Blog written by J.J. Pinter | Team RWB Executive Director

My life, both personal and through my work at Team RWB (though they are intertwined) is busy – I suspect that’s the case with most others, as well.  Daily, I find myself focused on spreadsheets, budgets, 401K’s, social media, and the like.  Somehow, I spend most of my time working on scalable solutions to help large numbers of people create genuine relationships, and thus enrich their lives in the future – ironically, I haven’t been appreciating the relationships that I have in my life RIGHT NOW.

Recently, several unrelated things happened in my life that caused an important moment of reflection – one I thought worth sharing.  

First, I took some time to finish 2 fantastic books that have been on my reading list for quite some time:      

My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) is the journal of American naturalist and author John Muir who spent the summer of 1869 walking California’s Sierra Nevada range as a shepherd.

Zorba the Greek (1946) is a novel by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis. It is the tale of a young Greek intellectual who tries to escape his life as an academic with the aid of the eccentric Alexis Zorba as they start/fail both a mining and a timber business.

While at face value, these books might appear seemingly unrelated – in literal content that assertion holds true.  However, thematically, they could not align more perfectly.  

Permeating throughout both books is how the protagonist is completely awestruck at the utter beauty and complexity of the world is it happens around them – for both of them, this is somewhat of a new revelation, as both had been so concerned with the future and the theoretical that they had previously not taken the time to slow down and notice.  

  • For Muir, it was experiencing the grandeur of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (what is now known as Yosemite) and being overcome by it’s complexity and interconnectedness.  
  • In the latter, it was the narrator, watching Zorba truly experience life in the physical present, and not worried about academic abstraction.  

The above realization, came at a perfect time in my life, as I had been unwittingly undergoing a perspective change of my own.  

Second, my family’s primary mode of transportation is a fully electric car – if you’ve never driven one, you should try – it will completely change your perspective.  The point here is not about conservation, but rather the experience of driving.  With an electric car, there are so many factors that affect battery life (how far you can drive), that you must be much more in tune with the world around you – things like:

  • The change in altitude between where you are, and where you’re going
  • The outside temperature and how it is changing
  • How many passengers are traveling with you
  • How many times you need to start/stop and the number of hills
  • The speed at which you drive

Charging

Because these things matter and have a direct impact on range, I’ve found myself much more in tune with the world around me, things like weather and hills – not because I wanted to or made a conscious choice to slow down and be present, but rather because I needed to as part of my daily transportation.  

As it was gradual, I didn’t fully notice it, though, until I finished those books.  As an avid reader, I’ve read many similar works – I believe that in the past I would have enjoyed both, but taken them at face value: a book about being a shepherd, and a book about escape.

For some reason, however, this time the immediate connection to the power of being present and appreciating the things, and specifically the relationships around you RIGHT NOW, stood out – I’m confident I would not have drawn this conclusion in years past.  

It’s led me to be first reflective, and then appreciative of the people that are in my life right now – the genuine relationships that I have, and how important they are.  (consequently, there is tons of research backing this up).

As Team RWB is such a big part of my life, I think it’s worthy to consider it through that lens as well.  While I have grand aspirations for what this organization can become, and how many lives it can change – I sometimes lose sight of the fantastic people that are around me each day, all because of Team RWB.  I imagine this happens to our fantastic Eagle Leaders, as well.  

In closing, while the tactical work (events, attendance, budgets, and planning) are critically important – don’t lose sight of the fact the you’ve already surrounded by great americans, and those relationships matter and make your life more rich.  Take a moment to fully experience those, and I think it will be thoroughly enriching.

Editor’s Note: Abbie Wentzel joined Team RWB in 2014 and eventually stepped up to lead our Chapter in Lexington, VA. In 2016, Abbie and her husband Patrick (also an Eagle) moved to Colorado Springs where they have found a new home, new chapter of life, and new Team RWB Chapter. This blog comes from Abbie’s experience at our Northwest Region Storytelling Camp. These Eagle Leaders experiences, numbered over 25 nationally in 2017, and are a critical component of the Eagle Leader Journey. To learn more, reach out to your Chapter leadership or visit https://www.teamrwb.org/our-approach/leadership-development-program.

Blog written by: Abbie Wentzel

My coworkers thought I was nuts for quitting my job. “For storytelling camp?” They asked incredulously…

In the months leading up to camp, my life had been a series of disappointments. I told myself that storytelling camp was going to be a great opportunity for me to get back on track. At the same time, however, I wasn’t convinced that I actually belonged at camp. What if I took a spot from someone  who really needed it—who needed it more than I did? I’m fortunate to have a great support system around me. When I was accepted, I started thinking it was a sign. I knew I had to do whatever I could to get there.

On day 1, I walked into the great room at the end of our dormitory building for our first session. I looked for a spot to sit where I could see everyone else in the room. I was mortified. Who I should sit with? Who should I talk to? Who should I be? On that first night, we were asked to write ourselves a permission slip. We were supposed to write something on it that we were giving ourselves permission to do during camp. I remember writing something on mine and thinking that I needed to erase it. There was no way I could actually give myself permission to do that. I know myself, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.  I should have known from that moment what the real reason was for me attending that camp.

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On day 2, we dove head first into the actual writing of our stories. During one of the exercises we were asked to write one true thing about us, a sentence we could use to start our stories. I wrote one line of my story. That was the easy part. Then we were supposed to be able to describe the rest of our story to a small group. The instructor gave us some examples we could model. And that’s when the panic struck. I sat there, unable to move. My pen stayed glued to the page, unable to form even a single letter. Then my emotions overtook me. Tears began silently streaming down my face. I struggled to catch my breath. I knew I had to get out of there. Without saying a word, I jumped out of my seat and found the nearest exit. Then I found a rain-soaked damp tree stub just off a path leading to the dormitory. I was so mad at myself. I had quit my job to come to this place and I couldn’t even write a few sentences of my story. Maybe my co-workers were right. As I sat there on that stump, alone, and afraid of what I had done. My body started shaking. I couldn’t help it. Suddenly I felt outside my body. I could see myself from above, sitting on the stump, surrounded by nature and the damp wet forest. The colors of the forest were so vibrant it was almost as though I was in a fairy tale. I could smell the wet moss on the log and felt the warmth of each ray of sunshine giving life to the nature around me. I sat there for I don’t know how long and simply listened to the stillness of the world. That’s when I started seeing things through my own eyes. Then my breath returned. I gathered myself together and went back inside.

On day 3, I woke up early to run a few miles around the island with a couple other Eagles. Most everyone else was too exhausted, either physically or emotionally, to run a few miles before sunup. I was exhausted too, but I knew I needed the run. When I run, especially on trails, all the other stuff in life falls away as I focus completely on where my next steps will be. After the run, I quickly showered and got downstairs to the great room. An Eagle was already up in the front of the room telling his story to the rest of the group. I still had no idea what I was going to talk about. I had a notebook full of scribbled notes from thoughts about the weekend, but nothing concrete.

When it was my turn to speak, I slowly walked to the front of the room and began telling a story but not the one I came to camp to tell. “I quit my job to be here today,” I said, feeling the gazes of those circled around me. I talked about how terrified I was to be there and that I couldn’t tell the story I originally came to tell. I spoke of a particular moment earlier in the year that had showed me how powerful the members of Team RWB could be. It was an important point, but not the point I really needed to tell.

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It took me months to process what I experienced at storytelling camp. Truth be told, I am still processing moments and situations that happened during that weekend. Yet one realization spurred by that weekend keeps coming back to me: I always put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. On day 1, I had written on my permission slip: “Stop comparing yourself to others and just be yourself.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to be perfect in every way. And I constantly compared myself to my peers who were so much stronger, smarter, and more inspirational than I was. I strived for perfection so much that I wouldn’t even speak to people who I thought were better than me because I thought I would be wasting their time. I tried to be whatever the people around me needed me to be.

The reason I needed to come to storytelling camp was to not to write a story about my past, but to write a story about my future. I had to come to storytelling camp to wake myself up from horror film I created for myself, where I was killed over and over again by my own expectations. I realized I shouldn’t strive for perfection. Instead, I should strive for authenticity. When we are authentic to ourselves, we start embracing our story and everything in it. When we can be authentic to ourselves, we can start being genuine to others. Only then can we find our true passions and reach for the stars.

Blog written by: Nicholle Gousie

I left Fort Bragg in the summer of 2006 and transitioned from the Army’s Active to Reserve Component. Until that time, running was something I was forced to do and not something that I enjoyed. When I left the Army however, I felt something missing from my day-to-day life. The Army was my family and now it was distant.

In 2007, my Army buddy, Cheryl, who also recently left the Army, convinced me to join her for the Army Ten Miler race. It was an easy decision to meet-up and reconnect, and I knew I wouldn’t be running the ten miles alone.

 

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This would be the first time I ran by choice; and it started what became an annual habit. Why? Here’s a snapshot of how I experienced the Army Ten Miler weekend.

The Expo – Reconnecting. All of I sudden I saw people whom I hadn’t seen in years…my boss from Egypt, my classmate from college, my colleague from Bragg, or my battle buddy from Captain’s Career Course. It was no longer just a race, it was now a reunion.

The Start – Corral Time. There’s an energy that happens as you line up in the corral, a nervousness that often results in dancing (at least I’m dancing), and an eagerness for that cannon start. You begin and you find you are not alone. You are with a crowd of people, you are pushing yourself, you are breathing, you are laughing, you are pointing at that funny outfit, you are running, you are smiling.

The Course – Ten Miles. One mile in, you are headed towards Lincoln. People are cheering at all sections of the bridge, the corner, the grass and they have signs, really funny signs, whistles, cowbells, or just annoying horns. You continue, make more turns, pass the Watergate Hotel, the Kennedy Center, and are now headed towards the Washington Monument. You’ve already hit four miles (or 2x Army PT Tests for those counting) and it doesn’t matter because now you are hitting the crowd on Independence, not once but twice! There’s a band, there’s cheerleaders, there’s runner high-fives and it’s time for the bridge – the forever bridge but you see a sign, eight miles (4x PT Tests) and you know you are almost there.

The Finish – Pentagon Coin. Larger crowds now encompass you from both sides and you dig deep for that final push to the finish line. More high fives, fist bumps, big breaths, water, and then the most glorious reward – the finisher coin. Mission complete.

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I have never run the Army Ten Miler alone. Every year I have been surrounded by friends that either convinced me to start or I dragged them along. It was never for us to do a race but rather have an experience together. Community. Camaraderie.

This year marked the first year I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I knew that my training wasn’t strong and I was fighting an injury. Luckily, I had four amazing friends and fellow Eagles take up the charge to be at my side. They never left me behind and we completed those ten miles together. No, we experienced the Army Ten Miler together.

So I will be there next year, and the year after, and the year after that. To date, I’ve completed eleven Army Ten Milers and I Will Never Quit.

Blog written by: Alex Chong

Before joining Team RWB Annapolis, I was at a low point in my life. I was depressed. I had nobody to turn to. I had no direction and no one to tell me where to go or how to get there. I was lost. Somewhere along the way, I made a decision to change my life. It was like someone flipped a switch. I was so tired of losing and failing at life. I knew I had to change, but I just didn’t know how. So, I went to the Vet Center for some help with the goal of converting some negatives into positives.

That was the beginning of a new journey. While at the Vet Center, I ran into Tyler Scharar, who introduced me to Team Red, White & Blue. After some thought and a little research, I joined the team…and that has easily been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Team RWB has been instrumental in turning my life around. Because the Chapter provides so many different opportunities to get active and connect with others, Team RWB has become the main vehicle that drives my growth as a person.

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Stand-up paddle boarding is one such opportunity. I was afraid of the deep water because I cannot swim. Despite my fears, I signed up and showed up to the event. As a result, I am mentally stronger and ready to overcome any obstacles that come my way. Another opportunity that I took advantage of when I signed up were the social events. My social skills aren’t the best, but with time and the support of my Team, they are steadily improving.

During this time, I was studying many successful people such as Admiral McRaven, Tony Robbins, and Jacko Willink. I read about their failures and what they did to overcome them. Turns out, failure isn’t such a bad thing. The most important aspect is to apply the lessons from your own failures; and that is exactly what I did. After that, I start setting goals. My goals are to impact people around me in a positive manner. I am out to define myself and to take it to the next level for the better.

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To this day, I wake up with many challenges. I stopped complaining about how bad life is and stopped making excuses, because frankly, nobody cares about that stuff except yourself. I challenge myself almost every day. Make no mistake about it, this is not a one-person show, and by no means is it easy. I had a lot of help along the way. My philosophy is to grow as a human being, and Team RWB helps me do just that.

Thank you Team RWB Annapolis! You are truly great people and I greatly appreciate all your support and help.

Blog written by: Caitlin Pollard

I first learned about the Eagle Leader Fellowship while attending the 2016 Northeast Yoga Camp. Attending the camp changed my life in a period of just two days; it made me want to delve deeper into what type of leader I was and become the leader I knew I could be. I was in a rut prior to the camp, constantly upset and frustrated, but not doing anything to change the situation. Attending camp was a turning point for me–while I had been a member of Team RWB for over two years at that point, and on the leadership team for the Oswego, NY chapter for almost a year, I hadn’t been as involved as I could be or wanted to be. I kept myself at the edge of fully committing to the team, unsure if I was willing to be vulnerable, put myself out there, and show my authentic self. One weekend with other Eagle Leaders and I found myself all in! I was voluntarily opening up in our discussions and wanted more of that experience. I felt at home with the team and realized that I was holding back with my chapter and outside of Team RWB. I knew that the fellowship was one way to develop myself as a better leader and to continue working on being more open and authentic. I also didn’t think I had any chance at being selected. As I submitted the application, I was already preparing myself for the disappointment of rejection. I had created a backup plan for when I wasn’t selected; I was so sure that I would have to pursue leadership opportunities on my own that I began creating a plan for my own ‘mini-fellowship’.

When I received the email from Joe Quinn saying I was chosen, I was floored. I didn’t feel I deserved to be selected. I’m a civilian and I had only just started the Eagle Leader journey. I was experiencing major imposter syndrome. But I was honored that I was selected and determined to prove that I was the right choice, both to Team RWB and to myself. I knew that if I wanted to do the things I said I wanted to do in my application, I needed to work on myself. A lot. So I decided to use this fellowship to do just that. I’ve spent 2017 working on improving myself and building my confidence as a leader both through the fellowship and on my own. I’ve done this through yoga teacher training, a non-fiction writing class through Stanford, the Brene Brown Daring Leadership course, a class on character strengths through VIA, and more. I’ve pushed myself well outside of my comfort zone and I look forward to finishing out the year with Peer Support Training, Midwest Storytelling Camp, and Mike Erwin’s Character and Leadership Center seminar. Each training, camp, and class I’ve chosen to do had a specific reason behind it; I didn’t want to sign up for something that wouldn’t have a direct purpose to me. I didn’t want to waste the funds or go into something half-hearted. I wanted to make sure that I was giving it my all in every single component of my fellowship.

As I started planning out my year as an ELF, I was sure the yoga teacher training would be the highlight of my fellowship. I would be certified in yoga and come full circle from that camp experience. While the training was certainly a highlight, it wasn’t just because I received my certification to teach. It was because of much, much more than just the physical yoga practice. I did my training through an intensive program with Grace and Glory Yoga in Northfield, NJ and found that the physical practice was just a start. While the training is in Baptiste Power Yoga, owner Allie Nunzi focuses on leadership and the whole self throughout the program. It’s not just about the yoga! There were videos from Brene Brown and exercises meant to help us work on the ‘tough shit’ – the things that hold us back in life. It felt like I was back at an RWB camp and I felt right at home. I committed myself fully to the experience and realized that I was holding myself back quite a bit; to move into the person I needed to become I needed to own my experiences and the role I played in them. The Yoga Teacher Leader Development Program was easily the toughest experience I’ve had, both physically and mentally, but I was so proud of myself and my new family when we finished that first intensive week. One of my classmates said at the end that she was surprised how quickly everyone had bonded, and that she didn’t think she’d feel this close to people she had known for such a short time. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have these experiences over and over again with Team RWB.

Another highlight of my fellowship was helping plan and execute our Eagle Leader Academies. In both academies I was given a chance to step up and do something that pushed me. In Lake George, I led an optional, early-morning hike. For something I was so familiar doing, I was incredibly nervous. I wasn’t sure if anyone would wake up early after such a full previous day. To my surprise, every single attendee came on the hike, including one leader who had never hiked before. Seeing him push himself showed me the impact that we as leaders can have on others. At our Philadelphia academy I was given the opportunity to share my story. I’ve always been comfortable presenting, but I’ve never had to present about myself! I expected to be terrified, but found instead that I was confident. I never would have expected to feel that way; if I had had to share this time last year, I likely would have walked out. Being an ELF has pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but also has given me the tools to succeed and the support to know that if I did fail, it would be okay.IMG_20170520_073158

What I’ve loved most about this fellowship is the flexibility; you get out of it what you put into it, but you also can choose your own path throughout. We had guidance from our regional directors and program managers, but really it was about what we wanted to do in the end. Some of the things that I’ve seen the others in my cohort do have been absolutely amazing, and so different than my path. I found myself committing to a lot with the fellowship, both in educational opportunities and with helping with regional projects, like data management and planning regional leadership experiences, but I was able to work it around commitments in my personal and professional life. I work for a college and travel a good amount during the academic year, so for me it meant doing a lot for my fellowship over the summer. At one point in July I found myself on an overseas work trip while in two online classes, starting my yoga teacher training program, and helping prep for our Philadelphia Eagle Leader Academy. It was definitely hectic, but I thrive under pressure and found that I’ve been able to accomplish everything I had hoped for this year and more, thanks to the support of the other fellows and RWB staff.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the classes, trainings, and ELAs is to lean into the uncertainty of trying new things. Sign up for yoga training in a different state, reach out to a chapter when traveling and see if you can join them, agree to a Trail Ragnar 36 hours before it starts (ok, that one may not have been my brightest idea). If it’s going to make you happy, stop doubting and overthinking and just do it! I’ve always been more cautious and an over planner, but I’m learning to give things a try and not let the story in my mind of how things should or might go get in the way of truly experiencing life.

As I head into the final few months of my fellowship, I’m sad that the year is coming to an end, but excited to start bringing some more of what I learned back to my chapter and continue to support my region. I encourage everyone to apply for next year’s Fellow class — the education and travel are amazing, but beyond the funds you’ll get a unique experience to see how much goes into keeping the organization moving forward. For those of you who are chosen for the 004 Class: Take advantage of it. Explore all the different opportunities and do what you need to do to get the most out of this program. There will be challenging days, but you won’t get this experience again.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a 003 ELF. The fellowship has completely changed my life path and I can’t wait to continue my personal development beyond this year.