Vote Charlie!

We are the sum of our experiences

Posted at age 23. Edited at age 29.

The second day of June 1988, Sandra and Michael Gorichanaz birthed their second child to join his two siblings. Yes, we are one of those families. That is to say we are about as normal as can be expected of any modern American family.

My first election

My parents are both lifelong employees and now retirees of Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee based insurance company. Dad worked some manual labor jobs after high school before ending up in Northwestern Mutual’s computer operations center in a time when computers were room sized and operating one meant something entirely different than it does today. Mom interned with the company at the end of high school and went on to complete her master’s degree in business administration and finance.

Family shakeup and renewal

Within a few years of my birth, Tim and Ben arrived. The three of us and my older sister Kim attended St. Hubert Catholic School through eighth grade. My youth was probably a typical middle income suburban one, but when I was eight and my parents disclosed they were getting a divorce, I felt like the world was collapsing. It sounds silly to think about now, but I remember crying and feeling angry. We all got through it, of course, and I am grateful life always finds a way.

Mom remarried, and then came Maggie, Selena, Ricky, Christina and Tristan. Meanwhile, my brother Bob had two kids and my sister Kim one. In what now seems like no time at all, my family doubled, giving me the lifelong privilege of explaining I have nine siblings spanning four decades.

Lessons in business and life

When I was 10, Mom franchised a dollar store in West Bend, Wisconsin, where we would eventually move pending a delayed house construction. Running that business transformed my life. I was involved from the beginning, first helping with stocking, but soon doing much more. Customers were surprised and delighted to see a small boy cashiering, but for me the benefits went far beyond.

Working at the family store

In the years following, we doubled the first location’s size and opened another in a city nearby. Before I could drive, I was traveling internationally – just to Canada, but still – to order $50 to $100,000 in merchandise at trade shows. Once I became licensed on my 16th birthday, I took on more managerial duties. I drove 80 miles a day to travel between both locations, high school and home. By 18, I was handling almost all of the inventory and finances – finances becoming increasingly difficult as the economy struggled.

With my potential college career on the horizon, we liquidated the stores. By the end, I had learned so much I often longed to rewind and do things differently. Those eight years taught me responsibility. The expanses of time alone forged my independence. Especially toward the end, I learned to be resourceful, spend wisely and operate efficiently. With these foundations I spent my college years becoming well rounded, inside the classroom and out.

University of everything

My first election

I started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in fall 2006 with a vague desire to pursue pharmacy, or perhaps become a doctor. As with most undergraduates, my plan varied considerably year to year. Upon admission, I joined 14 other selectees of the Wisconsin International Scholars program. This encouraged me to study Spanish and Russian and develop a global interest that guides my journey through this world.

After a week of classes, I joined the web department at one of campus’s two independent newspapers. At The Badger Herald, which published 16,000 issues daily, I had the opportunity to develop my professional and personal interests. After one year, I became the web director. My mission was to lead the newspaper into the digital era. It was an exciting time, and a scary time. Industry wide, advertising revenue declines made the norm tough cuts and drastic measures. Working with an organization of ever busier students juggling coursework and more did not help with resourcing. During my five years with the paper, I dabbled in everything from feature writing and copy editing to photography and advertising design. By the end, I was simultaneously heading the multimedia and web departments while maintaining several other positions on campus.

Working with the mouse colony

At the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted into a research group under the world renowned biochemist Hector DeLuca. We studied the therapeutic effects of a Vitamin D analogue in mice that were predisposed to Type 1 diabetes. I played an integral role in data management and analysis and helped with study design. I also spent a year in a technical support position where I assisted academic staff and faculty from most of the university’s foreign language departments, which let me work with people from all over the world right at home.

The five year job

By December 2010, I was ready to graduate with a bachelor’s in biochemistry, though I stayed on with the newspaper remotely after returning to Milwaukee.

I whimsically postponed my career to spend a month in Buenos Aires with someone I met on Facebook. It would be my first venture outside North America. I was excited! Days before departing, my friend’s mother forbade him from hosting a foreigner. I then had nowhere to stay, but I still went. I made many friends and stayed in several cities during those weeks. My Spanish was not great, but I continued learning and got by just fine.

My friend Damian and I at El Centinela in Tandil, Argentina

Once home, I took an employment offer to web development for a Denver enterprise publishing support company, 601am. I got the chance to make a living while staying close to family for another year before my big move to San Francisco. I also bought a six week old puppy, Vera, to keep me company.

SUV packed for move to San Francisco

A year later, I got rid of most of my things and planned to take what I could in my small Saab to California. A month before my lease was up and after some research, I opted to sell the car and drive a rental instead. The day came and I embarked on the 36 hour drive, making just one stop overnight in Denver to visit my coworkers. Vera and I arrived in glorious San Francisco the first day of May 2012. She couldn’t have been happier!

My first marathon, in San Francisco

Once settled, I began training for the San Francisco Marathon, which was in two months. My mom and brother Tim flew out to compete as well, and that was the beginning of a long string of marathons and ultras for all of us. This and my job’s flexibility in general are the reasons I didn’t immediately get a new job in the Bay Area, but I have no regrets.

Over the next year, I made friends, went camping and enjoyed the city. I also spent a month in Australia to visit a Twitter friend, and I went to Spain and France with my mom to visit Tim, who was studying in Madrid. Traveling was starting to become a passion, causing further conflict every time I contemplated a new job that would likely tie my down.

Burning Man 2013

In summer 2013, I went on an entirely different kind of journey. I made my first trip to Burning Man with some close friends. It was an eye opening voyage across space and in to the soul, and absolutely the best experience of my life up till that point. Despite the breakthroughs, I knew there was much more I needed to do and learn. I promised myself I would go the next year, and probably for many years to come.

Japan with Yizhen

Life in San Francisco was great, and I loved my friends, but after another year, I felt a calling to see more and step up my career. I decided to move to Tokyo to work for Six Apart as a product manager for Movable Type, the blogging software I used at the Herald and then at 601am. I also snuck in a trip to Thailand before leaving. The first six months in Japan passed incredibly quickly, but I did manage to make some friends, go out a few times and even add a few countries to my travels: China, South Korea and Vietnam.

Working at Six Apart

Though it was originally planned I would cease doing client work after a transition period, things got complicated when Six Apart bought 601am mid 2014. During most of the year in Tokyo, I had little idea how long I would remain, but due to the decline of the Yen and other factors, it was agreed I would transfer back to the United States in early 2016. I suddenly wished I started studying Japanese earlier and realized there was so much I still wanted to do.

My relationships with Tokyo and with my Japanese roommate culminated chaotically and in pieces, but I was mostly out of there by February. I planned to keep working for Six Apart’s American unit, but the parent company changed course and shuttered all our U.S. operations. 601am escaped, and I agreed to rejoin in a new product engineering role while advising on some client projects.

Flying in China

I also booked a six month trip circumnavigating the world, during which I visited about 20 countries while working full time. I’m glad I at least traveled, for my work did not transition as planned.

The rest is yet to be determined!