The law of practice dictates that the more you practice something the better you get at doing that something. Like most people around my age (21) I have a seemingly disgusting amount of practice at being distracted. I was distracted from what I really value, and I fed that distraction with half-assed yoga and meditation practices, trying to spend less time on my phone, and more time outside. I wasn’t finding as much success as I liked on my own, and I needed a catalyst for transformation.
I realized early on in this years spring semester that I didn’t want to spend spring break blackout drunk for 7 days straight. Luckily I live in Asheville where the entrepreneurial scene is spicy, and where one of the co-founders for Startup Island (Josh Gershon) lives who I was connected with almost immediately (once I asked my network about spring break opportunities).
2 weeks later we grabbed coffee. 2 hours later I was going on the trip. Our conversation mainly focused on if Startup Island was right for me: a junior in college looking for community. I am looking for people different than me — with the right things in common. Some of the right things for me include entrepreneurially-minded students who are looking for collaboration, infectiously good attitudes, and smooth peanut butter.
Josh Gershon, in our coffee-fueled introduction, had to convince me that even though it sounded too good to be true — it was. His story really resonated with me, and I saw someone in front of me that I knew would become instrumental in expanding my worldview. Just like I knew what college I wanted to attend the instant I set foot on campus, I knew I had to go on this trip. My future depended on it. Josh asked me if I had any questions after he explained more about what Startup Island is, and the first words out of my mouth were ‘I’m in.’ I was very grateful to learn that unbeknownst to me, friends and colleagues of mine had already spoken with Josh prior to my expressing interest in joining the retreat and that usually, the next step in the application process is seeing if I was a fit for the program. Luckily, I met and connected with Josh in person, and people he trusted had already vouched for me (voice: Ailis Grosh, Jeff Kaplan, Dr. Clark-Muntean). I filled out the application online as soon as I got home. SI was my spring break, and until I went I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The semester flew by and next thing I knew I was at an airport at 3:45 am to start my 20 hour travel day. It boggled my mind that I woke up in Asheville, North Carolina and that I was going to go to sleep in Costa Rica. From Asheville to Charlotte to Miami to San Jose to 3 hours of van-riding. You either flew into San Jose or Liberia and once all the Islanders arrived at their respective airports we drove. The energy in the van was low as most people had been awake for almost a day, so some slept and some talked.
I left my biggest distraction behind when I left the US by not purchasing a phone plan. Whether I liked it or not, by limiting my access to my biggest distraction through intentionally not purchasing an international phone plan, space opened up in my life and my mind. The 2 hours a day average (thank you, screen time) that I spend on my phone became space for growth. Transformation was imminent, and I felt it. My body woke me up at 5:45 am and I had a basic cup of coffee outside of the beautiful cabin I was in (team volcano cabin!)
I had no idea how noisy my mind was until it ran out of breath the first full day of Startup Island. I remember waking up early the first day and going to the little farm on-site to get milk and eggs, and the other early birds I met.
SI filled that week with magnificent meals, extraordinary excursions, powerful workshops, and collaborative dialogue. It was all happening organically, and it was electrifying. Finally, here was the family I was looking for, and SI brought us together. I was pleasantly shocked to find out that there were students on our trip that had disciplines from film study, to rehab science, to nutrition, to professional gaming, to those running startups already. This melting pot of diversity was always a safe place to explore other points of view.
Then I blinked and I was landing back in Asheville.
Startup Island exists at the intersection of passion and community. The question isn’t will you transform, but rather how much will you transform, and in what direction. The first full day of SI shattered the glass ceiling I didn’t realize I had on my own expectation surrounding my growth and maturation. SI facilitates this just by the physical location alone. With no phone plan, I was off the grid. Without the grid, I had more of everything that I let distract me in the US: phones, friends, family, etc. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that I was joining a family for the rest of my life.
The people I met on my trip 4 months ago still participate in many of the outlets SI gives its alumni access to. The family I went on my trip with was only a fragment of the alumni network that I have access to for life, and this network is growing every day. I had spent so much energy on living to improve, that I forgot how electrifying it was to live for the sake of being alive — and my new family helped me remember, and they still gently remind me of this when I need it the most. It was a state of mind that I had never come close to achieving on my own.
I realized what I dreamed about doing with my life while I was on the retreat. Through on-site coaching, facilitated dialogue, and just talking with the people around me I unearthed a version of myself that would have been undiscoverable otherwise. A more balanced, and self-aware version of myself that I will continue getting to know until I die.
Joining the SI family has been a life-changing decision. By nature, joining a community for life opens up many opportunities down the road, and this is a community like I never had before. I found the Startup Island community at the intersection of passion and community.
The clarity I achieved on my alternative spring break trip helped me realize what direction I wanted to head in and realigned my priorities, and showing me some new ones. It has been the most impactful experience I’ve had in my life to date. It has equipped me with the desire to grow and the ability to transform. Within Startup Island transformation is imminent.