Travel Story: The Fan – London, 2011

Sometimes the most hilarious memories come from ordinary events in an unexpected place or time.

I had traveled to southern France for a work conference a few years ago. As part of this trip, I was able to spend a few days in our company’s London office. In addition, because I had friends in London, I made it a point to stay the weekend as well in order to spend time with them.

Imperial War Museums

Outside of the Imperial War Museum in London – one of my touristy stops while in London.

My two English friends, a wonderful young woman (G) and a great guy (N), had been close friends my final year of college, where they were studying for their year abroad. Skype and Facebook had allowed us to keep in touch, and so when I had this opportunity to be in London, I jumped at the chance and made sure that I had free time during a weekend when the two of them would not be working.

During the weekend I spent with my friends, we relaxed and were able to simply do everyday weekend activities – which was an absolute joy to me, since I was already exhausted from the long flight across the pond.

On the Saturday morning of my stay, N’s mom had organized a raffle and rummage sale through her church, so we were invited to check out the sale.

My friends and I decided to buy tickets for the raffle, as it was a good cause, even if we didn’t win. We put in our 1 quid to pay for the raffle… Lo and behold, an hour later, when raffle winners were being announced, it turns out that we each had won something.

Guess what I won? Something that I definitely would not be able to take in my (already over-stuffed) suitcase back to America with me?

A desktop fan. Though I would not be needing it (or ever using it), it provided a great memory and laugh every time I think about it.

Jen and the desk fan.

A photo of me and the fan that I won.

Have you ever gotten a gift or won a prize that was so inappropriate or useless for you that it was hilarious?


Jen Burstedt

Regrets of the Dying: My Reflections

Deeper than my usual blog post and a slightly somber note to start out the week, I felt compelled to share and add a few reflections of my own.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger, wrote an article about the top 5 regrets of the dying. It’s a summary of reflections and lessons learned by others, and it was so good, I’m sharing it on my blog.

Here’s where you can find the article.

Snowy trees

The core theme of the regrets, from my perspective: do we reflect enough about what true authenticity means in our lives? Are we honest with ourselves and others in all senses of the word?

Our own dissatisfaction and unhappiness are brought on by ourselves. In viewing this in the positive sense, Ware is basically saying the we need to:

  • Being honest to acknowledge who we are
  • Being honest to acknowledge what makes us happy
  • Being humble to know that the office – or our business, or work – will always be there if we need it, but shouldn’t take the place of relationships with others, and that our absence from these places won’t stop the world from spinning.

Wise words, Bronnie Ware.


Are you living a life that you think you’ll be happy with when it reaches its conclusion?


Jen Burstedt

If At First You Don’t Succeed… Run, Run Again.

Today, I woke up, put my running clothes on and reflected on my lessons learned yesterday from my failed attempt to run the long run I had planned on as part of my half marathon training.

I ate 3 pieces of toast with butter and drank half of a bottle of water. I answered a few emails as I waited around my apartment for an hour in order to let my food digest. I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes today which had held me back yesterday.

With this preparation, I left my apartment, with only a key to the front door and my iPhone on me.

As part of my warm-up, I started running up the first big hill on Guerrero Street, heading over to a corner near Dolores Park. I stopped as I reached the park, stretched for a bit, then officially started my run.

I ran, conservatively at first – an 11 minute 30 second pace, then picked it up as I got to Golden Gate Park. Running through the park, past the Conservatory of Flowers, roller skaters, Lindy hoppers and bison, I made it to the ocean – and back.

Final numbers? 10 minute 36 second pace for 10.65 miles. Success.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

A shot of Ocean Beach, taken from my run today.

Today was a good day for a run. I felt tired but victorious at the end. Although yesterday was definitely a miss, today I got back on the saddle again and had done what I had originally set out to do.


Jen Burstedt

I Failed: A Long Run Gone Wrong

I hate to admit it when I fail, but as I’ve gotten older and experienced times where things hadn’t gone the way I planned, I’ve learned: failure is a part of life. You can read about the concept in books, see it played out in movies, hear about it from the advice of your elders, but until you’ve paid that bank fee for an overdrawn checking account or skipped out on interview preparation and subsequently bombed the interview, you’re learning lessons in the abstract.

Raffles Hotel in Singapore

If I hadn’t failed my interview with Google at the end of college my senior year, it’s hard to say if I would have ended up at Bracket (UBC) traipsing the world and staying at places like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Instead of viewing failure as a personal character flaw, what if, instead we saw failure as:

  • An opportunity to improve
  • A wake-up call that things are not going right
  • As a new beginning in our lives

Today, I failed miserably in my plan to run, despite all of the planning, preparation, sleep and intention that I had to go out and accomplish it.

I’m training for a half marathon (13.1 miles), which means that I need to make time for incrementally long runs each weekend up until the time of the race. I’ve done 5 half marathons prior to this, so I know about the basic concepts: develop a training schedule, (generally) stick to it, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep, stretching and food. Following these principles has been enough to keep me going in the past.

Today, I was supposed to run 10.5 miles.

Before leaving the house today, I had a thought, “I should drink some more water.” I kept thinking, “I should have something to eat.” Instead of listening to these thoughts, I ignored them, started out on my run into the rainy Saturday.

Even when I started off, I was weak. My legs felt tired and I felt hungry, a kind of hunger that I couldn’t just forget about by jogging it off. I tried to push forward, convincing myself that I would be able to push through the run.

After the one mile mark, I couldn’t believe the slow pace I had already – much slower than usual. I was dragging myself, unhappily, through the hills of San Francisco.

I was running up a hill that leads to the Golden Gate Park and couldn’t go on any longer, so I stopped. Not even 2 miles, said the distance reading on RunKeeper, my running app.

Finish line.

The stopping point for my run – 1.8 miles in, I decided to call it quits.

What did I do wrong? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?

  • Drink enough water the day before and the morning of
  • Eat food 2 hours – one and a half hours before running (I’ve found that eating 2 pieces of bread at this time gives me enough time to digest before the run)
  • Eat consistently and decently the day before (with an ultra-light menu of food the day before, this also impacted how I felt when I went out to run)
  • Stretch! Especially using The Stick on tight muscles

For me, it was frustrating that I had been the own cause of my failure in this case. But, it was a lesson in self-care: I know it’s important for me to eat regular meals and make sure I eat enough (a problem that I never had until I started running half marathons).

So, I will be out there again tomorrow morning, this time a little better prepared for success after my recent failure.

What is a major setback or failure that you have had recently, and what lessons did you learn from it to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes next time?
Jen Burstedt

3 Great Tools for Learning a New Language

Learning a new language can be daunting. Luckily, there are a huge selection of online tools to choose from which can help you to achieve your desired level of fluency in a new language.

The flip side of the problem, though, is how do you actually know how to pick which ones to use?

Lyon, France

The best way to learn a language? Travel to the country where you need to use the language of the host country. In Lyon, France, I improved my French skills.


I’m going to focus on a 3 tools that I have found to be the most useful when learning a new language, all of which I’ve been using for at least a year if not more:

(1) Conversation Exchange

This is a great website where you can search people’s profiles and connect with people who want to learn another language. You can search for someone who is located in your hometown or connect with them via Skype. I’ve met a few great French speakers this way (who live in San Francisco). Superb way to connect offline or online and practice your conversational skills.

(2) WordReference

This is a fantastic dictionary for a number of languages (it originally just had a robust dictionary for Romance languages but has since spread to other languages). They provide a number of entries for any given word, and the forums are well frequented and have great back-and-forth-discussion.

Necessary for when you’re online and need to look up something quickly – I prefer it to Google Translate, in particular because you can understand the nuance of words with their explanations. I’ve used this for French and Spanish translations.

(3) Memrise

Whether you’re looking to pick up 15 words in Japanese for a business trip to Tokyo, or you want to expand  your Spanish vocabulary to know more words, Memrise is an online system that helps you learn and retain new words. Within Memrise, you get to choose a set of vocabulary words, many collections which have been created by other users. Once you start learning the words in the collection that you have chosen, the system prompts you to pick a funny story in order to remember this new word or phrase.

These are just 3 great resources. There are many more which I haven’t used in too much depth (like iTalki or DuoLingo) but which I’ve heard great things about, and would encourage you to check out as well.

What tools have you used to learn new languages to meet your fluency goals?


Jen Burstedt

Life is a Journey: 5 Great Personal Development Quotes

Personal development is something that I consider to be a worthy, life-long endeavor. I credit my dad with instilling in me that principle of: “slow and steady wins the race” – a lesson from parable story of the tortoise and the hare.

The story? The tortoise and the hare decide to race one another; the tortoise starts in a slow crawl and the hare in an energetic sprint, leaving the tortoise in the dust. The hare laughs at the slow tortoise, who is moving along. Eventually, though, the hare runs out of steam, has to rest and recover. Meanwhile, the tortoise has been chugging along at the same speed, and eventually crosses the finish line, beating the hare (who is still in recovery), winning the race.

The moral? It’s better to work slowly towards your goals, steadily (like the tortoise) than start off with a high-energy sprint, only to lose steam and give up half way through the race (like the hare). Building to your success takes time.

Related to this personal development philosophy, here are 5 great development quotes that inspire me as I seek to develop and grow in my life:


“Part of abandoning the all-or-nothing mentality is allowing yourself room for setbacks. We are bound to have lapses on the road to health and wellness, but it is critical that we learn how to handle small failures positively so that we can minimize their long-term destructive effects. One setback is one setback—it is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your journey toward a better you.” – Jillian Michaels, The Biggest Loser

Life is a journey.

Life is a journey, not a destination.

“Your life is a trajectory. Every choice you make alters that trajectory, in a positive or negative way. Will you categorize that dinner with friends as a business expense? Will you be honest with your daughter? Will you take more credit than you’re due? These are just the small questions that we face every day, and little by little, the answers influence the trajectory of our lives and beings.” – Donald Van de Mark, former TV anchorman & author


“Fear less, hope more, eat less, chew more, whine less, breathe more, talk less, say more, hate less, love more, and good things will be yours.” – Swedish proverb

Guests for dinner.

Inviting friends over for a home-cooked meal is something that contributes to my overall sense of life satisfaction.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs


“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”  – George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright


What quotations or stories inspire you in your life?


Jen Burstedt

Spontaneity and Improv

“When you act or speak spontaneously, you reveal your real self, as opposed to the self you’ve been trained to present.”

Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Keith Johnstone's Impro book.

The cover of Impro, a book on improvisation by Keith Johnstone.

Improv class: I’m currently in week 4 of 6 weeks of improvisation class – “Foundations 2” or the second level of improv at the BATS School of Improv in San Francisco. This past Thursday night, the small class of 7 students plus teacher and TA worked on the improv concept of spontaneity.

Being spontaneous has never been a strength of mine, but over the 3 hour session, I explored parts of myself and got to act out a few scenes myself. Apparently, I haven’t been traditionally good at it because I haven’t practiced it enough.

I refer to Johnstone since his book “Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre” is required reading for the course. Johnstone is British, pontifical and hilarious. Along the lines of spontaneity, Johnstone also says, “If you improvise spontaneously in front of an audience you will have to accept that your innermost self will be revealed.”


My scene, which I played with a male classmate, Rob, started out with a suggestion of a location.

“Ice skating rink!” yelled one of our improv classmates.

Rob and I stood in an awkward pose, with me half-bent over, as if falling, and he reaching out his arm as if to hold me up. The scene starts, and I immediately justify the pose.

“Whoa, almost fell there!” I exclaim.

“You’re catching on pretty quick,” Rob says, “learning how to ice skate. You’ll have it down in no time.”

I smile, as we continue to hold arms and pretend to skate across the stage. “Yeah – best first date ever!”

We just created a scene – I’m doing improv – and, obviously, as a single woman, this common theme has spilled out from me onto our scene: dating.

Somedays, improv is like group therapy, where you get to reveal and discover parts of yourself that are locked up, showing yourself for the raw, vulnerable human being you are. And this is yet another reason why improv is amazing.

Bonus: improv games that you can try at home – some of which we play in my class.


Jen Burstedt

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