April 22, 2015

Where are they now: An alumni update on Dane Johnson

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been helping my former classmates tell the stories of their lives post-Ei. Now, it’s time to turn the proverbial spotlight on myself.

How did I design my year at Ei?

My goal was to become a more experienced and prolific writer.

With this in mind, I was hired by Dev Bootcamp to create a storytelling series in Chicago, highlighting the perspective women bring to the tech industry.

Then, I spent nearly three months with a brotherhood of Orthodox Christian monks as a part of an immersive writing project focused on spirituality. Ei connected me to a writer from the NY Times and she mentored me as I went about documenting the experience. Additionally, a good friend and I created a short video recap of my blessed time there.

In my third term, I worked as a writer and community liaison in Fargo, ND, for a global creative agency called Misfit, Inc. This term also saw new Fargo friends and I launch a chilled-out movement called Hammock Initiative.

You can watch my year in review below:

What’s stands out from my time at Ei?

To begin our first meetup, we uncovered verbs that define our personal learning processes.

As a result of this exercise, I treasure the following five words that remain written in black dry-erase marker on the whiteboard of my memory (Don’t erase without asking!):

Write | Explore | Challenge | Understand | Share

In many ways, these words were like the beginning of sentences that then became paragraphs and then became stories I didn’t know my life could write.

These days, they’re still beginning a lot of new sentences.

What has stuck with me?

About a year ago, Victor and I agreed to be writing partners. What this entails is that five days out of the week we submit some kind of writing – poetry, letter, blog, reflection, etc. – to each other before a midnight deadline. If the writing is not submitted, then a $100 fine is issued – as if being a writer doesn’t present enough financial challenges of its own!

The agreement has emboldened me to take on another challenge:

On April 1st, I began a literary quest to write and share a poem daily for nearly 200 days. An anthology of poetry will be published from this work. If you’d like, you can choose to receive them here.

All of this writing and sharing has led to more opportunities to contribute to movie scripts, website copy, content creation and crowdfunding campaigns.

Currently, I’m freelancing full-time and managing to pay my bills while also funding expensive coffee and travel addictions.


At Ei, we talk about how you don’t really understand something well if you can’t explain it in simple terms. Regularly sharing updates helps pull my head out of the weeds and see the beauty of the plains; it also makes me aware of how well I actually understand something.

In addition to daily poems, I still send out a weekly newsletter, which was a writing rhythm that began at Ei. Some of my favorite conversations happen in the dialogues that are sparked from people’s responses to those letters.

As a bonus to the great conversations had through these newsletters, one of them made its way into a beautiful magazine publication called Wolftree. I’m entirely biased in making this suggestion, but I think you’d greatly enjoy it. You can purchase it here.

Don’t despise small beginnings.

At the beginning of our year, my classmates and I huddled in front of a video call with bestselling author Bob Goff. In his characteristic optimism and energy, he implored us:

“Don’t despise small beginnings.”

His words buttered up the very ground we were standing on, as we were indeed surveying many things in their infancy stage – new careers; a new school; new friendships; new lives.

Ei has initiated more transformative “small beginnings” in my life than any program I’ve ever enrolled in.

What began as jotted musings have since become published writings.

What began as fun ideas have since become global initiatives.

What began as a group of classmates have since become extended family.

And what began as an alternative to traditional higher education has become an entirely new mode of existence.

So, wherever you’re at and whatever you’re starting, don’t belittle it with your doubts. You just might not have the bandwidth to fathom what all of these small beginnings might become.

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