Everyone is interesting. This is a fact about people. We don't always care enough to find out why, or have the time and energy. So I'll get right to three potentially interesting facts:
I started out as a sheltered introvert with a specialized technical career. I became a world-traveler, learned how to connect with people, landed interviews with a top management consulting firm, and decided to go back to school for my MBA. I'll get into the full story, but that's me in a nutshell.
Yes, I'm excited about the power of networking to change your life. I know it sounds dorky (and maybe even naive), but I'm serious, and it's deeply tied into the story of how I got to be who I am today.
PS - I know how reading on the internet works. Feel free to skim.
Adventures take you to unexpected places. Adventures change your life in unexpected ways. This website is an adventure. Getting an MBA was an adventure. Walking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail was an adventure. All the adventures I’ve had–and all the people I’ve met along the way–made me into who I am now, for which I’m deeply, ridiculously grateful.
However, I started out as sheltered and very poorly-socialized introvert. My lack of people skills and inability to relate to others made me a target for bullying, painful jokes and mockery. In other words, middle school was a low-point in my life. Even as a young adult, I was having real trouble with social situations, so I once had myself evaluated for Asperger’s Syndrome. I wasn't diagnosable, but learning to think about how people interact and read social queues from each other got me started.
I was definitely a late bloomer. Here's the full story.
It really begins with the Boy Scouts. Because of scouting I learned to love wilderness, nature, and roughing it under the stars. I was also introduced to the Appalachian Trail in the 1990’s. Troop 709--my troop--was a small troop full of nerdy kids. This is because we were located on Merritt Island, Florida, home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. So several of the boys parents were literal rocket scientists.
However, what made our troop special was our camping schedule. We took trips once a month, every month, rain or shine. (I never understood why boys stayed in troops that only camped at big jamborees a couple of time a year. I would have just quit!).
After a couple years, our troop started sending the older boys north to spend a week on the Appalachian Trail. I always had a miserable time, because I was such a nerdy weakling. Halfway through the week my knees would be killing me, and I would have to drop out.
The idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail stuck in my head.
In 2001, after graduating with a from the University of Florida, I hiked almost half the trail. Thus started my long-distance hiking obsession. I learned a ton of life lessons on the trail, including how to solve problems using just the contents of my backpack and the knowledge in my head, and how to push myself physically. I realized that I was capable of more than I had thought. When I began that hike, I honestly expected to quit after a few days with knee pain. Yet I made it almost 900 miles from the starting point at Springer Mountain in Georgia to Harper’s Ferry in Virginia. I returned in 2004 to finish the rest of the trail.
This lesson about self-imposed limits has followed me through life. I have learned it more than once, and each time, it goes deeper.
When I got off the trail in 2004, I left to start my first job as an underwater sound and submarine sonar engineer in Newport, RI. But it wasn't long until a brand new life-changing adventure happened: Burning Man.
Hopefully I haven't destroyed any good first impressions I was making!
Back in 2004, it seemed that hardly anyone on the US east coast knew what burning man was. I would describe it as a week-long temporary city, best described as a mashup between Dr. Seuss and Max Max. On acid. On the moon. In the year 3,000. There really is no way to describe it that doesn't sound a bit crazy.
Nowadays, Burning Man is well-known everywhere, which is good and bad. But in 2005, my friend Evan asked if I would like to go to Burning Man.This was completely out of the blue. Yet had helped me come to terms with being gay, so said yes. Neither of us knew much about what we were about to get into. All I had heard was that Burning Man was a counter-culture desert gathering of hippies and artists in a remote corner of Nevada.
My first burn was in 2005. Followed by 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2014.
Of course it’s a fantastic party, and probably everything you’ve read, think, hope, or fear about the event is true. But that is not what drew me back. Instead, it was the painful but valuable c I learned about myself at Burning Man. I met people who were completely unfazed by my nerdy weirdness. They pulled me out of my shell, and Burning Man became the first place I was experience being comfortable in my own skin.
Now I’m mostly comfortable being myself everywhere I go, but it started in the Black Rock desert.
Around the time of the Continental Divide in 2013, I realized I was having all these adventures in my personal life, but my professional life was... boring. The work itself was interesting, and I enjoyed the team I was part of, but there was no sense of adventure. Not like my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trial, or going to Burning Man. Or seeing China first-hand for the first time.
I wanted to have a professional adventure. (NOTE: The professional adventure is on-going, and has picked up a lot of steam this year. But I'll get to that in a moment).
So I took a good, hard look at my profile. I thought about my resume and rewrote it over several months. I started reaching out to people. At first, I was interested in consulting, so I spoke with consultants. This continued until I was invited to interview with one of the top management consulting firms.
This was a HUGE SUCCESS for me. The firm I interviewed with typically hires MBA's from schools like Harvard and Wharton, people with ivy-league backgrounds, people with experience at Fortune 500 companies. I had none of those things. I was a smart but dorky engineer who specialized in the physics of underwater sound and had only ever worked for the federal government, in a small corner of the department of defense. (Hopefully you can see why I'm bullish on the power of networking for military veterans.).
Of course, I also did not get the job that I was interviewing for.
(If you have been skimming, and the previous sentence is confusing, scroll back up a little to read the last couple of paragraphs, and what follows will make more sense.)
I realized that I still thought and spoke too much like an engineer, and although I had made HUGE strides with my networking and professional relationship-building, I still had room for improvement. So, in 2015 I returned to school part-time to get an Executive MBA from the University of Virginia. By the time I graduated in 2017, I had built up a network with my classmates that has created several professional opportunities. (We have been laying the groundwork to make 2018 a very, very interesting year!).
That brings you up to the present. So, what could you do next?
Nothing creates career opportunities like networking.
If you have a military background, you have an advantage. Use it.