I remember sitting on top of my suitcase, trying to zip it shut, in a bit of a haze, as I knew that this month-long US trip was so haphazardly planned. Inside my bags, I packed not a sliver of itinerary -- it was just a suitcase-full of curiosity and hunger to learn.
And learn, I did.
As for the itinerary? Well, I just brought two flip books with me, and prayed they would suffice:
And suffice, they did.
Here are some of the new places I visited, and the lessons I learned in that vicinity. This list is in no specific order, and by no means exhaustive -- because I went to so many new places, learned so much, and did a year's worth of Manila-walking.
Lesson 1: From MoMA, New York
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has always been a must-visit on my list, and I went there with 2 of my high school friends.
I was doubly looking forward to it, because a few days before, the head curator of MoMA - a very feisty French lady - gave a beautiful (and amusingly sharp and slightly snarky) talk at the 99U Conference. So good! Made me so especially excited to see the Design is for Everyone exhibit.
I really believe that thoughts have energy, and so it's so important to make sure your thoughts are always positive and powerful. Send out an energy of anxiety, and it will give you MORE things to be anxious about.
But thinking open, good, positive thoughts -- is like throwing the door open for grace and serendipity.
Lesson 2: From Lincoln Center, New York
Now Lincoln Center is not the most beautiful place -- pitted against New York Public Library and Bryant Park, I'd pick the latter two in a heartbeat.
But for this trip at least, it was my personal hotbed of the most intense eye-opening goosebumps-raising is-this-even-possible kind of learning -- because it was the venue for the 99U Conference, which I was lucky enough to be given a scholarship for.
It was in this place that I had conversations about user experience, the internet of things, and wearable technology, the intersection of fashion and engineering, the morality of apps, and all these I N S A N E things that I cannot even begin to wrap my head around.
It made me feel so small, but at the same time, so thrilled to be miniscule -- because that only meant I still had so much room to grow.
It was written in the clouds, tattooed on my mind and every artery of my heart: I still have SO MUCH to learn. It's so easy to stay in the Manila bubble and think, 'This is it. I've made it.'
But in this rapidly innovating world, there's always a new skill to acquire. You have to stay curious. Learn, learn more, and learn always.
Lesson 3: From Cuyana in Union Square, San Francisco
Let's dial it back to the first part of the trip: San Francisco.
One of the central places we visited was Union Square, of course -- and we took a little exposure trip to the showroom of one of my brand crushes, Cuyana.
Because I was staying with one of my good friends Julia, who is every bit a startup and brand and design geek as I am, we ended up visiting a lot of other startup brands like Cuyana.
Each store we went to, cafe that we visited, or restaurant we ate at, we would discuss how they told their story, or dissect their brand values, or analyze their space design. It was a lot of *geeky* fun.
I found myself thinking, that people in San Francisco are so lucky to be living in that environment where you were surrounded by so many ordinary people turning their ideas into action -- into actual, tangible businesses.
So one of my key takeaways is more of a challenge than a lesson, really. Since I don't live in San Francisco or Silicon Valley, it's up to me to create my own environment of possibility. To build my own personal and proverbial Silicon Valley with my own networks.
Seek out dreamers and doers beyond your normal circle.
Surround yourself with the kind of people who fuel each other's projects by virtue of being around each other's energy.
Lesson 4: From Palo Alto, San Francisco
Now this was a MASSIVE learning experience.
I attended a class in Stanford d.school when I was in San Francisco, and to be honest, it was such a DREAM COME TRUE, and I can gush on and on and on about what I loved about it.
But behind the scenes... the night before, up to the morning right before we drove to campus, I was nervously pep-talking myself nonstop, because I knew I had the tendency to clam up and retreat inside my introvert/insecure shell, be so paralyzed by the pressure to do well -- when in to comes to major classes like these.
There were a million of insecurities swirling around my head all night --
I was from a third world country, I'm not a Stanford alumna, I don't have a master's degree, compared to everyone, I might not have enough experience, I'm not good enough, I might not have anything relevant to share, my accent is weird, etcetera etcetera.
It was an Electro-Doubt Party in my head.
But I knew I was so, ridiculously fortunate to have this unimaginable opportunity, and I was NOT, by any means, going to waste it. And so, even if they rattled off all these crazy, intimidating credentials in self-introduction time at class (think Google, Apple, neuroscience), I'd like to think I held my ground.
I shared what I could from my (third-world, social entrepreneur) perspective, and tried not to listen to that belittling voice in my head. I knew I could communicate ideas well, if I let myself.
And when group reporting came, my group made me explain most of it. I just went for it, all second-guessing chucked out the window. I didn't waste a single breath.
I felt AMAZING after, and it was such a boost in confidence. So that's my biggest Stanford lesson: My story matters.
Stop second-guessing what your story, your perspective -- brings to the table. Let yourself speak up and share it.
But make sure you share it well. Make every word matter.
New places are always classrooms for learning, wherever you are in the world (or even in your own city) --
but only if you let them.