Finding Perspective

In a sleep deprived haze at 1am, I let @princejackpup out to use the bathroom. *Usually* he doesn’t need to go out in the middle of the night, but we had been traveling, Lucy had been crying, and the path of least resistance (and least mess) was to just let him out.

[Quick note on context: we live in an apartment on the first floor with access to a dirt patch that could pass as a backyard that we share with six other units in the building. The backyard is right below our property manager’s apartment. No one ever goes down there because you have to walk down at least two flights of stairs, down a creepy hallway with a low ceiling, and past some trash cans to get there. Jack knows where the backyard is and as long as the doors are open, he will run down, do his business and come back up saving us from going out in the cold, at 1am.]

I waited inside listening for him to sprint back up the stairs, but after 5 mins and then 10 mins, no Jack. Piercing the quiet – a loud growl, and then a series of barks. I rush downstairs to stop Jack from waking up our property manager to find him frozen in the center of the backyard with his lips snarled and body tense staring at the fence. I turn on the flashlight on my phone and I just see the fence. Confused, I try to calm him down, but he sprints away all the while barking and growling at the fence.

I walk closer to the fence with Jack following at my heels and finally see a small piece of ivy growing over the top of the fence and swaying in the wind. I pick Jack up and hold him closer to the ivy comforting him that it is OK and the little ivy is definitely not a threat that any of us need to be protected from. He cranes his neck out sniffing the air a few inches around the ivy and finally agrees – yes, this isn’t a threat and we can calm down.

So many times we get stuck in the middle of a terrible [insert relationship, situation, job, belief, etc] because we have only seen things from one perspective. We are Jack in the sense that we visit a place we have been to many times before and get scared and frustrated by the one thing that is uncomfortable or out of place.

It almost always something outside of ourselves to shift our perspective – to make the uncomfortable known, and help us to see that maybe the thing that we are so scared by is just ivy swaying in the wind.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Most of the time, we get forced into these catalytic moments – we have a child, someone we love passes away, we get sick. In those moments, we will sometimes find new outlooks on life, but because the event “happened” to us (even planned), it takes us much longer – if ever – to learn whatever the universe is teaching us.

If we actively seek to open ourselves up to new experiences, we can also engineer these moments in our life, forcing ourselves into the process that I forced Jack into by picking him up and bringing him face to face with the scary piece of ivy growing on our backyard.

  1. Start by identifying where you might be stuck. Hint: it is almost always the thing that you talk about changing / doing but somehow never get around doing or a belief that you were taught and have never challenged. If you still don’t know what this could be, ask for feedback from close friends, family or coworkers – “what am I always talking about doing but never do?” or “what beliefs am I the most stubborn about?”
  2. Think of ways to get unstuck. Update your resume to find the job you have always talked about. Find a person that believes the opposite of what you believe and just become friends. Research books that expand your perspective – message me if you want some recommendations depending on the topic! Travel to a new country.
  3. Take one small step closer to the unknown. Book a flight, read the book or tell a friend what you are stuck on and how you are planning to get unstuck.
  4. Create a tipping point. Tell enough people what you are going to do or quit your job so that going forward into the unknown is easier than going back.

One of my own moments occurred when I was traveling during my study abroad program in Argentina. I didn’t know that I was “stuck” at the time, but knew that having only been out of the country once prior and never having traveled alone, I needed to expand my worldview. My decision to get unstuck was to stay in South America over the Christmas holidays and travel for two months alone. I talked about it with friends from school and finally by the time everyone was leaving to go be with their families, I started regretting my decision- did I really want to spend Christmas alone?

The beauty of engineering your own moments to get outside of your comfort zone is that you can create your own tipping points – tell so many people (for me it was everyone in the study abroad program) or quit your job so it becomes more difficult to go back than to move forward into the unknown.

Over the two months traveling, there was a lot of moments where I started to expand my perspective around the United States (read about my reflection a few years later on the banana republic in Guatemala here), religion, and what it might mean to live a fulfilled life (read here). A lot of the perspectives I gained stay with me today.

My two months traveling was like the fence getting torn down in the backyard revealing that the ivy growing over the fence was actually part of an amazing park beyond.

What fences are in your life? How can you engineer experiences to get to the amazing places outside of the fences in your way?

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On Assuming the Best in Others

Whenever Lucy starts crying, I run through a mental checklist — is she tired? is she hungry? does she have a dirty diaper? is she overstimulated? does she want to be held? I quickly try to quickly assess what is bothering her and then take care of whatever that need is.

I never once assume that something intrinsic to who Lucy is as a baby is what is causing her to cry. The checklist is all external factors and all the “problems” are grounded in what Andi and I need to do for her. Think about it — have you ever blamed a baby for crying?

Lucy’s mood swinging from happy to upset…My first thought is — What did I do / what changed in her environment to cause this?

Although there are some evil people in the world, I generally believe that people are good. But somehow when anyone not a baby is upset, my first thought is not, “I wonder what their day/week has been like leading up to this moment that could have caused this behavior?”

We are *mostly* rational beings, but we all have moments of irrationality. Mine, right now, are at 3am. Lucy is going through sleep regression which has caused her to wake up every hour or two wanting to be held. I don’t blame Lucy for feeling lonely / scared when she wakes up, but instead blame Andi for anything my sleep addled brain can think of (it’s her turn to get up or if only she put Lucy in those pajamas to sleep). And then if Andi gets upset because she definitely hasn’t been able to sleep for more than 1–2 hours either, I go further down the blame spiral. This spiral is all about how her reaction to this situation is driven, not by the fact that she is strung out, but driven by my internal 3am commentary of who she is as a person.

And we don’t just do this to people we love but also to complete strangers. That person that cut you off on the highway (1) isn’t a person; they are an [insert whatever expletive you want here] and (2) they cut you off because they are the devil reincarnate.

Stephen M.R. Covey — ‘We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.’

How can we start assuming the best in those around us? I love the books Crucial Conversations and Tools of Titans because they have some practical advice for these moments. Here is some of theirs, mixed with my own:

  1. Deep breathing when the spiral is starting
  2. Start with heart — what do I really want right now?
  3. Notice the role that you play in the stories you are telling — When I’m driving, do I subconsciously speed up to keep people from passing causing them to cut me off?
  4. Think and then genuinely wish the other person is happy!

On Being Present

Over the past week, I have been able to take a bit more of my paternity leave to hang out with Andi and Lucy. Lucy is now almost 4 months old and is incredibly aware of everything going on around her — smiling when you smile, “talking” out-loud (think baby dolphin mixed with monkey) and looking with great interest at anything you are doing.

I started to notice over the past week that every-time my phone was in my hand, Lucy would immediately look at the phone. After a while, if I was holding her and still looking at my phone, she would start to cry.

The first time it happened, I brushed it off — she just wants attention and the fact that I didn’t give it to her right now was frustrating to her. The next time and then the next, it dawned on me. How many times have I given up the opportunity to have a real connection for scrolling through my phone?

We go to dinner with a friend, we walk down the street, we call our mom, we have a meeting or we rock our child to sleep all the while only giving half of our attention to the person right in front of us. And this action is self perpetuating — once you are no longer present, those around you also stop being present too. Amazing that this behavior now is just normal; it took my 4 month old daughter to tell me that I was being rude!

Reality of Modern Society — New Yorker cartoon by Liam Francis Walsh

Luke recently recommended Ezra Klein’s podcast “Is modern society making us depressed?” (answer, yes and definitely worth a listen!) as we were talking about this issue. The salient point being that we have systematically alienated ourselves from others to the severe detriment of our mental health.

Just saying “be present” doesn’t seem to fix the issue so here are 5 actions that I am doing to be more present for Lucy and those around me:

  1. Delete social media apps off phone (don’t need to go cold turkey, but easy to avoid scrolling Instagram if you have to open your laptop to view)
  2. Connect daily with one person that I normally wouldn’t speak too
  3. Stop checking my phone when I wake up (this one has been incredibly hard!)
  4. Reflect daily on three specific things I am thankful for
  5. Clear time in my day to slow down and enjoy the little things. Which right now is making silly faces at my daughter and discovering her laugh!

Life Update

I don’t write as much as I once did. I buried my head in a new life in San Francisco, my job, and figured weekend adventures up to Marin or Yosemite or Pacifica didn’t make the same entertaining reading material as all my capers south of the border.

That doesn’t mean that my life got boring – in fact, every year (both personally and professionally) seems to get just a little better than the one before. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to help build FiveStars from the ground up starting as an account manager and then, helping build out the customer success team. I made mistakes, learned so much, and build some lifelong friendships along the way. Joining FiveStars three years ago was one of the best decisions of my life, and now, I stand on the edge of “my next big thing”.

Next week, I start at Lyft working on their retention operations team and couldn’t be more stoked. Three years ago, I remember standing on 16th and Guerrero (now just a few blocks from my house) trying to hail a cab after having a drink at Elixir with some friends. After 10 minutes, I walked down to Valencia, and spent the next 20 minutes running from corner to corner in the rain every time I saw a cab that might be open. I wanted a better way to get home and in those miserable moments that I spent in the rain, I needed a better way.

When Lyft gained traction a year later, ridesharing and the ease of the whole experience just made sense. It wasn’t a new concept (hailing back to my Kiva days, ridesharing was just how you got around), but the way Lyft built the community between drivers and passengers was unique and reminded me of how relational every ride was in Guatemala and Peru. As I talked to Zach about Lyft and then through every interview I had, I realized the community Lyft built doesn’t stop in the car but extends to every member of the team.

Leaving FiveStars is extremely bittersweet – I am leaving some amazing friends and coworkers at an amazing time in the company’s history. But as I look into the future, I am so pumped to combine two of my passions (travel and building community), learn from some incredible new colleagues, and help Lyft bring fist bumps to every corner of the world.

#startuplife

I haven’t really blogged since I got back from Peru.  Well, I have, but it has been for the startup I have been working for over the last 9 months @FiveStarsCard.  Just because I haven’t blogged, doesn’t mean my life has become any less exciting.  In fact, I haven’t had time to sleep let alone post a reflection of what my life has been over the past few months…

I had no idea what it takes to start a company.  Late nights out of a living room, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (ok, none of those really), and a good group of people.  At the end of the day, it hasn’t been easy… Realistically, it is one of the most challenging things I have ever done.  The best metaphor to working in a startup is running a marathon at a sprint pace.  All the training in the world won’t prepare you for the emotional, mental and physical investment of getting a great idea off the ground.  And to beat the competition, you have to run faster than you have run for longer than you have ever run.

So here is what I have learned:

  1. Your 100% isn’t quite enough.  At one point it was.  Maybe in college. Maybe in a 9 to 5.  But in the startup world, all you previously felt you had to give isn’t quite sufficient to do what is necessary.  You have to rise to the challenge and make efforts above what you previously thought your were capable of.
  2. You have to learn to work both smarter and harder. Busy work doesn’t exist in a startup.  Neither does “spinning your wheels”. If you are doing the same thing day in and day out without results, you are doing something wrong.  Revise your approach until you find something that works!
  3. Get innovative.  If you are in a startup, you are an entrepreneur.  Don’t expect others to think for you and don’t expect the answers to just drop into your lap.  Actively search for creative solutions to any and all problems that you encounter.
  4. Rest strategically.  If you work a 100 – 120 hour weeks back to back, your actual productivity will being to decline over time.  Taking a break from the day to day allows you to take a step back from your challenges and think about them more creatively.
  5. You can’t do it alone! Surround yourself with people you can trust and rely on. People that will both help you through all the difficulties that the startup life brings.

Just my reflections on the last few months working with @FiveStarsCard! Do you work with a startup? What has been your experience? Do you have any other advice?

Life Update

Since I last wrote, I have gone from Cusco, Peru to Lima. Lima to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires on a 4000 mile roadtrip through Patatgonia to Córdoba. From Córdoba to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires to Portland. Portland to L.A.

So here´s itinerary: We traveled from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca and then straight onto Peninsula Valdéz.  From Valdéz through Gaiman (for some Welsh tea!) to Parque Nacional Los Alceres.  North through El Bolson and Bariloche to the Ruta de los Siete Lagos. Launching off from San Martin de los Andes to Parque Nacional Lanín for a Volcano hike and sleeping under the stars.  North to Chos Malal for hot springs and then onto Córdoba (21 hour drive). From Córdoba to Buenos Aires to return the car.

And… the highlights of the roadtrip: sleeping in hammocks for two weeks straight, driving all night, seeing more stars than I ever have before, waking up to the sunrise, petting armadillos, trying to catch trout, swimming in crystal clear rivers and lakes, cooking over open fires, off-roading, getting off the beaten track and seeing Argentina from behind the wheel. And for me personally, learning to drive stick.

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A truly amazing experience. As my experience as a Kiva fellow comes to a close, I am starting the process of searching for a job in Los Angeles.  I will try to blog with any major changes, but in the meantime, I encourage you to follow my buddy, Devin Dvorak and his experience with Fulbright and microfinance in Argentina at http://dgdvorak.wordpress.com/

My Last Peruvian Post

This is a hybrid post. Half consists of pieces taken out of my last Kiva Fellows blog. And the other half from my final musings and future plans (I won´t be blogging for at least a month). Feel free to cry now.

Click above to read the full post “Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come.  Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.

My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru.  I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates…

On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail.  On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.

And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field… My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer.  I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life.  Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.”

As far as the future, I have a road trip through Patagonia planned with Devin Dvorak (starting on Feb 14th!). Coming back to the states, I’m heading up to Portland for a week, and after trying to find a job in Los Angeles.

My experiences with Kiva in Central and South America have truly been an adventure, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanks for all your prayers, support, and for reading my blog! I promise to blog when I’m back in the states about my exploits!