Six misfits from around the country flew into Chicago earlier this month to be the founding class of a new kind of school rooted in real world experiences. An artist, a writer, an entrepreneur, an engineer, an architect and a business strategist converged to embark on this crazy adventure, choosing to take the path less traveled. It’s rare to have so many varying backgrounds in the same room, much less on the same team. We’re doing it though and the first meetup has been an intense, remarkable and beautiful experience.

We spent our days learning about design thinking, community building, storytelling, self awareness and operations form local leaders. We went on some practical ‘field trips’ like learning with the Jake Nickell, the founder of Threadless and redesigning a backpack. The second night, there was a magical dinner party where we got a chance to meet people connecting and supporting Experience Institute.

We even had a lesson on improv which seemed like it was just fun and games, but there were some really deep lessons that helped open our perspectives. I learned that although it might be difficult, sometimes it’s important to embrace crazy ideas, no matter how ridiculous they are. This mindset really helped during our design thinking workshop because we were able to come up with much more creative and innovative solutions.

We bonded. I never would have expected to resonate so much, so quickly with such a diverse group of people different than me. As our relationships matured, the true personalities came out to play and we developed an energizing sense of oneness and unity on the Ei team. I learned that being engaged in a community striving towards something greater is an environment where I really come alive. I’m thankful for the folks in my support community because they will keep me accountable to my mission.

The session that left the greatest impression on me was the second day of storytelling. We were prompted to share our summer stories. We went around the circle sharing and offering feedback to each person on the team. We then prepared for high tea where we’d all sit around the table and enjoy a pot of tea as we went around and retold our stories for a specific audience. Each of us were given different tasks to prepare for high tea, mine was gift giver. I emptied the canister of gifts and laid out all the newspaper clippings, trying to be very thoughtful and intentional in each gift. I set each person’s gift by their name tag and as that person’s tea cup was being poured, I explained to each person why I gave them that gift. Everyone’s cup was filled and I thought we were ready to start telling stories again when Sandee gave me a gift. I was thinking… this doesn’t make sense, I was supposed to be the gift giver, not the receiver. Then it went around the whole circle and each person gave me a different gift and explained why I deserved to have it.

Trumpet – because I’ve got a powerful story to offer the world and an incredible ability to do so
Giraffe – because I’m always stretching, pushing the envelope and sticking my neck out
Bowling Figurine – because I’m winding up to throw a strike out into the world
3 ball – because I need to practice brevity more and speak things in 3s
Universe pin – because everything happens for a reason
Hand – because I’m a giver

I learned something about myself. I am inherently a giver. In order for me to recognize what I’ve got to offer, I need to learn how to receive. I’m working on this and just letting myself have it. It feels liberating.

The first meetup has exceeded all of the expectations I had about what being part of the Experience Institute was going to be like. I’m learning boatloads and I’ve made new friends who I sense are the kind of friends you stay in touch with for a long, long time. Most importantly, I’m acting like myself more and more of the time. What else could I ask for?

I’m leaving for Australia today in a few hours for my first apprenticeship. It’s really happening, this is crazy.