Monday, October 19, 2009

A New Blog

I decided to start a new blog. It's time for a fresh look. For those of you interested, here is a link where I'll be posting all future blogs HERE.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Time To Learn

I’ve been building KEZA (with the help of an amazing team) for over 3 years now. I’ve certainly learned a lot of invaluable lessons throughout the process. Most notably, I’ve learned to understand that our “failures” are necessary steps towards our success. I have an opportunity to learn from each one if I choose to. I can (at least partially) inoculate myself from having to endure the same lesson again. This is how progress occurs.

I’ve also learned a lot about building a business in Africa. But business is in my blood. Even in the moments of what seems to be absolute chaos in the business development process, I am still operating within a realm that feels like home to me. And I tend to thrive in chaos anyway. Developing building systems, marketing, branding and all of the other essentials of building a successful business are ingrained in me. I am not intimidated by it, and rarely am I perplexed by a dilemma. Generally speaking, I’m operating within my domain. I’m just listening and learning daily and applying it to what we do.

However, as of recently, I have entered into an entirely different realm; that of fund raising. I have never done it effectively, and what funds we have stumbled into have been sort of organic and not as a result of my actively tracking them down. But now we’ve come to a place where I absolutely must dedicate myself to becoming a fund raising expert. We’ve built this Ferrari of a business, and it took everything we had in order to get here. Now I’ve got to go out and find fuel for this machine.

This is new territory for me. I must head back to the USA to learn how to raise funds. I feel 100% confident we will generate and income based on sales that will alleviate our dependency on donations within the next 12 months. However, we’re not there yet and right now we need seed money, to the tune of $200,000.

I am now relying almost totally on the council of many others that are greater than I in the field of fund raising. It is admittedly a mental and emotional challenge for me to operate in a realm where I am absolutely clueless. I am clearly out of my league on this one. That certainly feels lonely at times and tugs at many of my insecurities. I do not find myself here often, but I understand that it is necessary.

I do, however, welcome this new realm. It is a tremendous opportunity to learn something I’ve never had any concept of before. This is not a time to be depressed, it is a time to be grateful for such an opportunity to learn and become a better leader and provider. It’s a time to add another skill to our arsenal. And it’s a time for me to humble myself before my peers and our creator. Though it is difficult for me to accept, this is not a time for me to lead; it is a time for me to listen and rely on the miracle of ubuntu with those around me. It truly is a time to learn.

It’s About Faith and Unity

Ilea and I were talking this past Sunday about all the changes going on with KEZA right now. It's an exciting time. We've spent the last three years building something beautiful, and now it's time to start living it out.

When working in an organization like this, it's important to constantly check our perspective. KEZA is not about beads or jewelry or fashion. It's not even about business. It's about providing the women with something they can believe in; each other and their own inherent ability. We are about fostering faith, and unity (ubuntu). We're taking an industry that is typically known for being self centered, materialistic and superficial and we're turning it into something truly beautiful. We're taking that power and using it for good.

We truly are blessed. We have an outstanding team that has become family. We get to live in community with 37 amazing women and their children. It's surreal. And even with all of the crazy things we endure here, the most prevalent and pervasive feeling we experience is gratefulness; for the opportunity to be part of something so powerful. People often thank us for our "great sacrifice" in serving these women in Africa. But I assure you, it is no sacrifice at all. It is an honor, and I could not possibly imagine another life than this. Life truly is beautiful.

Fear is a Choice

Fear can be an evil thing. It grips us. It controls us. And it can destroy us. It can weave its way into almost any aspect of our lives. It creeps up on us and gnaws away at our confidence and our ability to think rationally. It can completely incapacitate us if left unchecked. Many people are so controlled by fear that it becomes central to who they are. It dictates their every move.

Why do people stay in a job they hate? Why do they believe they could never be the hero they dreamed of as a child? Why do they stay confined to one tiny area when there is a magnificent world out there waiting for them? And why do they spend so much time worrying and stressing about life? It’s often rooted in fear; the fear of failure, humiliation, and being less than someone else. The fear of not achieving our goals. But why? Fear isn’t real. It’s just an emotion. It’s a choice. We can choose to be happy in a sad moment. We can choose to be sad in a happy moment. And we can choose to let fear rule our lives or not.

Fear is most notorious for absolutely wrecking relationships. We fear that our partner will leave us, cheat on us, humiliate us, and any other multitude of crimes of the heart. We worry ourselves into a tiny little chasm of debilitating fear. We are no longer able to make rational decisions because everything we do is influenced by a tumultuous fantasy we’ve created in our heads. And often times, your partner is completely oblivious and helpless in the situation. They have no idea what is going on in your head. They believe you have committed a crime, and all the while, you have no idea. And there is nothing you can do to change their mind because their fear is not based in reality. I have seen fear break up many otherwise wonderful relationships, and typically, it was totally unfounded.

But I believe fear is a choice. By the same method we train ourselves to wake up at a certain time, ride a bike, or master the piano, we can train ourselves to not allow fear to control our lives. We either choose to entertain our fears or we choose to live beyond them. I believe that the presence of fear is often a reflection of our lack of faith. Do you believe God created us all to be great? Then why do we fear we are inferior or inadequate? Do you believe God created someone out there specifically for you? Then why do you allow fear to wreck your relationship? Do you believe God will never give us more than we can handle? Then why do you fear you will never get through this?

A healthy level of fear is just that…healthy. I am not asserting that fear should be absent in our lives. I am simply stating that we choose to let it control us or not. Fear can be used for just as much good as bad. It only becomes a problem when we let it control our actions to the point of debilitation and destruction.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Alive In Africa

People often ask me why I choose to live in Africa, and why I am so happy here. They assume I am making a great sacrifice by living here, and often exclaim how proud they are of me. The truth is that living in Africa is not a sacrifice for me at all. While I certainly have a list of sacrifices I’m more than willing to make, living here is not one of them. I actually prefer living here to living in the US.

In America, I live in a bubble of comfort that often leads to complacency and lack of perspective. I am rarely ever in need of anything that isn’t already at my finger tips or provided for me. I have multiple vehicles at my disposal, and plenty of food in the refrigerator. Things happen very easily. It’s easy to just plot along and let life happen. I start to forget what I’m really fighting for. I loose track of relationships that are so important to me. I get caught up in consumerism and “needing” more stuff. My financial priorities get skewed.

All of a sudden my day is consumed with what restaurant to eat at, what pair of shoes to buy, inflated gas prices, the latest political scandal, and conversations about petty drama, which restaurants I should stay away from because of the horrible service, which churches are scandalous, and how I have got to go to this party or that. In the midst of it all, I begin to loose sight of what is really important to me. I start justifying completely unnecessary expenses and indulgences. My sense of purpose begins to dissipate, as does my drive. I begin turning into someone I don’t want to be.

In Africa, if I want to go anywhere, I have to walk from my house, down the dirt road about a quarter mile, hail a motorcycle taxi, hop on the back and put a nasty helmet on my bald head. The water goes off, right after my workout, right before a meeting, and I’m heading out all sweaty. When I order food at a restaurant, I expect at least a two hour wait, and I know it will be wrong when it gets there. The power goes out in the middle of important meetings. The cell network goes down all the time. I’m taken advantage of because of my race. People don’t show up for meetings. Everything takes three times longer than it should. Things are lost in translation. And the mosquitoes are unrelenting.

Life here is very deliberate. If I want something, I really have to want it. Things don’t just fall into place. I have to use what little money I have extremely wisely. When I run out, that’s it, and I have to get creative. I’ve discovered that you can apply copious amounts of honey and/or hot sauce to just about anything in order to make it more edible. When it rains, things shut down and I find myself noticing the beauty around me for the first time that day. How did I miss that before? When the computers are dead, the power is off, and it’s raining outside, things change. I think about things I’d never think about otherwise. I am forced to pause. And when everything comes back on and the sun comes out, I’m so grateful for the fact that I have these things at all. I never think about those things in the states. I take so much for granted there.

When I’m in Africa, I feel alive. I appreciate the things I have. I realize how much I can do without. I pay more attention to the people around me. I pray more. I suffer more. And through that suffering, I learn lessons I would never learn in times of abundance. I am grateful for the rain, the power outages, the water shortages and the time delays. I’m grateful for the relationships I have and for the perspective this life creates. It’s easy for me to remember what I care about most.

My life in Africa keeps me grounded. It keeps me centered and aware. My perspective is clear and purposeful. I feel truly alive here. I feel connected to people and to God. There is something about this land, and the people that remind me to live and love like it’s my last day on earth. I love that. I thank God I have the opportunity to live and serve here.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us struggle together.” – Unknown –

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Appreciating the Journey

When we witness something truly magnificent, such as the birth of a baby, a full moon over the ocean with a warm breeze, or the flutter in your chest when the love of your life enters the room; it is easy to believe in a powerful and loving God. Some things are just too powerful and too beautiful for us believe that they “just happened”. It just makes sense that someone is up there orchestrating these phenomenal happening.

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve grown to appreciate the tragedies of life for the purposes they serve and how I’ve become “almost ok with it”. However, I’ve begun to realize that there must be more to it than that. Why do we have suffering on this planet? Why does God allow it; and is me being “almost ok with it” as good as it’s going to get? Is that God’s big plan?

One can certainly make a valid argument for instances throughout history where something beautiful has come out of tragedy. Sadly, we often must lose everything in order to realize what really is important to us. The loss, or even near loss, of a loved one, can completely change the trajectory of your life. You realize for the first time how important that person really was to you, and you think, “I never showed her how much I love her. Did she know?” And you think, “I could have been a better friend (or cousin in my case). I could have served her more. Why did I take our time for granted? Why didn’t I help her? Why was I so selfish?” And as these reflections and regrets race through your mind, you vow to invest your time in what really matters; people, relationships, family. You vow to seize each moment as if it were your last; to never take a loved one for granted again. This will not; could not happen again. Suddenly, the idea of “ubuntu” seems of utmost importance.

You’ve gone through a significant transformation now, never to return to your previous state. And as a result, you believe yourself to be a more caring, more giving and ultimately “better” you. You’ve had a powerful “life changing” experience. What would your life look like without this tragedy? Would you have chosen this career path? Would you have married this person? Would you have invested so heavily into the relationships you now consider to be most important in your life? Look at how different your life is as a result of this tragedy. Could you really be “you” without this life changing experience?

The answer is very likely, “no, I would not be who I am today if…” Would you dare say that this great loss served the purpose of changing the course of your life? Do you believe that? Does this give you some greater responsibility to live a “good” life? Was it a wakeup call for you? Or was it actually intended to change someone else’s life and some good karma just happened to ricochet in your direction? Is it all just a coincidence? Are you just making things up in an effort to make sense out of life? What does it all really mean? Could this possibly be the same God that created something as inexplicable and powerful as love? How could He create something so beautiful one moment, and then allow it to be destroyed the next? What sense does this make? Is it dichotomous or purposeful? Why do bad things happen to good people?

The truth is I just don’t know the answers to all of these questions and I will never fully understand this dynamic between life and suffering.

Most of us have come to grips with the fact that life is a journey, and not a destination. Fair enough. I don’t believe God just put us here on earth to wait it out until we die and go to Heaven, or otherwise. I believe our life is about a series of decisions we make here on earth that have just as much importance as where we go when we die.

If I am truly to love my life, I have got to believe in the purpose of the journey. I’ve got to believe there is divine purpose in the beauty God creates, as well as the tragedies He allows to happen. While I do not wish for, or claim to understand, death or any other tragic loss, I have learned to recognize its purpose in our lives. Without it, we would cease to witness things like the phenomenon of “beauty from ashes” that have made life such a mind blowing experience. Think of those stories about the concept of “from rags to riches”. They wouldn’t be so compelling if they were called “I’ve always been rich”. It’s the idea that someone was destitute or poverty stricken and then overcame all of the odds against them that is so compelling.

I believe the realization and embrace of this powerful journey throughout life just might be the proverbial “secret to life”. If we learn to love, or at least appreciate every stage of our lives as a journey and not just a momentary happening, there is very little left to disrupt our peace and fulfillment.

While the mastery of this ideal is certainly attainable, it is no doubt a journey in and of itself. I certainly don’t pretend to have this all figured out. However, the more I train myself to view life as a journey, full of necessary failures and tragedies that form my character and personality, and generally end up making me a better person, the less I am devastated when something seemingly tragic happens. I’ve learned to stop, step back, look at the big picture and realize that maybe it was necessary, even if I don’t understand it. Fortunately, the happenings of life are not dependent upon my understanding of them. Believing there is purpose in it all gives me peace.

*This was admittedly more of a lengthy stream of thoughts and questions than my usual posts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

We Do What We Want

The more I experience a life less ordinary, (which I am quite grateful for) the more I realize people do exactly what they want to do; it’s just a matter of how much they want it. No matter how grand or how mundane your life is, for the most part, it is the way it is because you made choices that got you there and because you continue to make choices that keep you there. Timing and circumstances certainly play a major role in our life journey, but ultimately, I believe our “destiny” is what we make it.

People easily get self consumed, worried and pessimistic. We are quick to be controlled by fear and fear of failure is generally at the top of the list. But history proves that the people this world considers to be “great” are the ones that took the biggest risks; people that were driven to the extent that they would no longer let fear control them. These are the people that have paved the way for the rest of humanity.

Perspective is important. It’s easy to make our own little worlds and lose perspective of the big picture. Francois de La Rochefoucauld once said, “It is often merely for an excuse that we say things are impossible.” The more we get wrapped up in our self-absorbed worlds, the easier it is to turn those excuses into our reality. They comfort us. To say something is impossible lets us off the hook, even in our own mind. But the great men and women of this world became great because they spent their lives defying what others swore was impossible.

If it is important to you to work out daily, you do it. No time schedule or number of children or lack of money or anything else can keep you from it. It is only a matter of how much you want it. And though your list of excuses might sound grand to you, remember those stories of our heroes that ran marathons and won Olympic event with missing limbs, heart problems, or coming out of destitute poverty. There is almost always someone (or even a large group of someones) that has made a decision to not let those excuses stop them from achieving their dreams.

If you want to work out, lose weight, a better spiritual life, better relationships, a life with meaning, or whatever it is, you will attain it if you want it badly enough. And if you do not attain it, it is because your “I should” never became an “I must”. It simply was not important enough to you to stop your old habits and form new ones. You chose to let life get in the way, and you continue to let it direct your future.

No matter where you come from, the education you never obtained, the family you never had, or the circumstances you are in, you have the power to change your destiny at any given moment. No plans are necessary. You just stop doing what you’ve always done and take steps in the direction you want to go. The rest tends to happen fairly organically if you keep pushing.

Part of the peace and fulfillment of life comes with being appreciative of the journey. We have to realize that our perceived “failures” can just as easily be viewed as “necessary stepping stones towards success”. It’s a state of mind. If you can view your “failures” as valuable lessons that would not have been learned any other way, and an opportunity to learn, your journey becomes a lot more tolerable and even enjoyable. It makes sense that way.

From the way we treat people around us, to our jobs, and ultimately our life journey, it is a series of choices we make based on what is most important to us. If you want to lose weight badly enough, you lose it. If it’s not quite important enough for you to discipline yourself and change your habits, then it’s just that; not important enough.

With this realization comes a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot easier to just say, “that’s impossible” or “I don’t have enough time” or “I don’t have the money”. But thousands of great people have decided that those are just excuses to give up. They decided a life of meaning and fulfillment was more important, so they took it. And they didn’t plan for it. They just made the decision and started down the path. And they committed to making that decision every second of every day.

The next time you create an excuse for not doing something you say you want to do, for not following your dreams, or for why you were defeated, remind yourself that we all do exactly what we want to do; it’s only a matter of how much we want it.