The Baggage We Carry

I didn’t realize how much baggage you could pack into a carry-on. 

Three pairs of shoes, four pairs of pants, some shorts, enough underwear and shirts for a week. And all that shit about past breakups, of the romantic and business kind. Heavy. I’m glad they didn’t make me weigh it.

That tote, a Patagonia duffel in Skipper Blue. I had brought it while living in Mountain View three years ago, the last time I had been in Silicon Valley. It was an REI clearance find. A good deal. 

Packing for this trip I hadn’t noticed the connection, it was just the best bag for the job. Just like the original intent, seven days of business in Reno. It all fit together nicely.





My clothes were scattered on the bed, it was an odd mix of attire and emotions. The feeling wouldn’t change once I arrived. 

Flying in to San Francisco, we swooped in low above the green hills of Muir Woods headed south. Ahead lay a graph paper peninsula coordinated by buildings and strips of green painted slapdash through like abstract art with a minimalist flair. 

The running commentary in my head was, “all those god damn houses.” I thought back to the excitement I felt the first time I arrived in SF years ago. My stomach tightened.

A few weeks back, in Boston, I got carried away by the idea of a business trip. It was the season that teases after all: Frigid temps that withdraw into snippets of Spring, before the rearguard battles back with the next cold front. Sunny California seemed like a reasonable excuse to escape the maligned battery.

But I didn’t have to come to CA. I suggested it to the company.

Why go? What was I hoping for?

I think, at some level, I was keen on making a return, to see what it would be like years later and without a connection to the area. To experience things as removed from a past life.

What I didn’t expect was all the emotion that was still wrapped up in the place. I thought about stopping by the old apartment. Imagined what it might be like.

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash.

There I am.

The smell of shade.

It’s musty with a breezy fragrance of flowers and pollen that streams in from the screen door. Dry leaves scatter about the patio behind a flimsy fence that offers little resistance to prying eyes.

I see the place empty, ready to be moved in. The opportunity for new memories, perhaps of just starting out: A family, a job. I’d tread through the living room, to the corner where we’d once set up a makeshift shipping station. Maybe peer into the kitchen and sniff the outline of Soylent shakes that sustained us for too many meals.

I’d tiptoe down the hallway. I can’t remember if the floorboards creaked, but going lightly seems important. The first room on the right was alien to me. There was a rug and a closet with board games that we never played.

The bathroom at the end of the hall was tight with a tiny window that looked out onto the trash bins for the compound. Decay and other funny smells would seep in while you showered. All for the low-low price of $3,300 a month. Perched on the shelf were bottles of microbes that allegedly ate the compounds that cause stench on the body. My roommate didn’t use soap to wash, he conscripted miniature beings to do the job for him.

The second bedroom was shared. It’s where I slept on the floor, on a mattress. It sat in the corner, and when I’d lay against the wall, reading perhaps, my feet would point to the floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the closet doors. I came to resent the reflection forced upon me each morning. Steve Jobs’ words, “Is this what I want to be doing today?” would cross the mind with increasing frequency.

Some days, when no one else was home, I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling fan lights, the blades circled like a drunk crow tied to a leash, round and round. I found that if I stared long enough at the argon-infused bulb the colors would melt out in thick strands of amoeba squiggles, rotating and twisting. The goal was to keep staring to see how far the mirage could go and to find that line where I was just on the edge of falling into some unknown. There was real fear of losing my grip.

Something beyond told me it was wise to avoid the depths.

In this imaginary vision, I’d lie there again to see if I could reproduce the effect. Maybe go over the edge, if I had the time. 




The hope in this exercise?

Perhaps to exorcise ghosts, of her lying in the bed crying, disappointed in my not renting a car, of my selfishness. She’d have to lug bags to see her friend at Stanford. I was supposed to drive. We’d break up a few weeks later.

Perhaps I’d cry in that room in that spot, to feel the pain of let down.

Photo by the author.


I won’t make it to Mountain View.

But I’m just a few miles away on the other side of Palo Alto. It feels the same, a proxy but with better vibes.

The weather is cooler than when I arrived years ago, the cherry blossoms are in bloom. So much of what I tried to slice out of my life creeps back in.

I walk around to soak in ambiance, and listen to Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight, the album with The Modern Leper, The Twist, and Poke. I try to disentangle my own braided memories: A breakup, a dissolution of a dream, the splitting of a company.

The other day I sat staring at the comforter on my bed, crossing my eyes so the beaded leaves blended together. They mixed into a stereoscopic image of porous bone like you’d see under a microscope. There was depth to the chambers, I almost reached out to feel the calcified crust.

I thought to myself, “What would it be like if I could just let this all float away?” I sat with the idea and let myself smile.

The sailor’s knot began to come undone, and I think I’ll be able to leave here with a little less baggage.




Feature photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

An Expedition for Life: Why I’m Volunteering with Outward Bound Romania

Wish me luck, Tabby urged. 

She looked at me with the composure that comes from hours of practice and a tinge of anxiety. It was the big day after all.

You don’t need it, you’ve got this, I encouraged. She smiled and walked on stage.

When I first met Tabby six months before, she was a self-assured, albeit timid public speaker. You could sense her strength of character, she just needed a little guidance and support.

She nailed the pitch and went on to raise $50,000 to build her company, Ghalani

Tabby was a special one, but her story rings true for the 60 young entrepreneurs we worked with that year. 

Startup Weekend and the formation of Zazu, The Smartest Damn Alarm Clock (Photo source:facebook.com/getZazu/)

You never know until you try

Sometimes we just need an opportunity to find out what we’re capable of. Sometimes a small experience can change the trajectory of a life

If I can pin-point one moment when things really shifted for me, it was participating in a Startup Weekend in Boston in 2010. A friend dragged me to it. I didn’t really know what startups were. We ended up taking 3rd place (and bought Indian food with our winnings).

*That video makes me cringe. But hey, the memories*

Since then I’ve been lucky to have some wide-ranging experiences, from teaching entrepreneurship in Ghana to working on a farm to growing a venture-backed startup.

This exposure has taught me one simple truth: You only learn by interacting with the world.

… And you never know where you might end up. Okay, two truths.

Gordonstoun students on an expedition in the 1980s. (Photo source: americanradioworks.org/segments/kurt-hahn-expeditionary-learning/)

Training through the sea

In large part, my thinking around education has been shaped by Kurt Hahn, the Founder of Outward Bound (OB). 

He promoted the concept of “expeditionary learning”, a model of education-by-doing and self-discovery.

His story is interesting in its own right. I’ll share a truncated version below:

Kurt Hahn was a German Jew who spoke out against the rise of Hitler. At the time, he was the founder and headmaster of the Salem School, and he made his stance clear in a letter to alumni:

“Salem cannot remain neutral. I ask the members of the Salem Union who are active in S. A. or S. S. to break with Salem or break with Hitler.”

Salem School focused on character development and Hahn led by example.

He was jailed, naturally.

Only through the appeal by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was he released and promptly expelled. He then made his way to Britain where he trained young British seamen who were performing poorly in the war.

His educational model is captured in the quote, “less training for the sea than through the sea.” 

He called the program “Outward Bound”, which is the nautical term to describe a ship leaving the safety of its harbor to head for the open seas.

Artist: Norman Rockwell, American (1894 – 1978)
Title: Outward Bound
Year: circa 1973

The call to action

Today, OB offers over 1,000 expedition-based programs and focuses on personal development. They work with cohorts from struggling youth to veterans to those interested in developing wilderness skills, and more. 

I first learned about OB in university while researching leadership and educational training. Their structure for experiential learning was so different (and more interesting) than my experience in class. I enjoyed science labs because they had an integrative function, but my greatest education about science came from my coops (internships) working in real biotech labs. 

When I came to entrepreneurship, I knew this wasn’t something you could download from a book, you had to go through the gauntlet. So I did.

Outward Bound Romania training program. (Photo source:facebook.com/outwardbound.ro/)

Which brings me to today

I’m committed to giving more of myself in 2019 so I wanted to find a way to use my strength (marketing) to support an organization with an important mission.

OB offers a model for education that I believe in and which has played a formative role in my own growth — without ever participating in their programming (yet!). Go figure.

As luck would have it, Outward Bound Romania had an opening so here I am in Târgu Mureș (Marosvásárhely).

I’m about to wrap up my first week and am excited to hit the “open sea” with the crew.