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In 2012, Victor Saad took a leap. He left a job he loved to create a self-guided Master's Program. For 12 months, he embarked on 12 experiences, traveling the world to work with incredible people. Along the way, he shared his discoveries about risk and change with a growing community of like-minded individuals. Inspired by his leap, they began to take risks of their own. From passion projects like new businesses, communities, and adventures, they lived better and learned as they went. Together, these Leapers became part of an initiative known as The Leap Year Project.
Within the pages of this book, you'll encounter stories of ordinary people taking extraordinary leaps. Follow Victor and other Leapers from around the world as they experience journeys of hope, adversity and beauty. This book is meant to be a companion on your own journey as well as an inspiration for the moments when you are facing challenges, dreaming about the future, or simply on the brink of something great.
Liza quit Capitol Hill to spend 100 days living with indigenous tribes in Borneo
Kelly used her love of sandwiches to connect with people around the world
Kansas City, MO
Ryan started a company to design + build unique furniture and do good with the profits
Chicago → India
Sarah traveled to India on a Fulbright Research Grant to develop family planning services for marginalized tribal women
Dan created a secret community in a hidden wine cellar.
I wasn't looking for a leap. I had worked my way up into a steady, well-paying job on Capitol Hill and had a clear career path laid out in front of me. For the most part, life was stable and secure. But I couldn't ignore the increasingly loud voice telling me that it was time to make a change. I knew I wanted to do more to give back, to make a difference, to be the change I so desperately want to see in the world.
So, when I was chosen to spend 100 days living with indigenous tribes in the oldest rainforest on the planet and star in a documentary raising awareness about deforestation, I threw caution to the wind and took a leap!
At the start of 2012, I quit my job to join a movement called DeforestACTION in Borneo, Indonesia. I spent 100 days in the jungle along with 10 other young people from all corners of the globe. During our 100 days, we lived with Dayak tribes, educated others about the importance of the rainforest, rescued orangutans, and took part in filming a documentary about our journey called "The Rise of the Eco-Warriors," which tells the story of eleven young people searching for hope in the jungle of destruction. We found more hope, love and beauty than we ever intended to discover.
Our journey met with countless challenges, but I often stopped to ask the question, "Is it better to do ONE thing, rather than nothing?" For me, the answer is always yes. Since returning to my home on Capitol Hill, my leap continues to shape me. I now serve as the Chairman of DeforestACTION.
My time in Borneo was life-changing. I am grateful for the lessons I gained in 2012. Although it is a large and difficult task to "be the change," it is also one of the most rewarding missions to strive to accomplish. It is so important that we keep ourselves open to taking leaps. The unknown can be a rocky road with lots of sharp turns but it also offers some of the most unexpected and beautiful views.
When I began this project, I wasn't quite sure where it would take me. Being an avid eater, I’ve always been impressed by the variety of sandwiches. Unexpectedly, I stumbled upon the idea of having a sandwich represent each state.
Everyone eats sandwiches, but Stately Sandwiches offers people a new way to view them—as an educational connection to a state's history and agriculture. As I continued to brainstorm the project, I decided the end goal would be to design a beautiful catalogue of state sandwiches. I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one impressed by a delicious sandwich.
My leap introduced me to a whole world of new people. I started conversations with a Chef in London, a Tourism Director in Delaware, Radio Hosts in Oklahoma and Arkansas, the Manager of the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson and Wales University, and many others. People began to email me, telling me childhood-sandwich-eating stories, sharing secret family recipes, inviting me to their state, and opening up about what was going in their lives.
Some of the greatest connections I made were with other creatives in Chicago. I became friends with another designer on his own quest to create a catalogue of the Chicago neighborhoods. We've never met, but we've helped promote each other’s work, discussed printing options, career opportunities, and more. Since I started selling the prints, I've also gotten quite familiar with my local post office. The manager even bought a print! I'm constantly amazed at how many conversations have begun over Stately Sandwiches. Most people have the nicest things to say and often want to push me further.
My love of food is definitely a reflection of growing up and gathering around the table for a candlelit family dinner every night. My sister, Colleen, also lives in Chicago and has eaten countless Stately Sandwiches with me, and my parents have been cheering me on from Virginia. Sharing this experience with my family has been absolutely incredible.
In December 2011, I started Tyler Kingston, a small design + build company, where we create industrial modern furniture from salvaged wood and lend a portion of the profits to entrepreneurs through the micro-lending non-profit organization, Kiva.org. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I committed to the leap year project, but I did know that I wanted to pursue something I loved while making a difference at the same time.
My mission was two-fold: to design and build unique furniture and wood goods, while doing the most good with our profits and resources. Every piece of wood we use to create our products is special. Each knot, nail hole, defect and imperfection has a story to tell. These imperfections make each piece perfect and should be celebrated. Not only does this hold true for the wood that we use, but it’s also true for each and every life we wish to impact. Every loan we make through Kiva helps a real person with a real need. Each person is special, imperfect and has a story to tell.
When we began this journey in late 2011, I could not have imagined that a small side project would progress to what it has today. Not only have we designed and built furniture for a lot of great people and small shops across the country, but we have created items for some amazing national brands. This year has been a huge learning experience and we continue to be stretched in different ways with each new project we take on.
By far, the most gratifying aspect of this project is our ability to help others. To date, we have helped fund 45 loans for low-income entrepreneurs across the globe. These micro-loans provide men, women, and entire communities the opportunity to create sustainable businesses and a better future for themselves and their families. I’m doing what I love and making a difference in the world, which is what life is all about, right?
Growing up, my dream was to live overseas. Culture, language, history, and travel had always interested me, though I must admit my vision of living abroad looked more like the movie 'Under the Tuscan Sun' than it did 'Slumdog Millionaire.'
After an internship with the Foreign Agricultural Service at the US Department of Agriculture, I knew that I wanted to work with poor, marginalized women in developing countries to better their health and that of their children, but my fears of taking that leap held me in the States. Instead, I took a much 'safer' route: presidential politics and later health care policy.
A few years later, however, my passion for global women's health crept back into my thoughts. While I was enjoying my current path, something was missing from my life. Finally, at the age of 29, my professional and personal worlds collided. And India won.
I returned to school to get my master's in public health and received my degree in May 2012. Three months later, I took my leap: I departed for India on a Fulbright research grant. For 9 months, I would develop, implement and evaluate a pilot program designed to address family planning issues among marginalized tribal women in a rural part of eastern India.
India became my 'Tuscany.' The people that I met there are not just my friends, but my family. They welcomed a foreigner into their homes, their work, and their dreams, and have, along the way, helped me figure out my own.
During my time here, I've learned about their culture and developed an appreciation for mine. I've learned that electricity, hot water, and air conditioning are things that I can live without. And I’ve learned that the people in your life and the experiences you share with them rival nothing else in this world. Living here has often required me to change, bend, and move in new, uncomfortable and unknown directions. For as hard as any of these challenges were at the time, I came out of on the other side, ultimately stronger, wiser, and more empowered.
I wanted to give a toast. That's where this all started. Walking one night with some friends, we saw this store-front space with a big table and a catered party. As we looked in the window, I said, "I want to have a party like that so I can give a toast. I want to invite a bunch of people to sit at a long table and then stand up and give a speech, and raise a glass." We joked about the absurdity of it and kept walking.
Many months later, we found ourselves in the de-cantering room of a wine cellar owned by a friend, tucked away in the basement of an old building. A friend mentioned that the space deserved to be used, but she didn't know what to do with it. I remembered the toast.
I retold the scene of the table with the people and talked about my desire to invite people to come and hear me toast. As the conversation continued, that event turned into a series of events with a set group of people, each of whom are given the opportunity to share an experience with the group.
Invitations went out and a group of about 15 people was formed. The group worked together to establish a few basic rules—everyone gets one night that is theirs, you can do anything you want to with your evening, the rest of us commit to being there for your evening, and we commit to engaging with and respecting whatever you bring. And so the monthly gatherings commenced.
I gave a speech at the head of a long beautiful table, to people ready to listen and ask questions about my stories and thoughts. I knew, that evening, that my voice mattered.
Since then, others have followed with stories, with songs, with dreaming, with imagining, with beautiful glimpses of individuality, with moments of vulnerability, of gravity, and of levity. It has been unbelievable, and just so good. It’s been a journey of hearing, seeing, and knowing one another, knowing that our voices matter.
When I look back on 2012, that risk— inventing this absurd secret meeting in a hidden wine cellar—stands out as one of the riskiest and most wonderful parts of that year.