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Month: August 2017

Design Thinking

Design Thinking

STARTING WITH SEEDS

At this time last year, I was relishing in my yearly three-week stretch of being a professional soccer player. That is, from the time my team gathered in late August to the first day of classes the second or third week of September, I devoted all of my time and energy to soccer. Preseason was always highly anticipated for so many reasons, and as a senior, I found myself relishing in my final opportunity.

And yet, with plenty of time to relax beyond the daily training sessions, I cherished the chance to reflect on the summer and mentally prepare for the school year. For my final year at Middlebury, I wanted to have clear goals in the back of my head that would remind me to take advantage of it all.

Peak autumn nearly a year ago in Middlebury

I did not know it at the time, but I was beginning to design my senior year. Goals, bucket lists, mindfulness, and clear intentions all contributed to the road map that I was laying out in front of me.

On the first day of classes, I stepped into my only course not required for my major and minor: Design Thinking. I expected it to be an easy class that I would prioritize last, but as I learned to understand the concept of design thinking and subsequently realize that I was already a design thinker, I found the coursework growing into something much larger than a series of assignments for the purpose of earning a grade – (this blog was a a product of that class, and here I am a year later, still pouring time and thought into it).

As I internalized the design thinking process, I found myself applying it to countless ideas and challenges. It factored into everything from my thesis projects to my job search to my woodworking, and especially here in this space. “I Would Be True” is a product of that Design Thinking course and the ideas we tossed around that classroom. The question: “What would you do with your own domain on the web?” I went through many iterations of designing this site and choosing what kinds of material I wanted to display, and even now, I am still tweaking it to suit my goals – always looking forward while continuously circling back to the original question.

Pawling, August 2017

I occupy a different space (physically and mentally) than I did when I conceived of this blog. This site has served its purpose for me, and though I am not putting the lid on it quite yet, I am thinking beyond this space. My job has provided me plenty to keep me busy, and New York offers endless possibilities for fun and adventure. But I also have new windows of time on my hands – during evenings and on the weekends. I have found myself considering new seeds of ideas, and as I begin to pursue other endeavors, I know that the design thinking process will help them grown. New York is a great place to start anew, and as I enter my first September that will not be dedicated to kicking off a soccer season and heading back to school, I want to keep my ideas flowing so that I remain enthusiastic and creative.

Design thinking, for me, is both a label that I can place on my desire to create and a process intended to steer my ideas into actions. I like knowing that I have it in my back pocket any time I get bored or stuck with something that is problematic. And I appreciate that every idea requires many iterations; I will not always get things right the first time, but I can find joy in the process of revision.

Fish Paintings

Fish Paintings

A LOOK INTO THE LANDMARK OFFICE

The first thing that struck me about Landmark when I interviewed last November was the overwhelming presence of fish artwork. Every room and hallway in the office, even the areas that no client or manager would ever step foot, featured images of fish or fishing-related scenes on the walls. There was little restraint on the part of the interior designers (or whoever elected to hang all of the paintings); instead of tastefully chosen images spaced sparingly throughout the office’s six floors, the goal seemed to be displaying as many paintings as the walls would allow.

Even stranger is the fact that no one in the office is particularly devoted to fishing. As the story goes, when the company acquired the townhouse-style building, one of the clients asked if the office needed artwork to decorate the walls. He then proceeded to dump his entire collection of fish paintings – all originals, mind you – to be displayed. To give a sense of the volume of paintings, there are twenty-three on the staircase from the first floor to the fifth, seven in the room where I sit (eight if you count the large one stashed behind the printer), and six in the small conference room where the investment team meets.

The funny thing is that I love to fish. I grew up with weekend outings at the Field Farm pond in Williamstown where we caught largemouth bass and then graduated to evenings rowing around the coves of Lake Champlain with my dad during the summers we spent in Westport. I picked up fly-fishing as a leader at Dudley, and Maddie taught me how to gut and clean trout that we have pulled out of Quaker Lake. If I have to be Landmark’s de facto fish guru, that is fine by me.

I have not yet devised a comparison between the office’s single most defining feature and the nature of the work. I need some more time to mull over all of the possible fish metaphors I could use to describe my office, and I will certainly have that, since I am less than a month into my two years here. I did, however, use this peculiar “museum” as the topic for my most poem. This one is fairly autobiographical, and I have attempted to strike a balance among ridiculous, inquisitive, and reverential sentiments.

Dinner last weekend, caught in Quaker Lake

FISH PAINTINGS

The walls of my office are covered in fish paintings.
Exclusively fish paintings.
And not just any old fish paintings
(although I’m sure some date back a century or more)
but original fish paintings.
Five floors of these things —
six if you could the attic,
where many more are stored,
or so I’ve heard —
and so many on each wall as to be claustrophobic.
There are too many to hang them all,
and it’s rumored that the founder once mulled the idea
of buying the building next door
and expanding the business
so as to have more bare walls at his disposal.
They choke and confuse the rooms,
not a regal marlin cresting an ocean wave
but a jumble of netted smelt gasping for air.

When I summon the courage to inquire
about the fish paintings —
“so, who’s the fisherman around here?” —
I am met only by mumbles and shrugs,
so I continue to ponder the fish paintings,
stopping often on my trek up to my fourth-floor desk
to inspect the details of a particular species
or speculate the geography of a scene.
There are watercolors where milky underbellies
of a salmon run flash across the falls and rivulets;
oil-drenched canvases with rippled streams
and textured bark framed in hardwoods;
graphite sketches forlorn and wistful,
the soul-searching eye of the fish
an even deeper shade of black.

Above my desk shaded dark amidst a muddled,
impressionistic slew of browns and greens —
perhaps an Adirondack scene after summer rain —
a lone fisherman wields a hickory swatch,
the line slack but illuminated by dappled sun.
He is steady, unencumbered by the current
or the swaying limbs overhead,
and yet his face is featureless,
a blank and empty space.
And as I project my thoughts across the spectrum
of distance and the years,
composing my own mental sketches
upon his stoic frame,
I wonder what this man did
to be immortalized in such a way,
how his grand deeds or expertise or stature
stacked up against the thousand other fishermen
the artist could have chosen,
and concurrently consider
what he did to deserve his final resting place
among the hundred other fish paintings
in a slow and lonely office
on the east side of Manhattan,
so far from the river he loves.

What is Work-Life Balance?

What is Work-Life Balance?

I have held many jobs in my past – mail deliverer, caddy, camp counselor, metal plating factory worker, to name a few – but nothing really compares to the journey I have recently embarked upon in New York. It is not because of the time commitment, or the increased pay, or the suit I wear Mondays through Thursdays, or the fancy office building and my own business cards. No, it is because all of my previous jobs were never my primary focus – (full disclosure: working at Camp Dudley has never really felt like a job to me, even though it certainly consumed almost all of my time for almost all of my summers) – whereas this one is. I spend the majority of my waking hours at my office, I expend the most mental energy trying to learn as much as I can to get up to speed, and I structure my days around my job.

And yet, even in a repetitive, Monday through Friday, 8:45 AM to 6:00-ish PM life, I feel a new kind of freedom. I may have fewer hours to spend under my own jurisdiction, but I also do not have the constant weight of homework or studying in the back of my mind at all times. I can tune out my job the minute I leave the office in the evening, and weekends feel like real breaks.

Granted, August in New York, especially in the financial world, is pretty slow. I am sure that there will be weeks this fall where work feels more consuming than just the hours I spend in the office. And life will get in the way sometimes, too. There will be weekends that feel more like catch up instead of relaxation, and perhaps I will choose to take on additional responsibilities that also fall under the blanket of “work.” But for now, I am enjoying the new prospect of structuring my non-working hours around activities that provide balance. Exercising, writing, blogging, spending time outdoors, and meeting up with friends have all served as a punctuation mark on a normal workday to elevate it from good to great. Even just researching the plethora of NYC food offerings or stopping at a fruit stand on the way home from work are exciting ways to spend my time.

As I think about the concept of work-life balance, I am first and foremost appreciative that I have a job that allows for freedom in the evenings and on the weekends. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a job that enables balance, and others make the choice to forego that balance for other reasons. However, I am hesitant to define “work” as what happens in my office and “life” as what happens outside of it. Putting boxes around those two spaces and separating them under an implied mental framework that one is has a negative effect on balance and the other a positive is inherently problematic; it can take any potential fun or joy out of work while putting pressure on what happens outside of work to always be fulfilling. I am not yet ready to define work-life balance for myself, nor do I want to be formulaic about how I set out to achieving it. But I do know that the process will take open-mindedness, a “yes-first” attitude, and continuous reflection.

I would now like to mention a concept that I have heard of in the past but never really considered closely, and that is “flow.” Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pioneered the study of what he described as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

I have come across “flow” numerous times in books and academic discussions, but thinking deeper on the concept, it would seem that achieving flow each day is critical to overall happiness, wellness, and balance. I have known for a long time that physical activity is one of the easiest ways for me to slip into the state of flow, and that is why I take so much pleasure in waking up for 5:45 AM runs or going on long, hilly bike rides around Pawling on the weekends. It is why I have trail races lined up for this fall and hope to continue playing soccer, albeit at a less intense level than at Middlebury. Other activities that induce flow include writing, fishing, and putting a little extra effort into preparing a meal (especially when it is on the grill). I found this Spring that flow happened almost instantly when I spent time in the wood shop.

All of this is to say that I do not feel any issue finding flow outside of my job at the moment. Now, as I get more comfortable in my office and more accustomed to my responsibilities, I intend to be mindful of the tasks that induce flow and which ones seem to sap my energy or feel downright monotonous. Not every duty I perform at work will lead to flow, and I am perfectly fine knowing that. What is important is that I understand which tasks will help me find flow, because I think a little bit each day will go a long way towards enjoying my working experience. And, if I am truly happy at work most of the time, the line between work and play will not seem so rigid.

Blurring the work-life dichotomy seems to me the best way to achieve work-life balance. Perhaps that makes the big picture a little muddier or more complicated, but in a positive light, I can also view it as more nuanced. I am all for keeping things simple, but when I am using my brain as much as I will be, both at work and at play, I think that a little nuance is essential. This discussion is more circular than linear and will certainly lead to more questions than answers, but working towards contentedness in the present moment is the best way to be positive as I look towards the future, and that is why it is essential.

Central Park (East), August 2017
New Lenses and Language

New Lenses and Language

The first half of August is always slow. I remember a quote from the beginning of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Granted, these sentiments do not perfectly correlate to my experience in New York over the past two weeks – today does mark two weeks on the job – but when a paragraph like this one sticks with you from the moment you read it, you know it is evoking something deeper, something powerful.

For me, early August always meant that the sun would begin to set noticeably earlier and a chill would overtake the early mornings on Lake Champlain. I would begin to realize the impending changes and do my best to savor every day. For late August would always take on an entirely different feel: a return to Williamstown, or later Middlebury, and the commencement of another season of soccer.

I reflect on these periods of my life because my seasonal rhythms have been thrown out the window this summer. I entered my new life in New York at a time where everyone else is leaving the city to take those last weeks of summer vacation. Things move slowly, and the expected bustle of the city is subdued by the summer humidity.

Still, as I move around, I am confronted on a second-to-second basis with new things to observe: views, aromas, unique atmospheres of each block, and, of course, people. One of my goals post-Middlebury has been to continue with my writing. This blog is a great reason for me to write, but with so many opportunities for inspiration around me, I have launched back into writing poems.

One of the best pieces of feedback that I received from my poetry thesis adviser and second reader was that I do a good job creating characters in my poems and speaking from disparate points-of-view. I appreciate the process of turning an observation into a story. Sometimes the result strays from where I intended or represents something so far removed from who I am that I have no idea how it came to be. But I always find that in creating a voice, one that is different than mine, I learn about myself. What follows is one of those poems.

TIGHT ROPE

We’ve seen each other more than once
across the empty space —
a drifting shadow on sunlit mornings,
a candlelit blur through evening’s blinds;
we hear the same cacophony
rising from the street below,
though whether you and I discern
the same melody from the madness
I cannot be sure.
To call it a street,
that strangled stretch of cobbled walk
and calloused hedges dividing our buildings
is to give more credit than it deserves —
and I say “our” buildings
because there is no better way to put it,
but we both know there’s no ownership
on this block —
nothing possessive,
no personal touch, no sense of pride
in the square footage that we are leasing
on annual contracts —
just an endless array
of 4’ x 4’ windows radiating outwards,
refracting around corners
and below the pavement,
but never really stopping.

I’m speaking for you, I realize,
but what choice do I have?
These aren’t the types of walls
that would talk, if they could.
I catch glimpses into your world,
one that could so easily be mine,
but at the closing down of each day
I find only my reflection
in your dark, despondent window.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the loneliest of them all?

 I dream of crossing paths
somewhere far away from this place —
Greenpoint or Poughkeepsie or even Malibu —
a silent nod of recognition,
a smile —
a back and forth
that begins somewhere out there
and returns with us to our separate
but coalescing spaces —
blurry moments growing clearer
in the sunrise gleaming off your window
and into mine —
false pretenses stripped down,
no need for these questions
of proximity and perception.
I’ll throw a rope across the chasm
and be your modern-day Philippe Petit,
waltzing high above Manhattan
and over to you.

But today is choked and dense
and ungrateful, so inward I turn.
It is early and many hours lie waiting
before I dream again,
and imprisoned I’ll remain
by your shuttered window,
my fragmented illusion —
no portal into your life
but a mirror turned on mine.

On Sports, and Things of That Nature

On Sports, and Things of That Nature

What is next? This was one of the big questions I was asking myself when I launched this blog in the December 2016 – specifically in regard to sports and fitness. I had just completed my fourth and final season as a member of the Middlebury soccer team. Everything I had worked for in high school and beforehand culminated in the opportunity I had to play college soccer. I felt so lucky that the experience was so positive, that I found teammates who will be friends forever, and that the program encouraged me to pursue all of my academic interests just as strongly as they supported me while I was on the field.

And yet, coming to the end of my college soccer career left a void. Though I am sure I will have pangs of longing when its late August rolls around and I am not stepping onto the pitch for the first day of preseason, I have tried to see filling the empty space that soccer left in my life as an exciting opportunity.

As winter and spring sped by at Middlebury, I tried to use the time that I had usually devoted to offseason soccer training to enjoy other forms of physical activity. The winter included more skiing (both alpine and nordic) than ever before as well as rock climbing and IM basketball. During the spring, I ramped up my trail running, cycling, and mountain biking – and I now consider all three of those sports to be among my favorites. And there was always time for a hike, a round of golf, and of course, pick-up soccer.

Number one training buddy!

One of the frustrating elements of my month in Germany was the lack of time and freedom I had to work out. Sure, I managed to enjoy some incredible runs, to swim in the pool, and to play plenty of knock-out and one-on-one on the Abbensen basketball court, but I missed many of the activities that I love.

Now I am living in New York City. The move felt like I could press the reset button on my athletics. There is plenty I can do in the city, but nothing will beat stepping out of my dorm and finding myself on the eighteen-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), or seeing the sun set over the Adirondacks and scaling a peak the following morning. So I have entered a process of discovery: reconsidering my athletic goals, seeing what is possible (and affordable) in the city, and tinkering as much as I can to make both of those align. I am thrilled about Central Park, about yoga mats in small places, and of course, about Pawling.

Getting out of the city this weekend felt amazing. I fished and swam in Quaker Lake and went on a grueling twenty-eight-mile bike ride that featured a few Category 3 and 4 climbs. Pawling is a hilly place. I know that I have done little to deserve this fortune – for many, getting out of the city in the summer is not an option, let alone someone who has only worked for three days – so I am doing my best not to take anything for granted.

Between the city and Pawling, I will have plenty of opportunities to train and to stay in shape. I have a ten-mile trail race in the Shawangunks bookmarked on my calendar for late September, and I will go from there. My swimming and biking have improved tremendously in 2017, and I can see giving triathlons a shot down the road. And soccer will always be there. A team of mostly Midd Soccer alums plays on Sunday afternoons in New York, and I hope to get in on the action as soon as I feel settled in.

There is one thing I know for sure: New York will give me an entirely new perspective on sports and fitness, and I see that as a great benefit for my continued transition into post-Middlebury athletics.

Appreciating a ride with a view all the more these days
New York, New York; or, New York, New York?

New York, New York; or, New York, New York?

Today is Friday, August 4th, and later I will leave Manhattan to spend the weekend in Pawling, which requires a subway to Grand Central and then a ninety-five minute train ride on the Metro-North Railway. It sounds very typical for a New York City resident during the summer months working a Monday – Friday job in the financial sector.

But “typical” in this context is relative. For me, the word is as inaccurate a description of my experience over the past few days as I can think of. Five days ago I was leaving Germany. Four days ago I repacked my life and took my Yukon on what is possibly its final drive, from Westport to Pawling. Three days ago I began settling into my temporary residence with the Leopolds on East End Avenue in Manhattan. Two days ago I started my job at Landmark. Yesterday I went on my first ever run in Central Park. Today, I am finally feeling the weight of this crazy transitional moment of my life lifting, and so naturally, I am writing about it.

Since the inception of this blog, New York was the final destination – both as a physical landing place and as the conclusion of my figurative growth trajectory from college to the “real world.” The entire time that I have been writing, I have tried to be mindful of the notion that it is not the destination but the journey that matters most. My journey took me to Norway and California and Germany, saw the completion of two theses and the reception of a diploma, broadened my artistic skill sets with improvements to my photography and the introduction of woodworking, deepened my appreciation for the places that I am lucky to call home, and brought me closer the the people I love the most. It forced me to ask tough questions of myself, to seek answers, and to see “not knowing” as necessary to the harmonic balance I was striving to achieve in my life.

I speak about all of this in the past tense, but landing in New York does not simply mean that I can wrap the previous phase of my life into a neat bundle and store it away. Neither does it mean that my present is static or permanent. It is quite the opposite of all these things. The people, places, and experiences that construct my past will shape every decision I make going forward. Furthermore, the distinction that I have given New York as my final destination is utterly false. Sure, I may be moving to the big city and I may be contractually obligated to work at Landmark for two years, but this new phase is a journey in its own right. Perhaps it will be bigger and more eye-opening than I could ever expect.

After three days at my job, I can report that I love the office environment and the people with whom I will be working closely. The summer is slow in New York, especially in the financial world, which makes it a perfect time to begin. I will have some time to get up to speed, and it is amazing how quickly you can go from ignorant to knowledgeable about something by just committing to reading about it. I love to read, and I love to learn, so it does not feel like work to me. Still, it will be a long time until I feel confident with the material, which is all the more reason why I am thrilled about the mentors I have here.

I am also still in a transition phase in terms of my living situation. Returning from Germany and starting my job was plenty for August, so moving into an apartment right away was not an option. Fortunately, Maddie’s family has been incredibly gracious to me, and they made sure I had nothing to worry about as far as housing goes during this first month. My walk to work takes about twenty-five minutes, and though it can be warm, I would so much rather be walking than taking the subway. Maddie and I have things lined up for September, which will represent a more permanent ending for all of the moving around I have done over the past few months, and I cannot wait for our setup.

So, I still have a train to catch to Pawling, and I still have a weekend to be outdoors and grill and relax waiting for me at the end of the train line. “Everything has changed, though nothing has,” to quote my thesis adviser Jay Parini. I have a new journey in front of me, a lot to learn about living in New York and working at Landmark, and plenty of new opportunities. And yet, I see no reason to change who I am. I will always love seeing nature and cooking fresh food and writing and making adventures big and small out of every day. New York will certainly have its impact on me, and I welcome it, but I am not shy about bringing some of my crunchy-Vermonter self to life in the big city. And that gets me excited.

Germany Wrap-Up

Germany Wrap-Up

I am back stateside, and my one-month whirlwind adventure in Germany is over. Ever since I returned from the German Exchange in 2009, I had dreamed of leading this trip. In the months before we departed from Camp Dudley, I had already constructed a vision of what the trip would be – built on memories from my past two stays in Germany and my expectations of what the third time around would entail.

Now the trip sits in concrete details, blurred only by the occasional foggy memories due to a lack of sleep. I have not written much about the last week of Intercamp or the round trip around Germany, so I will focus mostly on those sections of the trip. They were the weeks that flew by the fastest and packed in the most fun.

Intercamp’s male leaders

The one-hundred or so campers and leaders at Intercamp 2017 really became a community following our return from the hikes. With just a week to go, we were determined to form strong friendships and make every game better than the last. As the days progressed, I was struck by the sheer effort and selflessness of the German leaders who poured everything they had into the planning and execution of each day. With such a minute support staff compared to Dudley’s operation, everything fell on the leaders to make the camp go smoothly. That dynamic created a tight-knit community among the leaders – everyone had to have each other’s back or else it would not work.

I enjoyed increasing my responsibilities as time went along – taking on barbecuing jobs and leading wacky interest groups and even running the final game of the camp. In that game, based on the classic Saratoga Morning from Dudley, campers were assigned to roles as either a horse or a jockey, and they competed in races. There were, of course, odds on each horse and betting opportunities for the campers who were not racing.

Berlin, July 2017

Saying goodbye to the Intercamp community was challenging because it felt like it came too soon, but we quickly turned our thoughts to the excitement of the round trip. The week was stressful, especially for the leaders, because we were tasked with taking forty-seven kids from four different nations around Berlin, Dresden, and Munich. Every step of each day took coordination, which left little time for relaxation. Through determination and plenty of problem solving, the round trip ended up a success. We played beach volleyball in Berlin, ate Indian food in Dresden, toured the Dachau concentration camp, and spent an afternoon wandering freely in Munich – not to mention all of the guided tours and typical sightseeing activities in each city.

I rarely experienced the free-spirited feeling of exploring new cities that I had come to love during my gap year, but the few moments I had for myself were all the more refreshing and rewarding. I went on one sightseeing run in each city, found the best cup of coffee ever at The Barn in Berlin, snagged a few hyperlocal craft beers as a gift for my dad, and spent quality time with the other leaders on the trip. We spent the final day of the trip with only the Dudley / Kiniya crew, and traveling with fourteen instead of sixty-four was fun and much more relaxing.

Dresden, July 2017

Throughout the entire month, I was impressed by the maturity and general awesomeness of my Dudley group. I knew they would be great, but they blew me away. I felt really good knowing that I could help reward such a great group of kids with a month unlike any they have ever experienced.

On Sunday, we woke up early and began the last leg of traveling – from Hannover to Paris to Montreal and finally back to Dudley. As we neared the Montreal airport, knowing that the stress and responsibility of the trip was basically over, my body started shutting down. I heard a quote once along the lines of: “The best compliment your body can give you is to get sick the moment you finish a task into which you have poured every ounce of yourself.” I kept that in mind as I arrived back at Camp, weak and exhausted but beyond happy about how the month had gone.

That evening, I mustered up the energy to play in Dudley’s Sunday night brass quartet alongside my brother Sam. The moon and stars were out in full splendor, and I felt so lucky for everything Dudley had given me. Hopefully, my efforts in Germany could serve as a small way of giving back.

Munich, July 2017
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