This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

I'm now blogging via Medium. For other life updates, including opportunities or requests to collaborate, visit my personal website.




Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tacos, and the True Meaning of Leadership


On the way home today, I passed a digital sign in front of the Del Taco fast food joint down the street that read: "Are you a leader?"   I immediately thought to myself,  Everyone's always talking about leadership, about being a leader, but what about the content behind leadership?  Who do they think we should be leading, and what exactly does Del Taco want people to lead others in?  Besides, if everyone is leading and there's no one around to follow, "leadership" would lose its meaning, right?

For some reason the question stuck with me throughout the day.  Am I a leader?  
When we think of "leaders", often the first people who come to mind are global changemakers, leaders of huge movements, and we think of them as having a lot of power and perhaps controlling a lot of assets such as money, things, events, people's mindsets, etc.

I can recall this view of mega-scale leadership being reinforced during college. There were nationally renowned speakers, authors, and leaders constantly coming in to speak on our campus.  A lot of them were musicians-turned-philanthropists or turned-activists who decided they were going to change the world.   Don't get me wrong, they're fabulous people doing great things and are all very inspiring in their own right, but the flood of huge names and huge campaigns seemed to have a narrowing effect on my perception of leadership.

It wasn't until today, thanks to this Del Taco sign, that I straightened out my thinking about leadership. I'm going to share my not-very-official definition of leadership, the way I think of it in my head:   To me, leadership is saying "Hey guys, here's what I'm doing, here's where I'm going;  I think it's a worthy pursuit, wanna join?"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Each Her Own Sanctuary


The landscapes are intriguing, beautiful, even breathtaking, but what really keeps me traveling is the people.  Like snowflakes covering northern lands, no two people are exactly the same; each twirls and soars and falls and lands differently.  Each has a different journey.  Through conversations and shared experiences, I love to discover all sorts of people.  But there is one kind of person that particularly inspires me.

This kind of person is found among both young and old, educated and uneducated, travelers and homebodies.  I've found them in every country I've ever been to.  It's the person who finds a passion, a purpose, and joyfully throws him- or herself into it wholeheartedly.  It's the person who finds what that special thing is that gives back even more in personal satisfaction than the work and time and money and energy they may have put into it.  As the author of this next excerpt so elegantly puts it, it's one's own "sanctuary".

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Marking One Quarter of a Century


My 25th birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks.  I never wrote down specific goals or even thought about what I would have hoped to do or experience or accomplish during my first 25 years on planet Earth, but looking back, I can say that I'm quite content with the journey thus far.

Many people, in their mind's eye, stop growing older after a certain age.  The years pass by, but their identity is frozen in time; they continue to perceive themselves as that one ultimate age.  My mom always thinks of herself as a 24-year-old.  It seems to have worked well for her because now, at almost double that, she can still pass for 30.   As a kid, I always wanted to be 17.   It seemed magical in my imagination, and I truly felt invincible as I lived that year out in Belgium, Bosnia, the US, Australia, and China.  In fact, that year went so well, I didn't easily move on.  I've continued to think of myself as a 17-year-old out exploring the big, wide world.  Until now.

Twenty-five is a big marker in my mind.  One quarter century.  I want to do something extraordinary to kick off this year, so I begin to scheme, with 12 days left to come up with a proper celebratory plan.

Meanwhile, my past few weeks haven't been the easiest: Full of philosophical brooding, a lot of questions for myself, a bit of self-doubt at times.  I've been waking up wondering: Is anything I do today really going to make a difference in the world?  It's a daily cycle:  Questions, Temporary Depression, Long Walk, Prayer, Praise, Encouragement, Meaningfulness, Enthusiasm for the day ahead, Excitement for my present work.   At first it took a full day to come around to a place of peace, but has become progressively shorter.  As I found the rhythm, wrote out the script that I need to read every morning, the process has been reduced to something I think about over my morning tea.  I've found solace in the small opportunities to make a difference, like listening to friends and encouraging them as they go through their own transitions; helping my brother and new sister-in-law organize their new home.

I know many, many of you, my dear readers, are much more mature in years, wisdom, and experience than I, and I'd love to learn from all the skills and perspective you've honed over the years.  It would be an honor to receive some words of advice, encouragement, warning, counsel, or anything else you would like to suggest as I move into this next season.
Your messages will reach me at shiraheden@gmail.com.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Season of Rest


I've had an increasing sense during this year that now is a season of rest for me:  mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  After years -- a full decade, actually -- of super-human self-expectations and unsustainable activity levels, I'm coming to a better understanding of what rest really means.  In order to get to this point, I had to rewrite the internal script that told me I'm only worth as much as I can accomplish.  I still haven't figured out how I developed that philosophy, but it doesn't really matter; what matters is that it's been replaced with a healthier script, one fueled by a sense of identity rooted in the truth that I am valuable because of who I am, not because of what I've done. As are you.

With that re-scripting has come a wonderful release, a longed-for freedom to just enjoy and not produce.  Of course I still work.  But with limits.  Healthy limits that allow for ensure renewal and rejuvenation at the end of each day.  Everywhere I turn, people and events keep reminding me that this is the time to reap the rewards of my hard work and truly enjoy them.  For once, I have not argued.  The results are worth sharing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stockholm: The Door Collection

My 'adopted' Finnish parents took me along on a family vacation to Sweden this weekend, a Helsinki - Stockholm - Helsinki cruise.  We had about seven hours in Stockholm to explore the city:  Just enough time to visit a very old church, watch a parade, walk through the old town, and have a nice lunch out on the terrace of one of the many cafes.

Stockholm has some magnificent doorways!  I snapped these quick shots along the way...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Antigua: The Door Collection


Antigua is a beautiful, colonial city nestled in the central highlands of Guatemala, in the shadow of the beautiful Volcán de Agua.  The city was founded in 1543 by the Spanish, who came to colonize most of Central America until 1773.  That means the Spanish were ruling Central America from the time Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel and Copernicus was suggesting that the Sun is really the center of the universe ... until the time the United States of America was founded.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tie the Shoelace You're Tripping On


It hit me during a meeting with the CFO of one of Finland's most respected financial institutions.  The clock struck one and we'd already been deep in conversation for two hours.  A young lady about my age came in to take sandwich orders, which she promptly went to pick up from a nearby cafe.  As she served me delicious smoked salmon on rye, I realized how easily I could have been in her shoes - serving sandwiches in important meetings, instead of in mine - eating a sandwich in an important meeting (but more importantly, adding value to this important meeting). 

I have, in the not so distant past, been doing exactly that young woman's job - catering sandwiches to business people. It can be great fun.  There's nothing wrong with a service position; what was wrong with my situation is the reason I was doing it.  I'm not passionate about serving sandwiches.  Though I can appreciate a good meal, I'm not really even passionate about culinary art.  The reason I was catering is because I hadn't been charging enough for the work I am passionate about, and the bills needed to get paid somehow. 

Your mere ability to do a job well does not imply that it's the job you should be doing.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Helsinki: The Door Collection (#2)

This odd tri-part door on a rare vacant (abandoned?) building in downtown Helsinki caught my attention during some weekend wanderings.  I hereby add it to the collection.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dublin: The Door Collection

You're in for a treat.  This might be my favorite door collection to date.  Dublin is full of incredible entries!  This warm-spirited, friendly and ancient-looking city will draw you in with coziness at every turn.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Turn "Are we there yet?" into "Look where we are!!"

Have you ever been on a road trip with children who just couldn't wait to get there? Did the continuous pressure to silence the nagging keep you from pulling over at a vista point, or even suck all the joy out of time that could be spent enjoying the view from the window?
It's 2:30 am and I'm coming to terms with the irony.  The irony that, as a person who keeps a blog titled "No Journey Wasted," I've spent far too much of the past 6 years looking toward the next destination and - during those destination-obsessed phases - not allowing myself to relax enough to enjoy the moment.  

And I'm not talking about the easy moments. Anyone can enjoy a splendid cappucino on a Spanish balcony under the Barcelona sun.  I'm talking about the hard stuff, the nitty gritty challenges you're not sure you'll even survive. There is something to appreciate in those moments. Even if your day's song is only "I'm alive! I'm doing it! Who knows what the end result will be, but I'm going to enjoy the challenge in front of me today!"
Our ability to see that and say that has a lot to do with whether we're operating in a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.  A fixed mindset tells you that "your qualities are carved in stone" and "creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over."  On the other hand, a growth mindset "is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts" -- it advocates the principle that "everyone can change and grow through application and experience."  (I recommend you read this article illustrating the power of mindset, and watch Carol Dweck's TedTalk.)
StartUp Weekend Helsinki:  A good place to practice using the growth mindset.  It's all about iteration!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Discover an Artistic Prodigy


During my time in Oregon this year I had the privilege of watching my sister Toreah complete several art pieces, expertly - and seemingly effortlessly - turning ideas into concepts and sketches and finally finished, tangible oeuvres.  At age 17, her ability to capture soul-stirring emotion while telling a story in her work is incredible.

When VANS shoe company solicited designs from high school students across the US, Toreah submitted a design under the "Local Taste" theme and, along with 4 of her classmates, has made it into the semifinals!
It takes 1 click (and no registration) to put your vote in, so check out some of Toreah's work below and then follow this link to support her by voting by Friday, May 9th for North Medford High School in VANS' popular vote contest.  She could win a trip to New York City, see her shoe design manufactured, and win $60,000 for her school's art program!   

Thursday, April 24, 2014

If there was one gift I could give to my children


If there was one gift I could give to my children, it would be the ability to find contentment.

It's not the same thing as simply wanting them to be content. 

The contentment we most often speak of in western society is fleeting, temporary.  It depends on my ability to satiate my child's desires and it is often fueled by commodities.  If you begin to chase it, it may well turn into an eternal rat-race.  But the ability to be content - that is a sustainable, renewable resource.  And it originates in them, not me.

Kaivopuistonranta, Helsinki (2014)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Dream Jobs Don't Pan Out


If you would have asked me what my ultimate "dream job" would be anytime between my fourteenth and twenty-first birthdays, I wouldn't have hesitated to proudly declare that some day I hoped to work for the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. I envisioned grand adventures of living in foreign lands, constantly learning new languages, and working with locals as a representative of the alruistic American people, for the betterment of their country and the betterment of the world at large. What I never imagined is that, at the age of twenty-one I would be flying to Russia to start an internship which fully embodied the responsibilities, prestige and adventures I had sought as a young adult and believed awaited me at the State Department.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Odessa, Ukraine: My Poetic Tribute


In the wake of the conflict plaguing southern Ukraine, I've been reflecting on the two months I spent studying in Odessa during the summer of 2011.

As I prepare to fly back to Finland, the past few weeks of spring cleaning in my parents' garage has had me going through boxes of foreign language books and memoires I've brought home as trophies from my adventures.  Tucked away in the back of a notebook filled with grammar exercises, I found the following poem I once scribbled and a few telltale grains of sand - remnants of a summer spent writing and reading Russian books on the beaches of Odessa.

map: CNN

Young Ukrainian girls play along the shores of the Black Sea in Odessa

великолепный город на берегу Чёрного моря
модные Одесситы на пляже
улитцы спокойные
никогда далеко дома.
Туристы у тебя
думают о следующем раз
даже прежде чем они уехали.
В террассах, тянующих вдоль дорожек
люди довольны своей отпуск потягивают фрещов
на самые жаркие дней лета.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Making Sense of a New Field: 5 Tips to Use During your Next New Job or Project


I remember when I started my bachelor thesis and had begun to scratch the surface of a few journal articles on entrepreneurial intentions.  I went to my thesis advisor asking, "Can you give me a map or flow chart or some kind of structural organization for this field?! I feel like I have no idea what the different branches of the discipline are..."

In his most patient and understanding way of putting me up for a challenge he replied, "Well, nothing like that exists. That's for you to go figure out for yourself."  And then he gave me a big, knowing smile.

It wasn't an easy process, and it took about a year, but I finally got my bearings in the intentions literature.  Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the entire experience is the discovery that venturing into a new field is a process, and there are specific techniques that can help me move forward while minimizing the headbanging and aimless wandering.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

On the Front Lines: Changing Minds Proves More Challenging than Changing Borders & Administrations


As I read through Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, I am continuously surprised by the riveting, intimate stories of women whom I imagine are just like me in many ways. And women whom I imagine could be good friends of mine. Women who are strong and beautiful, driven and courageous.  And yet, while some of my greatest struggles are in proving the worthiness of my ideas and concepts, turning these into a profitable business that will provide for my living, these young women are often struggling to prove that they themselves are worthy of simply living as individuals with a brain and will.

This post is in honor of International Women's Day.

Jenny Matthews/Panos

As I continue to seek out transitional environments -- traveling to observe first-hand when I can; reading and interviewing about them when I can't -- I continue to find evidence that laws and constitutions and job titles and borders are not the biggest challenge facing those who seek progress.

Deeply ingrained cultural ideas and traditions are much, much more difficult to challenge.

The following excerpts from Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire reflect her experiences during six years in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.  In this story out of northern Africa, we watch women fight and prove their physical equality and strength of character, then return home only to fight again -- this time against oppressive cultural traditions.  Like so many of the transitional regions I've lived in, the story of Eritrea reveals that cultural and ideological walls are much more difficult to break down than walls of brick and mortar.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Inter-Ideological Relationships: What's to gain?


This week my very talented friend, political life expert, prolific journalist, and well-known libertarian blogger George Scoville wrote about his recent engagement to a member of the Democratic party - and why it works.

I read the article to my family over breakfast and it got great reviews, plus spurred an interesting discussion. The essence of George's message is this:

"My instincts tell me that it's not people's specific politics that make them compatible or incompatible, but how they prioritize their politics within the order of the rest of their lives."

Friday, February 07, 2014

How Reviewing Your Roles Will Help You Focus & Be More Effective


I've found in life that it's important to remember who you are. Regular reminders are key to relieving misplaced pressure and focusing on what really matters. 

Some people are extra-talented at simplifying life; they hop out of bed and go.  Focus. Attack. Accomplish.

Once upon a time that was me, and if that's your natural state of mind - way to go.  But for a long time, that me seemed far away and irrecoverable.  When life gets complicated - multiple jobs, juggling work, school and family... When the possibilities to do something new are endless and opportunities to reinvent yourself present themselves daily, the mind can get confused.  If you find yourself occupying a few different roles simultaneously -- for instance, as a student, a mother, and an accountant -- there are days you're just going to wake up in a state of discombobulation.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Expedition à la West Coast USA


Coming home to Oregon is always an adventure.  It never ceases to amaze me, how quickly my four brothers and my sister grow and change.  It's awesome to see them growing into their beautiful and unique personalities, exploring different passions and hobbies, and developing such a great sense of humor.  Laughter unites.

And every time I come back - which is certainly not often enough - I always wonder how I could have forgotten the beauty of the Rogue Valley and its surroundings.... Mountain trails, serene lakes, grassy plains, pine forests, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines... we have it all!

We like to dabble a little in a lot of different outdoorsy things.  This past month has been a lot of fun as we show my Finnish friend Sini around the West Coast.  We met in Helsinki and - after spending a lot of time together playing soccer, relaxing in her family's summer cabin, and hanging out with friends this summer - she moved to work in Toronto this autumn just days after I left on business to the US.  Perfect timing to catch up in North America over the holidays, and we've had so much fun welcoming her to our family Christmas and taking her on LOTS of mini family vacations.

New Year's Morning in Eureka, northern California - with my sister Tori & friend Sini
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