I have always felt a strong commitment to contribute to the community.
I will never forget my first profound experience with service when I was in high school. I, along with a selected group of students, went to Jonestown, Mississippi – one of the poorest towns in the country – to paint the walls and ceilings of the community center over spring break. At the end of the seven days, I felt unfulfilled, like we (a group of Northeasterners) had not done anything for those we were supposed to help, but rather, did it for the sake of “doing good”. Those of Jonestown did not seem receptive to our help, nor willing to participate in the project. Similar to the history I had studied in the classroom, it seemed as though we were colonists coming in and imposing our beliefs on the natives.
When I got home, I called one of the families I met and asked if I could return over summer vacation so I could get a true sense of the town. I stayed with them in their trailer and was completely immersed in their daily "normal" – bloodstains on the floor, guns and bullets next to the bed, kicked-in walls, sweltering heat, cockroaches, chitterlings and all – genuinely shocked by such a different way of life. When I settled in, I realized that Jonestown was indeed being “governed” by outsiders and there was no stability from within. The community itself had no real sense of community; it was just outsiders coming in each week to “help” bring about change that nobody really asked for, wanted or were capable of initiating themselves. That was the moment I truly learned the value in the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Through my interactions and conversations over the following weeks, the locals were able to see that I genuinely cared about why I was there – not just to paint walls and ceilings, but to bring the Community Center to life, for them, the community. There, in Jonestown, Mississippi, I realized that service is not about what we think others need, but instead, about truly understanding and learning to help identify needs, and giving those you are there to help, a safe and comforting environment, where they feel they can reach out and ask for assistance. Service is about providing the opportunities and resources to continue to bring the dreams of others to life.
That trip transformed my perception of community service. Service ultimately strips us down and allows us to connect – human to human – and relate on the most basic level with people who are different, instead of wanting to change them. Community service should not be viewed as a program requirement, or a nice thing to do, but instead as a part of the fabric of one’s character – a way of life.
When I was younger, I was given a toy toolkit. It looked like a real toolkit but it did not function like one.
I was recently reminded of this while listening to Donald Miller's podcast "Building a Story Brand" (no pun intended). The host asked if guest Daymond John believes you should staff your liabilities. The FUBU creator/Shark Tank entrepreneur did not, and instead felt you should staff your assets.
John would rather hire someone to take over an area of his personal strength "... so that I can peak in the other areas that I don't know. I don't want to be taken advantage of... I can't be the sucker at the table."
The way I interpret that is, when building out your toolkit, it is not about having all the tools but about having the right ones for the right reasons. You cannot use a hammer on every project; no matter how great, it only serves a narrow purpose. However, if you only choose projects which utilize its specialization, that high-quality tool makes work much more effective and smooth. You leverage your strengths and accomplish more in an area that matters most to you.
Most tool kits come with the obvious: hammer, wrench, screwdriver, pliers. But they miss one vital tool — the generalist. Cue the Swiss Army knife.
The Swiss Aemy knife is not pretending to be all-encompassing nor the best at every function — but it does offer an imprecise skill set for infinite use. It comes in handy for everyday tasks as well as when you are in a bind. Each of the aforementioned tools has a purpose; and the Swiss Army knife's is its versatility.
It makes me wonder... why are we so often told to be a hammer, wrench, screwdriver or pliers but rarely the Swiss Army knife?
There are three Starbucks at the Shepherd & West Gray intersection (four if you count the one in Kroger just down the block). This fact has irked me ever since I discovered it recently. It initially seems senseless to saturate that corner, but I had to make sense of it.
Starbucks sees an opportunity to feed the market. They call this strategy “Main & Main” where they find a high-traffic locale and open up shops. Each location is slightly different, tailoring the experience to different needs. *
Knowing that the majority of coffee sales are generated before noon, each location indirectly works together to reduce bottle necking and allows customers to get their caffeine-fix in a more streamlined way.
Between all the different ways to order, pay, receive and consume coffee, Starbucks does not fear cannibalization, and instead banks on the unplanned, yet convenient, cup to drive overall sales.
What it all comes down to is persuading its customers that they have no choice but to grab a coffee. It is right there. No excuses. Whether it is at Location One, Two, Three or Four, through consistent and persistent marketing, Starbucks does not care where -- it focuses on the "stronger together" mentality. That is pretty powerful positioning (literally and figuratively).
* Two of these stores are licensed, not franchises. The licensed cafes are incorporated into already existing storefronts via strategic partnerships, with Barnes & Nobles and Kroger. Starbucks licenses the rights to serve its coffee and trains other companies’ employees to sell its products. (Brilliant, right?) The main differences appear to be which gift cards are redeemable and that employees may get called off to work “others duties as assigned.”
"What's this?" A fun game my family and I played growing up. My grandfather would make a shape with his table-napkin and place it on his head — suddenly it transformed into a hat. Then he would place it in front of his mouth and it became a megaphone. Whether it was a salt-shaker, a pencil or any other odd object on hand, we would all shout out options until we ran out. Sometimes the game would go on for ages until dinner came to the table or it was time for bed.
I am reminded of that game often in my professional life. My grandpa primed me to take something ordinary and come up with creative solutions to make it seem more realistic. We only believed it was a hat when it was carefully constructed and shaped, not just draped over. We were not blindly stretching our imaginations. What I learned at an early age is what designers do on a daily basis -- we take basic information and transform it into more meaningful results.
I have always admired Christoph Niemann and his Ordinary Objects. He inspires me to carry this game forward into everyday life.
Remember the first time you had your favorite cookie? The crispy M&Ms, the velvety peanut and chocolate chips, the thick oatmeal batter, the sugary aroma that emanated from the crumbling pieces?
If you are anything like me, when someone offers you a cookie, you do not refuse. Sure, the high caloric value and high-fat content may spark hesitation initially (especially after that killer workout you just finished) but ultimately you try it because you are in an unconscious pursuit of a cookie that either meets or exceeds your expectation for what a cookie should taste like. It is human nature to set an anchor and base judgments on that. Will this be just as tasty? Oh, well I better test it.
If I do not even try a new competitor, I am gypping myself of happiness; it has got to be worth it, right? I have an optimistic expectation that my previous anchor will be dethroned. So, I try the cookie. It tastes good but not sure it is absolutely the best out there. Am I selling it short? Am I giving it a real chance?
Life is like that too. We are constantly in pursuit of happiness, like it is some hidden treasure or pot of gold. You have to actively search for it, trap it, cultivate it. But that also seems like some unattainable state, like we constantly move the finish-line on an endless track. It may feel like if you are not moving forward, you might as well just give up.
But why cannot we just appreciate the sweet morsels without the guilt? Actually notice the flavors, the textures, the smells for exactly what they are: a special treat? Why don't we savor the moment? Why do we have such a hard time acknowledging that sometimes "good enough" is actually hits the sweet spot. It is exactly what we need.
I had a seemingly innocuous yet insightful encounter last night. During a CrossFit workout, I partnered up with someone new to the gym. We were sharing the same barbell and weights, alternating front squats. After a few rounds of increasing weights, he looked like he was struggling a little bit. I whispered to him: "You know you can take some weight off, right?" And he looked at me wide-eyed and responded innocently: "Really?" So, we shared a smile and quickly striped off a couple tens.
In that moment, I felt a little like Oprah -- so empowering! What felt so good about that simple encounter was that this new guy had no ego about it. He knew his limits, accepted that he just wanted to do it right and worked within his means. He did not let literal or figurative pressure determine his strength.
It made me put into perspective how often we try to add more and more weights, to prove our strength or our value to those around us. We so often seek extrinsic confirmation of our abilities rather than intrinsically trust our own strength. Once we accept the latter, we ultimately feel lighter, less bogged down by unnecessary weight that is not healthy nor productive for overall growth.
When I was 11-months old, I took my first steps. My mom was across the room with a cookie in-hand, cheering for me to come get it. Within a few swift movements, I swooped in and shoved it in my mouth. Ever since, I can honestly say not much has changed. Anyone who knows me even remotely well knows that I have a massive sweet-tooth (but with the inclusion of nutritional education and CrossFit workouts, I have recently reduced my need for sugar intake).
With all of that said, I found a lovely little place this weekend called Dessert Gallery. Not only did they have consistent branding — colors, fonts, menus, welcoming and comforting decore, beautiful displays — they had delicious treats.
As you can see below, I have not been able to contain my excitement over this slice of Unicorn cake! We also got some “The World’s Best Brownies” and some Monkey Bars to take home for later ☺️
When I graduated from my Bachelor of Arts & Humanities program in Decision Sciences & Design, the program gave me a kaleidoscope along with my diploma. I remember initially thinking, “What am I going to do with this?” But it turned out to be a really insightful and important reminder.
Life is like a kaleidoscope. It is the lens with which we view the world. Each tube has similar components — shapes, colors and mirrors — like life has its constants: family members, coworkers, circle of friends; work, school, extra-curriculars; minutes, months, years. Each rotation makes a new configuration different from the last and the next. With each shift, there are infinite possibilities.
The word kaleidoscope derives from the Ancient Greek: kalos (beautiful) eidos (that which is seen) skopeo (to examine) to mean "observation of beautiful forms." It reminds me to keep moving to find that fresh perspective, to find the beauty in the chaos and to appreciate each new composition.
I recently went though the brand refresh for Rice Athletics. During that process, I faced a little push back. Change is hard but what is even harder is facing the unknown. Many fans and alumni did not want something new but it is probably more to do with the uncertainty associated with what it could become than the actual end result.
After dozens of interviews, as a brand researcher and designer, I thought, “There is a clear need for change so it is better to support the process than fight it.” I would ask myself, “Why are people so reluctant? We have a well-thought out solution!"
Then it hit me. On a hot summer day in Houston, I noticed my rear-view window decal was burnt off and disintegrating. As a proud alumna of Carnegie Mellon University, I wanted to buy a replacement. So I went scouring the Internet for the same exact sticker. No luck. Frustrated, I wondered why the bookstore or even Amazon would not sell such a simple and obvious item.
It turns out that in the time since I graduated, the Athletics Department had done away with the old logo. I was looking for what I imagined to be current but it was no longer. I experienced that same sense of disappointment and confusion that Rice fans and alumni must have felt when something they were familiar with, had memories associated with, was not in-line with what they knew to be true.
But the truth is, once you get the new sticker, see it on your car, build new associations, you quickly forget. You accept that it is out with the old and in with the new. Branding is that innate emotional connection that may need to be explained initially, then re-established and fostered. From there, it lives and breathes on its own.
I am not afraid to admit it. But I maybe should be. My biggest flaw is lack of patience for incompetence. To me, incompetence is not the inability to do something but the inability to try to do it.
Say you are in an unfamiliar bathroom and attempting to draw a bath. You do not know how to convert water flow from the shower head to the tub spout: do you test all the levers until you get the desired result? Or, do you quickly resign yourself to not knowing and thus seek assistance? Or, do you just give up on the bath altogether?
I have always had a curious mind. One of the first big words my dad taught me was "inquisitiveness." From then on, I used that word to describe myself. My life has been filled with questions and experiments: Who can teach me something I do not already know? What can I learn from him or her? When can I try a different approach? Where can I get more information? Why are we doing it this way? How does it work? If I just keep asking questions, then I will eventually get to the true cause.
I do not quite get when people are too "hesitant" to try or simply lack the initiative. Why stay in the comfort zone when you can learn something new and exciting? Maybe challenging the status quo is seen as too aggressive a mindset, or lacking empathy, but to me, the pursuit of knowledge is empowering. Knowledge is fuel. Fuel stores energy to ultimately propel things forward. So, without knowledge and thus without fuel, you are at a standstill. You are no better than you were before. Wouldn't you want to improve your current condition? Wouldn't you want to at least try?
But then again, if you do not even view bathing or utilizing every-day appliances, for instance, as an improvement, then maybe there are bigger issues at hand.
I value learning so much that I have difficulty understanding how others do not share that same excitement in gathering new information or being exposed to new adventures - no matter how big or small. Education - whether informal, non-formal or formal - provides you with the toolkit to assess life and better tackle its challenges.
Education can decrease poverty, violence and most "isms" - like racism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-antisemitism. With education, you begin to step outside the givens and make sense of information yourself.
This reminds me of Plato's Cave: what we see and hear is what we believe. But unlike those prisoners, all we have to do is look around us to see the true cause of the shadows and actually face reality. Then what illuminates can also enlighten.
I like that thought. But it is much easier said than done.
We create this never-ending list of "have tos" or as my mentor calls them "untils." I have to do this, that and the other thing then I will be happy. I will just wait until something better comes along. But while wearing our blinders and waiting for everything to fall into the line of sight, we miss out on so many even better opportunities just beyond.
The most rewarding experiences in my life have been where I have given myself permission to stop moving the finish-line and stop competing in some imaginary race. When I give attention to the intention, there is no tension. And that is when I am happiest.