6 days, 8 planes, 10,700 miles, 2 laps across the US

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Make Epic Moves

I almost said no.  Teetering on the fence like Humpy Dumpty, I’d booked a $200 ticket to California on a whim.  The next day, an awesome opportunity came into my inbox: a speaking gig in Connecticut… two days into my trip to Cali.  I teetered back and forth for a week, unsure what to do.

Then a roommate asked if I’d regret not going.  I booked the tickets right then.

When given the chance between epic moves and safe moves, epic wins.  Every time.

6 days, 8 planes, 10,700 miles, 2 laps across the US.

Raleigh – Fort Lauderdale – San Francisco (3 days to breathe) – New Jersey – Connecticut (1 day to drop some knowledge) – Chicago – Los Angeles (2 days of epicness) – Dallas – Raleigh

10,700 miles of epic conversations cost $80.  Fast forward to day 6.

*****

I’m soaring through the clouds, 30,000′ above ground on the way back to Raleigh.  As the sunset casts it’s glow over the horizon, the shadows of mountain tops fade seamlessly into a cascade of oranges, yellows, and reds.  I can’t help but be overwhelmed by emotion, enveloped in the awe of a sunset at 30,000 feet, humbled by a week of awesomeness.

My brain feeds the instinctual impulse for a deep breath in, followed by a slow breath out.  An uncontrollable smile creeps across my face, a non-verbal neon sign letting the world know that ‘life is good’.

In the English language, we don’t have the linguistic firepower to express this unforgettable feeling in a single word.

Have no fear English, Japan is here to the rescue:

Yūgen: a profound and beautiful sense of wonder for the Universe.

A video montage reel clicks through my mind’s eye, replaying the moments leading up to this feeling.  Right now, Yūgen translates for me as a combination of awe & humility.  One teaspoon of luck, equal parts small and big, mixed well, then thrown in my face.

Awed & Humbled

Gather round the campfire ladies and gents, I have 6 tiny tall tales to tell ya.

Story #1: The Gig

Awed by the fruit of hard work. Humbled by the 8 inspiring college students who fought the remnants of a blizzard to hear my ramblings.

I had my first paid public speaking gig on Tuesday in Connecticut.  While the phrase public speaking engagement might sound a little snooty, it doesn’t change how awesome it is to get paid to share an idea you care about.

An organization called StartingBloc flew me to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to deliver part of their curriculum.  My piece of the puzzle was Transformative Action: the Science of Social Change, adopted from research into case studies of over a hundred non-profits, activists, businesses, and campaigns trying to change the world for the better.  The man behind the research, Scott Sherman, dove into over a hundred ‘Factors’ associated with each movement – from funding to specific tactics – trying to answer the question,

“How do we win?  When people set out to change the world, what factors are most correlated with success?”

I love the material. Trying to stave off the butterflies in my stomach with an overdose of sheer positive energy, I came into Wesleyan guns blazing:

“DOES ANYONE KNOW, by chance, WHAT THE #1 FEAR IS IN THE US?”

Silence.  Good start.  Have no fear Wesleyand-ers, I’ll get you.

“Public speaking.  Ironic, huh?  Jerry Seinfeld once joked that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

The room erupts in laughter.  The ice has been BROKEN by the ice-pick of comedy!  Success.

“And I’ll be honest.  I don’t really get nervous anymore.  I’ve fought off butterflies in front of hundreds of people enough times that it’s become normal, but this feels different.  Today, I’m nervous as hell.  We’re talking today about something I love and I’m representing an organization I love.  So get ready.  It’s about to get real.”

And the 100 times I practiced in a mirror, in airport corners, in the stairwell, and in front of friends paid off.

The director of the program we’re working with at Wesleyan apologized in advance multiple times for having to leave an hour early at 7:30pm.  She stayed until 8:30pm, maybe to make sure I didn’t indoctrinate anyone into my cult of radical ideas, small amounts of profanity, and contagious enthusiasm.  Or maybe she really enjoyed the material.  Either works for me.

Even better, my new Wesleyan friends came into the room without knowing each other, left good friends, and stayed until 9pm chatting.  Epic success!

When they send me the video, I’ll put it up. Yūgen.

Story #2: Random Acts of Kindness

Awed by the hospitality of strangers.  Humbled to be on the receiving end of that hospitality.

In Connecticut, a friend of a friend who I’ve never met dug his gasoline guzzling transportation devise out of 3 feet of snow to come pick me up from the airport.  Gideon and his roommate shared their home with me for a day and fed me delicious homemade Japanese food.  Before the talk, they commandeered an iron from another friend to fight off my homeless hoodlum shirt wrinkles, and then drove me to the airport at 7am the next morning.

Kindness really does make the world go round. Yūgen.

Story #3: Airplanes

Awed that we can pay a few days wage to fly thousands of miles around the world in a metal box.  Humbled that 8 of them hurtled my body 10,700 miles through the air last week (thank you Google Maps).

On Saturday, I read by the Atlantic in the morning and watched the sunset while flying over the Pacific later that night.  6 days later Friday started with a chilly swim on the beach in Santa Monica, California, followed by aerial view of snow-capped mountains as I headed back to my bed on the East Coast.  WHAT?  It’s insane what we can do with a little dough.

In 1903, the Wright brothers got tired of seeing birds have all the fun from their bicycle shop, so they invented the flying machine.  It’s normal now, and sadly, we take it for granted… as we cram HUNDREDS of PEOPLE into FLYING METAL BOXES that CATAPULT through the AIR.

We grow up imagining what it would be like to fly, and today we actually do.  Yūgen.

Story #4: More Random Acts of Kindness

Awed yet again by the kindness of strangers.

Humbled by the one man who stood up and said, “Yes.”

On the runway before this flight, I stood up and yelled to the hundred people on our plane:

“Who here’s heading by NC State once we land?  I give good hugs and can slip some 1s into your gas tank.”

Instead of heckling me, the plane laughed in unison.  I heard one whisper of “only in Raleigh” before one man yelled back.

Yes.

Yūgen.

Story #5: Lucy

Awed by stories of the civil right movement, just 40 short years ago.  Humbled by Lucy, a fiery Sociology Professor heading up the department at a Connecticut community college.

Over the noise of our first bumpy prop plane experience, Lucy shared her story.  Growing up in Harlem, Lucy moved to Connecticut in 1969, six years after the civil right legislature legally desegregated America.  When word came that Washington decided segregation was a no-no, prejudice didn’t mystically end.  Whites privatized the parks, worked loop-holes to delay integration in schools, and made swimming pools into private clubs.

To go to school, Lucy’s family had to sue the local school system.  Lucy won, becoming the first black woman to go to her school – the first colored person most of the kids in her classes had ever interacted with more than in passing.  Prejudice ingrained in the cultural system had Lucy’s teacher sit her up front, facing her fellow students for the whole year.

From second-hand citizen to writer and Professor, Lucy has come a long way. Yūgen.

Story #6: Finding your tribe

Awed to have found a group of people that get me.  Humbled that I can’t find words to do my tribe justice.  For me, this group has been StartingBloc.  As Derek Silvers iconically says in his brilliant 3 minute TED talk, How to Start a Movement,

“It’s tough to be the lone nut in a crowd.”

Just two days of stories from fellow young nuts unreasonable re-energized me.  Surrounded by people who think they can make a mark on our world sent fiery inspiration roaring through my veins.

Our tribes bring out the best in us, helping to instill a feeling of belief in the audacious things we dream.

This is where you need to go.

They are possible.

We believe in you.

Now go do it.

We’re here to help.

Yūgen.

And I almost said no.

6 days, 8 planes, 10,700 miles, and 6 stories.  Say yes to epic moves.  Make them without shame or fear, and enjoy the hell out of the journey.  Because regret isn’t a positive emotion, and I propose we wipe it off the face of the earth.  That’s been my takeaway from all of this.

It’s way too easy to get caught up in the details and stress of a big day, losing site of what really matters.  Sometimes, just sometimes, an epic move is more important than sleep.  Once an epic move is made, slow down and appreciate it.  The journey is where all the fun is.

When have you been humbled and awed?

Yūgen,

Kevin

*****

What’s that?  You like random acts of kindness and being awesome too?  Good.  Join our tribe on the left!  Inject a little awesome into your inbox.  It deserves it  🙂

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