Lessons From the Tough Moments

I learned some unexpected lessons since I began the Experience Institute in August.

A few unexpected lessons:

1. Trying new things shifted my perspective on old routines
2. Changing to be what other people want does not always lead to the job/apprenticeship
3. Having a single place to stay is really important to me
4. Most people, friends and strangers, want to be kind
5. It’s scary to start new adventures, but so is doing the same thing forever.
6. There will always be advice and opinions—sometimes too many
7. Finding confidence in myself trumps evolving into someone better
8. A mistake is something I can laugh about later
9. Pick my teammates—and make sure they’re adding to my team.
10. Add to the world what I feel is missing

You can read about the secret benefits of an Experience Institute year here:

How will you survive Experience Institute?

How Will You Survive Experience Institute?

I can hear the concern when people ask me questions about Experience Institute. I understand why people worry how my year is going to turn out. They’re concerned about me being safe and finding a place to stay. They picture my path becoming derailed or people taking advantage of me. They cannot imagine surviving a year like mine. They’re imagining the following scenes:

I feel the apprenticeship is slipping away from me me. Instead of learning about storytelling, I’m dealing with an uncomfortable situation. My boss is demanding I deliver things that are outside of my current skillset, while ignoring my educated warnings about this path. Showing up everyday to this tension will not lead to long-term learning.

I’m sitting in an Airbnb room in a converted dermatologist’s office; the room is not what was advertised. I’m exhausted from moving, unsure what my next move is and afraid I will run out of options.

I’m lost in a big city. It’s raining and I can’t make my phone work because I got water in the case. I have no idea which direction to go, so I start walking – in the wrong direction.

The Greyhound bus doesn’t show up. Not prepared to stand outside for two hours, I’m starting to think a popsicle might warm me up because the temperature has dropped. I’m having problems with my contacts and can’t really see. I’m overcome by the resolve of movement and need for stable footing. I wonder if I’m going to survive the year.

These are the scenes from my year that likely won’t show up in my capstone Experience Institute video. I didn’t document them, and the lessons feel shallow and self-defeating. Sometimes you have to wait for the bus—perhaps this bus is never coming.

It’s in these struggles that I see the secret of Experience Institute’s success. This program is not just about creating connections or becoming better storytellers. I see great value in finding the ability to continue onward.

We all face roadblocks in our lives. Sometimes they make us pause and reevaluate what we’re doing. A lot of times we try to navigate around them or we turn around and look for a less obstructed way. Experience Institute forces you to go through them.

The school’s secret to success is instilling in its students a sense of quiet confidence. This confidence is not worn as an emblem on your chest or a degree hung on a wall. This confidence is felt, but not seen.

Look for the signs in Experience Institute students and alumni you meet. It’s the hint of a smile when people ask a student if they worry about what might happen next. It’s the mischievous shrug of the shoulder by alumni when someone asks if they are worried about where life is heading. It’s the pause for air, just before I dive into the depths of another battle.

If you’re worrying about someone’s dark moment this year, take a second to reconsider. I certainly am becoming better by building this confidence. This program is sharpening me, rather than shutting me down. If this bus doesn’t show up, I’ll find the next one.

My Own Worst Enemy

Let me address a problem I’m having with the DK Chronicle. It’s an intimate problem about the way I write and perfect my pieces. I keep editing all my empathy from my pieces. It’s a downside to this project. I don’t know if I’m afraid of being vulnerable or just expecting perfection.

The effect is indifference. When I’m detached, I don’t have a lot of investment in what I’m writing and I want to change that. I know you can’t tell, but I meant that last part, with immense feeling. I write to inspire emotion, not dazzle people with my technical keyboard maneuvers.

The catalyst for this current piece was a set of Facebook comments you may have seen on a previous piece. If you did, then you likely scrolled by and briefly contemplated if Derek Kessinger was, in fact, a racist narcissist.

In case you missed this delightful exchange, a Facebook friend attacked me for writing an article about Donald Trump. For those of you who only read cookbooks, Trump is a pretty divisive figure.

The strange part – we were on the same side. Both of us are afraid of Trump. My Angry Facebook Friend was livid because I used a metaphor about the American flag to make my point. That made me a neo-conservative trying to promote the oppression of all people.

I have had disagreements with My Angry Facebook Friend before, and tried to ignore the continued insults this time. If not for the accusations of my skinhead philosophy and the involvement of another friend who commented, the whole thing would have died down. It did not.

A year ago, this whole exchange would have bothered me because I hated when I felt like my writing betrayed me. It tore me up inside to be misrepresented and misunderstood.

Why was I able to take the blows with irreverence instead of hurt this time? Well last year, I had almost the exact same conversation about a different piece with My Angry Facebook Friend. My Angry Facebook Friend has a view of the world where opinions different from his or her viewpoint are invalid.

I think that’s silly. So I will admit that I wasn’t very serious about addressing this person’s tirades this time around. My end of the exchange featured a picture of Bugs Bunny, shamelessly plugging for other Chronicle pieces My Angry Facebook Friend could mock, and a great quote explaining what a metaphor was.

“We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyze the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it’s a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it.” ― Andrei Tarkovsky

My Angry Facebook Friend unfriended me at the end of this tussle in the social media jungle.

Here’s what really bugs me about this. I toned the piece down! The original Trump piece made me shake as I wrote it. It was filled with true emotion. Then, I took out a lot of the inflammatory information. I watered the piece down and edited out the controversy.

I wish I hadn’t.

If I want to be a writer when I grow up, I need to be willing to write my heart into my work. This piece isn’t half bad. Some people will hate it, and hopefully some people might feel emotion somewhere in it.

I just have to deal with my own worst enemy—the version of myself looking to sterilize this piece before it can contaminate someone else’s mind.

Margin for Aaron Podcast: Pilot

Margin of Aaron is a game show. It brings fictional personas of Aaron Davidson and Derek Kessinger to a gameshow without real logic. On this episode: The rules of three, the Supreme Court, popsicle stick jokes, the Swedish Chef in a drive-thru and more…

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You’ve Got To Be Kind

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” ―God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

I recently texted a friend about how her kindness added to the world.

She texted back, “I need to have a bigger impact than just being a kind person.”

I worry that people don’t understand the need for kindness in the world. Some people want to change the world in big ways, but we also need to see the value in changing the world one person at a time. Then that person can change the world for someone else. Kindness empowers others to change the world—it’s a gift.

Some days are accounted for when I wake up. I am committed to previous obligations. I give my time and energy to others. I go through the motions. These days are where I am the one in need of kindness.

These are the days where I need also to choose kindness.

Kindness serves two purposes in my life. It allows me to impact my personal interactions in the world. It also allows me to shrug off animosity and continue on in my day without bruising my mental state or someone else’s.

Aesop’s Fable

One day the wind and the sun were fighting over who was stronger. They agreed to have a contest. The sun looked down on the Earth and saw a traveler wearing a coat. The sun told the wind that the first one to cause the traveler to remove the coat would win. The sun went behind a cloud, allowing the wind to go first. The wind was confident in its strength and force. It began to blow with all of his might, but the harder the wind blew, the tighter the traveler held onto the coat. Finally, the wind gave up. That’s when the sun came out from behind its cloud. The sun shone down on the traveler and the light warmed the traveler. Finally, the traveler finally removed the coat.

In times of turmoil, people will call on me for a show of force and action. In those moments, I hope that I turn to them, smile like the sun, and show them the power of kindness.

A Wall Against Trump Supporters

There is a movement in America. It is a movement to bleach the colors out of our flag. The movement hopes to destroy the stitches of stars and stripes until it the flag no longer serves all of its people. This new, whitewashed flag would stand as a symbol of oppression. It would become a dark fixture added to the already tattered edges of our nation’s history. This, the flag of the Donald Trump movement, will only truly represent an ignorant few.

The American dream—while never perfect—is the ideal we must continue to move toward. We must not divide along any lines, but strengthen the bonds of Americans. We must recognize our differences and unite with the purpose of making the U.S. better for all. We must not let this dream die.

It is clear that Donald Trump will drive his supporters to elevate a climate of fear. He will incite riots to suppress opposition and win favor. Trump is not amassing a constituency, but a mob of haters ready to cut down others and pillage power.

This became all too clear on Friday. Trump made dismissive and pointedly racist comments toward protestors in a speech in St. Louis. Seeing an opportunity, Trump capitalized on it later that same day in Chicago. He concocted a story about law enforcement telling him not to debate for his own personal safety. The lie led to several clashes among Trump supporters, protestors and law enforcement. Trump came out on top, exactly as he had planned.

For months, many of us have dismissed the threat of a Donald Trump presidential campaign. It was a sideshow, a vanity tour, and a comic relief circus. This period of naïveté now, with Trump leading in the polls, even as he continues to inflame tension.

We can no longer afford to ignore the campaign of Mr. Trump. We must instead be willing to speak out with the fury we would if our own rights were taken away from us.  We have reached a tipping point where we can no longer stand by and hope the Trump problem will go away. We must stem this wave of hate running through the country with diligence, dedication and love.

When Donald Trump’s name is written in history books 100 years from now, let it be seen as a win for America. Let it be the moment where the American people, united together, linked arms and created a wall. It will be a wall to protect those he targets, a wall fortified against violence and division, a wall united against the forces of racism, bigotry, ignorance and hate.

We must stand to protect the advancement of the American dream. We must keep the colors in our flag.

Yes, You Can Win the Interview

After many years of sitting in on many auditions and interviews, I understand that most people do not know how to stand out in a crowd. It’s like they’re all wearing orange at a Denver Broncos game. On days where I’ve witnessed 20-30 people going in and out of a room, often only a handful stick in my mind at all.

Most of us don’t have the blessing of being odd looking or the curse of good looks. For the average person, we make a huge mistake by not picking something to make us stand out.

Some effective ways to stand out include: growing a really impressive beard, wearing an obnoxious flower in our lapel, or thinking we can pull off an orange suit.

Another way to try to be memorable is to work on your entrance or exit. Have you considered playing entrance music? What would happen if you blew kisses to the people interviewing you? Don’t walk out of a room, but instead sprint!

Okay, those things will probably not win you the interview.

What are other red flags? Do not insult the person interviewing you. Do not brag about going to jail. In an audition, do not accidentally break your scene partner’s nose, or get nervous and run out of the room crying.

I was just on an interview panel where we concluded by asking the person if she had any questions for us. She proceeded to make her way around the room and ask each of us a personal question based on our introductions. What a great way to show empathy and compassion!

Best Practices

Come up with a sales pitch that sticks. When people discuss you later, you want them to say, “He was the llama herder!”

The best interviews are the authentic ones. Do you want someone to hire you because you act like someone you’re not? Talk about a great way to make your boss fire you when you show up to your first day and he thinks you’re someone else. Play up your true strengths.

Remember, anyone who is interviewing you wants you to be great. Beat their expectations and make yourself memorable. A disastrous interview makes a good story, but a great interview could result in a job.

6 Questions For Better Article Writing

So you wrote your first draft of an article or a blog!

Now what?

In school I remember having to submit multiple versions of the same five paragraph essay. No one ever explained the point of writing a draft. I just knew that I could make terrible mistakes in the first draft and no one cared.

As I’ve advanced as a writer, I’ve started to love revising my pieces. First drafts are like the first coat of paint. You miss spots and don’t smooth out the edges. You should never stop at the first coat. You have to go over your work several times to make it presentable.

When I’m trying to shape a second draft, there are a few questions I ask:

1. What is this piece’s unique contribution?
You don’t want to create something that already exists. Make sure your piece has a unique angle. You can use your own personality, find interesting details or offer a new perspective on an old issue. The piece should do something no one has seen before.

2.To whom are you writing this?
If you write a piece for everyone, you’re writing a piece for no one. That’s why so many articles online have almost no personality. The writers don’t target an audience. Pick someone you would like the piece to reach: a friend, a family member, or a younger version of yourself. What previous knowledge does your audience have and what do you need to explain? How does your tone change depending on the person you are addressing?

3. If a reader was to get one thing out of this article, what would that be?
A common mistake in pieces is not staying true to a theme. We all read so much in a day that picking a single theme can often make the piece memorable. It’s not about you. You’re not writing for your own entertainment; you’re writing to engage your audience.

4. How well do your paragraphs support the theme?
When I write, I usually find that one paragraph in the article that is completely useless. Find that paragraph and cut it. You rarely need to go on a tangent unless it supports your voice in the story.

5. If you had to cut 10% of it, what would you cut?
Most people try to keep too much in a piece. Think of your piece like a suitcase. Do you really want your reader to carry that much bulk around? Cut everything that can be lost without changing the message. Don’t repeat yourself and don’t overcomplicate the language.

6. What are your favorite lines in the piece?
One of two things can be the result of your favorite lines. Ideally, they add emotional impact for you and your reader. However, they can also become close personal friends of yours that get in the way of your message in the article. My friend Lindsey talks about how her favorite lines always get cut out of her pieces. I keep a “graveyard” document of great lines I’ve had to cut out of my work.


A Quest to Save the Bleak Internet

The internet is a damp cave. The landscape sprawls as if someone took a suburban strip mall of box stores, and put it in the middle of a Reno casino. People hide throughout the space and jump out to scare you by reciting a bunch of ads. Somewhere, circus music plays, lulling you into submission on the web.

People could code the internet into any form. The internet could become whatever we want. No mountains need to be destroyed or rivers dried. Still, no one molds it. The online world is a bunch of prairie dog holes linked through search engines and hyperlinks.

Why isn’t the internet comparable to a small nightclub where Ella Fitzgerald is performing? When you shop online, why don’t you feel like you’re seeing the lights of Paris?  Why do we waste hours of our time on a service that almost never joyfully surprises us like a crashing wave at the beach?

We should demand the world build a better internet. We should find the delight of Disney World in each page refresh. We should expect the laughs of well-crafted nightclub comics. We should revel in the comfort of an online experience reminiscent of an old-fashioned soda shop.

I want to create a better internet. The DK Chronicle is my lab to figure out how to build better stories for the internet.

Eventually, you’ll be able to walk down a sleek avenue, past new cars and street musicians. You’ll enter this site through the front door and take in everything this place has to offer. You’ll know that this version of the internet won’t waste your time or take your energy.

I’m not there yet. Right now, this is a just another lonely corner of the stale internet. I’m going to spruce things up, add some paint, and try to make these stories more compelling. For now, watch out for the trolls and the clowns.