Entries in Shaheen Wirk (3)


To What Do You Aspire?

"To what do you aspire?"

This is a fundamental question I ask my interviewees and it seems apropos to be the first question I ask you.

To what. Do you. Aspire?

It's a big question. It's no softball, to lead things off and get you warmed up. And in that answer is not the answer but rather an establishing point that can unlock wave after wave of follow-up questions to understand how past, present and future come together and form, well, your wonderful story. 

The larger context is about story and that aspiration question really kickstarts the conversation. 

To what do you aspire?

It's not about trying to best the other answers. If it were, then I never would have chosen to interview up-and-coming professionals or to ask you. Instead, I would have gone "Full Charlie" (Charlie Rose style) and asked world leaders, industry titans, and celebrities about their aspirations. 

And they would have reflected back or told me about future plans that, frankly, any normal person like you or me would have a difficult time embracing or even understanding. Hello, Mr. Bill Gates. Hello, Mr. Warren Buffett. 

But a Capture Your Flag story is a story that is a bit more approachable because we have so much in common with it. Let's take Shaheen Wirk as an example. As we have seen in our videos since 2009, Shaheen is working his way to find meaning in life and focus in career while managing all the moving pieces life presents - from deepening personal relationships to pursuing cultural enrichment to developing professionally to making a greater difference in the community. Shaheen's story is the Capture Your Flag story. As is the Matt Curtis story. The Clara Soh story. The Slava Rubin story. The Audrey Parker French story. 

It is your story. 

To what do you aspire?

Do you aspire to be a loving parent? Is your answer tied to securing resources - financial, intellectual, relational - that allow you to be happier, safer, smarter? To be more powerful? To be more respected? To be more loved? To be more charitable?

Perhaps you see eye to eye with Ross Floate and aspire to be a good person. Or else you share common ground with Garren Katz or Ramsey Pryor and aspire to live up to your potential. It may be that you identify most with serving others, such as Jullien Gordon or else you find yourself setting an aspiration to find that purpose a la Gabrielle Lamourelle that will allow you to make the greatest difference. Like Professor Ben Hallen, you may aspire to create an impact as a teacher or, like Idan Cohen aspire to leave a legacy for future generations. Your aspiration may match that of Julie Hession where you aspire to find a career where you use your passion every day.

There are so many possibilities! 

Since starting Capture Your Flag in 2009, I've had the pleasure of a lifetime to be able to sit down with these interviewees each year and talk to them about how the decisions they are making and the experiences they are having shape how they plan, pursue, and achieve life and career aspirations. 

In that time, through research, experimentation and testing, I have honed my approach to take the answers to the aspiration question and build it into a sharable methodology or model that you can use to “capture your flag” in your life and career.

To what do I aspire? 

I aspire to help you live a richer and more rewarding life, not by providing advice from celebrities and experts, but rather sharing real stories from real people living their lives as best as they can. In this blog, I'll ask you questions and provide you with a very detailed set of comparable experiences via our videos.

This instructional model (which we’ve termed Near Peer Learning) presents you with stories from people very similar to you, going through many of the same challenges as you, and brings you their evolving story year after year, so you have a virtual mentor resource rich with examples to support you on your journey.

This week you are going to see many people. Your children. Your spouse. Your parents. Your friends. A neighbor. A colleague. Your spiritual leader. Ask them the question: "To What Do You Aspire?" and start a conversation around what it means to “capture your flag.”  

- Erik


"On Formulating Viewpoint Over Time" by Erik Michielsen

Over my first year conducting Capture Your Flag interviews, my experience learning why interviewees believe what they do has proven to be immeasurably illuminating.  Central to my curiosity rests this question: If views inform intent, what informs views?  It is a joy engaging each interviewee to understand the variety of ways factors shape views over time.

To date, I have found three elements, knowledge, experience, and wisdom, central to understanding how interviewee views, and the resulting intent and actions, develop. 


The first, knowledge, is less about building academic subject competency and more about the unsuspecting ways the classroom environment may unleash passion onto the career experience.  For some interviewees, formative education experiences underlie why interviewees choose a certain path of profession.  Based on interviews to date, "Knowledge" goes beyond choosing a major and, in the case of formulating viewpoint, is often tied to an unexpected moment that broadens options while sharpening direction.

This unexpected moment strikes Scott Gold during college non-fiction classes.  Gold finds non-fiction an appealing writing an appealing medium, in particular the process building characters, dialogue, structure, and story around a framework not present in fiction writing.  The realization propels the Washington University philosophy major to build his world around non-fiction writing and launch his food-inspired publishing career. 

New York Post reporter Yoav Gonen relishes the unfamiliar and foreign as a traveler and the same can be said in his career.  After journalism school at New York University, Gonen finds himself reporting for the Staten Island Advance daily newspaper doing investigative journalism across education and community.  New York City provides Gonen access to a wide array of experiences, and through them he learns to embrace the freedom, license, and responsibility the journalist role provides in connecting him to previously unapproachable city elements, including Staten Island public housing residents. 



The second, experience, is more about life experience connecting to core passion and belief rather than "punching the clock" or "clocking hours" in the office or on the job.

Jason Anello's direction and passions are found in design details.  From food to advertising to Yahoo marketing, Anello starts everything understanding how and why details - shape, color, arrangement - create an experience.  Over time, Anello's ongoing desire to use details to build larger experiences builds a bridge not only into advertising and marketing, but into a larger social sciences context, specifically ways details inform behavior.  Repeated projects then allow Anello to better understand the human condition as it pertains to how individuals function and make decisions in social environments.

A Cambodia travel experience transcends initial goals to visit Angkor Wat and proceeds to transform how Shaheen Wirk approaches conversation.  Wirk, no stranger to being inquisitive in his medical school and financial services training and career, nonetheless learns to be more engaging in everyday discussions, providing once common interactions the opportunity to be unique, inspiring, and memorable. 



The third, wisdom, builds upon knowledge and experience into a mental or spiritual state that offers connections into higher level fulfillment areas, including legacy building and mapping purpose

A necessary ingredient here is time.  Formulating a viewpoint or perspective is a continuum and the contribution "Knowledge" and "Experience" make advances informs a broader commentary on life and why we live it.  At some point in the continuum, "Wisdom" forms.  Now, by definition, Capture Your Flag interviewees are up and coming, developing, cultivating, learning.

Filmmaker Tricia Regan kindly shared her own commentary on what she has learned to date and what, at its core, informs her actions and shapes her intent. 

"Formulating Viewpoint" is a common theme continually underlying Capture Your Flag guests development and aspiration.  We will be closely following how this develops both with new guests as well as with existing guests care of annual interviews.  Moreover I will continue to gather feedback and information to build upon the "Knowledge -> Experience -> Wisdom" approach highlighted above.  It is only the beginning and I look forward to enjoying the journey with you all. 

*** For a complete list of all "Formulating Viewpoint" chapters, click HERE ***

- Erik




"On Making Successful Career Transitions" by Erik Michielsen 

Each January, so many of us go into sprint planning mode to set our plan in place for what we want to accomplish in the coming year.  These New Year's resolutions often occupy our thoughts temporarily, only to be washed away and replaced by another thing to do.

Career change considerations rank high on New Year's resolution lists.  What are the best approaches to incrementally advance career transition and career change considerations and undertakings beyond the New Year's resolution window?  Transformative results, be they rebuilding natural disaster shaken societies or reshaping careers, take sustained efforts over time. 

Career change is not a January concern; rather, it is an ongoing concern.  Over the past year, several Capture Your Flag interviewees have touched upon change, specifically why they made career transitions and how this reshaped their future.  Some shifts were minor and some massive, but all mattered. 

How do career changes develop and what happens throughout the process considering and acting upon them?  In reviewing interviewee stories, I see three common themes through the processs.  They are as follows:

- Why Leave?

- What Comes Next?

- What is Possible?

There is a lot of fear trapped in these steps.  Fear of leaving behind the known, fear facing the unknown, and, most importantly, fear of failure.  But there is also a hope.  Loads of hope.  When we think through the steps making a transition and communicate them to others clearly and passionately, something magical happens.  We find unexpected support in surprising places and expected support in larger, unanticipated quantities.  With the intent and the support we find ourselves in the Capture Your Flag sweet spot.  Cultivate those passions.  Shape that purpose.  Guide those dreams.  That is why we do what we do.  Now, let's see how our interviewees are inspiring us across the three stages: 


After performing in bands and playing guitar for nearly a decade, stand-up comedian Matt Ruby decided to not only relocate from Chicago to New York, but also to put the guitar down and give stand-up comedy a try.  Four years into performing five nights a week on the New York City circuit, Ruby looks back on leaving a stagnant place in music - one that should be more fun or more lucrative - to take a crack at making others laugh. 


Whereas Ruby left music, Teach for America educator Andy Epstein found it.  After several successful years teaching, Epstein entered the music business from the bottom, literally, to get his foot in the door.  With a college rival from Michigan State presented Epstein a temp job answering phones and making copies at Island Def Jam Records, he lept into the abyss and took a chance.  It may look like a long road when making that leap, but with support, effort, and, most importantly, time, amazing things can happen.  Epstein's temp job was indeed temporary.  His several year progression up the Island Def Jam ranks was anything but. 


The Goldman Sachs trading floor provided Phil McKenzie an unmatched finance experience after attending business school at Duke University.  Learning how to successfully operate in chaotic, unpredictable, time-sensitive environments, McKenzie fortified skills that could never be taken away.  Over time, McKenzie concluded Wall Street finance was less a long-term career than a temporary stop on his journey. Shifting his focus to philanthrophy and non-profit with Parks Hall, McKenzie proceeded to opened doors to the next life chapter.  There, McKenzie applied his Goldman Sachs' skills and relationships to accelerate his efforts shaping the FREE media mission to celebrate socially conscious tastemaking audiences across arts and culture.


The pessimist says there is a long road ahead full of uncertainty.  The optimist says there is a long road ahead ripe with opportunity.  Either way, the change has occured and now it is time to test one's mettle and, simply put, go for it.  Setting aside the past to construct the future helps identify the unknowns, challenges that over time must be addressed.  Departing Digg to co-found SimpleGeo, Joe Stump left behind the comfort of a previous team leadership role to become a business owner and learn new ways to lead.

Career transitions all involve a point A and a point B, however the timeline getting from A to B varies.  For Joe Stump, leaving Digg and founding SimpleGeo was the product of months experimenting with side projects, gathering information and advice, and committing to the entrepreneur route.  New York Magazine editor and writer Mark Graham entered media and publishing in a similar way.  While working in digital media marketing within General Motors' OnStar group, Graham began his blog and cultivated his talent writing about popular culture.  Over time he attracted interest in media professionals, including Fred Graver, who engaged Graham in development conversations.  All the while, Graham continued honing his craft, shaping his voice, and building his audience.  Planning what comes next was difficult, given blogging was stil in its infancy.  Yet, Graham continued the conversations and, over time, shaped those exchanges into viable opportunities, ultimately opening doors for his transition to VH1

Similar to both Stump and Graham, entrepreneur and MyFootpath founder J.T. Allen shaped his vision of what comes next collecting experiences as an Ernst & Young management consultant.  Upon deciding to leave the firm, Allen exposed himself to newfound opportunities unavailable in his client services role.  In short, he could own and implement the decisions he was recommending and assume responsibility for making them happen.   

After years planting trees and working in forestry across Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, Patty Green was ready for a change.  Similar to how Andy Epstein left one profession for entry-level at another, Green's foray into winemaking began with the basics, specifically picking grapes at Hillcrest.  This did not last long, as Green began applying her operations and mechanical aptitude to incremental responsibilities in the winery, cumulating in her move to winemaker.  Reflecting on the initial transition, Green, proprietor of Patricia Green Cellars, showcases how identifying what comes next opens doors to possibility. 


Career transitions and career changes are not complete upon making the move to what comes next.  Rather, the reset redefines possibility, more often than not in ways not considered previously. 

As Shaheen Wirk puts it "You probably never realized you liked Thai food until someone took you to a Thai restaurant."  Wirk's own "Thai food" moment came upon being exposed to the intersection of medicine, technology, and finance as while studying medicine at Duke University.  Role models facilitated this learning experience and Wirk, realizing career paths were anything but linear in medicine, changed his course and applied his education toward making investments and financial decisions in biotechnology, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. 

Mike Germano has always known his career would be about building better communities.  As an elected official operating within Connecticut politics, Germano came to realize how risk profiles differ between public and private sector opportunities.  Germano decided to leave politics for an entrepreneurial career at Carrot Creative and risk financial failure in return for the much higher financial reward possibilities business provides. 

There are many approaches to transitioning and changing careers.  The constant across all - Why Leave?  What Comes Next?  What Is Possible? - is that it is a continuous process.  There is no standard finish line in career and there is no measure of success that is applicable to everyone.  You have a right to define your own goals and pursue them in ways most relevant to you.  Capture Your Flag aspires to continue sharing stories on how individuals shape their own sense of fulfillment, in this case through considering career change and transition.  Start now by writing down what you want in life and what questions remain unanswered.  Do not force yourself to answer everything in context of a New Year's Resolution.  Name your goals, put a commitment in place (day, milestone, etc) and begin your mission.  Think of it this way: There is no final draft paper to be submitted, only steadily improving drafts that get you excited about what comes next and what you need to do to get there.  Onward.  Upward. 

*** For a complete list of all "Career Transition" chapters, click HERE ***

- Erik