Reflections on 2016
These are the significant events that moved the needle for me. I’m not proud of the fact that I did a lot of things. I’m proud that in a year full of busy-ness and chaos, I found moments of meaning.
One of my goals for the new year is: do better, don’t do more. There are countless conversations, podcasts and books from this year that have changed the way I think. They couldn’t all make the list.
There aren’t any life-changing lessons hidden in this post. It’s simply a recollection of the most significant accomplishments for me. If you’re not interested and just want lessons learned, stay tuned and that post will probably come soon, too.
2016 was my happiest and healthiest year on record. I found a new level of creative confidence and had many life-changing moments. The common narrative is that 2016 was a disaster of a year, but I personally found happiness on a micro-scale unlike any time before. Here are some of my highlights and key learnings.
Visiting Portland and Seattle with my girlfriend
My girlfriend and I kicked off a tradition of exploration in January by going to Portland and Seattle. I loved the vibe in Portland and we enjoyed many delicious meals and lots of fun. Travel is inspiring and there are so many places in America that I’ve never explored. We’ve made it an annual event to pick a small city or two and experience them. This year we’re headed to Texas to visit San Antonio and Austin!
Moving on and passing along
Here are a few things that I’ve worked on and passed on this year.
Taste of UD — Admitted Student Lunch Program
As a freshmen at University of Delaware, I saw an opportunity to make the admissions touring process more meaningful and engaging. Daniel Farmer and I pitched this idea to the Admissions office and got the go-ahead to start a program called Taste of UD. We started organizing volunteers to meet with visiting students over lunch to give them a personal look of the University. We did it for free every day for nearly three months in the spring of 2014. When the next admission season rolled around, the office hired us as student workers! We ran the program for three seasons, and now we’ve passed it on to the future leaders. We plan to stay engaged in ensuring the success of the program so that it will last long into the future.
The Entrepreneurship Club
On a similar note, after being the President of the Entrepreneurship Club at Delaware for two years, I passed on the position to a great, young, leader in Aidan MacIsaac.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to transition the leadership and I’m excited about the new members that have stepped into positions. The club built a lot of momentum over the past three semesters and we’re seeing event attendance that’s more than double from when I started as President. I’m incredible honored to have held this position and worked closely with so many great people. Seeing the club grow and connect the most passionate students on campus has been the ultimate reward.
20k Passions (read: Twenty Thousand Passions)
This was a campus-wide event I started to inspire people to share their passions. The idea is that there are about twenty thousand students on Delaware’s campus, and each one of them has a unique passion. We’re not often asked about what our passion is and I wanted to change that. After recruiting over 20 volunteers, we gathered nearly a thousand responses from students across campus on April 21st. Most importantly, we added delight, joy and belief to dozens of lives. Here’s a brief writeup of the day.
While it was a rewarding day, the coordination was exhausting. I don’t plan to do another, but if anyone wants to carry on this legacy, I’d be happy to advise.
Ignite! — Early Move-in Program for Innovative Students
Last spring, my friend Adam Breese and I saw the opportunity to welcome entrepreneurial students into our community through an early move-in program focused on creativity.
In our first iteration this fall, we helped students move in to their residence halls on Thursday and gave them a taste of Main Street afterwards. The next morning, the students came to the Venture Development Center for a day full of experiential learning.
The program was called Ignite! because all of the activities were focused around igniting imaginations. I pulled my favorite activities from my trip to Google and Stanford with the University Innovation Fellows program that I was able to attend last year thanks to the Horn Program.
Here what the one participant had to say:
“Ignite allowed me to begin college by meeting new people, getting to know the campus, learning new ways to think and create, and having an incredible time while doing it.” — Gabby D.
Creating this program is my proudest accomplishment at UD. All of my entrepreneurial and creative knowledge was required to make the event successful. I felt that I was able to channel three years of intense learning into a day and a half of meaningful connection.
I loved creating this program. Most of the hard work is done in terms of designing the curriculum. We are looking for a younger student that is interested in facilitating the next generation of Ignite! next August.
Connecting with my Tribes
I attended some powerful, live events this year. These experiences facilitated connections with people like me from across the country and the world.
University Innovation Fellows Meet up at Google, and Stanford
After participating in the University Innovation Fellows program during the fall of 2015, I was invited to attend the annual Silicon Valley meet up in March. I had the incredible opportunity stay in Palo Alto with 300 other students from across North America. The common thread was that everyone was working on bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to higher education.
We spent a day Friday in the Google HQ learning from experts in creativity. On Saturday we worked through a series of activities at Stanford’s d.school focused around bringing the lessons back to our schools. On Sunday morning we visited Microsoft and heard from hackers and executives. Here are some of the lessons I learned from that weekend.
That wasn’t even the best part. The most valuable lesson was the feeling of being around people who understood your struggles. Everyone you talked to had tried something new at their University and they were inevitably met with resistance. Administrators didn’t see a need to change and they thought these students were idealistic and irrational.
The connections I made with other change-makers during that weekend were the best part. It felt amazing knowing there were these people all over the continent that saw the world like I did. They saw the opportunity to improve higher ed and empower a new generation of world-changers.
That event gave me the motivation to start 20k Passions and equipped me with dozens of workshops I could bring back to UD.
The North American Bitcoin Conference
Bitcoin had been on my radar for years, but until my friend Dean Masley shared his enthusiasm for the technology, I didn’t quite understand the implications. After many conversations and hours of additional research, I was a believer and joined the Blockchain Education Network (BEN). Dean is the Executive Director of this non-profit that connects students around the world that are interested in blockchain technology. They get conference tickets and organize big Airbnbs for members.
In January of 2016 I booked a trip down to Miami for The North American Bitcoin Conference. I stayed in South Beach with other members of BEN and got the opportunity to connect with some of the most forward-thinking kids I’d ever met. We all spoke the same language and could talk for hours about the possible implications of decentralized technology. It was a powerful feeling being around those people. The conference was interesting, but the best part was connecting with other BEN members.
During October, BEN held Blockchain Education Month. Members of the network contributed to making an open-source video course for people looking to learn more about bitcoin. I contributed some videos that you can find here on YouTube.
Seth Godins’s Tribal Gathering
I’ve been following Seth Godin’s work for around three years, but more recently I dove deeper into understanding his mindset. Of all the thought-leaders and influencers out there, I found Seth’s values most aligned with my own. I dreamed one day of meeting him, but thought that it would take years and years before it was even possible.
In late October Seth announced that he was having a live event in New York City on December 10th. The tickets cost $900+ to attend as an individual, but I dug through the fine print and found a student discount that you could apply to receive. I was lucky enough to get one of the discounted tickets and was ready to attend Seth’s live event.
I learned a ton from being in the audience that day, but again the most powerful part was the personal connection. I met other people who believed in making change and who had already accomplished great feats. We all spoke as equals, exchanging ideas and helping each other get unstuck. I wrote about some of my big takeaways in this post.
At the end of the day, I was able to shake Seth’s hand, thank him for his work and hand him a card I had written. I also snagged a picture!
I did a little bit of work that I got paid for this year.
Running my tennis camp for its 4th year
I’ve been running my tennis camp with the Oyster River Youth Association for four years now. We had another successful summer on the courts! I coached over 30 different kids aged 6–15 throughout the season.
The future of the tennis camp is unclear at this point. I’m not sure what I’ll be up to next summer, but I still love teaching the sport and will always be available for private lessons!
Working for Bright Orange Thread and getting paid to write!
While running tennis camp in the mornings, I worked as a freelance writer/inbound marketing intern for Bright Orange Thread this summer. I developed a Content Marketing 101 Series for them that is live on their blog! The series is for people who might have heard about content marketing, but they’re not sure what it is or how they might get started.
I enjoyed being able to do research on these various topics because it helped solidify my understanding of them. It was also a big step for me as a writer because I was getting paid to produce this content!
Attending the event at Stanford and Google showed me the power of hands-on learning and gave me the tools to bring it to others. In 2016 I started leading workshops about entrepreneurship and creativity. I started with leading Entrepreneurship Club meetings, then used that experience to design the day full of workshops during Ignite! The style emphasizes letting people learn by doing, as opposed to by listening and taking notes.
In the fall of 2016 I started working more closely with the Horn Program’s Diamond Challenge for Youth Entrepreneurs. I hosted workshops for high schoolers, travelled to a state-wide conference for middle schoolers and continue teaching workshops each Saturday for a program called TeenSHARP.
It’s been a rewarding experience empowering young people to start thinking entrepreneurially. My favorite workshop I taught was called the Leadership and Engagement Summit. The goal was to pass down all I had learned about facilitating workshops to future leaders of student organizations on campus. I ran my seven favorite activities and taught others how to bring them back to their groups. We ended by giving an outline of what it takes to run an engaging meeting in any context and allowed participants to design their own workshops.
Starting my email list
This spring I started my personal email list. It goes out every Sunday afternoon to my friends and family. Each week I share the ideas that I’m pondering and updates on my most recent projects. It’s been a great way to stay in touch with friends and I’d love to jump on anyone else’s list if they have something similar! To join mine, sign up here and you’ll hear from me each Sunday. No more, no less.
Starting my daily blog
On September 14th I started a daily blog. I’ve posted every day at zcjones.com. It’s helped facilitate a profound shift in the way I see the world. Knowing that you have to make an observation, tell a story and add value every day changes the way you see everything. You go from believing good ideas are hard to come by to realizing that inspiration is everywhere and millions of stories go left untold.
Inspiration is everywhere and millions of stories go left untold.
Starting to write my first book
We’re at a pivotal time in our world right now. The “good” jobs don’t look so good anymore. The rules don’t apply like they used to. We need people that are willing to write their own rules and become world-changers. The problem is: making change is hard. Doing something new is so difficult that most of us choose not to.
That’s why I’m writing this book.
It’s lonely when you’re making change, but there are other people out there like you. No matter what you’re doing, your tribe is out there somewhere. Trust me. A year ago, I didn’t feel like there was anyone out there like me. It wasn’t because I thought I was a special snowflake, it was just that I couldn’t find my people.
This book is an answer to that feeling. I need to fix the pain I felt when I saw that no one else around me cared about making change. World-changers are everywhere, but they’re few and far between right now. We need to unite and support each other in changing our planet for the better.
The book is going to be a fun and inspiring read. I plan on incorporating quotes and some of my own illustrations to break up the writing. There is also going to be a multi-dimensional component to the experience. I plan on finding a creative way to unite readers (world-changers) in online communities or live events.
This is my project for the next month and hopefully it will be available on Amazon in February!
Reading lots of books
I read 22 books this year. I made time for reading in the morning, and tried to read at least a few pages each night before I went to sleep. Here’s a full list of the books I’ve read. My four favorite reads of the year were:
- Linchpin: Are You Indispensible? by Seth Godin
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Listening to Podcasts
When I was a sophomore in college I was reading a Reddit AMA that a cybersecurity expert was doing. Someone asked, “how does one become an expert in a field like this?” and he responded, “Stop listening to music when you walk around and start listening to podcasts.” (He said some more stuff, but that sentence was the one that stuck with me.) Ever since then, I’ve been a podcast junkie and I recommend them to everyone.
Podcasts are the best way I’ve found to “spend time with” some of the smartest people in the world. This notion inspired the post Seth Godin is Already My Mentor. The idea is that by spending time with these super smart people, you can start to know what questions they ask and you can get their advice before ever talking to them.
I also found some great, non-business shows that I’ve been enjoying like History of Rome and 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy.
I solidified more of a morning routine this year and tried to make time for meditation. I’ve found that it sets a tone for a conscientious day. Don’t make the mistake that thinking meditation “isn’t for you.” No one is able to sit down, clear their mind and become a zen master. It takes time and can be frustrating at first. I’ve been meditating for almost a year and on most days it’s still difficult to find mental clarity.
Any attempt at meditation is a success.
When you’re starting out, try some guided meditations. A good starting place is this mindfulness meditation by the Honest Guys. If you don’t have ten minutes, just search on YouTube for three minute mindfulness meditation and do that.
If you have a little extra time, maybe on a Sunday morning, I highly recommend trying this 15 minute video by Kireiki Healing. It’s heavy on visualization and I’ve found that this style works well for me.
I had a relative pass away this fall and it brought a powerful realization. What remains are the memories and the time spent together. I’ve tried to make time for the important relationships in my life and cherish the moments we’re sharing.
I’m thankful for being in an incredible relationship with Sophia, for having a bunch of roommates that are always willing to share a few laughs, for Daniel getting into the Peace Corps and living his dream, for the Horn Program and E-Club for supporting me over the past four years and for my family for always being there.
Side-note: I’ve been eager to order cards so that I remove friction to sending meaningful thank-you’s to people. I highly recommend the practice of sending an unnecessary thank-you note every month. You’ll feel great that you did it and you’ll make someone’s day.
2016 has been my best year by far. Reflecting on these events has been a blessing for we usually move along too quickly. I’m thankful for all that happened and I highly recommend taking a few moments to pause before we jump right into 2017.
This is an exciting time and I’m sure the next year will have big things in store. Stay tuned for another post about the biggest lessons I learned over the past year!