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A Dream in The Making aka Big Announcement!

Someone I greatly admire sent me sent me a text at the end of 2012:

Hey, Megan, I think you should go and do whatever it takes to turn 52 cups into a book, because I (and I’m assuming many others) think its an incredible story, and it’s almost a shame that as many people as possible won’t hear it. Go. 

The text meant so much to me, I took a screenshot and used it as the lock photo on my phone. I deeply desired to assemble the stories from my journey meeting 52 strangers into a book. The text was a reminder that other people did as well—and would support me in the process. 

I used my 22nd birthday to announce the launch of my blog. It’s only fitting to use my 26th birthday to announce the launch of my book: 52 Cups of Coffee. 

After many hours—and generous help from both family and friends—it’s happening! 52 Cups of Coffee will be available for purchase in August.

The first round of proofs arrive this week(!) which begins the series of revisions to get everything just right and ready for print. To celebrate the launch in style I will be doing a pre-release at the Passion Co. Shine Event July 23rd (San Francisco friends, would love if you’d come!). Then we enter the final stretch to the official release in mid-August.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing updates and the exact date of the launch. To be the first to know when it’s available sign up here!

The 52 Cups of Coffee adventure has been a group effort from the start, from the friends that supported me to the wonderful people willing to sit down with me and share their story. The power of community and connection is beautiful and 52 Cups of Coffee is evidence of that. Thank you for being a part of the adventure. 

I can tell 26 is going to be a good year. 

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Van Redin

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"What you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read." ~ Twyla Tharp

This quote, specifically the people parth, that inspired the start of 52 Cups of Coffee and of all the people I’ve had coffee with, it seems the most true for Van Redin in Austin, Texas.

You may have never heard Van Redin’s name, but you’ve certainly seen his work. As a still photographer specializing in the Motion Picture Industry he has worked on over 60 major feature films including: Rushmore, Rudy, Office Space, and Lord of the Rings over the course of a successful 20 year career. See his fantastic work here.

Working as a still photographer, Van takes photos of film scenes and studio shoots, which are used to create press and publicity for the film. This includes movie covers, posters, billboards and still shots used in print and online articles.

I found Van through a mutual friend, B A Kane (or as Van knows her, Betty Ann—her real name; she picked up B A as a nickname in college). B A volunteered to connect us after seeing I was going to the SXSW Interactive Festival via Facebook. Van and B A forged their friendship in 5th grade and they spent their high school years together in rural Texas—long before Hollywood was on his radar.

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Van walked into the crowded Starbucks south of the downtown Austin with sunglasses, a relaxed demeanor and authentic Texas drawl. We found coffee and a table and started our conversation. It began with stories about B A and their Texas childhood before shifting to the movie industry—which as it turns out, was never his career plan.

It happened because of a connection:

My first job was at the Capitol for the House of Representatives. I was a photographer so that enabled me to meet a lot of people that helped me out in the long run. I got into the movie business because I knew a girl who was a script supervisor. She had done a bunch of movies and she invited me up to the set to do Tender Mercies’ stuff, hang out on Tender Mercies with Bobby (Robert) Duvall and Sally Field. So, that’s the first movie I ever went out on set, I think, first feature, anyway. And then, met Duvall, and kind of got to be friends with him. I’ve done probably ten picture with him now.

While a lucky break led to his first movie opportunity helped him start his career, it was hard word and persistence that made it a successful one:

I had to go out to L.A. and live there for a couple of years to make it happen. You got to go out to L.A. and call on all the right people and have a lot of persistence to keep calling. Then you do a really good job and you give the people you work with a little gift at the end; let them know that you want to work with them again.

In short, his success came from working hard and treating people right. He stayed in touch with people he worked with and used those connections to generate more job opportunities. When I asked Van the secret to success, his answer was simple and straightforward:

I can say it’s all about meeting people and treating them good. Taking advantage of your opportunities. It’s simple but very true. Most people appreciate that. There’s not much more to it than that.

Although it’s not always easy:

The opportunities aren’t always ideal or fun. When you’re working hard trying to make a name for yourself you come across jobs you don’t necessarily want to do.

A lot of people don’t follow through. They get tired of it all. They think an opportunity is a phony deal, or they have to do something that they don’t want to do. Like, “I am not going to do that.” Oh well, you got to do a lot of things that you don’t want to do sometimes.

(Hear Van, in his own words, talk about what makes a good photographer.)

Like movie actors, he’ll work on projects for months at a time often working long hours and traveling across the country (and sometimes the globe) for shoots. It’s contract work, which means Van’s next gig is never guaranteed, his livelihood is based on his ability to continue to book new jobs.

The connections he has, the connections he fosters, are vital because when people need to fill a job, they first look at the people they already know—the people they enjoyed working with the last time. And because Van treats people right (and produces good work) people want to continue working with him—it is his secret to making it in the movie industry.

Really, it’s the secret to making it in any industry.

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52 Cups of Coffee has always been about meeting new people and building connections; yet, very few conversation have directly focused on how building the right connections allow people to build their best lives. That was what I most appreciated about my conversation with Van.

The simple reality is that every person we meet has the opportunity to change us. Every person knows something, someone or some opportunity that could be a lucky break that gets you closer to what you want in life.

So treat the people you meet well.

What you will be in five years depends on it.

 

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Kham in Luang Prabang

This is the final installment of Cups from my foreign adventures to Australia and Asia.

Happiness doesn’t require much.

It was 10pm and pitch black when we met Kham.

Standing just over four foot, ten inches, and eight months pregnant, she greeted us with a thick accent and the most captivating grin: one part warmth, one part mischief.

My partner in travel crime and I had found Kham and her husband Henri-Pierre through Airbnb, which had been our primary source of accommodations while traveling through Asia. Preferring to keep our travel spontaneous, we booked the listing the day before we arrived and planned on staying in Luang Prabang for two days before exploring other cities in Laos.

She led us to a pickup truck and instructed us to climb in the back. I glanced at my partner: we shared the same nervous excitement about the adventure before us. After a chilly ride, we arrived at the homestay, which they’d built themselves in order to start hosting travelers. Kham showed us to our room (which had been meticulously prepared) and then asked us a simple question,

"Would you like to eat dinner with my family?"

Kham and her family had prepared a mouth-watering feast of noodles, fresh veggies and meat served with such warmth and hospitality. We instantly felt at home as we connected with the family in broken English, shared bottles of Beerlao and learned more about all Luang Prabang had to offer.

It was clear we’d need more than two days.

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Luang Prabang is a simple city alongside the Mekong River. With 50,000 people and a heavy Buddhist influence, the small city is filled with beautiful Buddhist temples and streets lined with tuk-tuks and fresh food markets.  

Over the course of the following five days, we explored every nook and cranny; taking Kham’s Hello Kitty themed Vespa over bumpy, rooster-lined, roads around town and out into the country to explore jungles and waterfalls and to meet elephants.

We’d explore all day before returning to Kham’s house where Henri-Pierre would make us a drink with LaosLaos Whiskey (a local favorite) while Kham cooked a delicious meal. The meals were slow and relaxed and we would stay at the table long after we were full.  

Despite it’s economic troubles (a third of the Laos’ population lives on less than US$1.25 per day), Luang Prabang is a place where people find happiness within the simplicity.

We saw examples of this wherever we went. The best night of the stay involved a boat tour up the Mekong where we discovered a bar (essentially a wooden shack on the middle of an island) where locals were enjoying their Friday night playing cards. We stopped for a beer and before we knew it, they’d invited us into their circle and treated us like we’d always been a part of the crew.

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No electricity, no frills, no gadgets or gizmos: just good people, good food, and laughter.

Happiness.

That’s how it felt wherever we went in the city—but the feeling was strongest when spending time with Kham. She wasn’t a traditional Cup but her charm and generosity made for an unforgettable experience and a lesson I wanted to share:

Happiness doesn’t require much.

It seems the pursuit of happiness is never-ending. We look for the latest and greatest thing that will make us happy: the diet that will transform our bodies, the book that will transform our mind, the technology that will solve our every want and that magical amount of money that makes our troubles disappear.

But the truth is that you don’t need many things to find happiness.  

You can find it within the simple moments: an unexpected adventure, warm smile, delicious meal, and long conversations with kind people.

You find it in the moment.

Happiness is the moment.

Thanks to @jeannineyeah and @alexschiff for editing. 

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Lee Hup Kheng

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After a rural adventure around the island of Borneo the next stop of the journey was Singapore: a squeaky clean commercial hub with great public transit and dazzling architecture. Unsure of how to navigate the new city, I asked friends on Facebook if they had any tips on Singapore.

My friend, and Michigan State University professor, Karl answered the call: 

I have friends at the newspaper there if you need some good people to ask what to do!

Before I knew it, I was messaging with Lee “Hup” Kheng, a Singaporean with great advice: Chinatown, the Mariamman Indian Temple, Marina Bay on the Sands Hotel for spectacular views of the skyline and more.

Hup was so gracious to offer his expertise, I asked him if he’d like to get coffee. Two days later I was in the art department of Singapore Press Holdings where Hup works as the Infographic and Design Chief for The New Paper.

Hup is an award-winning graphics artist. Born in the Rice Bowl region of Malaysia, he realized he had a talent for drawing and should try to make something out of his life. After high school he bought a one-way ticket to Memphis, Tennessee for art school. He then moved back to Malaysia and soon got a job in Singapore. He has been in the industry for 25 years and is now running the show at The New Paper—the best paper in Singapore.

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We met at his office and sat on the rooftop deck overlooking the city. We talked about what makes Singapore unique, swapped travel stories and discussed lessons Hup had learned over the course of his career.

Our conversation was lively and it was clear Hup was an artistic guy. He’d use his hands or objects on the table to help me visualize the story he was telling.

My favorite part of the conversation was when he talked about art and trying to unlearn things.

He talked about drawing a face over and over again. Each time he starts with the nose, which means it’s now become a habit. He doesn’t know how to draw a face without starting with the nose because habits are hard to break.

It’s the same for life habits: we fall into a routine that is known and comfortable. Then we get stuck.

We pick the easy, expected, known route and suddenly a few years go by and we are in a rut that is safe yet boring. As Hup said:

We get stuck in patterns but sometimes the best things are when you can embrace the unknown… The best things come unexpectedly. It can be a bit dangerous but that’s okay, it’s more fun to follow the heart.

While his career has been vibrant, he said if he could do it again, he would have worked in Singapore for two years and then gone somewhere like Japan where a new challenge awaited. He would have switched things up more often.

To compensate, he’s now travels as often as possible, which is why he was so willing to share tips with me. He told me that when people are traveling he loves to help give them advice because, as a traveler himself, he knows what it’s like to be in the other person’s’ shoes.  

What I love about coffee with Hup was how beautifully it illustrates one of my favorite ideas: the strength of weak ties.

Meg Jay talks about it in her book The Defining Decade:

[We] are in almost constant contact with the same few people. But while the urban tribe [our support network] helps us survive, it does not help us thrive. The urban tribe may bring us soup when we are sick, but it is the people we hardly know—those who never make it into our tribe—who will swiftly and dramatically change our lives for the better.

This is the power of having coffee with strangers.

We need a tight circle of friends and family to survive the ups and downs of life—but it is the wider circle of people in our lives that create the best opportunity.

Karl and I met a few years ago and have stayed in touch since. I greatly admire his work and cherish the opportunities when our paths cross. The same happened between Karl and Hup—they met and stayed in touch, it’s in Karl’s nature to connect.

As a result, when I was in Singapore, the strength of these weak ties led to an opportunity to for Hup and I to meet.

I am continually amazing that people are so willing to connect others. We love being able to share our experiences, our expertise and our connections with others when given the chance to help.

It’s magical.

And a great opportunity to get out of a rut. When you reach out to someone (whether a complete stranger or an old friend you don’t often see) you break out of the habit of talking to the same people about the same things.

If you’re looking for an exciting new opportunity you have to search in different places—old friends are a really great place to start.

Mine led me to a wonderful conversation inside a Singaporean newspaper art department. Where will yours lead?

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JC in Malaysia

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There are no bad experiences, just experiences.

I heard this while sitting on an island, frizzy hair and damp swim suit while huddled around a plastic picnic table eating Tom Yam soup (a Malaysian staple) to replenish after a morning spent along the ocean floor. The restaurant was authentic: open air patio with a small kitchen views of the picturesque beach and unsophisticated—yet adequate—squat toilets and signs warning Do not feed the monkeys to keep things interesting.

The insight came from JC, a 5’3” scuba instructor living in Kota Kinabalu, a vibrant city on the island of Borneo.

He was born in Malaysia but grew up in London and maintained the British accent long after he returned to Malaysia twenty years later. His wide smile, boundless energy and easygoing nature made him a fantastic guide for a scuba adventure. 

I had completed my scuba certification in Australia the week before in order to take advantage of the great diving Malaysia had to offer and booked a day-trip a few days before arriving.

JC and I met when I discovered he would be our dive master charged with taking us out along the reef, keeping us safe, and showing us a good time. Over the course of two days and six dives, JC was constantly smiling, cracking jokes and accommodating the various requests of scuba divers. Both days we took a long lunch that provided a good chance to learn more about the folks on the boat.

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JC has been in the tourism industry for years. He began by taking travelers up Mount Kinabalu (a two-day trek with a hefty incline). After hundreds of trips he needed a new challenge and switched to weeklong treks through the jungle. He also teaches weekly spin classes and is in the process of learning to hang glide.

When I asked him what it was like to be a scuba instructor he said the trick was to always be four steps ahead. He interacts with people so often he can predict their needs before they realize they have them. It’s evident he prides himself on offering great service to travelers and shaping new experiences.

Between exploring mountains, jungles and the ever-changing ocean floor, JC had many stories. He shared a few good ones before I asked about the worst experienced he’d had as a tour guide.

He responded:

There are no bad experiences, only experiences.

Yes, sometimes the weather isn’t cooperative, equipment breaks, and things don’t go according to plan. But still, within those moments, exists learning, memories, emotionthe feeling of being alive.

An experience isn’t good or bad, it simply is what it is. And if you accept the situation as it is, you can stop analyzing and simply be in the moment. Not all moments are enjoyable, but it’s easier to make the most of them when fully immersed.

The alternativeruminating that you wish this wasn’t how it wasis unproductive when you’re in a situation outside of your control.

That’s how JC succeeds on the job. He’s fully present as he surveys the weather, the equipment and the people. He doesn’t get overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan: he stays calm and seeks solutions.

You can focus your energy on judging a situation or you can focus on finding a solution

The remaining time I spent in Malaysia (and southeast asia) was filled with experiences: crazy road trips across potholed roads, sunburns, late night games of cards, nearly missed flights, new friends, moments of exhaustion followed by bursts of adventure and energy.

Some moments felt good and others didn’t, but being fully immersed made the sum of those moments lead to an incredibly rich and memorable experience.

JC would have been proud.

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Alexandra Petre

In December of 2013, I took a writing hiatus in order to fully enjoy an adventure to Australia and southeast Asia as part of a goal to hit all seven continents before April 2015. Although I wasn’t writing, I continued meeting strangers over coffee. This is the first of several posts chronicling those international conversations.

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It’s a beautiful sunny day in Sydney, Australia as I sit with Alexandra Petre at the rooftop cafe within the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a picturesque scene. The Harbor Bridge to our right, the Sydney Opera House to our left and the sounds of locals and tourists intermingling along the waterfront below us.

I actually “met” Alex in Canada two years before when my friend Asad, whom I met via Twitter, invited me to speak at the TEDxQueensU event he was organizing. The theme was “Nomad,” which made me a fitting speaker as I was in the middle of a yearlong nomadic adventure (74 cities in 14 months). Alex was the photographer for the event; however, we didn’t have a chance to connect. A few months later Alex was preparing for a trip and Asad introduced us via email. We exchanged a few messages and became Facebook friends.

Our coffee came about when I posted a photo of my travels in Sydney and she commented, “I’m here too, we should meet up!”

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She suggested the museum for coffee and after we met up and ordered, the conversation quickly turned to travel. “What brought you to Sydney? Where were you coming from? Where are you going next?”

Alex, like myself, has a love of adventure and wanderlust. Her stories sound like so many of mine: adventures and misadventures happening in foreign lands with new connections made and insights gained.

At 23, Alex has an enviable travel history. Born in Romania, she moved to Toronto at age 16 and has since lived in Singapore, London, and India with trips throughout Europe, southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia.  

While attending her final year of University in Canada, Alex received an email about opportunity to work for a startup in India. She applied and was offered a yearlong contract but after relocating her life to India she realized the opportunity wasn’t a good fit. She decided to be true to herself, she needed to get out of her contract early and look for new opportunities. The result was a consulting opportunity in London starting in April 2014. That meant she had a few months to fill, which, like any serious traveler, she filled with adventures to visit friends in both New Zealand and Australia.

Alex has a great sense of adventure, a bubbly personality and a warmth and openness to meeting new people. As a result, she has a network of friends around the world. The day after we met she was taking off to San Francisco to meet up with even more friends. I could resonate with her experience. What I intended to be a solo adventure in Sydney had turned into a week spent with really fantastic friends.

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The first was Angela Shetler, Cup 24 from my first round of Cups, which was especially meaningful as we had never met in person. At the time of our conversation she was teaching English in Japan and our conversation took place over Skype. She offered to show me round Sydney and was a delightful tour guide.

The second was my friend, Jenay, whom I’d met in San Francisco a year earlier. She was the roommate of my best friend in San Francisco until a job opportunity moved her and her boyfriend to Sydney a month before my trip. While we weren’t close friends before the trip, she was insisted that I crash on her couch while I visited and was a fantastic host that made me feel like I was at home with old friends.

There was almost a fourth friend encounter—while I was at the airport leaving Sydney I discovered a friend I’d met in Austin, Texas was in the same area I’d been in just hours before. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.  

The more I travel and make connections the more frequent these serendipitous encounters happens and it’s one of the reasons I love meeting new people.

Within every new connection exists a seed of opportunity.

Coffee with Alex illustrates how small and unexpected the world becomes when we are willing to reach out and connect with others without knowing where those connections will lead.

The conversation you strike up with the person next to you on an airplane may last 45 minutes and disappear from your memory but it could also lead to exchanging emails and starting a cherished friendship (believe me, I know from experience).

I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d meet someone in Canada and cross paths with them two years later halfway around the world. But that’s what happens you develop a routine habit of connecting with interesting people, staying in touch and reaching out when you have a chance.

It’s a recipe for creating wonderful memories.

And I’m so grateful Alex reached out and reminded me of that.

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Jessica Hische

"I don’t believe in soul mates,"

proclaimed Jessica Hische, the highly sought-after (and happily married) letterer and illustrator, as we sit in her favorite San Francisco cafe, Ritual Coffee.

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She’s wearing neon leggings covered in cat faces floating in the cosmos (it’s Pilates day and cats make it more fun) as we chat with the enthusiasm and flow of old friends. Jessica is wildly talented, personable, and fun. She’s also unapologetically herself, which is just the reason I reached out to her for coffee.  

Our conversation jumped from stories about elementary school friendships, the twists and turns of her artistic career and, of course, soul mates—a topic that offered both a glimpse into her unapologetic confidence I so admired, and a lesson in decision-making.

If you don’t recognize Jessica’s name, you’ll likely recognize her work. She chased her childhood dream to “spend all day drawing” and became an award-winning letterer and illustrator. After graduating from Tyler School of Art at Temple University, she began working as a freelance designer before landing a job with her design hero, Louise Fili. After two years of hard work, she decided to fully branch out on her own and has since gone to work with clients including Starbucks, Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., American Express, Target, Nike and more.

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A sample of Jessica’s work. 

Her talent and infectious personality online have made her an inspiration for many young designers and an international speaker (check out this great talk on her favorite topic, procrastiworking). Wherever you find her, you’re sure to witness her quirky, unfiltered, authentic self, which is refreshing to find in a world where people often are swept up in living up to someone else’s expectations.

"You seem fearless,"

I asked her (perhaps hoping a bit of her magic will rub off on me).

"I don’t think I’m fearless, I’m just really good at looking at a situation and being honest about what my motivations are."

Jessica is confident because she understands (and trusts) her decision making process. She is intentional in her actions—what she says on Twitter, who she works with, etc—and understands why she is doing what she is doing. She seems fearless because she doesn’t stress over how people will react because she has solid reasoning to back up her actions.

At an early age Jessica developed a desire to be independent: to be able to stand up for herself and be financially independent.

"In learning to survive high school, I saw that the people that fared the best were the people that were unapologetic about what they were doing. If you were very frank about all the decisions you were making, it made it easy to navigate situations".

That decision making has long been a strength of Jessica’s:

"When I was young, I was incredibly shy, but I’ve always been very decisive. Take me shopping and I’ll get everything I need in one trip and I won’t regret a single decision. I just know what I like and what I don’t like. When I was young I may have been too shy to articulate that well but I still knew what I wanted."

Which brings us to soul mates.

Jessica’s “fearlessness” is actually a strong trust in her decision making skills. She doesn’t exert much time or anxiety agonizing over the perfect choice:

"I don’t believe in the best version of anything. I believe there are a group of things that are the best thing, or work, and you chose one and you move on. And if you don’t just make a decision and move on you’ll never do anything. You’ll end up single forever."

She was referencing marriage but the theory has broad application: from toothpaste to career choices. You look at the best set of options and then trust your gut.  

Make a decision and make it work.

That’s Jessica’s mentality. 

It was great to hear Jessica’s insights because I frequently fall victim to the opposite mentality: there is only one choice that will make you happy, the rest will leave you endlessly miserable—so don’t screw up. I know this is false thinking. I also know I’m not the only person that gets caught up in this thinking. 

Jessica was sympathetic to my plight. She called it the soul mate mindest—looking for “the one” whether that be the perfect job, apartment, mate, little black dress, etc.

“I think 90% of people are in the mentality of soul mates. It’s the fairytale mentality that we grew up with.”

But life isn’t a fairytale.

"You have to look at the options and the time that you have and make the best decision, knowing you can make a different decision later."

You can’t wait around for perfect because it doesn’t exist. And if you’re waiting (anxiously) for everything to be perfect, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great things that add up to something really special.

Perhaps it was the affects of the warm San Francisco sun on a beautiful afternoon but as we parted ways after our conversation, I felt like I’d succeeded: a bit of Jessica’s magic had rubbed of on me.

She reminded me that there is more than one route that leads to a satisfied and successful life, which means theres no point in anxiously waiting for perfect. Instead, you’ve got to jump right in and trust that whatever happens, you’re capable of making it work.

You can believe in soul mates and think you get one shot at a happy life—or, you can believe in yourself and trust you’ll make the most of whatever comes your way.

The latter appears to be working wonders for Jessica.

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Elle Luna

Roll up your sleeves and start working.

Elle Luna found what so many young professionals are looking for: her dream job.

She was was well-regarded designer in San Francisco with a resume that included Silicon Valley stars: IDEO, Mailbox, Uber and Medium.

Then she quit.

To paint.

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She traded a solid career path for the uncertainty of following the little voice in her head that kept pulling, nudging, and encouraging her to follow her heart. Elle found the studio space of her dreams, painted nonstop for four months, took a transformational trip to Bali and had her first-ever gallery showing, which was a huge success. A year after taking her leap she is flourishing in unexpected ways with continued opportunities for gallery shows, speaking engagements and progress toward new creative business endeavors.  

Elle makes it look so easy but the truth is that her journey, like all good journeys, has been filled with uncertainty and unknowns.  

Elle is in her early thirties with a soft smile that radiates warmth and openness – soft-spoken but in an enlivened and purposeful way. We met in her inspired San Francisco studio, sun streaming through the windows atop of her high walls illuminating her two fresh, triangle-inspired paintings against the wall and a whimsical rope swing in the center of the room. Snuggled in her her cozy seating area, her dog Tilly snuggled in her lap, we chatted about the fear and magic of chasing crazy dreams.

Elle’s act of leaving the comforts of conventional livingh to embrace the unknown is enviable. It was also the basis for a talk Elle gave outlining her recipe for taking big leaps. The title was Find Your Must and the premise is that everyone is born with a unique gift that only they can give. The trick is to discover what that gift is and then give it away mercifully.

It’s worth a watch, but here’s the recipe in a nutshell:

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  1. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: Start trusting your intuition and crazy ideas in the back of your mind.  
  2. THE LEAP INTO THE UNKNOWN: Take action toward your idea!

  3. THE POINT OF NO RETURN: The scary and vulnerable stage where you question everything—keeping moving forward!

  4. THE GREAT REWARD: The space where you have found your gift and are able to give it away mercifully, which is the greatest feeling in the world.

The talk hit home with people because deep down, we all feel that burning desire to uncover our purpose—to be alive and connected to something that matters.

So if the recipe is simple and proven, why aren’t more people giving their gift?

It’s not a lack of knowledge.

It’s a lack of guts.

The great leap is scary. This is why Elle receives countless messages from people relaying the same thing: Yes! I want to find my must, how do I do it?  

Elle’s response is simple: you already have all the answers. Go do it.

"You don’t need any more handholding and you don’t need any more inspiration. I’ll talk for myself. For, it felt like months, I was reading books and looking online and researching places and thinking about paints and I got to a point where it was like, Girl, you’ve had enough inspiration. It is time to actually just roll up your sleeves and do the work. Like actually start cutting or chopping or laying out color or mixing or just drawing, who knows but just start doing something, anything, and the next step in all of this thing whatever it is that has started from that talk is just to do something and do something today."

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It’s going to be scary and there’s no way around it—there is no magical antidote to eliminate the fear.

We search for answers, search for answers, search for answers. But after you’ve done enough searching, the answer is action.

“You’ve got to start saying ‘No’. You do have to be selfish, you do have to kind of put up some walls and protect your space and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to go on a little inward journey right now and I’m going to make time everyday or every week, every weekend that’s sacred’ and it’s just about investing in this thing.”

And with time your investment begins to grow until your small leaps of courage turn into big leaps that lead you closer and closer to your must: the gift you were meant to give to the world, the gift that brings you fulfillment and happiness.

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It’s not easy to find because it’s not supposed to be—your gift is your most valuable possession. But if Elle’s glowing contentment is any indication, finding it is certainly worth embracing the uncertainty and adventure.

This week, Elle launched The Bulan Project, which creates limited edition livable art that is beautiful, thoughtful, and above all else, functional. For the first issue, Elle worked with artisanal group in Bali that felt like family and worked with ethics, intention, and impeccable craft to create a beautiful textile inspired by the moon’s cycles of change and transformation. Find out more about these limited edition pieces at Bulan Project

Illustrations are from Elle’s ‘Find Your Must’ talk. Check it out!

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Nomad Life, Again

I’ve been more quiet than I’d like to be here at 52 Cups.

I’ve been drinking lots of coffee with some amazing folks but I’m slow to post. Why? I’ve jumped back into nomadic lifestyle (I spent 14 months traveling after college), which I had planned on when I quit my job: 9 cites in November, 8 countries in December and January.

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(Proof of Travel) 

I love being on the road and experiencing the unknowns and oddities of constantly being in new place. I like throwing out the routine and rhythm of normal life and replacing it with curiosity and sense of adventure for what each unique day will bring—especially when the travel involves friends or family.

The downside of travel is that I always overestimate my ability to carve out space and time to write. Travel opens so many doors for interesting conversation and most times I opt for new conversation (or adventure) over writing.

For a bit I was beating myself up about not hitting my goal of posting each Thursday like I had planned until an insightful conversation helped me see the importance of striving for Thursday posts but being compassionate for the weeks where the posts are a bit delayed due to travel. In 2014, when I’m back to having a home and a more-normal routine, I can set my efforts to regular posting. Until then, I’m going to embrace the adventure and post as often as I can in the process.

So here’s the rundown:

I’m currently in Australia(!), learning to scuba dive and soaking in a new culture I’ve never experienced. Then I’m off to Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Thailand with a quick layover in Tokyo before returning to San Francisco January 19th!

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A major takeaway in so many of my coffee conversations has been: travel while you’re young and I’m doing my best to follow that advice!

Expect some posts along the way and a regular content schedule in 2014. And have a wonderful holiday!  

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Doug Tumminello

Date: Wednesday, November 27th 

Location: Ink! in Denver, Colorado 

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Doug Tumminello is preparing for an audacious adventure. In November of 2014 the 47-year-old lawyer from Denver, Colorado will attempt to traverse 750 miles from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole, solo. To achieve his goal of reaching the pole in less than 35 days, Doug will average 20 miles a day, all of which will be gradually uphill against incessant winds and below-zero temperatures. He’ll have nothing more than his thoughts to keep himself company and a pack filled with everything he’ll need to survive.

To an outsider it seems crazy, but to anyone he knows him, it is just Doug being Doug. He sets sights on an audacious goal and chases it with discipline and determination until he succeeds.

In 2006, Doug was the leader of Team No Limits, a private exhibition up Mount Everest. Three years later, he was a member of the 8-person team that set the world record for the fastest row across the Indian Ocean: 3,700 miles in 58 days. He’s run the Leadville 100 Ultramarathon (100 miles at elevations of 9,000 feet and higher) and climbed the highest mountains in both North and South America. Oh, he’s also a partner in a Denver law firm and devoted husband and father of two.

Ask him why and he’ll tell you with a self-aware chuckle,  “I have no idea, I’ve asked myself this question a lot but have yet to find an answer.”

The answer might simply be that Doug was born with the spirit of adventure:

You’ve probably noticed this with your own adventures. All good adventures have the hallmark of an ancient epic poem—think the Iliad or the Odyssey. The thing that those epics have in common is that the hero, or the protagonist, leaves society and crosses a threshold from which there is no return and then undergoes a series of defining events throughout the journey—which are dangerous, enlightening, funny, whatever they may be—then the protagonist ultimately has to reenter society and integrate those lessons into their lives. That’s kind of what epic poetry is about. And I think all great adventures are kind of like that.

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Doug and I met at a coffee shop in his downtown Denver office building. He’s the son-in-law of my high school guidance counselor turned friend, Sally Craig. In 2012, when I told her about my planned trip to Antarctica she excitedly responded, “You’ll have to talk to my son-in-law, Doug. He’s planning an Antarctic adventure of his own”. A year later, while back in the Rocky Mountains for Thanksgiving, we made our conversation about adventures happen.

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Doug’s noticeable characteristics are his calm and confident demeanor; disciplined, yet friendly. Born into a military family, Doug followed suit by going to West Point Academy before joining the Army. His time in the service helped develop the skills of discipline, focus, preparation and persistence. Skill that have supported his continual thirst for adventure; skills he continues to hone as he tackles greater challenges. Before his row across the Indian Ocean he would train on a rowing machine tucked away in a dusty corner of his gym for four hours with no music, no TV and no breaks.

With ocean rowing turning around wasn’t an option. Once the expedition started, their only real option was to finish. The same is true for the solo ski. The ocean was monotonous, painful and long, but the dedicated training gave Doug confidence he could endure the difficult task, but he had company. Antarctica’s challenge will be the painful monotony in addition to solitude and an unchanging scene of snow and sky. Having been overwhelmed by the size, isolation and magnificence of Antarctica myself, the mental challenge of the expedition seemed more daunting than the physicality of skiing 750 miles.

The key, Doug said, is staying present:

Really stay in the moment the whole time while you’re on your feet, find a way to disassociate from the discomfort and the pain of what is truly the monotony. It’s sort of being able to do those two really opposite things at the same time, you know, really staying within what you’re doing and your own presence so that you’re safe and then really putting aside the physical and even mental pain of it. If you think too far in the future you’ll just disintegrate—thinking oh I have 749 more miles. Or it’s easy to get discouraged if you think you’ll average 25-30 miles a day and you only do 5 miles a day.

Listening to Doug reminded me that any big goal (like skiing to the South Pole) is really just a thousand little goals leading up to one exceptional goal: Make it another mile. Make it another mile. Make it another mile.

This was a powerful take away from my conversation with Doug: with discipline to stay focused on the most immediate little goal and persistence to keep pushing forward, the big audacious goal is inevitably reached. This leads to second inspiring take away from coffee with Doug: have a big audacious goal.

In fourth grade, Doug read of Ernest Shackleton’s escape from Antarctica. The story lit a fire within Doug. He decided he would someday replicate the feat of an open-boat crossing of the Southern Ocean between Antarctica and South Georgia island—some of the roughest water in the world. This decision has been impetus for his many expeditions. Everest, the Indian Ocean, the South Pole: these are all intermediate goals inching him closer to his grand Shackleton goal.

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Hear Doug, in his own words, talk about the values he tries to instill in his two children: 

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Doug’s inspiring Shackleton story illustrates the power of a big audacious goal as it creates direction and motivation for living and a framework to develop discipline to overcome big challenges—in life and in sport. Doug’s story isn’t just about climbing mountains—it’s about searching for excellence and adventure, for living life with passion and making the most of the finite time we have on earth.

I left my conversation buzzing.

What is my big audacious goal? What is my own version of Shackleton’s Escape? The thing that will inspire me to be my best everyday—not just for myself but for those I love?

It’s a big question. And a scary one. I can’t be the only 20something guilty of thinking more about the short term rather than setting definite long-term goals, breaking them down into smaller steps and developing a strategy to achieve them. Goal setting is an intimidating (and fear-of-failure inducing) activity. It’s much easier to check Twitter frequently and hope for the best.

While you can make a great living taking life as it comes, the reality is that if you want a Mt. Everest sized accomplishment, you’ll need a plan. It’s scary because when you declare what you want, it’s easier to know if you’ve failed. But Doug puts that fear in perspective:

The risk of failure isn’t something that stops me and that fear of that risk does stop a lot of people. I’m not just talking about climbing mountains or whatever, the risk of failure just stops people in their tracks and I really do hope I demonstrate that you shouldn’t let that stop you. Instead, that’s just part of the deal. It’s part of the game. It’s how we learn. We learn through those failings. But on that point, when people go on expeditions really what they’re looking for is that sense of adventure and often in not making it to the top is where the real adventure happens. you really do get what you’re looking for so to speak, if you know what you’re looking for.

The power of ambitious goals is that the simple act of chasing them leads to growth, learning and best of all, adventure—regardless of success of failure. 

Like epic poetry, life’s best stories are those that involved defining moments that result from a meaningful pursuit of something greater. Rarely are stories written about folks with grand ideas they were too afraid to chase. 

You can’t be afraid to leave the shores, you know, just because the risk of failure is there. It looms for all of us, you know. We have a very finite amount of time to do what we’re going to do while we’re here.

What will your story be? 

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