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How to become a legendary teen sensation

For a day. At a water park.

Like most 22 year old males, I have a healthy appreciation for Justin Bieber and his music. But that doesn’t mean I understand the insanity of the legion of beliebers that worship him like a demigod.

This is a topic that’s been keeping me up at night for years. I think we can all agree that at some point in our lives, we asked ourselves: how can I also become a massive teenage sensation like Justin Bieber?

Well this summer I discovered my own foolproof way to become god among adolescents, and you don’t even need to take a dump in a pair of purple leopard-print pants to do it.

Step 1: go to a water park

Just go. This is where all the cool teenagers like to hang out.

Step 2: find a water ride

It has to be a scary one, with a bunch of teenagers on the side making sure people aren’t dying before they go on it.

I chose this half-pipe water slide thing. It was really scary.

Step 3: accidentally shut down the water ride

You need to cause the water ride to shut down by doing something that seems badass to a bunch of teenagers.

Personally, I chose to accidentally fall off the tube at the peak of the half-pipe and go tumbling down.

Thunk

Pro-tip: The best way to do this step is the way where you don’t die.

Step 4: pretend you didn’t almost poop your pants

This might be the most important step. As soon as you hear the gasps of the shocked crowd, pretend the whole thing happened because you’re just extreme like that.

Get up, smile, put your arms up in the air, and scream “YEAH! THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!”

Make sure people don’t see that you’re just trying to mask how embarrassed you are.

Step 5: walk away

At this point, the ride is completely shut off. People in line are wondering who wasted their time, and the water park police are coming to see what the hell happened. You don’t want to get tangled in this mess so get out of there.

Step 6: accidentally run into the group of teenagers

By the time you run into them again, you’re already a legend among their group of friends.

Reinforce it by acting like it wasn’t a big deal.

Pro-tip: Try not to talk to them as much as possible. It minimizes the chance of them finding out you’re actually just an idiot, and maximizes the chance of you becoming a local high school legend.

Step 7: enjoy

Enjoy yourself as a bunch of teenagers follow you around giving advice on how to sue the water park, and shouting your name and screaming “GOOD LUCK!” before you go on every water ride for the rest of the day.

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Waves and revelations

I had one of the best days of my life today, on a wave crashing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. It was a touch of heaven. Maybe you felt something like this too.

Waves are nature’s roller coaster ride. The rush as the ocean effortlessly sweeps me up and drops me down is one of the most terrifyingly awesome experiences I’ve ever had.

But it’s more than just the adrenaline rush that keeps calling me back to the sea.

Waves also draw out the deepest sense of who I am. The meeting of water and land is a force of nature that makes me confront myself in a way that nothing else can, and sometimes rewards me with the purest sense of being alive.

The ocean has a different personality each day. Some days, the ocean is actively trying to kill me. It chews me up then spits me out. Other days, the ocean is bored with me. It leaves me rocking gently up and down.

Today, I experienced a side I get to see only on rare occasions.

It started out just like any other beach day, by paddling out against crashing waves furiously trying to keep me out. I eventually broke through to the calm side, far out where I could wait for the big swells.

When it came, I immediately knew this one was going to be a monster. I paddled as hard as I could until I was picked up by the looming giant. The houses lining the shore became smaller and smaller, as the wave rose higher and higher, until I could see above the rooftops.

This is the point where I experience fear in its most visceral form, where riding a wave becomes an act of faith. To get past it, I need to accept my insignificance as a speck in the midst of the full force of the sea, but at the same time, jam every ounce of belief I have in myself. I have to go all in.

As the wave began to crash, I felt the familiar rush of the drop. But today, the sea rewarded me with the most supreme kind of pleasure. It swept me down the barrel so smoothly, as if nature itself was cradling me, gently carrying me across the surface.

As I glide across the wave, nothing exists but me, the barrel, and the wind fluttering through my hair. It’s the purest form of freedom and focus.

My mind takes a few minutes to come back down to reality as the wave carries me back to the shore.

It was a touch of heaven.

Once you feel it, you can never go back.

It’s not just riding waves. I can immediately tell anyone that experienced it – extreme surfers, base jumpers, athletes, painters, designers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, chess players, psychonauts – it doesn’t matter.

These are people that completely devoted themselves to furthering their evolution as a person. They’ve felt that touch of heaven, and they have no choice but to keep reaching for it, no matter what.

Laird Hamilton, considered to be one of the greatest big wave surfers of all time, said it best. When asked why he risked his life riding on extreme waves he replied,

“I don’t want to not live, because of my fear of what could happen.”

What unifies all these experiences is that they are all beautifully, completely subjective. You can’t break them down, explain them, or put a price tag on them, and you can only experience them yourself.

I’ve been riding waves all my life. It shaped a lot of who I am, but I’ll always be most grateful for having the chance to experience revelation first-hand.

Knowing that these moments are possible at the edge of human experience, made me look out for more of them in all corners of my life. It gave me the motivation to go all in, every time.

This outlook led me to some of the most meaningful, life-changing experiences I’ve ever had, such as my trips to the Navajo Nation (which I will write more about).

I know my days in the ocean are coming to an end. There are things I want to do that will take me far, far away from the beach where I grew up.

No matter where I go, or what I do, that wave will always be there with me, gently carrying me so perfectly, to the touch of heaven.

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4 words from Robert Reich that changed my life

You could have heard a phone vibrate. But all I heard was my heart pounding against my chest. The blood pumping through my body felt so amplified it hurt. The auditorium was packed with over 700 students, and we were all stunned into silence. On the podium Robert Reich stood not even 5 feet tall, but at that moment, he was a giant.

I graduated from college just 3 months ago. My friends and I knew what the world was saying about us. We were bombarded day by day with news, either about how screwed or how inadequate we were. We’re graduating into the worst economy since the Great Depression, we’re entitled and uncommitted and we’re not ready for adulthood … we’re the “lost generation”. It felt like we’ve been written off by everyone.

I had two responses to this whole thing:

  1. Apathy. I wanted to run away. Everything good about life was on the path that led farthest away from the world as possible. Up until a year ago, my highest aspiration was to own a kick-ass burrito truck in Hawaii.
  2. Anger. What caused this mess? How did everything get so bad? Something is wrong. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Whose fault is it?

My questions weren’t nuanced or sophisticated but it did lead me to take “Wealth and Poverty”, a flagship class taught by Robert Reich in UC Berkeley. Robert Reich is a political economist who dedicated his career to the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. He served under three separate Presidential administrations, including Secretary of Labor under President Clinton.

With years of experience, Robert Reich had the clearest view of the causes and effects of issues relating to inequality. The picture he painted hurt. The economic collapse that resulted in the Great Recession was decades in the making. Technological advancement and globalization increased our options as consumers, but we lost our power and ideals as citizens along the way. We got better deals and bigger and shinier stuff but we lost steady jobs, political voice, communities, and we’re about to lose a functioning democracy.

Robert Reich had an amazing ability to look at the entire system and connect all the dots between interconnected issues, instead of blaming any one dot. This revealed a painful truth: we created the mess we’re in. All of us, together. Choices that were rational for the individual slowly built a broken society where the top 1% have 40% of the total wealth.

Clarity sucked. But it was also a blessing, because knowing that this jumbled mess was slowly built by people over time, gave me the confidence that we can fix it, too. Robert Reich showed us that it doesn’t have to be this way.

So by the time it was his last lecture there was a feeling of anticipation in the air. I wanted to know, “Now what?”

Reich recast it in a different question:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

He made this very clear: leaders are necessary for social change to happen. Leaders who can help people do the hard work of making positive change. Because it is going to be hard. This is a system that’s been built over more than three decades. We haven’t known any other way of doing things for a long, long time. To succeed, we have to help ourselves overcome our own denial, apathy, cynicism and tendency to find scapegoats.

Our generation is in the spotlight. Are we up to the challenge? A lot of people don’t think so. Like I said in the beginning, I only have to look at the newspaper to find mountains of data and statistics towering against recent graduates.

But Robert Reich carved something in my mind and my heart that day. It was the final moment … we were all waiting for Robert Reich to close out his final lecture. Everyone was holding their breath, like someone sucked the air out of the room.

He was talking about his life, and how he dedicated it to helping people by tackling the issues of widening inequality, shrinking middle class and corruption of our democracy. And in his mind, he failed. But he still has hope. He said,

“The reason I got out of public policy, the reason I started teaching this course is because…”

“I believe in you.”

Silence. Such simple words, yet nothing cut deeper in my life. All voices of doubt, apathy and anger faded away. Empty. This is what a paradigm shift must feel like.

Robert Reich viscerally experienced the enormity of the challenges we face today, but he never let it diminish the faith he had in all of us. Those four words, spoken with such conviction and filled with such hope, instilled something powerful in me.

It gave me the courage to stop running away from the world, and instead give it all I’ve got. It made me dig deeper into my human potential, and believe in the potential of my friends and everyone I shared this world with. It gave me the conviction to declare my radicalness.

I walked out of class that day and the horizon was infinitely bigger.

Our challenge is nothing less than to believe in a stronger world. We never asked for this, we were born into it. But the world believes in all of us too. We might not see it now, but somewhere deep down inside we all know there’s a better future, somewhere out there. We just have to awaken it.

We’re going to imagine what human prosperity really looks like – a society centered around love, grit, passion, deep understanding and meaningful connections – and then go build it.

I’m going to leave you with the final lecture slide that Robert Reich left us with that day:

 

Your One Wild and Precious Life …

[You fill in]

 

 

P.S. This post definitely doesn’t do Robert Reich’s course justice. To find out more about how the rise of capitalism and decline in democracy is affecting all of us, read his book and check out his tumblr.

Update: Get a first look at “Inequality for All“, a documentary featuring Robert Reich that covers the same issues that were discussed during the course. Releasing September 27 in theaters.

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I’m writing because …

I was in my girlfriend’s bathroom the other day and an epiphany came into my head. It was going to change the world. I flushed the toilet, flushed it again to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind, washed my hands, and I forgot my epiphany. That’s why the world is still the same.

Most of the thoughts floating around in my head make no sense at all. But I’m starting to realize there’s some stuff in there that actually make a whole lot of sense to me.  I have things to say and I want to share it. So that’s what I’m going to do before it disappears again.

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