Author Archives: Aaron

Less is More

Have you thought about what really makes you happy? I mean, really makes you happy. I read a blog post some time ago where the author said that one way to find this you have to think about what is the perfect day to you. What happens in that day where everything goes right? You wake up feeling rested. You eat your favorite breakfast. Play some good songs. The sun is shining. You take a walk with a friend, or your dog. You meet some friends for lunch. You hike a trail, or go to the river, or go for a drive. You try some wine, or some beer, or you go to a baseball game.

I suppose your list looks a bit like that or something similar. What I find interesting about this exercise is that the list in itself is never complex. It’s composed of really simple things, and oddly enough, they aren’t very expensive. Then why, is happiness so expensive? Why do we buy so much? Or maybe a better question is, “Why do we buy so much but never really use what we buy nor remember what we bought?”less-is-more-dominican-baseball-july-2014

I think the point is clear, if you can’t remember how, when, or what really makes you happy then it probably isn’t a source of happiness.

Being in the Dominican Republic for me is a reminder of how easy it is to be happy without having to spend much at all. What made me happy were the times with friends, the laughter, the music, the small trips, the conversations with locals, being outside, walking around in beautiful areas, finding local fields to play with neighborhood kids. These are all elements of experience that costs so little, just some time and some up-front planning.

What I also realize is that if I spend my money on things not only do I have less money, but I have less time to do other things, and less space for the things I want. This may sound painfully obvious, but it’s really a change in perspective. To do things that make you happy you’ve got to stop doing the things that prevent you from being happy.

Doing less, buying less, occupying less is really more.

The joy of buying less, keeping less, owning less.

“Through the Valley” – (June ’14 Newsletter)

edify_logoI know it’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a newsletter. Initially, I had intended this newsletter regarding my mission work with Edify to be monthly, but the past five months have been really slow, and up and down in terms of our progress. I prefer to have some news or updates to convey when I communicate, and I hadn’t felt that I had some good solid news, until now. The past six weeks have simply been fantastic in terms of the progressJune-14-News-01 we’ve made and I’m glad to share them with you now. A quick note, I just recently arrived to the Dominican Republic to host an internship for our local Peruvian partner and work in our three week Family Experience program with some Dominican schools. More on that below. -Aaron

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. (Ecclesiastes 7:8 NIV)

When you sign onto a new project or initiative you usually have some idea of what you’re getting into. It is pretty tough when a new, demanding responsibility takes you by surprise and you find yourself saying, “I had no idea it would be like this.” Well, for me, I suppose I had some idea that the process of starting something new would take some time, and June-14-News-02bringing a new program that has worked in other countries would certainly not be a cookie-cutter implementation in a new country. That’s all true, I knew that. But it’s been really difficult to be so patient, and I was not expecting it to be so difficult for me.

Every time I have the chance to talk to someone back home, it’s always encouraging and reassuring to me. My friends, mentors, and family all remind me why I made the decision to work abroad and what it means for the local community here, and why I do what I do. I believe that God has a plan for redemption for these economically poor communities and a way to restore what was broken.

I know that this is a cohesive story that begins with love and ends in redemption. It’s a true story that we are all familiar with, and yet it is new every time we come back to it. This story is good and beautiful, and we love telling it. Hmmm, well, we love the beginning, and certainly the ending, and when we compare the before and after it makes the everything clearer and more meaningful, and brings a well defined conclusion to beginning. But I think there’s a part that doesn’t get much airtime, certainly it’s a part I had forgotten.June-14-News-03

The middle.

I’d been in the middle for about a year in Peru. I’ve had the great blessing to be able to work in Latin America with various Christian organizations that are committed to doing good work in the name of Christ. I have seen so much of the “before” – the brokenness of a community, all the pain and the suffering, and I have seen the beautiful “after.” Lives have been changed, students graduate, adults learn to read, communities become safer, families can afford to live better and healthier, and individuals learn that God has not forgotten them, and that life is much better trusting Him and knowing and living like Jesus. I’ve been a part of that story many times.

But the middle? I kind of wanted to skip over that. Go around it, jump over it, race through it, but I’ve realized that sometimes you just can’t. You can’t really be past something unless you pass through it first.

June-14-News-04Honestly, the middle was hard. It was hard for the simple reason that I came with a purpose, and I hadn’t been able to fulfill it. Let me remind you though, that this is kind of an American struggle. Many of my Latin America friends do not usually align their feelings of spiritual fulfillment with career success. (I’ve often said to many of my friends back home that Americans aren’t really fulfilled unless they are slightly dissatisfied with their progress. How can we ever find peace with this kind of mentality? Anyway, that’s a topic for another newsletter . . .)

Throughout all the months, the visits, the calls, the emails, the meetings, what has continually motivated me is that I have seen the program work. Knowing that our program for low-cost Christian schools has impacted more than a quarter of a million students in Africa and the Caribbean inspires me to take this program into the communities I’ve visited in Lima, Peru.
As I’ve seen now, sometimes to really have a breakthrough you’ve got to try to step back, analyze the situation, pray about it, and make a new plan. That’s just what we did. Together with the Edify team we put forth a grand effort the past two months to make this work in Peru. I’m glad to tell you today, that we are finally on our way here in Peru. The past two months have been a tremendous amount of work. With a signed contract, transferred funds, and a pool of schools that have loan applications in progress, I feel like we’ve crossed through the valley, and I am more excited than ever to see this program work in Lima.

You know what I think helped us get to where we are? I believe it was our commitment to walk through the middle with our partner.

The past few months we’ve worked so hard to build up the technical aspects of the program, with a future goal of a week-long internship in the Dominican Republic with our Peruvian colleagues. What I understand from last week is that there is nothing like seeing something with your own eyes, walking in the same communities, talking with the local staff and being inspired by the men and women of the Edify-supported schools in the Dominican Republic. Our local Dominican staff have been amazing. They have been so hospitable and welcoming to our PeJune-14-News-06ruvian colleagues. What I’ve seen in the past week has been a visible ascent of coming out of the valley.

From a wider perspective, when you look at both sides of a new partnership, both parties have their own questions, doubts, and processes for which they need time to understand. I think I was ready to push this program through all the way to the communities in Lima that I had visited because I was confident, I had seen it, and touched it. But in order for others to be in this same place, you’ve got to take them on the journey as well. The feedback from our Peruvian colleagues has been incredibly positive. I really feel like they’ve caught the vision, and are more equipped than ever to bring this program to Peru.

There have been so many people who have walked through the middle with me this past year. My colleagues at Edify, my friends, my family, and of course I’ve felt the presence of the Lord more than ever.

June-14-News-05Thank you to all of you who have supported me over the past year, and get ready to celebrate with me when we get our first few schools in the program in Lima in the next few weeks!

For now, I’ll be in the Dominican Republic, celebrating with my Dominican colleagues for what the Lord has already done here with our family experience camps. That’s what I’ll write about in the next newsletter.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

I pray that you maintain the vision you have, and that you don’t let go of what you know to be true.


10 Times in Practice

I had a conversation with a taxi driver during the world cup about the skill and the chemistry of certain teams and their star players. Why some players were simply more dependable than other players? He seemed like he was a veteran of the game, and offered me this explanation:

“It’s like I tell my son and his friends, if you want to score a goal from a certain distance or pass a player with a flashy move in the game, they’re going to have to do it at least 10 times in practice, flawlessly.”brazil-world-cup

He added that on the contrary, “Don’t expect to be able to do something in a game that you haven’t done 10 times well in practice!”

Such good advice I think. There are so many “one-hit wonders” and many flukes of success that seem to crop up and die out. You wonder what it was that allowed them to reach a certain level of stardom because they showed all the signs of excellent in their performance. but failed to keep it going. Maybe the reason they couldn’t keep it up is that while they showed it in their performance, they couldn’t repeat consistently. There are myriad factors that determine an outcome in the game. The question is can a player do it consistently in each situation without suffering from so much analysis and critique that they can’t even perform?

That I think is the difference between those who are great and those who are good. It’s the level of consistency showed day in and out of practice and on stage. I think anybody can hit a home run, write a great article, or have a great showing, but it is those who have refined their art to the point of repeatability. Those are the ones that stick around.

That’s Like Two or Three Taxi Rides

He was obviously distraught. He kept checking the compartment below the stereo receiver and spread out the CD’s on the front seat. He pulls out old receipts from the visor up above, sorts through them. Still nothing. I’m his passenger, but he’s more concerned about finding something he’s lost. He drives safely on the straight stretches, and gets slightly maniacal at the stop lights. It’s obviously bothering him. I have no idea what he’s looking for.

“Can I light a cigarette? (I think he wants the nicotine to calm down.)

. . . I think when we stopped at the stoplight, there was so much noise, I thought he had paid me . . . he said thanks, and then he just left . . .

. . . I can’t find it, I can’t find the 20 sole note . . .

Did he pay me? I’m thinking now he didn’t . . .

. . . there’s just some bad people in the world, you know? just some bad people out there, dishonest, crooks.

Do you mind if I light another cigarette? (he puts the lighter in the driver-side door and takes out a map, a book, and a bunch of brochures.)

. . . ugh, that was like almost an hour . . . for nothing . . . he rests his elbow on the window sill and puts his hand on his forehead

20 soles! that’s like two or three taxi rides. (US $6.50)

I can’t believe it . . . 20 soles!”


I have to take taxi’s a lot here in Lima. I pay around 6 soles to get to most places (about $2.00) which takes about 10-15 minutes. Most taxi drivers fight to get passengers. They race around the corners, cutting each other off, often times putting pedestrians or their future clients in harms way.

Two or three taxi rides is probably more than an hours work all told. To fight to be first, to take almost any passenger to almost any destination, (except the ones where the expense would dilute any profits,) consume the costly fuel, deliver the client safely to their destination, and to battle the horrendous Lima traffic – that’s painful. Time lost, money lost, yeah, those are tough, but to be cheated – that hurts deep inside.

I know people put on an act to squeeze more money out of a traveler, but usually the charade wears out and the reality seeps in. I spent about 15 minutes in his car.

“Keep the change, I’m sorry that someone cheated you.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, go ahead. Have a good night sir.”

“Really? You’re ok with that? . . . Wow . . . Seriously? . . .

. . . (chattering in disbelief) . . .

. . . I prayed for work, I just prayed for more work after I lost the money . . . just two or three taxi rides to make up for what I lost . . .

I think you were sent! I think you were an answer to prayer. Thank you sir, God Bless you.”


The change I left with him was just 1/2 a taxi ride more than the fare he quoted me.

That’s how much a dollar means to some people.

Working through my new author series: Michael Lewis

Most people know Michael Lewis for his 2006 book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” that was made into a movie “Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock about Michael Oher, an offensive lineman, a left tackle (who protects the blind side of the quarterback) who plays for the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. Great movie, and a pretty good script too. (Which wasn’t written by Michael Lewis, but anyway).

What fewer people know is that the first big literary hit that propelled him into his writing career was “Liar’s Poker,” the 1989 non-fiction, semi-autobiographical book about a younger Michael Lewis, age 26, as a a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers, the infamous Wall Street broker during the crazy financial period of the 80’s. (I have since finished this book, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It helps to lay the ground for understanding where Michael Lewis came from.)

However, in my particular case, the first article I read of Michael Lewis was linked by a Longreads article (weekly newsletter of the best long-form stories on the web: in his Vanity Fair article entitled: “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” (source:

“Just follow the monks after they rise,” he said. Then he looked me up and down more closely. He wore an impossibly long and wild black beard, long black robes, a monk’s cap, and prayer beads. I wore white running shoes, light khakis, a mauve Brooks Brothers shirt, and carried a plastic laundry bag that said eagles palace hotel in giant letters on the side. “Why have you come?” he asked.

That was a good question. Not for church; I was there for money. The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge.

What’s amazing about Lewis as a writer is not only his breadth of subjects – just look at the three field of subjects he’s written about which I listed above – but his ability to tell a story about nearly anything, and make it interesting. The writing excerpt is about the European debt crisis a few years back, and the way Lewis unravels the story involving complex financial instruments and foreign policy, making it understandable and interesting is something he’s particularly suited for and has now created his own personal brand that helps to translate these subjects for the rest of us laypeople.

Someday I want to have the ability to write about very technical subjects and employ the storytelling hooks that help a reader learn and enjoy what they’re reading. That’s my biggest takeaway from Lewis is that he understands that he’s uniquely gifted to write about business and finance, about even the most technical facets of tradeable securities and their impact on the local and global economy, but he also understands that not everyone is created that way. In order to capture the reader, to pull them in just as he was attracted to the issue at first, he must find a way to strip away what will deter them, and add in more of what will keep them.

He did precisely that in his 2011 book about the global financial crisis of 2008. The story really begins in 2005 when new housing loans become easier to market and sell with low interest rates (usually teaser rates that eventually expand to form an incredibly unaffordable monthly payment), and wall street investment banks package these now risky housing loans into investments which are erroneously rated as solid investment by the rating agencies. His essential question was that someone must have known that this was all going to go south, and indeed there were probably about 20 different parties, or individuals that bet against these investments, (the big short), and made out with hundreds of millions of dollars when it all came crashing down.

Maybe this sounds boring to you, but if you read the book, Lewis weaves the journalistic retelling of the crisis through a cast of characters, all real life investors or analysts, and you follow these narratives as the events unfold from 2005, to the first warning signals in 2007 and the eventual crash in 2008. It’s like following a movie, and in this case of the disaster genre, like Titanic, because you know the outcome of the story even before you begin, but you want to see how these characters weather the storm. What’s interesting as well, is that by the time the book actually arrives at 2008, it’s all set up and you know what the logical consequences of this event was – indeed we all watched it on TV for a year. But this time around, you have a better foundation for answering the “why” of the crash, and you know the “who” and the “how” because it’s delivered to you like a novel.

I was hooked, and I ate this book up. It left me hungry for another.

I have since ordered three more books by Lewis. Here we go.

Capitalism & Freedom by Milton Friedman – Initial Thoughts

I’ve often said to my friends that living abroad is a lesson in economics. Even if you don’t have the slightest idea on how economics influences a government, or vice versa, or how the trickle down never drips into your bank account, you’ll get an understanding of these market leche-santo-domingoforces pretty quickly abroad. For example, when I lived in Santo Domingo, I heard many stories about what it was like to live in the tumultuous period of the early 2000’s. Could you imagine working in a supermarket and having to change the price of milk three times within one day? Or if you’re buying groceries for the family and you suddenly don’t have enough to purchase your weekly supply of necessary food items because the prices have jumped 5-10% in a day?

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia regarding the 2000-2004 period when Hipólito Mejía was president:

“During his government the country was affected by one of the worst economic crises, generated by the bankruptcy of three major commercial banks in the country, which resulted in high inflation, high country risk rating, currency devaluation and increasing local poverty.” (source:


Hipólito Mejía en 2000

Even during the two years I spent in the Dominican Republic from November 2010 to October 2012, the Dominican Peso was marked to the dollar at $0.36 to  $0.43, respectively. That’s a difference of 19.44%, a nice gain, with the caveat being that you’re on the US side. What economics urges us to consider is that there is always another side to every action or consequence.

Imagine being on the other side of that equation, where your investments: stocks or retirement funds, or your checking and savings accounts are devalued almost 20% in two years. With it’s proximity to the United States, the Dominican Republic purchases the majority of its goods from the United States. So as an individual, you lose 1/5th of your buying power, or even worse, if you’re an employer or an employee of a company that sells goods purchased from the United States you’re at a severe disadvantage and you’ll have to lay off staff just to keep the lights on.

When you live in an economy prone to wild swings like this and hear stories of the consequences for the average individual, it makes you feel blessed to be from a country that has such stability in their economy and in their currency. It was like I was shielded from the changes in the economy, and in fact, I know I prospered from it being someone who consistently converted my dollars and made purchases in the local Dominican economy.

This experience piqued my curiosity to understand how the decisions of the local government and the international government affected not just the overall population, but the communities and the individuals that I had come to know on a personal level. It is a great difference to take some esoteric theories and translate them into factors for why communities suffer from crime, delinquency, and unemployment.

After a few conversations with some friends back home, I wanted to get a primer on economics and capitalism to read during my journey’s in Latin America. Well, I now have a stack of economics books that I’ll be working through, but one near the top seemed like it was the most fitting when I wanted to know more about why the countries I was living in or traveling through didn’t experience the same fortunes from Capitalism. In other words, why didn’t they have the same access to opportunity that we did, or experience the same security of their property or benefit from low prices, or rest assuredly that their freedoms, religious, civil and economic Milton-Friedman-Capitalism-and-Freedomwere fully intact and preserved for tomorrow.

This book, “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman has helped me sort through some initial thoughts, answered a few questions, but opened up a whole new world of new questions for what I try to reconcile in my mind when I read the newspaper here in Lima, Peru. It’s a definitely not an easy read, but it is a good start in understanding the frameworks for governments and how the structure of an economy influences, both positively and negatively, the freedoms of the individual. (I’m still working through the first three chapters.)

First of all, I thought the term, “Capitalism” was a pretty cut and dry definition, much like knowing the capital of the United States was Washington D.C. Everybody knows it and quotes it so often that there’s really no room for discussion. Quite often in America we believe in this “Capitalism,” like it was some unalienable right, part of the 10 commandments handed down from God, but some of us rarely understand what this definition means or the implications, both good and bad. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits in a market economy. Central characteristics of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets and wage labor. In a capitalist economy, the parties to a transaction typically determine the prices at which assets, goods, and services are exchanged.(source:

As you see, this is a pretty straightforward definition of Capitalism, and it can refer to a neighborhood market or a national economy, but as Friedman points out in his book, what we aim to have as a nation are a set of principles and ideologies that form our capitalist economy; what we really want to believe we have is “Democratic Capitalism,” here’s more:

Democratic capitalism, also known as capitalist democracy, is a political, economic, and social system and ideology based on a tripartite arrangement of a market-based economy based predominantly on a democratic policy, economic incentives through free markets, fiscal responsibility and a liberal moralcultural system which encourages pluralism.[1][2] This economic system supports a capitalist free market economy subject to control by a democratic political system that is supported by the majority. It stands in contrast to authoritarian capitalism by limiting the influence of special interest groups, including corporate lobbyists, on politics. (source:

What encompasses this latter definition is not just the practice of exchanging goods, but also the Scope: the structures of our political, economic and social structures, the ideology of “why” we believe this is good: Democracy – everyone should have a vote, or an ability to participate, and also how it plays out: Free Markets – we are all allowed to sell products (be business owners) and buy products (have choices as consumers) without the rigid structure or authoritarian rules of “who” buys/sells, “where” in places of purchase, and “how” certain price controls or limits.

Democratic Capitalism, therefore better preserves our rights and freedoms that the simple definition of “Capitalism.” Now, if you’re like me, you tend to think that any country that isn’t part of the traditional communist countries: Cuba, Russia, or China is basically a Capitalist country, because it’s not communist, you’d be wrong. A huge gap exists between Capitalism and Democratic Capitalism, and what Friedman explains in his book is that it’s often helpful to see these practices of government as they are compared to other forms of government, or in other words, “know what they are in terms of what they are not.”

Now, I realize, that from what I’ve seen in Latin America is that these are not true Capitalist countries, they have hints at being an Oligarchy:

Oligarchy (from Greekὀλιγαρχία(oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning “few”, and ἄρχω (arkho), meaning “to rule or to command”)[1][2][3] is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.

Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical (relying on public obedience and/or oppression to exist) though others have been seen as relatively benign. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich,[4] for which the exact term is plutocracy. However, oligarchy is not always rule by the wealthy, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged group, and do not have to be connected by either wealth or by bloodlines – as in a monarchy. (source:

Now this is starting to make a lot more sense as I weigh our American structure of Democratic Capitalism against forms of Oligarch. Many times in the newspaper I read that there are certain companies, organizations, or political groups that all have the same last name – that would be the form of power passing down from generation to generation. I can imagine you read the definition on Oligarchy like I did, and said, “Hmm, that sounds a lot like parts of America” and you’d be right. We don’t have a purely democratic capitalist society, but I’d like to believe that we have the belief that what we wrote in our Constitution is the standard that we should always be aiming to achieve. For that what we do have is a separation of powers, or a set of “checks and balances” to make sure that we are aware of what currently exists and what should exist as a true form of government.

Our freedom is preserved by a system that aims to consistently preserve our freedom. Many of the countries I’ve lived in, are not set up that way, or are not proficient in maintaining that structure.

Whew, this is a lot for one day. Let me take a break and return to this a bit later on.

When to Cross the Street – Immediately

I used to live in one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I remember sitting in a conference where the speaker gave us the most recent statistics in Latin America relating to traffic accidents, deaths, and pedestrian fatalities. It’s certainly not the kind of information you want to hear on an empty stomach, nor the kind that would make momma proud in an email back to home.

Here in Lima, Peru, a city 2.5 times the size of Santo Domingo, I feel like getting through traffic is even more perilous. Not a week, or should I say, a couple of days goes by without a report on a serious accident on a major thoroughfare or highway, and unfortunate cases of pedestrians being involved in traffic accidents. Traffic here feels like it’s a war between the drivers, and then when the pedestrians want to cross, they become the new enemy, because they represent an tráfico-limaimpediment to their progress (and maybe a better target because their lack of defense). I understand this frustration, many times I’ve been in a taxi and have had to wait 30-40 minutes to go just a few kilometers.

So here’s a statistic that’s not all that comforting from the Inter-American Development Bank from 2012 on road safety :

” . . . more than 100,000 people are killed every year in traffic crashes in Latin America and the Caribbean. Compared with other causes of untimely deaths, road incidents take more lives each day (about 275) than HIV-AIDS does (156). At 17 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, this region’s roadway fatality rate is nearly double that of higher income countries. (source:,10090.html)

I go to eat lunch at a place near my apartment just about everyday called “El Principe.” It sits o Berlin Street, a main corridor for all types of vehicles traveling through the district where I live. There’s stoplight just before this section of Berlin, and all throughout Berlin there are restaurants, bars and two hostels. It can be a traffic nightmare, so vehicles are looking for ways to pass through it as quickly as they can. This usually means breaking the law, and sometimes that means getting caught (maybe “rarely” is a better term than “sometimes”) like the guy driving the Audi R8 that got pulled over right in front of the El Principe. (Lunch at EL Principe will cost you $3.15. Quite a contrast eh?)

This post isn’t about the (awful) state of traffic of Lima, as I could write a couple hundred posts about that, instead it’s about the ability to recognize an opportunity quickly. I have to cross Berlin Street everyday and usually this means that I have a 45 second window from when vehicles start revving down the bowling alley to the unsuspecting pedestrian pins. Everyday on my approach to lunch I have to assess my current walking speed as I near my beloved lunch spot. If I miss the traffic window it means I’ll have to wait a good two minutes and even more tragically, miss an open table at the ever popular El Principe.

“Where am I in the traffic window?” “Did it just begin? Is it ending? Am I going to get my table or be frustrated and hungry on the other side of the street.”

These are the questions I think about, and oddly enough, after almost eight months here, I can make this decision in a split-second. Amazing.

I should focus this ability in other “equally important” areas of my life.

Ride it Out: Make Good Decisions on Which Bus You Plan to Board

I’ve ridden hundreds of buses during my time in Latin America. I stopped counting a couple years ago because it became such a part of my life that I didn’t even think about it. What I haven’t forgotten though, are the times that I’ve gotten on a bus that was headed to the wrong destination. (The dramatic irony here is that the bus was not wrong in it’s course to a  destination, but I was) Whether it was Guatemala, Nicaragua, or the Dominican Republic, there were many times when I had been nervously sitting in a seat waiting for my stop to come, and it never would. Then I would ask the conductor or the attendant and they would seal my fate and say to me, “This bus does not stop there. You’ll have to get off and transfer at the next station.”buses-of-guatemala-3

There a few things less enjoyable than realizing that you got on the wrong bus and you are now headed in a direction you don’t want to go, and you cannot get off. You try and protest, and ask them to let you off, but it’s a highway, it’s dark, and you don’t know where you are. They aren’t going to put you a situation you don’t belong, (even though that’s what you’ve done to yourself); they are going to take care of their passenger. You’ll just have to ride it out.

A similar phrase in English is, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” meaning you have to take responsibility for where you’ve put yourself and the decisions you’ve made. I feel like there’s a bit of injustice considering the effects of this phrase. Many times the passenger is innocent and only has with them an intention to get to a destination, and now they are not only delayed, but their safety is in jeopardy. That’s hardly the idea behind someone needing to take responsibility for their actions. But as I’ve seen time and again in my travels, it’s not necessarily a question of justice or injustice, it’s more about ignorance versus knowledge, a choice of bus routes and ignorance stings whether or not you know better.

I had seen a movie about Mexican drug trafficking awhile ago, but because of it’s explicit content, I would wait until it comes out on TV if you have a desire to see it, but anyway it had an interesting quote that I’ll copy here:

“I would urge you to see the truth of the situation you’re in, Counselor. That is my advice. It is not for me to tell you what you should have done or not done. The world in which you seek to undo the mistakes that you made is different from the world where the mistakes were made. You are now at the crossing. And you want to choose, but there is no choosing there. There’s only accepting. The choosing was done a long time ago… Are you there Counselor?”

I find that sometimes I am much like the counselor here, trying to go back in time to retrace my steps and un-make the decision that I made a short while ago, but like it’s referenced in this quote, the consequences of a decision take place in a world that is different than in which they were made. There is no going back, there is only accepting the current situation, and waiting until the next stop to get off.

I think about this “permanence” of consequences when I visit some of these communities in Lima where we hope to pursue the extension of our microlending program to schools. Are these schools, these communities, these children on a bus route in which they can only switch seats but they cannot get off? Or can we change the destination?

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” thoughts from the book

I’m reading one of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years. What’s amazing to me is that it precisely and concisely encapsulates so many of the thoughts I’ve had over the past few years in Latin America, as well as the genesis of this career move over four years ago.

Cal Newport is the author of the book called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. The first part of the title is a reference from the actor/comedian Steve Martin who, when asked to dispense advice to up and coming artists in an interview with Charlie Rose in 2007, basically said that you’ve got to practice relentlessly and hone your craft so that it will be impossible to ignore what you’re doing. When you get so good, they can’t ignore you, you’ll just be oozing confidence and this will speak louder than any press release.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Newport claims that by building up “career capital” – the rare and valuable skills that employers are willing to pay for – you will eventually land a great job that you’ll be passionate about. This of course, flies in the face of convential wisdom which is “follow your passion and the job will come to you” which is actually pretty rare, and maybe it’s even misinformed. As he shows, some of our favorite geniuses, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, achieved the success they are now know for by being incredibly good at what they do, and arrived at their passion after years of hard work.

But if you follow the traditional route of “follow your passion,” you’ll fall prey to the great career mistake that countless 20-something pioneers make: build up enough courage to quit your day job to pursue your passion. What ends up happening is that the individual tries to bridge the gap of where they currently are and where they want to be with enthusiasm and passion, and worry about producing income later. As we all know, the rule of the working world is that people will only pay for something if you’re good at it, and if you’ve got no income, your career dreams can quickly dissipate.

I know there are tons of travel blogs and people hawking advice on how to quit your job and travel, but the reality is that a traveling lifestyle is only sustainable up until the point that your savings run out. To make money off of a blog or web site, you’ve got to be able to sell some product or service people are willing to buy. But what ends up happening is that these bloggers, and they are legion, have a wonderful journey (a journey to write home about, that much is true, and a worthy goal in itself), but they do not have much to sell other than the travel photos they’ve taken and the unusual stories they’ve collected.

In some ways, I feel like I could have made that mistake. I had so much excitement about jumping into a new lifestyle, one where I would be able to impact people living in economic poverty and providing them with hope and microloans, but interestingly enough, I didn’t have a lot to offer in the beginning, not even a modicum of Spanish ability. What saved me, I suppose, is that a great organization, HOPE International believed in me and put into a place where I could be useful and grow professionally. Even though I had five years of work experience, that career platform doesn’t necessarily translate to effective overseas Microfinance operational success.

What I’ve learned, has been four years in the process. What I’ve seen now, as the current program manager of the Edify program in Peru, is that there are a multitude of skills that an organization like Edify or HOPE International are looking for, and the only way you get to have a position where an organization pays you to be there is to make yourself great at these skills. So while many people have the desire to serve, to learn a language, to help, the real, impact-making jobs can only be staffed by people with specific abilities, and are good at what they do. This is kind of career decision I chose, and this set of specific skills is one that I continue to improve.

Endurance and Pacing in the Movistar 10k

imagen-movistar  This past weekend I ran the Movistar (phone and cable company) 10K with 16,000 of my closest friends. I hadn’t been training all that much for the competition, but I had run a decent amount up until race day. My goal was to break 55 minutes and to not stop. A lot of times I have a habit of setting out to do a monumental amount of kilometers only to find that I can’t keep the pace and have to slow down and walk. I didn’t have to stop this time, I kept my pace, but one thing overwhelmingly slowed me down: traffic!

I crossed the start line at approximately 8:33, a good three minutes after the start time because I was stuck in a wave of people. So it took nearly four minutes for thousands of eager runners to cross, but as I quickly found out, they were all quite excited to start, but didn’t share the same exuberance for running. I had to abruptly slow down to not smack into the runners before me. There was no order to the race, no slower joggers on the right, and faster joggers on the left. It was all just a free for all in the streets, and therefore the race spilled out on both sides into the grace and onto the sidewalk.

movistar-limaIt became incredibly frustrating to find any sort of path through the madness as the lack of order intensified. Runners were confined to slowing down to the speed of the joggers in front of them or waste precious energy by zig-zagging through the masses. I wasn’t about to sprint through the mess like so many of my peers, because it all seemed fruitless; as far as my giraffe-like status allowed me, I could see that it would be this way for at least a kilometer.

There was no way to escape the slow pace.

For at least 4 kilometers, a bit over 2 miles, it was like this. No room to run and it was hot! Not because of the weather but because of the magnitude of runners, it was like running in a heat cloud, only to escape the current cloud and land in the next heat cloud. I was so frustrated.lima-42k

Eventually things subsided at around the 6 or 7 kilometer mark, and I was picking up speed, but what had happened was that I had already set my pace and was comfortable in it. I had spent roughly 70% of the race running at a pace that wasn’t my goal, and now it felt too difficult to change it. I had exhausted a lot of my energy, and was solely focused on finishing.

I finished, it was fun, and I had a blast with my girlfriend and her friends. Well worth the time involved.

Got me thinking about “pacing” in life. How easy it is to stay with the pack, or burn up your energy when you didn’t start out early, or just resign yourself to sticking with the masses. What did I learn? Train for it, build up your pace, and ensure that you start when you need to start to keep the pace that you intend to carry the entire race.