Cup 8 | JC


There are no bad experiences, just experiences.

I heard this while sitting on an island, frizzy hair and damp swim suit while huddled around a plastic picnic table eating Tom Yam soup (a Malaysian staple) to replenish after a morning spent along the ocean floor. The restaurant was authentic: open air patio with a small kitchen views of the picturesque beach and unsophisticated—yet adequate—squat toilets and signs warning Do not feed the monkeys to keep things interesting.

The insight came from JC, a 5’3” scuba instructor living in Kota Kinabalu, a vibrant city on the island of Borneo.

He was born in Malaysia but grew up in London and maintained the British accent long after he returned to Malaysia twenty years later. His wide smile, boundless energy and easygoing nature made him a fantastic guide for a scuba adventure. 

I had completed my scuba certification in Australia the week before in order to take advantage of the great diving Malaysia had to offer and booked a day-trip a few days before arriving.

JC and I met when I discovered he would be our dive master charged with taking us out along the reef, keeping us safe, and showing us a good time. Over the course of two days and six dives, JC was constantly smiling, cracking jokes and accommodating the various requests of scuba divers. Both days we took a long lunch that provided a good chance to learn more about the folks on the boat.


JC has been in the tourism industry for years. He began by taking travelers up Mount Kinabalu (a two-day trek with a hefty incline). After hundreds of trips he needed a new challenge and switched to weeklong treks through the jungle. He also teaches weekly spin classes and is in the process of learning to hang glide.

When I asked him what it was like to be a scuba instructor he said the trick was to always be four steps ahead. He interacts with people so often he can predict their needs before they realize they have them. It’s evident he prides himself on offering great service to travelers and shaping new experiences.

Between exploring mountains, jungles and the ever-changing ocean floor, JC had many stories. He shared a few good ones before I asked about the worst experienced he’d had as a tour guide.

He responded:

There are no bad experiences, only experiences.

Yes, sometimes the weather isn’t cooperative, equipment breaks, and things don’t go according to plan. But still, within those moments, exists learning, memories, emotionthe feeling of being alive.

An experience isn’t good or bad, it simply is what it is. And if you accept the situation as it is, you can stop analyzing and simply be in the moment. Not all moments are enjoyable, but it’s easier to make the most of them when fully immersed.

The alternativeruminating that you wish this wasn’t how it wasis unproductive when you’re in a situation outside of your control.

That’s how JC succeeds on the job. He’s fully present as he surveys the weather, the equipment and the people. He doesn’t get overwhelmed when things don’t go according to plan: he stays calm and seeks solutions.

You can focus your energy on judging a situation or you can focus on finding a solution

The remaining time I spent in Malaysia (and southeast asia) was filled with experiences: crazy road trips across potholed roads, sunburns, late night games of cards, nearly missed flights, new friends, moments of exhaustion followed by bursts of adventure and energy.

Some moments felt good and others didn’t, but being fully immersed made the sum of those moments lead to an incredibly rich and memorable experience.

JC would have been proud.


Cup 7 | Alexandra Petre

In December of 2013, I took a writing hiatus in order to fully enjoy an adventure to Australia and southeast Asia as part of a goal to hit all seven continents before April 2015. Although I wasn’t writing, I continued meeting strangers over coffee. This is the first of several posts chronicling those international conversations.


It’s a beautiful sunny day in Sydney, Australia as I sit with Alexandra Petre, Cup 7, at the rooftop cafe within the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a picturesque scene. The Harbor Bridge to our right, the Sydney Opera House to our left and the sounds of locals and tourists intermingling along the waterfront below us.

I actually “met” Alex in Canada two years before when my friend Asad, whom I met via Twitter, invited me to speak at the TEDxQueensU event he was organizing. The theme was “Nomad,” which made me a fitting speaker as I was in the middle of a yearlong nomadic adventure (74 cities in 14 months). Alex was the photographer for the event; however, we didn’t have a chance to connect. A few months later Alex was preparing for a trip and Asad introduced us via email. We exchanged a few messages and became Facebook friends.

Our coffee came about when I posted a photo of my travels in Sydney and she commented, “I’m here too, we should meet up!”


She suggested the museum for coffee and after we met up and ordered, the conversation quickly turned to travel. “What brought you to Sydney? Where were you coming from? Where are you going next?”

Alex, like myself, has a love of adventure and wanderlust. Her stories sound like so many of mine: adventures and misadventures happening in foreign lands with new connections made and insights gained.

At 23, Alex has an enviable travel history. Born in Romania, she moved to Toronto at age 16 and has since lived in Singapore, London, and India with trips throughout Europe, southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia.  

While attending her final year of University in Canada, Alex received an email about opportunity to work for a startup in India. She applied and was offered a yearlong contract but after relocating her life to India she realized the opportunity wasn’t a good fit. She decided to be true to herself, she needed to get out of her contract early and look for new opportunities. The result was a consulting opportunity in London starting in April 2014. That meant she had a few months to fill, which, like any serious traveler, she filled with adventures to visit friends in both New Zealand and Australia.

Alex has a great sense of adventure, a bubbly personality and a warmth and openness to meeting new people. As a result, she has a network of friends around the world. The day after we met she was taking off to San Francisco to meet up with even more friends. I could resonate with her experience. What I intended to be a solo adventure in Sydney had turned into a week spent with really fantastic friends.

The first was Angela Shetler, Cup 24 from my first round of Cups, which was especially meaningful as we had never met in person. At the time of our conversation she was teaching English in Japan and our conversation took place over Skype. She offered to show me round Sydney and was a delightful tour guide.

The second was my friend, Jenay, whom I’d met in San Francisco a year earlier. She was the roommate of my best friend in San Francisco until a job opportunity moved her and her boyfriend to Sydney a month before my trip. While we weren’t close friends before the trip, she was insisted that I crash on her couch while I visited and was a fantastic host that made me feel like I was at home with old friends.

There was almost a fourth friend encounter—while I was at the airport leaving Sydney I discovered a friend I’d met in Austin, Texas was in the same area I’d been in just hours before. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.  

The more I travel and make connections the more frequent these serendipitous encounters happens and it’s one of the reasons I love meeting new people.

Within every new connection exists a seed of opportunity.

Cup 7 illustrates how small and unexpected the world becomes when we are willing to reach out and connect with others without knowing where those connections will lead.

The conversation you strike up with the person next to you on an airplane may last 45 minutes and disappear from your memory but it could also lead to exchanging emails and starting a cherished friendship (believe me, I know from experience).

I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d meet someone in Canada and cross paths with them two years later halfway around the world. But that’s what happens you develop a routine habit of connecting with interesting people, staying in touch and reaching out when you have a chance.

It’s a recipe for creating wonderful memories.

And I’m so grateful Alex reached out and reminded me of that.


Cup 6 | Jessica Hische

"I don’t believe in soul mates,"

proclaimed Jessica Hische, the highly sought-after (and happily married) letterer and illustrator, as we sit in her favorite San Francisco cafe, Ritual Coffee.


She’s wearing neon leggings covered in cat faces floating in the cosmos (it’s Pilates day and cats make it more fun) as we chat with the enthusiasm and flow of old friends. Jessica is wildly talented, personable, and fun. She’s also unapologetically herself, which is just the reason I reached out to her for coffee.  

Our conversation jumped from stories about elementary school friendships, the twists and turns of her artistic career and, of course, soul mates—a topic that offered both a glimpse into her unapologetic confidence I so admired, and a lesson in decision-making.

If you don’t recognize Jessica’s name, you’ll likely recognize her work. She chased her childhood dream to “spend all day drawing” and became an award-winning letterer and illustrator. After graduating from Tyler School of Art at Temple University, she began working as a freelance designer before landing a job with her design hero, Louise Fili. After two years of hard work, she decided to fully branch out on her own and has since gone to work with clients including Starbucks, Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., American Express, Target, Nike and more.

A sample of Jessica’s work. 

Her talent and infectious personality online have made her an inspiration for many young designers and an international speaker (check out this great talk on her favorite topic, procrastiworking). Wherever you find her, you’re sure to witness her quirky, unfiltered, authentic self, which is refreshing to find in a world where people often are swept up in living up to someone else’s expectations.

"You seem fearless,"

I asked her (perhaps hoping a bit of her magic will rub off on me).

"I don’t think I’m fearless, I’m just really good at looking at a situation and being honest about what my motivations are."

Jessica is confident because she understands (and trusts) her decision making process. She is intentional in her actions—what she says on Twitter, who she works with, etc—and understands why she is doing what she is doing. She seems fearless because she doesn’t stress over how people will react because she has solid reasoning to back up her actions.

At an early age Jessica developed a desire to be independent: to be able to stand up for herself and be financially independent.

"In learning to survive high school, I saw that the people that fared the best were the people that were unapologetic about what they were doing. If you were very frank about all the decisions you were making, it made it easy to navigate situations".

That decision making has long been a strength of Jessica’s:

"When I was young, I was incredibly shy, but I’ve always been very decisive. Take me shopping and I’ll get everything I need in one trip and I won’t regret a single decision. I just know what I like and what I don’t like. When I was young I may have been too shy to articulate that well but I still knew what I wanted."

Which brings us to soul mates.

Jessica’s “fearlessness” is actually a strong trust in her decision making skills. She doesn’t exert much time or anxiety agonizing over the perfect choice:

"I don’t believe in the best version of anything. I believe there are a group of things that are the best thing, or work, and you chose one and you move on. And if you don’t just make a decision and move on you’ll never do anything. You’ll end up single forever."

She was referencing marriage but the theory has broad application: from toothpaste to career choices. You look at the best set of options and then trust your gut.  

Make a decision and make it work.

That’s Jessica’s mentality. 

It was great to hear Jessica’s insights because I frequently fall victim to the opposite mentality: there is only one choice that will make you happy, the rest will leave you endlessly miserable—so don’t screw up. I know this is false thinking. I also know I’m not the only person that gets caught up in this thinking. 

Jessica was sympathetic to my plight. She called it the soul mate mindest—looking for “the one” whether that be the perfect job, apartment, mate, little black dress, etc.

“I think 90% of people are in the mentality of soul mates. It’s the fairytale mentality that we grew up with.”

But life isn’t a fairytale.

"You have to look at the options and the time that you have and make the best decision, knowing you can make a different decision later."

You can’t wait around for perfect because it doesn’t exist. And if you’re waiting (anxiously) for everything to be perfect, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great things that add up to something really special.

Perhaps it was the affects of the warm San Francisco sun on a beautiful afternoon but as we parted ways after our conversation, I felt like I’d succeeded: a bit of Jessica’s magic had rubbed of on me.

She reminded me that there is more than one route that leads to a satisfied and successful life, which means theres no point in anxiously waiting for perfect. Instead, you’ve got to jump right in and trust that whatever happens, you’re capable of making it work.

You can believe in soul mates and think you get one shot at a happy life—or, you can believe in yourself and trust you’ll make the most of whatever comes your way.

The latter appears to be working wonders for Jessica.


Cup 5 | Elle Luna

Roll up your sleeves and start working.

Elle Luna found what so many young professionals are looking for: her dream job.

She was was well-regarded designer in San Francisco with a resume that included Silicon Valley stars: IDEO, Mailbox, Uber and Medium.

Then she quit.

To paint.


She traded a solid career path for the uncertainty of following the little voice in her head that kept pulling, nudging, and encouraging her to follow her heart. Elle found the studio space of her dreams, painted nonstop for four months, took a transformational trip to Bali and had her first-ever gallery showing, which was a huge success. A year after taking her leap she is flourishing in unexpected ways with continued opportunities for gallery shows, speaking engagements and progress toward new creative business endeavors.  

Elle makes it look so easy but the truth is that her journey, like all good journeys, has been filled with uncertainty and unknowns.  

Elle is in her early thirties with a soft smile that radiates warmth and openness – soft-spoken but in an enlivened and purposeful way. We met in her inspired San Francisco studio, sun streaming through the windows atop of her high walls illuminating her two fresh, triangle-inspired paintings against the wall and a whimsical rope swing in the center of the room. Snuggled in her her cozy seating area, her dog Tilly snuggled in her lap, we chatted about the fear and magic of chasing crazy dreams.

Elle’s act of leaving the comforts of conventional livingh to embrace the unknown is enviable. It was also the basis for a talk Elle gave outlining her recipe for taking big leaps. The title was Find Your Must and the premise is that everyone is born with a unique gift that only they can give. The trick is to discover what that gift is and then give it away mercifully.

It’s worth a watch, but here’s the recipe in a nutshell:


  1. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: Start trusting your intuition and crazy ideas in the back of your mind.  
  2. THE LEAP INTO THE UNKNOWN: Take action toward your idea!

  3. THE POINT OF NO RETURN: The scary and vulnerable stage where you question everything—keeping moving forward!

  4. THE GREAT REWARD: The space where you have found your gift and are able to give it away mercifully, which is the greatest feeling in the world.

The talk hit home with people because deep down, we all feel that burning desire to uncover our purpose—to be alive and connected to something that matters.

So if the recipe is simple and proven, why aren’t more people giving their gift?

It’s not a lack of knowledge.

It’s a lack of guts.

The great leap is scary. This is why Elle receives countless messages from people relaying the same thing: Yes! I want to find my must, how do I do it?  

Elle’s response is simple: you already have all the answers. Go do it.

"You don’t need any more handholding and you don’t need any more inspiration. I’ll talk for myself. For, it felt like months, I was reading books and looking online and researching places and thinking about paints and I got to a point where it was like, Girl, you’ve had enough inspiration. It is time to actually just roll up your sleeves and do the work. Like actually start cutting or chopping or laying out color or mixing or just drawing, who knows but just start doing something, anything, and the next step in all of this thing whatever it is that has started from that talk is just to do something and do something today."


It’s going to be scary and there’s no way around it—there is no magical antidote to eliminate the fear.

We search for answers, search for answers, search for answers. But after you’ve done enough searching, the answer is action.

“You’ve got to start saying ‘No’. You do have to be selfish, you do have to kind of put up some walls and protect your space and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to go on a little inward journey right now and I’m going to make time everyday or every week, every weekend that’s sacred’ and it’s just about investing in this thing.”

And with time your investment begins to grow until your small leaps of courage turn into big leaps that lead you closer and closer to your must: the gift you were meant to give to the world, the gift that brings you fulfillment and happiness.


It’s not easy to find because it’s not supposed to be—your gift is your most valuable possession. But if Elle’s glowing contentment is any indication, finding it is certainly worth embracing the uncertainty and adventure.

This week, Elle launched The Bulan Project, which creates limited edition livable art that is beautiful, thoughtful, and above all else, functional. For the first issue, Elle worked with artisanal group in Bali that felt like family and worked with ethics, intention, and impeccable craft to create a beautiful textile inspired by the moon’s cycles of change and transformation. Find out more about these limited edition pieces at Bulan Project

Illustrations are from Elle’s ‘Find Your Must’ talk. Check it out!