How traveling changes my relationships

On my plane ride recently to Portugal, the server asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I replied no. He said in a Portuguese accent, “Just one cup! The air is really dry here,” and thrusted a cup of water in my hand. I’ve never had this experience on an American airline. I was touched by his rare sense of ownership to people around him.

Once I got to Portugal, I was there for an overnight layover, but I ended up having one of the best nights of my life. I met up with a mutual friend, and even though it was my first time meeting her, I felt like I was meeting up with a long lost friend in a new country. She was disappointed that she couldn’t meet me for dinner because she had work, but gave me an itinerary of all the things I should do that evening — which restaurant I should go to, what I should order, and the order of the sights I should see around the city. She told me she’d meet at 11pm, so after I enjoyed the steak at Carvoaria, the restaurant she recommended, I ordered an espresso. Drinking coffee sometimes feels like pushing a button where you suddenly have twice as much life to live.

We ended up going to a discotheque until 5am.

I don’t like clubbing in America. It feels transactional; a game where people try to hook up. Two men in the corner of the club were trying to do the same thing as they approached two Portuguese women. The women looked very uncomfortable and kept moving away as the men tried to moved closer and twirled them around. They were not having it. Later that night, two of the Portuguese men from our group of friends were talking to the same two women. They talked for several hours on end. It wasn’t until several hours later into the night at 4am that they started dancing. I like how people take their time with each other. The question of “Are you coming home with me tonight?” felt absent.

It was as if I had been thrust into a more evolved version of America, a world where machines have automated all jobs and people are instead on Earth to enjoy life, value their friendships, and cultivate meaningful, non-transactional relationships. My best friend told me that you can think of life as traveling on a bus. Most people, as they travel through life, simply collect other people onto their bus. The passengers are either heading in their direction or they’re no longer on the bus. He doesn’t like to live life like that — he’d prefer to bring someone onto his bus and together, decide where to go. I like this kind of friendship much more — and I realize I don’t have to live in Portugal to adopt these values. When I travel, I learn about how things we consider normal are completely weird in a different context. I can choose what I like from all these different ways of living, and piece it back into my own life.

Sitting down with David Kelley, IDEO’s CEO and Stanford d.School Founder

The other day, I got the opportunity to meet David Kelley. David’s accomplishments, yet contrast with his humility that particularly struck me. My takeaways are below:


1. How do we scale guided mastery?

The mission of the is to build confidence in creative abilities. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Instruction – The currently accomplishes this through instruction.

  2. Tools – I considered another way to do this, through tools — changing the interface with which we engage and learn. This reminds me of a passage from Seymour Papert’s book, Mindstorms:

When I trace how I came to be a mathematician, I see much that was idiosyncratic, much that could not be duplicated as part of a generalized vision of education reform. And I certainly don’t think that we would want everyone to become a mathematician. But I think that the kind of pleasure I take in mathematics should be part of a general vision of what education should be about. If we can grasp the essence of one person’s experiences, we may be able to replicate its consequences in other ways and in particular this consequence of finding beauty in abstract things.

If we really look at the “child as builder” we are on our way to an answer. All builders need materials to build with… In some cases the culture supplies them in abundance… For example, the fact that so many important things (knives and forks, mothers and fathers, shoes and socks) come in pairs is a “material” for the construction of an intuitive sense of number. But in many cases where Piaget would explain the slower development of a particular concept by its greater complexity or formality, I see the critical factor as the relative poverty of the culture in those materials that would make the concept simple and concrete.

2. The power of noticing

What if, instead of thinking of university as a contiguous 4-year experience, we thought of it as a 6-year experience, where you could spread out those 6 years and attend them at any time in your life?

The concept here is breaking the treadmill. The urgency and pressure to finish – and rather, create an extraordinary experience.

I find another thread intertwined here – the importance of gratitude. Contrast helps to create that. When you’ve been out of school for a few years, and then come back to school, you’re able to suddenly notice particular details and opportunities that you didn’t see as available before. 

How do we amplify the power of awareness?

A simple story which illustrates this:

This weekend I went to see the Mexican musical duo Rodrigo y Gabriela at Oakland’s Fox Theatre. As we sat down, my sister, who was sitting on my right, was fuming and said, “What? Our seats are all the way back here?!” The person on my left, meanwhile, looked up at the ceiling and said, “Wow, this is a beautiful theatre.” I looked up the at the ceiling and was in awe at the architecture. 

How does noticing change the way we perceive the same experience?

Relationship Questions

For troubleshooting.

  1. What would you tell your younger self about love?
  2. Which of your flaws do you want to be treated with more generously?
  3. Is there anything I have done in the past that may have unknowingly hurt you?
  4. What are the main stressors in your life and how can I help?
  5. When I am anxious in our relationship, I tend to …
  6. What scares you about our relationship?