11 Cities, 7.5 Thousand Miles and 38 Days Later [PHOTOESSAY]
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” ― Lao Tsu
I’m writing from the outdoor patio of a local coffee house — not bad for early November, especially considering a snow storm ripped through New England when I was away!
A light, dewy breeze complements the fullest, brightest sun of the day — now late autumn, even its highest peak lingers modestly above the horizon.
The air is sweet, garnished gently by scents of warmed earth and emblazoned leaves.
And, after the single longest spat of on-again/off-again travel that I’ve ever committed to in my young (and travel-inexperienced) life, I’m back home in Rhode Island again, and fall is in full swing.
Over the last five weeks, I’ve traveled upwards of 7,500 miles by car, train and airplane through 11 cities ranging from the north east and mid-Atlantic to the southern-most points of the American west coast.
Although hardly a Chris-Guillebeauean or Jodi-Ettenbergian feat, I feel accomplished to have just seen the trip through.
And, you’ll remember that these recent travels are actually only what remained of my small, self-funded book tour — after I decided to postpone it, mostly due to exhaustion! — that planned to swing through upwards of nearly 20 North American cities.
With a slew of fun travel-improvising, new friends, amazing food and this-is-what-makes-life-is-so-worth-living experiences under my belt, I thought I would take you for a brief ride through my journey over the last 38 days through photos of what I saw, stories of what I experienced, and a few important lessons that I learned — because life, as it always reminds us, is our greatest teacher.
Speaking at American University, Washington D.C.
The first stop on my travels took me to Washington D.C. for the first time in two years, and a full three years after I had…
- lived in the District;
- worked as a White House intern;
- interviewed for a job in the West Wing;
- had an awakening moment about my life, and what leadership really is, and a book that I thought I might want to write some day…
Suffice it to say, this town and I have some serious history!
Among seeing old friends and exploring a city that I once called home, I went to Washington to speak to a class of around 40 political science students at American University — ironically, a campus that I myself had lived at temporary summer housing when I first moved to the District in 2008.
This class at American University had read my book as a part of course curriculum this fall semester.
How’d I pull that off?
A dash of old friends, hard work, good luck, and a social media presence, as it turns out.
An old family friend and adjunct professor at American University (who had been a mentor to me in D.C.) had kept track of my progress as I worked to establish myself as a voice on personal development, self-exploration and alternative leadership since I quit my job in 2009.
After I decided to write and self-publish my book this past June (a decision that I made after two full years of working toward a traditional publishing contract and enduring nearly 200 rejections from literary agents), my friend asked if I’d be interested in the book being used for his course, which takes a fascinating career-preparatory angle to guide his college students — all of whom work as interns throughout Washington D.C. as they prepare for graduation.
Why “Real” Leaders are “Better” Than You and Me
It is a hard time to be a college kid on the verge of graduating into a world of nothing but fear and uncertainty, debt and financial hardship, rampant unemployment and pathetic job prospects.
Beyond all else, our nation is birthing masses of over-regimented, ill-prepared and debt-encumbered young adults into a world of apparent hopelessness, especially when they turn to the men and women we call leaders who are stuck in a rut of perpetually letting us down.
My talk to the students circled around my belief that what it means to be a leader today has widely deviated from what we all grow up understanding as the pure, fundamental essence of genuine human leadership: harnessing what we already and always have within us to maximize, empower, help and inspire the lives of those around us.
Today, however, people assume that leadership is only qualified by metrics and social measures of career success like follower numbers, financial wealth, job title and rank, social status, perceived popularity, and so on — in other words, most of the material, superficial, superfluous comforts and things that most of us lack and dream of having.
I also stumbled upon one particular and perhaps controversial point in our discussion that I want to rehash with you:
I believe that there is subtle historic precedent for today’s perception that modern leaders are different than ordinary people like you and me — “different” as in “better,” or more entitled and deserving of the status, power, and wealth that they have granting them their leadership.
I believe this precedent dates back to rulers and tyrants of old who justified the rule of their leadership, their prestigious eliteness, and their privileges at the expense of the 99% below them under the guise that their rule was God-given.
Pharaohs, monarchs, emperors, nobles… many justified their rule over history by saying it was granted by (or, because they themselves were) God, a deity or higher power.
Today, instead, our more secular, capitalist, material and competitive society has replaced God’s presence at the top of “The Leadership Pyramid” — who or what grants, ensures, preserves or entitles someone as being more worthy to lead — by The Almighty Dollar.
They who are most wealthy, successful, socially-elite, popular and well-known are naturally and innately believed by the masses to be the most worthy and deserving of being called leaders because they possess what the rest of us want and what we are materially lacking.
Is it possible that the same long-ingrained social memes, cultural mores, and religious indoctrinations that taught common men and women to be subservient to their rulers (because it was the will of God) still exists today — because it is “the will” of the Almighty Dollar?
I’m not sure, but that’s where I’m leaning. You tell me what you think, below.
Leave a comment below with LiveFyre, the new live-discussion commenting system on DaveUrsillo.com!
Immersion Highlight: Washington D.C. Monument Run
Beyond the great time that I had at American University, randomly making some new friends around town and exploring great new restaurants, the highlight of my visit back to Washington D.C. was the a healthy site-seeing tour through and around many of my favorite national monuments.
After a morning carbo-load of epic pancakes at Open City — a local restaurant favorite of mine in the Woodley / Adams Morgan area of northwest D.C. — and an “accidental secondary carbo-load” in the form of a complementary cinnamon raisin chocolate chip cookie at the Downtown Hilton (AKA Paris Hilton’s dastardly plan to plumpen you up) — I was determined to make use of the running shoes and workout gear I packed for my travels.
I plotted a route on my iPhone to take me on my aptly-named, awesomely-fun “Monument Run.”
To warm up, I hoofed due south about a mile and a half from my location past the White House and my old offices at the Council on Environmental Quality before arriving at the Washington Monument — my starting point (photo #1, above).
Now warmed-up, I began running due east towards the Capitol building and with great pace (pancake + cookie power!) as you can see by the deep green beginning to my running route above.
I took some time to snap photos at the Capitol and continued around the National Mall, down to the gorgeous World War II Memorial, which is an incredibly powerful monument.
I began to putter out after the WWII Memorial — apparently the breakfast bacon and previous night’s vodka counter-acted my day-long carbo-loading — and lightly jogged for the remainder of my Monument Run alongside an under-construction Reflection Pool that leads up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (photo #3, above).
The air was typically thick, and now exhausted, I cooled down from my run on the quiet, white marble steps where Martin Luther King Jr. once stood (photos #2+4, above).
I’m not sure what it is, but tourists at the Lincoln Memorial fall into such a profound, peaceful, humble silence there.
Talk about an amazingly introspective, reflective place to end a good, long hard-earned workout: a tapestry of pure-intellectual, raw-emotional, profound-historical, cherished, inspired energy.
Pit Stop: Vegas Sun, Human Stories
I had a brief stop-over in Las Vegas, Nevada on my way to Southern California before BlogWorld & New Media Expo about a week and a half ago. I went alone for the night, staying at my favorite casino Caesars Hotel — this was a bit of an odd feeling, since Vegas is typically one of those mass-vacation getaways that I go on with upwards of 7 other guys for a long weekend.
But having some time to myself en route to a whirlwind 2 weeks in SoCal was amazingly rejuvenating.
As I enjoyed the Vegas sun on a fairly chilly and windy autumn day in Nevada, I realized that my love of Las Vegas — beyond the energy, excitement and fun memories of visiting with close friends — is the constantly changing human element, which usually surrounds any sort of a tourist destination:
Millions of lives, languages, stories and faces from all across the world getting together for a short, fleeting time to simply enjoy life.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town in a small state where almost anyone lives there because they were born there, but such an amassed sense of energy, stories and experiences — in spite of the stereotypical “Vegas” vibe of drugs, booze, gambling and overindulgence — is what most intrigues me about cities like Las Vegas.
I probably have more fun engaging strangers, bartenders, card dealers and others in conversation when I’m in that city than anywhere else.
When in doubt, simply fire up, “So what brings you to Vegas?” and see where the stories may take you.
…just listen. Quietly. You can learn a lot.
A Chili Peppers State of Mind on Venice Beach
From Las Vegas, I took off for Southern California.
Greeted by sunshine, I headed to Marina Del Rey and met up with my pal Srinivas Rao, blogger at The Skool of Life and co-founder and host of BlogCastFM (which I was just on! listen here: Self-Publish Your First Book and Execute a Perfect Launch with Dave Ursillo).
The morning after I flew into L.A., I went on an amazing 4 mile run to explore Venice Beach — something that has become a new favorite way to explore an area that I’m unfamiliar with.
I ended up on the Venice Beach Fishing Pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean (photo #1, above) and exploring the gorgeous canals of Linnie Canal Park.
Later, Srini and I met up for lunch at James Beach (home of the famous “I Love You, Man” fish tacos, where Jason Segel and Paul Rudd hilariously bonded in the amazing Hollywood bro-mance comedy) with one of my newest most-favorite people, Amy Clover of Strong Inside Out. Amy is a rockstar fitness trainer and new personal development blogger.
Check out her blog now and show her some comment love. I’m sure that Amy is going to do some awesome things — you’ll hear more about her soon.
By the way… the fish tacos WERE, in fact, ridonkulous.
Over the next 36 hours, Srini basically carted my ass all around Los Angeles to check out the sights and scenes.
Wherever we went — from Pepperdine University to the Venice Beach Boardwalk, the streets of Santa Monica and rooftop bars in downtown L.A., I was in a very Red Hot Chili Peppers state of mind, and couldn’t help but hear Anthony Kiedis ringing in my ears.
But this SoCal excursion was only just beginning…
Bro-ing Out Over Beer, Football and Boogie-Boarding at Pacific Beach
A couple of days later, I made it to San Diego where I would be holed up with my great friend Molly Mahar and her awesome husband Ken Mahar at their abode in North Park, San Diego — or what I prefer to call, Casa de Stratejoy.
I could tell you about how great Molly is forever. And I will below. But for now, I want to tell you how incredible her husband Ken is.
Let me lay out a scenario for you:
One day your wife tells you that her 25-year-old heterosexual male BLOGGER friend / biz-partner is coming into town and needs a place to stay.
What would YOU say?!
To be honest, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good person myself, but if/when I ever get married, and my wife ever proposes that, I’m assuming that I’d probably end up sounding less like the Dalai Lama and a lot more like James Gandolfini.
This, not to mention that Ken was in the throws of a major business launch the very week that I was visiting! But some people you meet are just that selfless, easy-going and generous.
That Sunday, though, bro-dom (that is, the art of being a “bro”) kicked in when the three of us headed to Lahaina Beach House at Pacific Beach (photo #2, above) and engaged in some serious male bonding over:
- awesome cheap sunglasses;
- a mutual love of Las Vegas;
- fish tacos;
- the apparently-timeless activity of provoking buddies via work emails;
- a pitcher of beer, each
- and a boogie-boarding session as the sun set over San Diego
Paul Rudd and Jason Segel… eat your heart out.
Joking aside, it’s incredible how generous some people are, without a whisper.
That’s the thing about genuine selflessness.
About giving. About caring. When it’s real, it’s given so effortless that you could see it and reap it without even noticing it.
But then again, that’s the point – true generosity is not forced, and is without fanfare.
And it makes you want to step up your own generosity in big (but equally as quiet) ways.
I call that leadership. But you already know that by now.
3-Hour Walks, Pizza Pit-Stops and Friendship in San Diego
Molly and I officially met at an unofficial karaoke meet-up with a handful of awesome World Domination Summit attendees in Portland, Oregon last June.
This, the night before we plunged to our plausible deaths as we and 40 others went skydiving from 13,500 feet near Mount Hood — but not before a road trip through llama country while blaring Katy Perry. Booya.
It should go without saying that Molly Mahar — founder of the popular Stratejoy blog for quarterlifers and all around amazing human being — is equally as generous and selfless as her husband.
Molly is also, apparently, a secret artist. Check out the incredible painting she did a few years ago (photo #4, above) — talk about gallery worthy!
Of all the time we spent chatting, reflecting, brain-storming and pseudo-working, the highlight of our week was embarking upon a little improvised walk from Casa de Stratejoy through the gorgeous Balboa Park (photo #1, above), which neighbors her abode.
Balboa Park is home to the famed San Diego Zoo and a slew of museums and gorgeous gardens.
I must have told Molly four times that I felt like I was walking through Epcot at Disneyland for all of the incredible architecture littered about the roads and walking paths (photo #2, above).
From the first time we ever chatted, Molly and I connected on a fundamental level — one of shared understanding about subjects that are less spoken than they are felt; like personal values; everything that we are each working for; commonalities of concerns and roadblocks.
That’s a great feeling — a very uniting sensation of friendship that unburdens the conglomeration of worry and unknown that can build up over time, and gently reinforce the dreams and simple wishes that you strive to realize.
Over our epic 3-hour walk through Balboa Park — with a temporary but very amazing pitstop for fresh, hand-tossed mushroom pizza topped with light truffle oil — Molly and I must have delved into some of the most personal conversations between friends that we’d had in some time.
At least, it certainly was the case for me!
Between dishing on life, family, dreams, frustrations, fun stories and so much more — complemented by swollen feet and full bellies — our three hour improvised excursion was a vital dose of liberating therapy; a dose of friendship, chased with raw understanding.
I want you to go out and improvise a similar sensation for yourself this week. Try it. Tell me how it felt.
Social Media Meets the Human Connection
After San Diego, I road tripped back to Los Angeles with my friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Kathleen Peck, to get to BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2011.
Sarah is a part-time blogger working a full-time job as an urban architect and landscape designer while making a still-young but already-powerful contribution to our blogosphere niche.
She’s brilliant, incredibly hard working, a ridiculous athlete and all-around ray of light. Show her some love at her blog.
Sarah Kathleen Peck (in the middle here, between me and one of my newest buddies Maren Kate), like Amy Clover, is someone on the path to doing great things and helping many people — and, again, I will introduce her to you soon in much greater detail in the coming weeks… you’ll see! :)
What about BlogWorld?
It was fine. To be honest, I was not at all amped up and excited to go learn about blogging, social media, growing an audience, building readership, or any other typical topic that you tend to hear at such a conference.
I went for the people. The faces. The stories. The laughter. The friendship.
Fifteen minutes of face-to-face outdoes 1.5 years of social media interaction. And in the dozens of short conversations that I had with familiar faces and brand new ones, names-that-rang-a-bell and old friends spread across the world, BlogWorld weekend was worth its weight in gold.
BlogWorld also reinforced a fresh understanding that I have been reflecting upon lately:
Social media is the two tin cans and string of our time.
Sure, it is changing the ways that businesses operate, it’s radically altering how humans communicate and creating a smaller world wherein our species is becoming more unified, entwined and overlapping — things that promise significant positive change and progress for us all.
But social media, blogging, the Internet are facilitators. Mere tools. Means, not the end-goal.
The human connection is the end goal. Within simple human interactions, friendships and love are born, empathy and compassion are reaped, bonds are cultivated.
The human connection possesses the power to overcome archaic divides, differences, and debates that subject us all — individually in our everyday lives, and collectively upon this Earth — into the throws of anger, injustice, ego and conflict.
But on a much simpler “you” level, social media and everything about it is, quite honestly, just an easy and far-reaching method of communication that ought to facilitate interpersonal human interactions, face to face.
If not, you’re really missing the point of what a worthwhile life is really all about: living amongst and on behalf of others, and not staring through a plastic screen and imagining who or what is on the other side.
By the way, I flew across the country and back for free. You can too.
Using mostly just Southwest Rapid Rewards and a spat of JetBlue TrueBlue points, the five flights that I flew to get across the country and back were almost completely free.
This was my first stab at what location-independents, nomads and travel-lovers call “travel hacking”.
As far as I understand it, travel hacking is essentially the delicate art capitalizing upon frequent flier and travel-incentive offerings by credit card companies for signing up for their cards, services and other rewards programs.
Some of the perks require you to spend certain amounts on the card over certain dates in order to qualify (i.e., $2500 over your first 4 months of use, etc.); others reward you simply for signing up:
- I’d recommend you to sign up for the Southwest Rapids Rewards VISA. When you get approved, you receive 50,000 points after your first purchase.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards is by far my favorite frequent flier rewards system and airline, simply for the ease, simplicity, and especially the lack of flight-change penalties and checked-bag fees.
- I’ve found the JetBlue Credit Card from American Express to be less attractive — 10,000 points, which you can maybe stretch into two flights. What’s annoying about JetBlue’s point system is that they will penalize you a full $50 fee for altering your flight schedule, even when you have booked flights with points.
- Southwest does not penalize you any for completely canceling or rescheduling (win!) and they have the most flier-friendly travel for bag fees (first two checked bags free).
- Currently, I’m working on earning 75,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles with a deal that has since expired that my amigo Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness told his readers about recently.
- I’ve also signed up for CreditKarma — a free credit monitoring service — to keep track of these my credit. It’s a really great service and I highly recommend it for your own personal finances.
Before signing up for cards, of course, use your head. When you apply for a credit card, your credit score may be affected. Debt is easy to run up and can be difficult to pay off. Make sure you can budget your finances appropriately and pay off any outstanding payments before it accumulates into crippling debt.
Phew. So, there it is.
The last 6 weeks of my life, in a long-winded nutshell.
But guess what?
Things are picking up really quickly.
I have loads of amazing opportunities opening up. I’m starting some really fun guerrilla-marketing plans for Lead Without Followers (and will be dropping price points in huge ways this holiday season to explode the book’s readership and spread the book’s important alternative leadership philosophy).
I may be relocating to a new city very soon. Specific details to follow :)
Lots of good things manifesting. I’m very grateful, and riding the wave of serendipitous energy to patiently embrace whatever unfolds.
And since it’s been a while since we’ve last chatted…
… and now that comments are re-enabled on my blog, leave a note below and fill me in on what you’ve been up to lately.
What’s inspiring you? Challenging you? What are you working to patiently embrace?
I’d love to hear. And let me know, as always, what I can help you with.