often than not, I find myself out of my house and open to something new.

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.

Tube Trouble!

Imagine being packed into a sardine can shoulder-to-shoulder with hot air blowing on you despite the heat outside. Add in egregious noise and remove all manners. That is your typical peak London commute.

Thankfully during this internship I have been lucky enough to travel at less-peak times. I try to get into work early and I leave a bit later for many reasons (but definitely not trying to be THAT Intern). Door-to-door my commute is 40 minutes assuming I catch the train just right. I walk to the tube, hop on one-line and sit down for a dozen stops, and then walk to work. Most days. I’ve used this system to get through 4 books this summer.

Some days I get finished with a meeting at the client site and we decide to leave and go home to finish somethings up. At 5:30pm at a central tube stop that mixes tourists and commuters. That requires me to transfer lines, take a bus, or walk 25 minutes. Literally I had to queue up outside the station to get into the station. I may have been able to walk home faster than it took to get into the station. And then when I finally got onto a train the elbows digging into my kidneys were just unacceptable.

Is this how it normally is? My experience so far has only really been DC & SF which is crowded but only this bad for things like the inauguration, pride, and that time Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert took over the National Mall. It honestly shaped my entire view on London in an instant. Enough that I am going to work as hard as I can to live on the same line as my work or close enough to it that I don’t have to transfer. Or better yet, somewhere I can walk to work in a not unreasonable amount of time.

It may end up being expensive but it is going to be worth it. … assuming I get the job, take the job, and can get a visa in this crazy world we are now living in.

Brace for Feedback

The greatest gift you can receive is the gift of honest feedback. It may not feel great and hell it can downright hurt sometimes, but it is a gift and it is worth remembering that.

Feedback gives you a point of view on your blindspots and gives you the opportunity to improve, but you have to be ready and open to it. I’ve spent a lot of time this year getting comfortable with myself and constantly checking my ego.

After all, I have accomplished a lot in my few short years. From surviving BYU to leading comms for an LGBT non-profit. From being invited as a guest lecturer to debating at the Oxford Union. From helping a documentary get to Sundance, being recognized on the earnings call for Google, fencing at the Junior Olympics and performing at the Kennedy Center. To getting into Oxford and interning in London.

On the other hand throughout my life I have been fired, expelled (twice), rejected again and again and again. I’ve been called names and lost friendships. I’ve bailed on commitments to others and to myself. I constantly find myself in a position of doubt, of feeling like an impostor.

Feedback gives you the lens by which you can really see how you are doing. Last night I got some feedback on an evening call with my manager. It was something small and was really a misunderstanding on my part. What was interesting is that my manager told me, essentially “Don’t worry David, I’m not being critical.” The subtext being don’t think this means you aren’t going to get hired at the end of this internship, I’m just trying to redirect the work.

I had to tell my manager “You don’t know me that well yet, but once you get to know me you’ll see that this is exactly what I needed.”

This wasn’t always the case, but because I was in a position to receive feedback and be open to actioning it I was able to apply her feedback on something specific and apply it to a different piece of work entirely helping to improve what we were doing.

The only reason I was able to be so open to this feedback was because I’ve spent time constantly riding the balance between the under-qualified and the over-confident versions of myself. And that was because of the amount I’ve been reading in order to learn from others. In one book a quote from Anne Lamott was included that stood out so much that I have a simple note alongside the passage that reads “Shit this is accurate.” In keeping the imagery she evokes in the front of my mind I have remained open to feedback and learning without being paralyzed by fear. I’ll leave you with the passage because shit, it is accurate.

“If you are not careful, station KFKD (K-Fucked) will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one had no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”

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.