I’m a 37-year old straight white man that grew up in Seattle to upper-middle-class parents. In grade school, I liked to play sports, ride my bike, and watch The Simpsons. In middle school, I was awkward, insecure, and had bright red zits strewn across my face for the better part of three years. (So I played a lot of video games.) In high school, I got good grades, took four years of Latin for some reason, was mediocre at rowing, and relentlessly self-sabotaged my prospects with just about every girl I had even remote interest in. What I really loved was just playing guitar. In college at UC-Berkeley, I grew out my hair and started envisioning a life as a musician or fisherman or really anything that would piss off my parents. I grew concerned about the state of the world and became an ardent environmentalist.
Since then, I’ve worked at a sustainability non-profit think tank, got my MBA in Sustainable Systems at Pinchot University (where I launched Kindling as an entrepreneurship project), got married to my wonderful partner Sara, and had two kids: Owen and Asa.
I’ve had a good life. But it’s possibly not the most riveting or biopic-ready life story ever conceived.
Here’s what really feels important to me: For most of my life, I felt a really limited sense of possibility of what and who I could be. I remember waking up on the first day of third grade and jumping into my parents’ bed so excited to see my friends and have fun. My dad looked me in the eyes and told me in no uncertain terms that unless I started getting good grades right now (in third grade!), I would be in big trouble. My whole life would fall apart unless I really focused all my energy on achieving. I needed to be a success, like him. From there on out, I became fiercely determined to get good grades, to go to a fancy college, to become a doctor or maybe a lawyer, to make an impressive amount of money. And if I couldn’t achieve those things, it would mean I was not good or worthy enough.
Because of that story I took on, there was some part of me that never really came online. It was suffocated by my father’s rigid notion of success. It didn’t feel like it had permission to come out and show itself, to be creative, to color outside the lines. In some ways, I was living someone else’s life.
When I was 22, everything changed. Late one night I got a call from my mom, sobbing uncontrollably. My dad had just died of a heart attack. I was devastated, shell-shocked. Though I definitely had anger and frustration with my dad for certain aspects of my upbringing, I also loved him deeply. And I relied on him deeply for guidance and support. I was completely unprepared to deal with this kind of loss.
In the months and years to come, it became clear that I had much more than just grief to work through. I had only just started questioning and differentiating from my dad’s ideas of success. But now that he was gone I sensed a cosmic void of meaning, stability, and direction in my life. I was completely free from his pressure to be a doctor or a lawyer. But I also no longer had a guide to help me through this confusing, dizzying experience of life. It was now totally on me to define for myself what I wanted for my life, what “success” meant to me, what my purpose here on Earth was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to stand for.
For years, I sank into what is probably best labeled as an addiction to marijuana. I used weed to numb and escape a world that felt overwhelmingly lonely and sad. But I also got high to see and think about the world in totally new ways, to see beauty and possibility where before I had been uninterested, to be and experience the things that didn’t fit in my dad’s version of success.
Eventually, that phase of my ran its course. (It turns out that religiously getting high every day after work eventually offers diminishing returns.) On the other side of my marijuana stupor, I awakened to a sense of empowerment and possibility to shape my own life for myself. Since then, I’ve been on a journey to define what “success” really means to me and to build my life accordingly. I’ve gone to years of counseling. I’ve been trained in Leadership & Personal Development through Pinchot University. I’ve trained in mature masculinity and leadership with the ManKind Project. I’ve developed a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. I’ve spent years working with the Amazonian plant medicine ayahuasca.
Through that journey, I’ve created my own meaning for my life. I’ve created my own definition of success and my own unique purpose for being here. Now I know that my purpose in life is to create a world of possibility by practicing gratitude, curiosity, and kindness. Through that purpose, I offer the world the gift that I didn’t get when I was younger. I know that whenever I am in doubt I can return to this purpose to guide me.
I created Kindling (and now Change 101) as a vehicle to live that purpose and to help others find theirs. I hope it sparks possibility for you as it has for me.