Dreams 2.0

 

“Find what you were made for.”

This is the slogan for To Write Love on Her Arms National Suicide Prevention Week 2017 campaign. For myself, this week provides additional meaning as it coincides with the birthday of my close friend who took his life in 2014, a sacrifice that has forever inspired me to find my happiness.


Two years ago I packed my life into my Altima and drove cross-country from Connecticut in pursuit of a California dream. When I arrived at the University of California, Riverside, everything and I mean everything was different. For starters, Connecticut has four very colorful seasons, cold winters and humid summers. Riverside is in the desert -it’s quite hot- and only varies between different shades of brown. Another striking difference- the demographics of Southern California compared to Connecticut. To illustrate, UC Riverside is known for its commitment to underrepresented, first-generation students, leading to a student body that is among the most diverse in the country. In my position on campus as an admissions counselor, many of my colleagues and students I worked with also identified as underrepresented, first-generation students. Through our interactions I became more familiar with their challenges, challenges much different from those at the University of Connecticut.

  • The transfer student who spent five years at community college paying class-by-class for the chance at a four year degree.
  • The commuter student battling the worst traffic in the country twice a day because living at home is the only way college would be realistic.
  • The daughter whose father took night classes while she was little to better help with her homework so she may graduate. A story you may already be familiar with.

“Happiness can only be found by identifying and striving to achieve meaningful purpose for one’s existence.”

-Jerry Hirsch (Lodestar Foundation), Barron’s list of high-impact givers.

Most impressive was that regardless of the individual circumstance or obstacle, these students were very happy. In most cases, I probably had more- money, experience, possessions- but they seemed to have the one thing I wanted, consistent happiness. As the months passed it became clear to me that the “what” – or adversity/obstacle – did not matter. The common theme I found with UCR students was the “why”- or purpose – and that made all the difference. Over the years I have worked with and observed all types of students from all types of backgrounds with all types of purposes. Though they are fighting an uphill battle, the students completing a degree with the motivation of creating a better life for their family are rich in purpose, and therefore, rich in happiness (generally speaking).

The unwavering commitment to education despite an uphill climb against the system invoked overwhelming feelings of guilt for a lack of effort into my own education, specifically the sacrifices I took for granted. Aside from education, at the crux of the issue was a recognition of a lack of accountability when I was at home- quick to place blame (usually on my family) instead of taking responsibility for my actions. This was certainly not part of the California dream I had envisioned, but the unexpected result from these realizations was that I stopped taking my life for granted. I stopped expecting a certain life to just happen to me and instead actively started creating the life I wanted for myself through a commitment to maintaining positive habits and accepting daily, incremental change as part of a long term goal. That goal? Treat others the way I would like to be treated. When I was finally honest with myself and identified my faults, change then became a commitment to correcting those faults hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Once I took the first step, my guilt transformed to motivation and happiness began to replace emptiness.

Nate

RIP Nate

Recently I was able to attract a nice girl into my life as a direct result of my commitment to change. She has introduced a simplicity that I seem to have lost touch with through years of solo journeying- a simplicity that revolves around family, a simplicity that I would like to return to. I have not been the best son, the best brother or the best friend, but I would like to change that and I finally know where to start.

“Find what you were made for.”

My purpose when I moved to California was strictly adventure. This purpose had little meaning as my worldview at that point was formed exclusively from experiences growing up on the East Coast- valuable experiences but only one side of the story. However, after two years on the other side, my interactions and experiences in California merged with those from Connecticut and blended into an updated worldview that is more reflective of who I am and what I am looking for, a worldview I will continue to refine.

After a summer of deliberation, I decided to resign from UCR and return home to spend September with my family. I want a re-engagement in what matters most- relationships with family and friends- and I will work at it hour-by-hour, day-by-day until I am satisfied. Thus far I have been able to see my dad’s side of the family at a reunion on the Cape, bring flowers to my grandparents grave and make dinner for my parents. Simplicity. Life is too short to waste time and there is no better time to begin.

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Looking forward, I have long understood an underlying purpose of mine is to make others’ lives easier- whether it be through large scale innovation or individual interactions, that story is yet to unfold. What I do know is when I am able to live out that purpose in some way, shape or form, that is when I am most happy. I have a rejuvenated appreciation for the sacrifice and work ethic it will take to reach my goals. I am ready to put in the work and I know how to get the job done. The process translates. Effort, concentration and persistence combined with purpose will lead to success. I am committed to the process, no matter how long it may take.

I don’t know where this journey will end up, but I do know it was meant to start at home.

In the meantime, if anyone has any leads, suggestions or recommendations, either short or long-term, I would be more than happy to hear them. I am planning a return to Southern California in October to pursue experiences in the Los Angeles area that will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.

Matthew.Ouimette@gmail.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewouimette/

If the key to happiness is living a meaningful purpose, I will continue to re-purpose until I find what I am made for. For those out there who feel stuck in any aspect of life, I believe in you to always find the courage to do the same.

 

 

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My Travel Paradigm: A Prelude

I’m going to start blogging my travel adventures. I think it’s important before I get started to explain why I travel- aside from the flashy tourist attractions and tropical beaches- the underlying lure behind my wanderlust…

It all began in May of 2011 when I was studying abroad in Florence under a man whose name rings familiar to college students across the world- Pierluca Birindelli. Pierluca approached education with much more freedom than the typical college professor. There was rarely a defined topic on a paper, no page minimum or maximum (or suggestion for that matter) and most astounding of all- papers could be handwritten. In a class of American students accustomed to a strict adherence to the syllabus and detailed study guides, there was a glaring disconnect. Perusing through Pierluca’s blog, I stumbled upon this anxious email from a former student that outlined our collective concerns.

Pierluca Email Zoomed

pierluca-birindelli.blogspot.com

The course I enrolled in with Professor Birindelli was titled Identity and Culture in Italy: A Comparative Approach. The course centered on identity and awareness, specifically during the passage from youth to adulthood. Identity to find purpose in life and awareness to understand how that purpose fit into a global environment. I cannot claim to have understood the entirety of these concepts at just 21 years old, but I never stopped trying. 

I had caught the travel bug.

To satisfy my need for adventure, I sought out a career in college admissions. If you haven’t seen the Tina Fey movie, admissions counselors are assigned a territory to recruit prospective students based on a region of states such as the Mid-Atlantic or New England. Fortunately, I was able to land a position with a territory spanning Chicago to Miami, allowing for unlimited travel within my jurisdiction. Nearly five years after my abroad experience I have logged close to 50,000 miles and met people from all over the world, witnessing firsthand how travel can shape both identity and awareness. There are numerous surface reasons why travel is beneficial, however, I have identified three underlying reasons that inspire my wanderlust.  

  1. I want to know.
  2. I want to perpetually push the limits of my comfort zone.
  3. I want to be a Global Citizen.

I want to know.

To know, you have to go. Traveling alone, as is commonly the case in admissions, can get lonely. But, there is one HUGE benefit to solo travel. I see every place I go with my own eyes, independent from the influence of social perceptions and stereotypes. There is nothing like experiencing a new city for the first time and forming my own opinions without any outside interference. A basic principle of the law states ignorance is no excuse. It is my belief we should extend this principle to how we view the world. Don’t rely on the opinions of others to shape your perspective- go out and see for yourself! In 2014 I spent four months in New Jersey, a state otherwise known as the “Armpit of America.” I had never cared much for the Garden State but then again, I had never truly been. Once I got off the highway and explored further, I saw a much different New Jersey than the agonizing corridor of I-95 presents. As a matter of fact, New Jersey can look a lot like New England…

To December 2014 079

Ramapo Reservation, New Jersey, @mattwemet

Travel not only opens your eyes to new places, it opens your mind to new perspectives allowing for enhanced awareness. This fall I was at a painfully slow college fair in Toronto, agitated by the poor attendance and exhausted from the time change. Just as the night was finally ending, I was approached by the lone student left in attendance. Though I was tempted to give him my card so he could email questions, I’m glad I didn’t. This particular student was interested in learning more about our international admissions process which was ordinary as California attracts a large international population. However, as I spoke more at length with the student, I came to realize he was anything but ordinary.

The student was a Syrian refugee who had fled in the middle of the night with 6 family members when his hometown was raided. From there, he made his way to a camp in Jordan awaiting official refugee status from the United Nations which is required to enter Canada. After finally arriving in Toronto months after fleeing Syria, he lived with his entire family in a one bedroom apartment while they applied for work permits. As he told me his story I could sense no anger or resentment, only hope and appreciation. Our conversation- albeit brief- was a humbling reminder that certain things we take for granted in America, such as safety and shelter, are not always guaranteed elsewhere. Needless to say, I felt ashamed of my prior agitation. Yes, life as a young professional can be difficult but it will never be dangerous. Struggling to make ends meet is frightening but not nearly as frightening as struggling for freedom. I had read numerous articles on the crisis in Syria but never felt more aware of the implications than I did that night. Travel helps to raise our awareness through exposure to circumstances far different from our own, allowing us to view our current situations through a more enlightened perspective.  

I want to get out of my comfort zone.

What if I told you our true identity may not rest not in comfort, but just past it…

In 2013 I altered my career path in an effort to push my limits of comfort and contBlog Listinue my search for identity. However, a few months in I realized a career change alone was not enough. If I followed the same routine I always had, I would get the same results I always did. I knew I needed to force myself out of my comfort zone- but how? During my first recruitment trip to California I created a game. In this game I challenged myself to do something I had never done before each and every day of my trip. Then, at the end of the day, I logged every new experience to hold myself accountable and track progression. As a general rule, the first idea/suggestion/invitation I immediately thought “no” to, I did. The purpose? To fight habit and discover what I was truly made of, not what I thought I was made of.

On September 28th, I was invited to a fun run by a Nike store employee who sold me new cross trainers. While I have always been an extrovert, meeting up with complete strangers in a foreign setting was by no means appealing. Upon returning to my hotel, I had a sudden change of heart. This was exactly the type of activity that would put me out of my comfort zone. I went. To my surprise, I discovered I am much more outgoing than I initially thought. Additionally, local runners went out of their way to make me feel at home. One fellow NBA fan even went as far as offering a free ticket to that nights Golden State Warriors game! In the end, the reward FAR exceeded my initial angst. For this type of positive response to occur so early in my trip both validated my efforts and encouraged me to push further. 

Today, I have no problem venturing off by myself because I am confident I will be able to make friends anywhere I go. In fact, I now seek out these types of potentially awkward encounters just to prove I can do it, opening the door to new opportunities and friendships along the way. This is one aspect of my true identity I would never have discovered had I not made the initial push.It is far too easy to fall into habits and routines based on comfort and comfort alone. Rest assured there is a reward waiting on the other side of comfort for those willing to seek it…

IPAD PHOTOS 585

Oracle Arena, Oakland, @mattwemet

I want to be a global citizen.

Whether you accept the idea or ignore it, we are all global citizens. According to census reports, “the United States is expected to experience significant increases in racial and ethnic diversity over the next four decades.” Among these increases, the Hispanic population is projected to more than double between 2000 and 2050 while the size of the Asian population is projected to increase by nearly 80%. The United States is trending towards unprecedented diversity, but also, unprecedented integration. In my professional experience, a major indicator of success relies on how well we are able to work with teams of diverse individuals and opinions. This is easier when people are like you, but, as the census predicts, the majority of people may not always be like you. Travel. When you travel you no longer see borders, you see humans. You are able to see people with your heart and not your mind which allows for a more personal connection.

My previous employer, the University of Connecticut, was filled with people who were just like me in a state where everyone was just like me. My current employer, the University of California Riverside, is one of the most diverse public institutions in the country. People are not like me. In my unit alone colleagues hail from Mexico, Portugal, Turkey and Singapore. When I started back in August I had no clue how to eat a tamale. Do I eat the wrap? Do I unwrap it? Seven months later I not only know how to properly eat a tamale (unwrap it), I can identify if a tamale came from Central America (banana leaf) or Mexico (corn husk) based on said wrap. Though tamales may not be common among the 15 million residents of New England, they are wildly popular among the 560 million residents spanning Mexico to South America. To see yourself as a global citizen does not mean you have to abandon your country, ethnicity, religion or beliefs. It doesn’t even mean you have to travel the world. It simply means your eyes are open and your awareness raised.

Italian Sociology 2011

 2011 Section, pierluca-birindelli.blogspot.com

During my abroad experience Professor Birindelli challenged us to challenge ourselves by questioning all we previously held as fact. To understand the dynamics between ourselves and our interactions through a global lens with far more scope than the town we were raised or our country of citizenship. And if we didn’t understand, to start asking questions. At the conclusion of the semester there was much concern similar to the aforementioned email regarding the content of our final paper. I honestly had no clue what he was looking for but I think that was precisely the point. You won’t always know. As we continue to grow and shape our identity in a dynamic global environment, the answer constantly evolves. Therefore, the focus should not be on the answer, but the questions raised during our individual journey. As I am reminded time and time again, the answer is not in the end result but locked away in the process.

Travel holds the key.

It is now 2016. I am nearing five years removed from Florence and my future only brings more adventure. I voyaged over 25,000 miles in 2015 and am expecting to far surpass that total in 2016. As I continue to travel I want to challenge myself to share the places I go, the people I meet and the stories I hear. You cannot force people to think the way you do, but, you can inspire them by living an example of everything you defend. I hope you enjoy.

Oh and as for that final paper…

I got an A.

I frequently questioned this grade to myself, I didn’t think I deserved it.

Until now.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers.


Please follow my adventure on Instagram and Snapchat @mattwemet.