December 30, 2009

Visiting Home



Going home for my younger sister's wedding in May was an incredible experience not only because I was able to be around my amazing family and friends, but also because I could experience America during the middle of my service in the Peace Corps.

On couches, in cars, walking around my old college campus, sitting on the sand at the beach and many places in between I was able to be with those closest to me and try to explain the incredible experiences I have been through in only a year in Mongolia. My blog and monthly newsletters have been helpful in sharing general thoughts and big events with many people, but nothing comes close to a personal conversation with someone. Responses are immediate, questions and answers volley back and forth and precious moments of silence shared between best friends while both think about things they have never considered before are worth more to me than anything. It's not easy to make sense of everything I am going through as a Volunteer, but talking through it with people I love makes it easier. Not only that, but I think it helps them in their lives too. I can't count how many times people said, "Wow, I've never said that sort of thing out loud before. I don't think I've ever considered it quite like that." Unfamiliar with the usual cultural references on recent movies and happenings, conversations immediately turned to central life themes, purpose, love, service, possibility, and life goals and I would prefer those topics every day of the week. Maybe more than anything Mongolia has taught me that we should all be in touch with who we truly are and what we believe, every minute, and I felt very lucky to do that with so many outstanding people home in America.

December 27, 2009

Leadership Lessons



I had a very helpful conversation with my dad about leadership and our Peace Corps Merit Badges project. I want to be a good leader and help this project to do a lot of good for lots of people, so I asked him about how to be a good leader when running an organization like this. He could think of three things to keep in mind: (1) surrounding yourself with talented people, (2) being open to new ideas, and (3) being reflective and trying to improve.

He also talked about staying true to your principles and being clear about the vision of why we do what we do. He felt our mission of helping others and doing good work shows through our organization and our activities. Volunteers, family and friends, see the story that we are writing and the grassroots effort that we are beginning as a way to improve the lives of our community and the Peace Corps community and that is what they are buying into when they join the project and become part of the story.

It will be very important for us to be clear about our dream for this project, since it seems that every time we dream, the dreams come true. I am surprised and honored by the people who are already involved in the project and I am very excited to see where it goes in the coming months.

December 26, 2009

Gandhi Jeans

Homegrown organic Gandhi Jeans. The newest fragrance, Mother Teresa's Compassion. Trademarked Words of Wisdom from Jesus, Inc. The biggest and bestest buns at Buddha's Burgers...

I'm glad Gandhi never made jeans, Jesus didn't incorporate, Mother Teresa didn't commercialize and Buddha didn't franchise. Does it seem silly that they would? Don't think it didn't occur to them. There are plenty of temptations out there to own, control, manipulate and capitalize on others for fame, power and wealth. It is one of the greatest temptations for any leader to lose sight of the greater good and seek after personal gain. There were plenty of wealthy business men during Gandhi's time, plenty of famous people with designer products in Mother Teresa's, lots of powerful people purporting expensive advice all around Jesus and plenty of hungry people waiting to be fed during Buddha's time. I don't know the names of those wealthy, famous, or powerful people. I know and admire these four people, and many others, because they didn't charge for what they sold. They didn't donate a percentage of profits, they donated everything. They gave their ideas, names, and lives away for free. They fed people without a dime. They healed people without formal training. They listened, learned, walked with and helped more people in one day than most people ever do in their whole lives. Then, after they died, they kept helping people.

Money is part of our world but I want to be like these people. No matter how much money I have, selling out will cost more than I can afford.

December 25, 2009

Discover Your World


Living in line with truth is the point of meditation, truth about the world and the way things really are. Buddha said, “Your work is to discover your world and then with all of your heart give yourself to it.” Those two things are in order because you need to understand your world and yourself first before you can give yourself to it or anything for that matter. Who are you, really, deep down? What are the ways of the world, the kinds of truth that will always be and principles that will never fail? I have a long way to go but with some time, patience, and meditation, I think I know a little.

Everything Changes
Here is one of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” At the smallest level we can observe particles constantly in motion at incredible speeds. At the largest level galaxies flying away from each other in our enormous universe. Somewhere in between civilizations flourish, mountains crumble, life ends and life begins. All around us our world tells us that everything changes and yet...we act surprised. Not my body. Not my car. Not my life. Surely something must stay the same. Just this: everything changes.

Let Go
When we meditate on this fact, when we apply it to our lives, we are forced to let go of our preconceived notions of how things will go or how our lives should or shouldn’t be. Life isn’t meant to be permanent, it is meant to be experienced. Love and let go. Laugh and let go. Meditation is about truly seeing the world as it really is, in this moment, experiencing it and then letting it go. Moment to moment awareness, of this repetition, this kiss, this smile, this beauty, allows us to truly give ourselves to it. Whether it’s your first or your last is irrelevant. In fact, if you truly experience your life moment to moment and let go of expectation, you will do what many people hope to do: the popular and often sung idea of “living every day like it’s your last.”

The nice thing about truth, about life, is that everyone can experience it for themselves. Actually, everyone has to experience it for themselves. Meditation and enlightenment rest entirely on the shoulders of the person doing it. No one can do it for you and all the words in the world will mean nothing if they don’t live out through your experiences. As you grow stronger in your body and your mind, be sure to grow stronger in your understanding of the world around you. Then, when you are ready, give yourself to it with all of your heart. At least that’s what I think. And Buddha too.

December 22, 2009

Peace Corps Budget Increase

The big news in the Peace Corps community, maybe some of the biggest in a long time, is that we have been approved for a huge budget increase in 2010. It was the result of the collective efforts of hundreds and thousands of people around the world including Push for Peace Corps, NPCA, Peace Corps Headquaters, Peace Corps Worldwide, Senators, Congressmen, and many other people I can't begin to imagine. This will be a huge boost for our organization at every level and allow things to happen that have only been dreams in years past. Expect to see a lot more Peace Corps countries opening, record numbers of Volunteers recruited, accepted and invited to serve, and I would venture to guess record numbers of current Peace Corps Volunteers extending their service a third year.


I am part of the Peace Corps legacy. Learn more about the Peace CorpsPeace Corps' 50th Anniversary celebration starts in 2010 (in honor of John F. Kennedy's first speech on the idea) and ends in 2011 in Washington, D.C. I feel very lucky, as I am sure many other Volunteers do, to be serving in this organization at such a great time of support and growth. I believe in our mission and am very proud to be a Volunteer serving here in Mongolia. Thank you, everyone in the Peace Corps community, for your hard work and support. I hope we are making everyone proud.

December 20, 2009

Lifted Up

I was really moved by Pixar's newest film Up. I loved the story and message, and I particularly enjoyed the throwback to a vintage sense of adventure and the timeless "wilderness explorer" mentality. The merit badges were also way awesome and very inspiring.

I laughed out loud really hard (all by myself) throughout the movie. It's nice to remember how incredible each addition is when Pixar adds to its already outstanding collection of films. It is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. Thank you Pixar.

December 18, 2009

A Series of Meditations

Starting right after Christmas weekend we will begin a 5-week series of meditation classes here at our hospital with a different teacher each week. This is in collaboration with our meditation center project and will help prepare our teachers for more classes and students in months to come. Methods of the teachers will differ, which will be beautiful I think, and allow students (patients, professionals, doctors, nurses...) the opportunity to see and choose from different meditation techniques. Lessons will be about a half hour, to encourage participation and attendance, and will last for seven days before we change teachers. In the second week I will be teaching using very simple techniques I have learned from Vipassanna meditation and the Dalai Lama. I am very eager to learn from the other meditation teachers in the weeks to come!

December 14, 2009

Quiet the Holiday Noise

This morning I read some great advice from ZenHabits, one of my favorite email subscriptions:
During these holidays, think about what’s most important to you. That might be your loved ones, or a loved one, whether that’s a spouse or friends or kids or parents or whatever. It might be your work — what you create and are passionate about. It might be something else. Focus on that during these holidays, and remember that the rest is just noise. It’s not important. Fully experience what’s important to you, and let the rest fade away.

It's great advice. I know the holidays can be stressful, especially the further we move away from being the young people who get presents and become the older people who give them. But don't feel pressured by others. Be honest with them and with yourself. If something feels like too much, take a step back and try to simplify your involvement and your life. It's better for everyone if you give yourself to what you really care about rather than spreading yourself thin, or trying to be everything to everyone. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and focus on the things you love the most, the rest really is just noise.

December 13, 2009

Building The World We Want

"We can build the world that we want. Nothing can stop us but inaction, lack of imagination, and lack of courage." - Eleanor Roosevelt

What I think makes this quote so beautiful is how clearly it lays out the challenges before us when we try to close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.

Inaction
It's so easy to sit back and wait. To get distracted. To put it off until tomorrow. We all know we could die at any moment, but what are the chances of that right? We all know there are people in the world that need our help, but what can we really do right now? We all know that the challenges before us are huge and serious, but it's overwhelming to sit around and think about that, yeah? I hear you. I get it. But I also think the worst thing we can do when faced with the path before us is not take the first step. I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr., "How soon not now, becomes never." Think about what you should do today in case you die tomorrow. Then do it. People in the world need your help. Help the person right next to you. Be there for them, listen, help them with their dreams. Don't think of the challenges we face as overwhelming, think of them as a chance to grow and do things you've never imagined before.

Imagination
In the beginning of Stephen Covey's book the 8th Habit he quotes the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world." My experiences have led me to agree with that with all my heart. Finding something I love and letting my creativity loose on it has taken my life places greater than I've ever hoped to go. I say, expect that things will go better than you can comprehend and pursue your inspirations.

Courage
Maybe the hardest of the three, having courage this requires us to do what we are most afraid of. It's likely only you know what that is. People don't write down their dreams or share them with others for a reason. We have doubts. We aren't sure if we should be completely honest with others. With ourselves. But faced with the choice to give into our fears or move beyond them, I hope we all follow Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice, “Always, always, always, always, always do what you are afraid to do.” Starting now.

December 12, 2009

Typical Workday

One of the things I love most about Peace Corps is how it allows Volunteers to work with people from all kinds of various fields (health, business, youth, teaching) to do meaningful and exciting projects. Today I talked and worked with three wonderful Peace Corps Volunteer friends on one of our favorite projects together, had an amazing conversation on Skype with three inspiring ladies from the National Peace Corps Association, met for lunch to answer questions from the owner of one of our favorite restaurants in town about how he can improve his business and then talked with our excited friend about some future possibilities that could expand her small embroidery business ten-fold. I am a Health Volunteer, but as Peace Corps is fond of saying, we are all Community Development Volunteers. I am learning about leadership, project management, small business, and international development just by doing things that I love as a Volunteer and I am learning it alongside my Mongolian friends and fellow Volunteers. It's wonderful to have a day of work like this, which takes me all over the place and allows me to work with amazing people from all over the world. And it's a Saturday.

December 7, 2009

PhilosophersNotes Scholarship


I would like to present Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes and huge inspiration to me personally, with the 10th Inner Peace Award for his generosity and overall awesomeness. He inspired me to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat over a year ago (still one of the best things I have ever done), gave me a free subscription to PhilosophersNotes out of the blue when I first started Peace Corps, and has consistently shown me how awesome of a life a person can have when they do what they love. Then this to top it all off...



When I read a few days ago that the new PhilosophersNotes website will be offering Workbooks and iPods in January, I immediately thought about how cool it would be for all our Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia to enjoy the Notes like I have over this past year. So I wrote in asking if we could get a scholarship that could be shared with our Volunteers, totaling $200 with shipping. Within a day Brian responded saying yes and that he would handle it personally. So awesome! I really appreciate his great idea and his generosity. I think my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers will really enjoy PhilosophersNotes and I am very excited to share them soon. Thanks for being awesome Brian, I really appreciate who you are.

December 4, 2009

Heartbeats

This is going to be hard to explain, but I want to try. Listening to heartbeats is something I do now. I listen to my own, I listen to other people’s: Tunga’s, my mom’s, my close friends and family. Sometimes I feel them, sometimes I watch them, sometimes I hear them. I have to be still to touch them, very attentive to see them and very quiet to listen to them, but they are worth it.

From what I understand the original word for God in Hebrew was not a word in a traditional sense. Yah and weh were breathing sounds in the language. It was sacred, so sacred a word that it was hardly ever said and yet said with every breath. I like the idea that you live out your beliefs about God with every breath. What if you had to express what God meant to you, not in words (which I think can’t come close) but in actions? Every time you breathe you have been given one more moment, one more chance to show what you think is most important in your life. Will you breathe and love, will you breathe and worry, will you breathe and give in to any number of distractions that take you away from your heart. When you breathe you have a choice.

When we talk about a person’s heart, saying for instance that someone has a “good heart”, we are talking about a part of us figuratively to mean something outside our normal mind. Something in us allows the mind to work and for everything else to function. It is fragile and special, but most of all it is quiet. Our heart beats in us every moment but we rarely hear it. Our lungs breathe but we barely notice. The point of tuning into it, to truly being aware of it, is to focus on what is really happening around us from the most basic point of life. Meditation is useful because it helps us see reality, not our ideas about it. As the mind quiets down, as it is told to quiet down, the calmness of that quiet process of life inside starts to come through. We are living and we will die. Our bodies are changing, always changing. Our heart is beating, but it will not beat forever. It might not even beat this next moment. Our lungs are breathing, but they will not breathe forever. Everything changes, it is always changing. Breathe, listen and choose how you are going use every moment.

November 18, 2009

A Life Worth Writing About

Movies and books are well and good, but I’m interested in something more. I don’t want to just watch movies about amazing people, I want to be one of those amazing people. I don’t want to just read biographies about incredible lives, I want to live a life worth writing a biography about.

I have often thought about that, seeing how popular shows can become and how incredible movies can make things seem. We love to see actors and actresses become the people they portray. We see in them incredible examples of courage and love, disaster and strength, beauty and triumph and we sit in awe. But it’s when we stand and walk out of the theater or away from the couch, that’s when we should be in awe. We can make our lives like that right now, we can do those things and be those people. We are those people, that potential - those adventures are within our grasp. Becoming committed to being great, to writing that next great chapter in our human story, that's something we can all do. Lots of people are going to read it, but it's up to us to write it.

November 15, 2009

Happy and Waiting

Sometimes when speaking Mongolian I don't know how to say complex words. Recently one such word was "patience." As I often do, I combined words I did know how to say to talk around the word I was thinking of, "It's like waiting," I said in Mongolian, "but being happy while you wait."

As I said this to Tunga, who immediately caught on and said the Mongolian word for "patience" which I promptly forgot, I thought about how much I liked that definition. I grew up learning that "being patient" was something I had to do until I got what I wanted. "Be patient," someone older would say. "Yeah, okay, as long as you give me that Egon action figure afterward!" I would patiently retort. This new definition of mine doesn't fit that though. Being happy while you wait isn't about getting what I want at all, it's about being happy with whatever I have. Egon or not, maybe patience I think doesn't come from a store. Maybe patience, perhaps, means a little bit more.

November 12, 2009

Peace Corps + Merit Badges




After months of preparation, with dozens of people from around the world reviewing and adding to the project, we finally launched PeaceCorpsMeritBadges.com today as a public service project which combines the famous idea of merit badges with the very unique experiences of Peace Corps Volunteers.

The idea of Peace Corps Merit Badges has been tossed around by people for a long time, but Ridge and I decided to take it a step further and really try to make it happen. We knew that there were talented people in Mongolia who could embroider badges for us, so it came down to us doing all the other work to make it happen (design, communication, leadership, promotion, payment, shipment and so on). It was harder than it looked at first, but we are pretty excited with where we are right now. Our first batch of badges is being made and we hope to unveil them around Thanksgiving here in the capital, right before our newest Volunteers have their IST conference.

Our project's commitments will always be the improvement of our host country, volunteer happiness and sharing experiences. We believe this project can do a lot of good for a lot of people and we are excited to share it with all of our current and past Peace Corps Volunteers here in Mongolia, not to mention those who will be here this summer before we know it! Also as a nifty little bonus, we made a Facebook application to share the badges online before you order them in person. Cool huh?!

October 25, 2009

A New Space

After three weeks of waiting and working, I will be sleeping in my new apartment tonight. This experience has taught me a lot of things that I needed to learn: patience, flexibility, optimism and lightheartedness. Coming to Mongolia over a year ago I was much better at all four of those things, however, over the course of that year here I got more and more comfortable and set in my ways. I liked my apartment, I liked my life and I was beginning to get attached to things in a way that was making my experiences with them more expectation-based and less appreciation-based. It’s the difference between getting a brand new computer and getting tired of it, loving your new car and wanting a newer one; enjoying getting new stuff and having a bunch of stuff I "sort of" like. The stuff hadn’t changed, just me. I have wonderful things and am experiencing a wonderful life, but I just forget that. I am really grateful to have had this reminder, that what I really need is very little and what I have is more than enough. This goes for the things in my life, but especially it goes for the people. I want to make more space in my new apartment and in my schedule for the incredible people in my life.

October 20, 2009

Minimalism

I recently came across some very good articles and websites on minimalism and found them very motivating. Simplicity is about taking life down to its bare essentials and making sure we are spending our time (the only thing we ever truly have) on what we believe and love. Being in Peace Corps I have few belongings and commitments, yet still I have far too many. I want to live a simple and meaningful life. It's nice to have some inspiration and help along the way.

October 18, 2009

10 Questions & 15 Facts

I am always behind on typical societal trends. Exhibit A: I just watched Slumdog Millionaire and am listening to Jai Ho for the 17th time (singing the chorus as "Dalai Lam" at Tunga's suggestion which I think was genius). Exhibit B: I have finally written my "15 Things You Might Not Know About Me" thing 5+ months late. I did listen to your encouragement (Michelle, Jenn, Leslie, Nathan, Chase, Matt and Anna) but I wanted to make it more intense. I'm pretty predictable in that way, I will make things more intense and "productive" if I think I can. I may take a long time (5 months and counting) to do this sometimes. So here it is, with 10 Questions from Brian Johnson's great Big Idea newsletter and 15 Random Facts interspersed between...
  1. If you were absolutely guaranteed to succeed, what would you dare to do? I would build the Advance Humanity Foundation dedicated to making our world a better place and convince incredible people to be on the Board of Directors. I will also meet the Dalai Lama.
  2. Random Childhood Fact: My dad wanted to name me Gauge and my mom wanted to name me Travis. How different would I have been if my name was Gauge? I like Travis, but I think being named Gauge would have been insanely awesome. You can call me Gauge if you want to.
  3. Random Big Goal: I have been wanting the address AdvanceHumanity.com for a long time and finally got it in 2009 after talking with the owner for years. I still have TravisHellstrom.com but will start using that for only my personal stuff soon. Advance Humanity is way bigger than me.
  4. What are you most passionate about? I love the idea of helping to create a peaceful world.
  5. Random Childhood Fact: I have always wanted to either be an Astronaut, President of the United States, or Secretary General of the United Nations. Those are in alphabetical order, I still can't decide.
  6. Random Regret: When I was in 1st Grade, I won a drawing competition for the local EMS service because I drew a picture of a emergency medicine helicopter flying into a sunset over our city. I thought I would get the picture back, but I didn't I just got a plaque and ribbon. I've always wanted that picture back.
  7. What are your greatest strengths? I am very optimistic, focus on the good in people, always focus on changing myself before expecting change outside myself, enjoy organizing things, public speaking and keeping up with people over long periods of time.
  8. Random Current Fact: I've never been the tallest and whitest person in a province of over 50,000 people. It's a lot of pressure. I try to smile a lot, say "hello" to everyone, play basketball like a fiend and give lots of hugs. I think that's helping.
  9. How White Am I?: On the current list of Stuff White People Like I like 67 out of 129 the things listed. (Most notably Apple products, Barack Obama, awareness, not having a tv, Asian girls, Wes Anderson movies, dogs, Juno, the Daily Show/Colbert Report, study abroad and hating on corporations)
  10. How can you get paid doing what you love? I plan to get involved with international organizations dedicated to world peace like the United Nations and Peace Corps. I would also like to work on behalf of the Advance Humanity Foundation.
  11. Random Love: I love lists and goals, a lot. Maybe too much? I'm not sure.
  12. Random Vice: I bite my fingernails, like bad. I have done it for as long as I can remember and have been trying to stop forever. I haven't been able to stop yet.
  13. When (In what circumstances? Around what people?) Do you feel most alive? Whenever I read the words of people who inspire me (Barack Obama, Buddha, Dalai Lama, Emerson, Jesus, Gandhi, Thoreau...), when I spend time around incredible people who I admire (Amy, Alex, Chase, Jessica, Jonathan, Michael, Shaw, Taylor, Tunga...), when I am involved in an incredible idea and whenever I am able to pull back from my ego and see the world of possibilities around me.
  14. Random Fact: My favorite car was my first one, a Jeep Cherokee stick-shift which left my life too early because of internal problems. I want that freakin' thing back.
  15. My Favorite Show: And in my opinion the best show ever made by a human being, is LOST. I want to be like John Locke. I think he's the man. In addition to Barack Obama. And the Dalai Lama.
  16. What were your 5 greatest accomplishments over the last 5 years? Starting Circle K at Campbell ('04), being an RA in Lynch House ('06), joining the Peace Corps ('08), getting into the best shape of my life ('09) and dating Tunga ('09).
  17. Your 5 greatest accomplishments over the next 5 years? The next 25 years? Being an outstanding Peace Corps Volunteer and Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, working for the WHO and United Nations, establishing the Advance Humanity Foundation, earning a graduate degree, becoming a husband, becoming a father, becoming enlightened, and becoming a nominee for the Nobel Prize.
  18. Random Scar: When I was a few months old I had my head cut open to stop my plates from fusing together. I have a scar that runs over a foot from my forehead to the back of my head. It's not too uncommon for kids. My surgeon had the same surgery when he was a kid.
  19. How White Am I?: In the Song White & Nerdy by Weird Al, I match 22 out of 47 things referenced. (Most notably I've got Stephen Hawking in my library, will ace any trivia quiz you bring on, I edit Wikipedia, memorized holy grail really well I can recite it right now and have you ROTFLOL, I love doing websites, and I'm nerdy in the extreme...whiter than sour cream.)
  20. How can you best share your gifts with the world? I would like to work with my fellow American citizens to engage in international politics and bring us together as a stronger and more peaceful world. I think this can involve development projects and education initiatives both at home and abroad. More than anything else, however, I think I need to become an enlightened person and become everything inside myself that I hope to see outside in our world.
  21. Random Vacation: I have always wanted to visit northwestern America: Washington, Oregon and northern California.
  22. Random Number: I love the number 12 and use it all the time, whenever I can.
  23. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I would appreciate what I had and not want for more. I would free my mind from hatred and worry, live simply, love more, expect less and give freely.
  24. Random Plan: I hope to hike on the Appalachian Trail with Tunga and my mom for a while late next summer.
  25. What other questions should you be asking yourself?!? What more could I do today to get where I want to be?

You Too Can Become Great

Great men and women, people who have made a difference in our world and did everything they could to make it a better place, had a knack for not getting distracted by little things. Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama all watched less television, movies and celebrity gossip than the average person. They dedicated their lives to spiritual awakening, loving kindness, non-violence, human rights, world peace and hope for our future. Those things take time and energy and they were wiling to give it. I call these people inspirations because when I think about them and what they have done for me and my world, I can’t just sit and do nothing. Their examples get me off the couch, make my mind race with possibilities, and most of all show us that we too can become great.

October 9, 2009

Nobel Laureate Barack Obama

Barack Obama was just yesterday awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, recognizing completed scientific or literary accomplishments, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to people and organizations that are in the process of resolving conflict or creating peace. Throughout its 108 year history the Nobel Committee has said that is has, "sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. [We] endorse Obama's appeal that 'Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.' "

Barack Obama has been recognized for creating a new climate in international politics, emphasizing the role of the United Nations, dialogue, negotiation, and the vision of a world free from nuclear arms. "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," said the Committee, "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

In response Barack has said, "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize... But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."

"I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity... all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace. That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead."

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for representing our country, our people, and me. I have been very proud of you for a long time, for who you are and for what you represent, and I continue to be proud of you every day. There have always been and will always be doubts, of what can and can't be accomplished, and of what will and won't happen in our world. However, I will always be on the side that believes that we can achieve world peace and I will do everything I can to make it happen. "Some men see things as they are and say why," said Robert Kennedy, "I dream things that never were and say why not."





To read more visit (BBC, White House, Wikipedia, Nobel Release, Nobel Laureates)

October 6, 2009

United Nations Response

We have been working on a fun project this past week here in Eastern Mongolia: two weeks ago the Secretary General of the United Nations made a challenge to the global community to make videos on YouTube to tell world leaders what we think can be done to make our world a better and safer place. After lots of thought and discussion with fellow Volunteers we thought one good suggestion might be to create an international network of programs similar to the Peace Corps, dedicated to world peace and friendship.


We posted our video, "Peace by Peace" and hope that it might be helpful and start some good discussion. I would love to read your comments on the video and I hope you like the idea!

September 30, 2009

What Do I Think?

It isn’t every day that your favorite person, famous or not, asks you for advice. Or is it? What if someone you really admire, or an organization that you absolutely love, or someone really important that you would least expect it to come from, asks you what you think? Would you be ready?

For me I really admire the Dalai Lama and Barack Obama, absolutely love the United Nations and Peace Corps, and would least expect my supervisors at work to ask me what I think or what advice I could give to them. In the last month, 3 out of the 5 thought to ask my opinion (directly or indirectly) and I have been very excited and nervous to give it to them. My Peace Corps headquarters asked me a few weeks ago to write an introductory note to incoming Volunteers that will arrive next year, the United Nations just opened up a video contest to share advice with world leaders and my new Hospital Director just came to me today and said, “Could you please help me, I would like your advice on how to become a better leader?” No one of these tasks is something I take lightly, I care about each one deeply and want to do my very best so I am taking plenty of time to think them over. And just for the record, Dalai Lama and Barack Obama, if you guys want to join in don't worry, I have time for you too. Just saying…

September 27, 2009

Two Roads

In addition to having an incredible time at home in America during the month of May to be in my sister's wedding I had the unique opportunity to return home to Mongolia and share those experiences with my closest friends and counterparts. I shared pictures, explained why we do the things we do and maybe most interestingly I talked about what it was like for me to be in America, the land I grew up in, and yet not feel completely at home. Being in Mongolia has taught me a tremendous amount about who I am and who I am becoming. I, though an American, am distancing myself from my home culture and instead defining myself by my values and my humannesss rather than my nationality.

Recently while driving hours through the countryside with two of my closest counterparts, Altansuvd and Saradunai, to pick up stones for our massage path in our recent outdoor park project at the hospital we started talking about what our names mean. My name means, "a fork in the road," I explained to them, "a place where one road turns into two." When they asked why that was my name I said I didn't know, but maybe because before I only had one road in my life, one way of looking at things. Now I have two, one American road and one Mongolian road. They smiled and laughed. "We're glad you have two roads now," they said, "we feel very lucky you are here with us in Mongolia." I smiled too. I feel the same way.

August 17, 2009

So You Want My Job


The Art of Manliness is an increasingly popular website which "helps men be better husbands, fathers, and men." I think Brett and Kate, who started the site a little over a year ago, do a great job of keeping things lighthearted, informative and balanced. It's not easy to talk about virtue, service to others and being a good example while keeping it fun and entertaining, but they do it. I'm one of the 45,000+ people who enjoy reading their subscription on a daily basis and I appreciate the work that they do for others.

Two months ago I was lucky enough to have been interviewed by Brett for the So You Want My Job series, featuring my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it just got published this past week. It's gotten some great feedback including from our Country Director Jim saying it was, "fantastic, so well written and upbeat," and our Programming and Training Officer Kipp saying, "I am quite impressed. Did you cut and paste from our Press office bulletins or just spend lotsa time researching PC? Whatever your methods, the result was excellent!" The comments below the article are also great, I look forward to checking them out as time goes on. Here's the article below (also available on AdvanceHumanity.com and ArtofManliness.com):


Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

Today we feature a different sort of job; it’s not something you can do as a career. Rather, it’s a two year service experience that you may decide to undertake at any time in your life. Travis Hellstrom is currently serving in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer. The Peace Corps is a government program started in 1961 by President Kennedy which sends American citizens all over the world to work on development projects and promote mutual understanding. If you’ve been looking for some way to give back to the world, need an idea for how to spend your gap year, or are looking for a satisfying adventure, the Peace Corps is definitely worth checking out. Thanks to Travis for giving AoM an inside look at the life of a Volunteer.


1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc).

My name is Travis, I am 24 years old and just graduated from Campbell University in North Carolina with a Pre-Med/Biology degree. Right now I am in Mongolia serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the health administration department of my provincial hospital. I have been here for one year and will be here for another year, until August of 2010. I work on health projects within the hospital and projects in the community as well. On any given day I might be teaching life skills lessons to Mongolian Scouts, teaching English to doctors and nurses, filling out grants for development projects, or playing sports with local children and friends. Every day is different, and Peace Corps allows every Volunteer the opportunity to create their own job, define their own objectives and enjoy their own experience. It’s a great adventure and I feel very lucky to be able to be here.


2. Why did you want to become a Peace Corps Volunteer?

I have always believed in service and helping others as much as I can. I think many Americans feel this way, and Peace Corps is an outward expression of this international friendship and service. The more I looked into the organization and met former and current Volunteers, the more I felt like it was something I was meant to do.


3. When do most people serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer? Is there any age limit?

In Mongolia we have PCVs in their early twenties all the way to their late sixties, and right now the oldest Volunteer in Peace Corps is 84 years old. The average Volunteer is 27 years old, but Peace Corps prides itself on having no average Volunteers. This is evident all the way back to Peace Corps’ first years in 1966 when Lillian Carter, the mother of future President Jimmy Carter, served as an outstanding Peace Corps Volunteer in India at the age of 68. Everyone brings their own unique life and experience to Peace Corps. My mom is actually planning to join Peace Corps herself in a few years, and I am really excited for her. I think it will be one of the most enjoyable experiences of her life.


4. How competitive is it to get a position as a Peace Corps Volunteer? What is the application process like?

Applications for Peace Corps are at an all-time high and the Congress is currently considering one of the largest budgets in Peace Corps’ history. With our new President’s emphasis on national service, this is a great time to apply to serve in the Peace Corps. Although it is competitive, qualified candidates should always apply. Peace Corps accepts as many Volunteers as it can and is always trying to expand to meet the ever increasing demand of countries interested in having Volunteers.

The application involves sharing your past service and work experiences, writing personal essays and going through a medical and background clearance. While it can seem a little daunting at first, it’s not so bad and gives an applicant a lot of time to reflect on their life and why they believe they would make a good Volunteer. Be yourself, be patient and be flexible. That goes for the application process as well as Peace Corps service.


5. When applying for the Peace Corps, what sets an applicant apart from others? What is the government looking for in a prospective candidate?

Demonstrating your ability to be a “self-starter” is a huge plus in a Peace Corps application. This is someone who is self-motivated, self-directed and can encourage and lead others to accomplish projects. Peace Corps is about finding out what the needs of a community are (based on what the community thinks) and then helping community members find solutions to those challenges. Peace Corps wants Volunteers who can help people help themselves, and that requires flexibility, understanding and compassion. Showing examples of leadership and project management, as well as a commitment to helping others, are great ways to show that you will make a great Volunteer.


6. Can you choose where in the world you are assigned to do your service or are you placed somewhere?

In the application process Peace Corps asks where and in what job you would like to serve and then they try their best to match you with the needs of prospective countries. Once they have done that, they send you an invitation to serve as a Volunteer, which you can either accept or decline. Flexibility and open-mindedness are very important throughout the whole process of being placed in a country. It seems to me that the happiest Peace Corps Volunteers are the ones that decide to be happy.


7. What kind of work do Peace Corp Volunteers do? Can you choose what kind of work you want to do?

All Peace Corps Volunteers have three goals:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

To achieve these goals, Volunteers work in all kinds of areas, including Education, Health, Business, Environment, Youth Development and Agriculture. In the application process you can highlight which areas you are most interested in working and Peace Corps tries to place you where you are most needed. However, and we were told this during training, all Peace Corps Volunteers are Community Development Volunteers. This means that we are constantly working on projects and opportunities to help our communities improve their quality of life, no matter what sector that might fall into. That is one of my favorite parts of the job; I work in the hospital as a Health Volunteer, but I also work with the Mongolian Scouting Association, teaching life skills in the local high schools and pursue projects that the community wants. It’s a very dynamic job and ultimately what you do is up to you as a Volunteer.


8. What would you say to a man who is thinking about the Peace Corps but finds the two year commitment rather daunting?

I understand; it seemed daunting to me too at first. But then I thought back to other things I have done, like college, which seemed like a long commitment until I was graduating and thinking, “Wow, that was fast.”

The first year of Peace Corps is usually an acclimation year, in which you are likely learning a brand new language, getting accustomed to a new culture, and making new relationships with your friends, co-workers and community members. Having been here a year I can say absolutely that if I only had one year here it would be really challenging for me to do the kind of work the community needs me to do. Having a second year allows me the time to complete projects with all of the people with who I have been forming relationships for this past year.

Also, maybe most importantly, Peace Corps is an absolutely incredible experience. Once you get in you will be amazed at how fun and fast two years will be. You will probably be like a lot of Volunteers and want to stay a third year, which is definitely how I feel.


9. Are you given any kind of living stipend or education grant for your service?

All Peace Corps Volunteers are given a monthly living allowance, enough to live at the different economic levels of their community neighbors. This amount varies from country to country and city to city. Also all PCVs earn a Readjustment Allowance which right now amounts to $6075 over 27 months of service.


10. What is the best part of your job?

The thing I have appreciated most about Peace Corps has been the time and space it has given me to become the kind of person I want to be. I’ve been able to reflect on my values, who and what matters most in my life and then rededicate myself to those things. In Peace Corps I have a chance to get the small things right: talking to and playing with children, being fit and healthy, being kind and helpful, and setting a good example. I feel like being a kind and good person is not only achievable, it’s probably the most important thing I will ever do.


11. What is the worst part of your job?

At first it was not having peanut butter. Haha. But I got over that eventually.

I think the hardest thing about Peace Corps is the freedom we are given as Volunteers. We are able to define our own jobs and this can be really challenging. If you get bored, you realize that it’s all on you. You can make your experience in Peace Corps everything you want it to be; you just have to decide what that is. “Things do not happen,” as Kennedy said, “Things are made to happen.”


12. What is the biggest misconception people have about the Peace Corps?

Maybe that there is a “typical” Peace Corps experience. Every single Volunteer in every country has their own extremely unique experience. For instance, I am lucky enough to serve near a wonderful Volunteer named Alex; we trained in the summer together, are here in the same city for two years, and even live 5 minutes from each other, but we experience completely different Peace Corps lives. She lives in her own ger (traditional Mongolian felt tent) with a nearby family, and I live in an apartment. She collects water; I turn on a sink. I have a bathroom; she has an outhouse. And on and on.

The only thing “typical” about Peace Corps is that if you come into your service with an open mind, an adventurous spirit and an appreciation for life, you will be guaranteed to have your own unique experience. But that might apply outside of Peace Corps too actually.


13. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

One of the coolest responses I ever received from someone when I told them I was going into the Peace Corps was from my teacher, a retired Dean at Campbell, named Dr. Barge. “I have been in other countries and seen Peace Corps Volunteers at work,” he said, “and they have been some of the happiest people I have ever met in my life. They believe in what they are doing and they have a kind of satisfaction that I have rarely seen anywhere else.”

After meeting hundreds of Volunteers, I can say with certainty that I completely agree. I have never been happier and many of my fellow Volunteers feel the same way. If you think Peace Corps is right for you, go for it and apply. It could be one of the best things you will ever do. It has been for me.

August 15, 2009

Mongolian Songs

I was just chatting with my good friend Jimi today and he asked me if I could send him some traditional Mongolian music. I thought that was a great idea and figured it would be good to share them here too in case anyone else wanted to check them out. Here six of my favorite Mongolian songs, I hope you enjoy them:
  • Echen Tansan Tan : A traditional style song and one of the most popular songs in Mongolia by Javhlan. Echen Tansan Tan means "Mom can make tea" and is talking about how great it is to be at home with family, especially with a tea-making mom.
  • Hairlaarai : A traditional style song with a man and woman singing and asking the other one to love them. Hairlaarai means "Please love me"
  • My Love : A very popular song by a pop artist named BX, about a boy asking a girl to date him cause he likes her a lot and he'll be a good boyfriend. Tunga and I listen to this all the time and I say "BX" with a serious "N'SYNC" voice to make her laugh. Hairt mini, the chorus, is "My love"; conveniently hairt is pronounced "heart" means love in Mongolian.
  • Altan Urag : A new band that mixes traditional instruments (such as the horse headed fiddle and throat singing) with new modern instruments
  • Buruugvi : A traditional song between a man and a woman about how the other one can do no wrong. Buruugvi means, "Not bad" and they are saying the other person might make mistakes but they are not a bad person and they love them.
  • Amidral : A traditional song about the joys of life in Mongolia and how good life can be, also by Javhlan.

August 10, 2009

Peace Corps PSA's

I just ran into some very cool Public Service Announcements for the Peace Corps:

August 8, 2009

Dalai Quotes


I'm very excited to announce that the Dalai Quotes application for the iPhone and iPod Touch has finally been released! It is a collection of 400+ quotes from the Dalai Lama available through the iTunes App Store for $0.99 and all net proceeds are going to support the Dalai Lama's Foundation for Universal Responsibility, which he established with the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 1989. The application is a collaboration between myself and James at SoftwareX who has been a great partner. I have been collecting Quotes from the Dalai Lama for years and am really excited to be able to share them with others.



This is only the first version of the application and we will be making lots of improvements with your suggestions. In fact to say thanks for great suggestions we will be giving away free copies of the application so please share your thoughts with us at any time. We hope people enjoy Dalai Quotes and we look forward to making it better and better! Thanks!

Our New Director

Aaron Williams has been confirmed as our new Director of the Peace Corps. Thank you Erica Burman for a great write-up with links to Senator Wofford, Senator Dodd and Director Williams' statements at the Senate confirmation hearing. I really enjoyed reading them and feel very excited and motivated about our new Director and our organization's future. We have a lot of great men and women looking to support and improve our organization and I feel very proud to be a part of Peace Corps. Thank you for all of your hard work, we look forward to working with you Director Williams.

July 11, 2009

Lessons from Fight Club


A man I greatly admire said, "It may surprise you, perhaps, but I am not strictly opposed to the spectacle of violence and crime. It all depends on the lessons you draw from it." I agree, especially in regards to one of my favorite movies, Fight Club. Here are some lessons I have drawn from this movie that I think are well worth sharing:


Working Jobs We Hate
Tyler: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering... An entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War is a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

We have to decide why we do anything we do. Following American advertising isn't good enough. Keeping up with everyone else isn't good enough. We need to believe in what we do and love it. Work hard at work worth doing.


The Things You Own End Up Owning You
Narrator: Like so many others I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct...I'd flip through catalogues and wonder, "What kind of dining set defines me as a person."

Narrator: I don't know. It's just when you buy furniture you tell yourself, "That's it. That's the last sofa I'm gonna need. Whatever else happens, I've got that sofa problem handled." I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete.
Tyler: Shit man, now it's all gone.
Narrator: All gone.
Tyler: All gone...Do you know what a duvet is?
Narrator: A comforter...
Tyler: It's a blanket. Just a blanket. Now why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival, in the hunter-gatherer sense of the word? No. What are we then?
Narrator: ...Consumers?
Tyler: Right. We are consumers. We're the byproducts of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Narrator: Martha Stewart.
Tyler: F' Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So f' off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns. I say never be complete. I say stop being perfect. I say let's evolve, let the chips fall where they may. But that's me, and I could be wrong, maybe it's a terrible tragedy.
Narrator: Nah, it's just stuff...My insurance is probably gonna cover it, so...What?
Tyler: The things you own end up owning you.


If we aren't good enough without "stuff", we'll never be good enough with it. It is fine to use things that are useful, but don't become attached to them. Don't expect happiness to come from anything outside yourself. It never will.


Know That Someday You're Gonna Die
Tyler: Stay with the pain, don't shut this out...Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing...Stop it, this is your pain, it's right here...What you're feeling is pre-mature enlightenment...This is the greatest moment of your life man and you're off somewhere missing it...First you have to give up, first you have to know, not fear, know that someday you're gonna die. It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.

Learn how to die and you learn how to live. Decide what is most important to you and dedicate your life to it. Stay with reality, don't avoid it or explain it away. This is it, make the most of the situation you are given. Don't become attached to it. Appreciate it, experience it, do your best and let go.


This Is Your Life and It's Ending One Minute At A Time
Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think every thing you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned - Tyler.

If something deep inside you is telling you to do something, do it. Listen to that and move forward. Claim your humanity. Claim your life. Take responsibility for it. Live it.

July 10, 2009

A Developing World

Many aspects of American life are taken as is with little question. Speed. Productivity. Work. Time. Money. Success. There is a latent feeling that we have to be doing something, all the time. We can choose to live this way, certainly, but it’s important to realize that it is exactly that: one choice. There are others.

Oh The Places You’ll Go
Imagine wanting a ride somewhere several miles away. You find a taxi driver and ask him if he can take you. “Sure,” he says, “Give me your phone number and I’ll call you when I’m ready to go.” When you ask when he will leave he says, “Margash.” In Mongolian this means “later,” but it also means any time in the future, including tomorrow. The entire country operates on this system, so you will need to be patient. Things happen, but not in any sort of rush. Why rush anyway? What’s the point?

The point is I have places to be, people to see, and important stuff to do…right? Maybe. It’s good to have plans, to feel driven to be a good person and achieve great things, but what if you could do that now? What if your happiness didn’t rely on future events? It was a huge adjustment for me, but Mongolia culture opened my mind to the possibility that my happiness doesn’t have to be placed at sometime in the future. Whether or not I get a taxi ride, or get to any future destination, I can be happy right now.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There
Mindfulness Meditation is based on the awareness of reality as it exists right now. It is not interested in the past or the future. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us, as Emerson said. When we take a moment to catch our breath, to feel our hearts beating, to be with the people around us rather than just do something with them, we find a sort of peace that can’t be found by doing. Mindfulness is about being.

Eventually you will likely get your taxi ride and arrive at your destination, but the neat thing about Mongolian life is that everything in between is just as enjoyable as getting wherever you are going. People laugh, play, kid, enjoy each other’s company and stop for drinks and snacks all along the way. This goes for a walk across town or a trip across country. They are naturally very good at being exactly where they are and appreciating their life as it moves along. Maybe this comes from thousands of years of nomadic living and the flexibility that comes with living in such an ever-changing climate, but it also serves them well in the ever-changing world culture we all find ourselves in today.

The “developing world” may be expanding their horizons technologically, but spiritually and psychologically they have quite a few things to teach the “developed world.” We don’t need the newest, greatest things to make us happy. We don’t really need any thing. I may have come from a developed country to this developing country, but I can tell you one thing: I am the one that’s developing.

"A Developing World" was recently featured in Mindful Muscle

July 9, 2009

Humbling Gifts

One very fascinating thing about the Mongolian people is their gift-giving. When someone gets an award, or wins a trophy, or gets married, or has a funeral in their family, they give presents. They, the people who received an award, or won, or got married, or are arranging the funeral, give presents.

In one way it’s as if they are saying, “I am glad you are here, sharing this with me,” while also saying, “I have been very fortunate in this life and would like to give back something to say ‘thank you’ to you, my friends and family.” I think it is a beautiful gesture and I have been surprised by it again and again. When I left for America in May I was treated like everyone else when they go on a long trip - everyone chipped in together, dozens of people in my department, and gave me presents and money to wish me a safe journey.

It is very much like the old woman in the bible story who gives even though she doesn’t have much. It’s been a very humbling experience for me, coming from a place where people have a great deal and still feel like they would like to have more. Here people have little, but still give it away.

July 6, 2009

Two Years and Change

Two years and two months, that’s how long Thoreau was at Walden Pond. I’m not the first nor will I be the last Peace Corps Volunteer to see a correlation between what Henry David did and what many of us are doing in our service:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he writes to start his book, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

We spend two years and three months of our lives facing life in a much more raw way than many Americans ever choose to. We do it deliberately because we believe in it and we hope to come out the other end wiser and better as people. In Peace Corps there is an incredible amount of time for introspection into who we are, what is important in life and what the world has to teach us if we are awake to it.

“I have never met a man who was quite awake,” Thoreau writes in his closing lines, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” The question is then, of course, how do we become awake?

July 4, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity

Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks of Voluntary Simplicity in Wherever You Go There You Are:

“Voluntary Simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more…It involves intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it…I practice saying no to keep my life simple, and I find I never do it enough…You don’t get to control it all. But choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more.”

What in this moment is truly worth my time? Being where I am, with who I am with, loving people important to me, being honest, kind and helpful and enjoying my life is far better than worrying, watching advertising or talking just to talk. Truly enjoying my life doesn’t involve wishing for some other moment to replace this one or trying to fit as many things into this moment as possible. It involves being present, appreciating where I am and making the most of it.

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” wrote Thoreau in Walden, “I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen…In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and the thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, Simplify.”

Indeed.

July 2, 2009

Kind o'r Smart

Today we, Alex, LP and I, were talking about values with our friends who are local Mongolian English teachers and one my favorite teachers Enebish said, “I would like to teach my students that they don’t have to be the smartest student, but they can all be kind. I think this is the most important value.” Other teachers went on to say that they wanted students to be more confident, to speak up more in class, to be more talented in the English language and so on. One teacher said one of her students who barely spoke English before has gotten much more confident in the language and is now winning bigger awards year by year. We are happy for this girl, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the rest of the students.

I think it is better to be kind than smart. For certain one is much more in our control than the other. I recognize that we give awards to Valedictorians and not to the nicest kid in class, but I wish we did. Take Forrest Gump as an example: my favorite thing about him is how much he did with what he had. He was not the smartest person in the movie (“Are you stupid or something?” he’s often asked), but he was by far the wisest character (“Stupid is as stupid does,” he always responded). He was simple, gentle, loyal, generous, brave, honest and maybe more than anything else he was kind.

I think Forrest represents the best in us so well not in spite of his aptitude but because aptitude is not what makes us valuable. There is goodness in all of us. We can choose to live wisely. We can choose to be kind. That makes us immensely valuable and special. Like Enebish said, I think that’s what we need to encourage in our children and in our schools.

June 28, 2009

Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion

Last week Senator Chris Dodd introduced the Peace Corps Improvement and Expansion Act of 2009. I feel very proud of and inspired by the things he had to say. If you want to read the whole speech (and it's worth it), click here. Here are some of my favorite parts:


For 48 years, the Peace Corps has stood as a uniquely American institution. What other great nation would send its youth abroad, not to extend its power, not to intimidate its adversaries, not to kill and be killed, but to build, to dig, to teach, to empower - and to ask nothing in return?

And for 48 years, those young men and women - hundreds of thousands of them, myself included - have returned stronger, wiser, and inspired - prepared to live uniquely American lives of service and accomplishment.

For half a century, the Peace Corps has shaped not just these American lives, but the identity of all Americans: who we are as a people, and what we hope to achieve in the world.

It was a wild notion, so breathtakingly outrageous that it could only have been born out of idealism, youthful energy, and, perhaps the key element, too much caffeine.

The Peace Corps, you see, was born at two in the morning.

It was October 14, 1960, and Senator John F. Kennedy was running hours late for a campaign stop at the University of Michigan.

“How many of you,” he asked, “who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

I believe that challenge is the Peace Corps’s founding document. It didn’t begin with a white paper or a TV ad. It began with a question.

In the days that followed the Kennedy rally at the student union, Michigan students drafted a petition, circulating it to colleges across the state and just a couple of weeks later presenting several scrolls to JFK containing thousands upon thousands of names. Thirty thousand additional letters flooded into Kennedy headquarters.

So, it’s fair to say that the answer to that question - are you willing to serve your country by serving the world? - was an overwhelming “yes.”

One of those young Americans was a 22-year-old English major from Providence College who arrived in the small village of MonciĆ³n in the Dominican Republic. That young man spoke barely any Spanish. He had no idea what he was doing, and he certainly didn’t have a clue that, more than 40 years later, he’d be standing on the floor of the United States Senate, explaining that the Peace Corps gave him the richest two years of his life.

I owe those two years, and the impact they had on all my years since, to John F. Kennedy’s 2 a.m. question.

As Sargent Shriver said, “Peace Corps Volunteers come home to the USA realizing that there are billions-yes, billions-of human beings not enraptured by our pretensions, or our practices, or even our standards of conduct.”

Today, we honor that accomplishment. Let us commit to strengthening and expanding the Peace Corps by passing this legislation. Let us strive to inspire future generations to walk the path of service and exploration, the one that led me to the Dominican Republic and then, years later, to the U.S. Senate. And let us never lose that spirit, that idealism, that ambition that led a young President of a young nation to ask a generation to serve.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Thank you Senator.

June 20, 2009

Authenticity


“When I was a child my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become a monk, you'll end up as the pope. Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."

Such a cool idea isn't it? Picasso wasn’t always “Picasso.” He was just a painter, that’s who he was and who he wanted to be. Fame (empty words) came later but had nothing to do with who he knew he needed to be. It's our destiny to figure out who we are and then fully become that person. What we are truly capable of will astound us and being our truest self is the single greatest adventure we could ever have. Try. You won't fail.

June 18, 2009

To Change Often

The biggest reason I was scared of coming to America was my fear of change. Things were going so well in Mongolia for me and I was so happy that I didn't want that to change. I was even a little sick to my stomach sometimes, wondering what being gone for five weeks would mean. I know that might sound silly, but think back to when you left home for school, or when you left a loved one for a long period of time. What would coming back be like? Better? How could it be better if things were already wonderful?

I think things can improve beyond wonderful for three reasons: (1) things had to change in order for you to get to the wonderful place you are at currently, (2) things always change, wonderful is a perspective and (3) you can control how you respond to your situation, that's it. I didn't learn all of this at once, and especially not on my own. Some things I hoped would be true (and they were) and some things my friends reminded me of as I was up at night wondering why my stomach hurt.

"To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." I had never thought about being perfect in that way, but you have to adapt, grow, and be better constantly. It is easy to forget, but if things are wonderful right now that means you had to give up where you were before to be where you are now. You had to leave home to go to school, you had to leave your country to go overseas, you had to leave your old ideas of who you were to become someone you had never been before. If you are happy now, imagine how happy you will be tomorrow, and the next day. Keep growing and improving and you will blow your flippin' mind.

The fact is that everything is always changing, from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies. Whether we see that as wonderful or not actually tells us more about ourselves than anything else. We see the world as we are. Do we want it to be wonderful, full of opportunities, love and fun? That's a choice we can make ourselves. We are, and the world will be, what we think about day in and day out.

So once I really thought about what I could control I realized that the things that worried me regarding my five weeks away from Mongolia were the same things that worried me about leaving America over a year ago. I wanted to maintain close relationships, let people know I loved them and cared about them, and stay true to the things I believed in. I have learned that there are always ways to do those things no matter where you are, including sending cards, making calls, taking pictures (with other miniature ones even), taking time for reflection, and living in moment to moment awareness. At this level change becomes manageable, almost a day-to-day check list in my mind about the people and things I love and care about. Do my loved ones know I care about them? Did I show them that today? Am I living out what I believe in? If yes, perfect. If no, improve. Simple enough.

Needless to say, my worries about returning to a less wonderful Mongolia (or America for that matter) were unfounded. I have been completely astounded by how wonderful all of you are in both places. I am a very lucky person to know each of you and to be enjoying my life with you. Thank you for teaching me that change is nothing to be afraid of.