'wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking. we're all wanderers in life.' -spanish poet, antonio machado

Monday, April 26, 2010

shippin' away + coming out of the expat closet.

Hey all of you faithful blog readers!

It's been too long, I know...and I've been using recycled words too. Yep, I'm guilty of lack of originality. But now I will give you some more recycled words (my way of being 'green' today;))Okay, and I'll throw some original stuff in the mix as well. For a long time now I've been considering what challenge I'd like to tackle next. Do I want to get back into the agency world? Do I want to work on the client side? Do I want to look into event management? These are the questions I ask myself these days...constantly searching... exploring...dreaming...wondering where my path will take me. I'm excited for new opportunities and new beginnings.

One of my dreams (outside of opening a cafe/gallery) is to reach the younger generation of the United States with a message. It's a message that I have always understood myself, deep down inside, but it took living abroad and heaps o' genuine interactions with travellers for it to surface.

In my gig here, I've learned so so so many invaluable lessons, but I can say - without a doubt - that the biggest lesson I've learned is the importance of travel and taking the time to experience foreign cultures. To be thrown outside of our comfort zone - I mean REALLY outside our comfort zones - is exhilarating. It's a feeling that cannot be understood until it is actually experienced.

Of course I can attempt to convey to you how life-changing it has been to live in a different country with a different language and different mindset, to travel to unknown destinations, get lost on trains around Europe, interact with people from all over the world (dance with the locals on an island off of the Emerald Isle...or gypsies at the Gypsy Bar in a small Czech town...or to trad'l Polish music at a wedding in a small Polish village...yes, I like to dance;)), hear hundreds of inspirational stories that have shaped my experience, and so much more - but it really won't be the same as actually experiencing it.

I wish I would have heard a stronger message like this when I was younger. I wish I would have heard a different message than the conventional message engrained into our minds as children in school and university by our parents (thankfully my parents are rockstars and have been supportive in this realm), professors and advisors: go to school, get good grades, make sure to be involved in as much as you can so you can get into a good college, take out a college loan because you haven't saved enough and can't afford school, get good grades so you can get a good job, get a job that pays well so you can pay off your school loans, get married, buy a house, work your way up the corporate ladder so you can get a raise (so you can pay off your mortgage)...and of course, work as many hours as you can and take as little vacation as possible because if you take vacation you're lazy, blah blah blah. Oh! And you better not take a year off after high school or college because then you're really going to be behind. All of your peers will have a head-start and you would be crazy not to take the path of convention right now. In fact, nearly everyone around you would criticize you because they don't understand (but it's not their fault, after all, because this is the path society has taught us). Oh, I've been there. I know this all too well. Something needs to change. I want to take part in creating that change.

But I resisted the path of convention...and because I did I've become a more well-rounded gal. Sure, some could argue that I'm a gal who doesn't know what I want to be when I grow up. Well, that's true. What's wrong with that?! I, however, look at it in a glass-half-full kind o' way. There are so many paths I could take. What fun is it to take the beaten path?! This is the message our young people need to hear. And I'd like to be the one to share that message. If you'd like to participate, or if you have thoughts/ideas/suggestions, let me know.

So now here's a little background on the rest of this post. I am reading a book called Linchpin by THE marketing man, Seth Godin. This is a must-read for everyone - whether you work in a business role or otherwise. A few weeks back I received this blog post email from Seth...and it prompted me to connect the dots and reach out. Or, in Seth's lingo, to 'ship'. Read away.

*Road Trip!

Digital interactions are highly leveraged and widespread, but there's nothing like face to face time to hammer home an idea. To that end I'm noodling with the idea of doing a series of day-long talks and seminars around the US this year (probably every three weeks). I often am hired to do private talks for groups, but it occurs to me that it might be more efficient and open to organize my own public talks as well.

Rather than just dreaming up the entire plan, I thought I'd ask for your feedback, connections, and suggestions, as well as see if anyone wants to help out. No promises, none at all, but if you have something to add to this, let me know. As always, thanks.*

So, I decided to reach out to the MAN and send this note to Seth Godin:

Alright...I am waxing on...are you ready?! I have an idea.

And to be honest, I've had the idea since before I received your 'road trip' email with this blog post. It was at this point, though, that the light bulb went off. But I haven't been able to ship. I haven't taken the time to sit down and write you with these thoughts. Maybe because I'm skeptical and reluctant to think you'd read this...let alone respond. More likely because I am currently living and working overseas and consumed by tasks from marketing a group of hostel/hotel fusion properties (http://www.bohemianhostels.com/) - including opening a new green design hostel/hotel (http://www.mosaichouse.com/) - to trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up (and travelling Europe and planning a wedding - and of course reading Linchpin - in my 'spare' time).

So, now I am shipping. Finally. I can't promise it will be good but here goes...

Half the time, people think I (and my ideas) am (are) crazy. I have always taken the path less travelled...gone a bit against the grain. I prefer it this way. In fact, life has been more fruitful because of it. You could say I am a bit of a dreamer...a believer in possibility and opportunity...and the power of human connection. When all of my high school peers were considering schools close to home and a path of convention, I decided I wanted to ski for a small liberal arts school in the middle of Minnesota. At first I didn't get in. I appealed the decision and became the second student in the college's history to appeal and get accepted. During my time at Olaf, I lived in Sweden the summer after my first year, and studied abroad in England my junior year (travelling to Scotland, The Netherlands, Ireland, France, and more).

The summer between my junior and senior year I participated in an internship program that would change the way I perceived business. It was an entrepreneurial internship. I didn't have a defined role but was meant to create a position for myself within the company. I did. It was challenging and frustrating and uncomfortable (and sometimes I cried), but it was amazing.

My senior year of college when everyone was looking for careers, and interviewing with behemoth corporate machines like Target, Best Buy and General Mills, I was planning an adventure overseas full of exploration and reflection and increased cultural awareness. I almost surprised myself by not diving into a career. For nearly three months I travelled around Europe, to England, Norway, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (where my brother has lived on and off for 5 years). I met people from around the world and saw things that many people only dream of seeing and experiencing. And when I returned to Minneapolis, it took me four months to find the right fit for me, but I did and landed a great gig at a marketing agency where I was given opportunity after opportunity, but didn't receive the one opportunity I really wanted: a global experience where I could have the chance to draw global offices more closely together, build relationships, break barriers, share ideas and live in a foreign country.

I pitched a development program to numerous individuals in upper-level management, including the CEO. I had numerous people rallying for me, people whom I had believed were on 'my side'...but after 3 1/2 years with no change, broken promises, and working my way up a ladder I didn't really want to climb (I didn't care about making more money; the one thing I wanted was the experience), I realized it was time for me to leave the organization (I'd like to take a moment to note that although I wasn't entirely happy with the role, I learned so incredibly much from my supervisors and peers, and was exposed to great opportunities...just not necessarily the right ones for me.).

I learned more than most of my peers early on in my career...about the positives and negatives of business and working in the realm of a corporate environment. I'll be honest, though, I learned more so about the negatives than the positives, and these are the things that drove me to leave the organization. Low morale. Colleagues trying their hardest to work against each other rather than as a team. Unhappy middle-aged coworkers who liked to talk…a lot about nothing. Resistance to new, fresh ideas (and most of all, change). Broken promises. Lack of authenticity. I guess it was a sort of early mid-life crisis. Either way, I realized it wasn't the right gig for me. I wanted something more...something more than the petty office gossip and the money. I wanted a meaningful experience that would shape me and at the same time enable me to somehow shape the lives of others. 'Operation: leave corporate America' was in full-force. The beauty of it was, all of my (amazing) colleagues supported my vision and new I had to leave in order to grow.

Inspired by travel memoirs like 'Eat, Pray, Love.' and 'Three Cups of Tea' I dreamt about working in an ashram, with orphanages in a third world country, teaching English (quickly nixed this idea...too cliche for me, no offense friends...just not my style), and I seriously considered the idea of adventure tourism in India, South America, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. That's when the power of social/human connection really made itself known to me. My close friend had a friend who owned a small adventure wellness tourism company called Bodhin (yoga, hike, bike, scuba, surf) in Nicaragua, and she put us in touch. After months of great conversation, it didn't work out...but it was such a blessing because it really allowed me to believe that there were so many more opportunities out there to explore.

It always seems that when one door closes, another opens...and it is completely meant to be. Just around the time I decided not to go to Nicaragua, an opportunity in Prague presented itself. I never once had imagined myself living in the same city as my brother, but I believed I should explore the opportunity. And I did...two weeks later when my then-boyfriend (now fiance) travelled to Europe (Italy, Poland, Czech Republic) and I interviewed for the position of 'Experience Manager' for a group of hybrid hostel/hotels in Prague. Wow. Cool. It was so right...and so oddly humorous to me that a small organization didn't look at the work visa acquisition process or paperwork as a barrier to bringing me over, despite the size of the organization and the limited budget (this was the main barrier for my former organization). Everything fell into place and three months later I found myself living in Prague and working in the hostel industry. And what an industry this is.

I am touched by the numerous interactions made on a daily basis at our properties. I had once thought I'd leave the marketing world because it was unethical, but I have learned through this gig that it isn't really a question of ethics if you believe in the brand, and if you are doing something to make a difference. So, even though I wasn't working at an orphanage or saving lives, I have been able to have an influence on the travel experiences of hundreds of guests...to connect people and share stories and experience and build relationship. Because, after all, that's what marketing is all about...building relationships. I've met people from around the world, learned about different cultures, listened to hundreds of amazing travel tales, travelled to Spain, Germany, Austria, Ireland, England, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, and more. On these excursions, I've met people and opened myself up to new challenges that I never could have done within a cubicle. And so we've come full circle.

You're probably wondering why I am sharing my story. Well, I am too. Here I am, in a coffee shop in Prague...trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I've been away from corporate America for the last 1.5 years and this time working for a small, entrepreneurial, family business has shaped me in ways previously unimaginable. And now I don't know what I want to do. I can't stomach the thought of going to work for a corporation, dressing up in a suit and putting on a fake smile and working 80 hours a week in a role that doesn't really resonate with me. But, I have ideas.

I know, firsthand, that corporate America is flawed. Deeply. I know all too well the unhappiness that exists. You can't even imagine how many times people told me they wished they had done something different, or engaged in a global work experience...but that it was 'too late' for them. Sad. Sad that Americans are bogged down by debt, unhappiness (in their job, or marriage...or life in general), and more. So as I was reading Linchpin, your words struck me to the core, and stirred up inside me a passion to create change and do something more.

Something I've become very familiar with in my time spent here in the hostel industry is the notion of the 'gap year'...taking time off post-high school or post-college rather than diving into a path of convention. It is pretty incredible what this does for young people. Australians, in particular, are taught from a very young age the importance of saving their money, and the notion of the 'gap year'. As a result, they defy convention (or 'convention' as Americans see it) and travel the world, finding themselves in unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable situations...experiences that shape them and enable them to determine what they want to be when they grow up.

In the States, on the other hand, we're taught to take out hefty school loans, go to university, get a job (and if we don't get one right away, we're going to be behind all of our peers - GASP!), get married, get a mortgage, have babies, and on and on. If one strays at all from this path of convention, then their actions are ridiculed and their behaviour is seen as reckless and infused with a lack of responsibility (I've heard it all, believe me). As a result, young professionals find themselves in their mid-late 20's (and early 30's) unhappy with the fact that all they've experienced is a seat behind a computer, a steady flow of raises (their bosses know how to bait the hook and give them just enough to stay, continuing to do work that oftentimes isn't meaningful and certainly doesn't define them), 80hr work weeks, no vacation (they haven't even used the two weeks they've been given...I could go on and on about this one...how crazy Americans are to not take the vacation and how crazy their employers are to only give them two weeks=sad), no experiences, and through it all the lack of opportunities to share their true gifts. This needs to change.

I have an idea. But, I haven't been sure how to tackle it. That's when I received your 'road trip' blog post and it evoked a feeling that has remained with me since. So, I am shipping. A book like 'Linchpin' is full of against-the-grain notions that corporate America...and Americans (and beyond) in general need to hear. I've recommended it to the masses. The one problem I see is that it doesn't speak to the younger generation...the generation that has the ability to make these changes right now, before they travel down the path of convention and get into the corporate rut.

I want to reach younger people with a similar message, framed differently. I want to bring to them the notion of gap year and the importance of exploration...continuity of their vivid imagination, dreaming and sharing their gifts. I want to speak to them through the voices of travellers I've met from around the world...young people who have had dreams to start hostels in foreign countries, who have travelled form southern Italy to south Africa helping people along the way. Visionaries who have built hostel 'empires', reaching thousands of travellers each year and crafting a unique and meaningful cultural experience...who have dreams to open a hostel in Ghana and employ locals in an effort to improve economic conditions. People who make a difference. I want to reach them through these stories...to travel around the States to universities and high schools and speak about these ideas, in hopes that it would cause change in young people and create a movement. A movement that the nation needs desperately.

I've been following your blogs since I embarked on my corporate America adventures, and have continued to do so, and they've always been a source of inspiration for me. I'd love to engage in a dialogue with you about this idea and I'd love any suggestions/help/ideas you could give me as I do so.

Waddayathink?! This would be one heck of a road trip, wouldn't it?!

Wax off.

(please email me if you're interested in creating a dialogue. oh, and thank you for 'Linchpin'...for saying things in a way that really resonate with the masses.)

Smiles,

Megan

Megan S. Harrod
Chief Word-Spreader
Francouzska 76 Praha 101 00 Czech Republic
mosaic house - opening 2010 become a fan of 'mosaic house' on fb

*Hey all...thanks for making it down here. Whoa. Gold stars for you! We'll see what comes of this. If you have any ideas, or would like to be involved, let a gal know.*

Love,

Me

Oh, and P.S. I am having a love affair with the ellipsis - it is my favourite puncuation mark. I just love it...as you can tell. ;)

4 comments:

  1. Wow Megs... you are wise beyond your years and I see a bright future ahead of you when you "grow up". :) You're such a good writer! After reading your blog, I am convinced we should have ditched Olaf our first year and traveled the world! The funny thing is, I probably would be in the same place I am now having gone to college or not.(With more money saved of course). Kind of ironic, don't ya think? But I believe college is also a life experience to be conquered. Where would I be without my BFF??

    Maybe you could coordinate and chaperone foreign exchange programs for kids or something along those lines. That way you can travel, and spread the word about the importance of experiencing other cultures. Or you could ALWAYS start writing your autobiography. I'd buy the book. Or you could write a book about the disadvantages of getting caught up in the corporate world! Or you can just conquer the world!

    Whatever you do, don't worry, be happy. Afterall, you are marrying a future surgeon. :)

    XOXO- Ali

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  2. Oh, and P.S. I'm ALL for more vacations!!!

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  3. Megan,
    I have been missing you so much. Reading this blog made me feel like I have been visiting with you. As you turn 27, I am remembering your birth and the years that have brought you to the point of writing this blog. I think I see an author in the making and look forward to an autographed book as you too are working to change the world. I am trying one baby and mom at a time and you through people reading one book at a time. Have a Happy 27th Birthday on the 15th. Love Mom

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  4. During my first few years abroad (also in Prague), I often had a similar thought. "I wish someone had told us this was an option back when I was in high school!" I waited till I was 28 to leave the US in search of a new life, and I've wished MANY times in the past eight years that I'd done it ten years earlier.

    I won't go on and on with all the reasons it's good for young people (especially young people from the most ethnocentric and self-obsessed nation on Earth) to get out and see the world (and be exposed to OTHER languages!!!). I have no business ambitions and never have, so my little day-dream that goes along with the aforementioned wish is a really simple one: going back to my high school and standing up with all the representatives of different colleges and recruiters from the Army and telling the kids "screw all that crap...go see the world!"

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