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Reinvigoration

It’s been nearly 8 months since I’ve last updated this blog, a long enough to hiatus to cause even the most delinquent of bloggers to blush.  The reason for this gap is simple:  writing about my travels began to feel like a chore.  The travel experience itself has still been fun for these last 8 months, but writing about every place I visit began to feel like unpaid work.  So, in true sabbatical spirit I allowed myself to abdicate this responsibility.

However I feel inspired to write the blog post you’re reading now because it’s not a travelogue, it’s a wrap-up.  After nearly 2 years on the road I’m officially bringing the Chasing Summer adventure to a close.  Why?  Because it’s time.

Since my last blog update I’ve spent most of my days in Southeast Asia, exploring Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  Frankly I use the word “exploring” loosely, since due to travel fatigue I found myself stationary most of the time, often living for a couple of months in just one place and taking brief jaunts from there.

Reflecting on the time I’ve been away, I’ve gone through several stages:

  1. The first I’ll call The Freedom Stage, characterized by a sense of unshackling from the responsibilities of work and home life. This lasted 2 or 3 months.
  2. The second I’ll call The Wanderlust Stage, characterized by a sense of adventure and desire to visit exotic new lands and meet exotic new people.  This one lasted about a year.
  3. The third I’ll call The Settling Stage, where I found myself tired of exploring yet hesitant to return home.  So I kept traveling but very slowly.  This is where I’ve been for the last 8 months or so.
  4. The fourth and final stage I’ll call Reinvigoration, characterized by a sense of purpose, focus, self-knowledge, and desire to do something meaningful.  This is where I am today.

I’m very fortunate that my sabbatical was allowed to run its full course, uninterrupted by financial necessity, health constraints, family obligations, business emergency, or any of the other contingencies I feared.  Most of the other travelers I’ve met along the way had to return home when they ran out of either time or money, invariably sooner than they’d like.  I’m ending my travels because I’ve seen what I wanted to see, done what I wanted to do, and feel ready to begin the next stage of my life.  For this I’m grateful.

Taking this sabbatical was one of the best decisions I ever made. Here’s a short inventory of what’s come out of it:

  • I’ve visited 4 continents and over two dozen countries, some for long enough to immerse in the language and culture
  • I’ve met hundreds of people from every nationality, religion, culture, and socioeconomic background imaginable
  • I’ve learned how to kitesurf, speak Portuguese, catch piranhas, meditate, convert dozens of currencies in my head, and live comfortably out of a carry-on size backpack
  • I’ve watched the sunrise at Macchu Picchu, swam in the Amazon river, sunbathed on Ipanema beach, climbed the Cotopaxi volcano, explored Angkor Wat, kitesurfed in Hawaii, ridden up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, visited spiritual healers in Bali, sailed in the Thai Andaman sea, and enjoyed far too many other experiences to list
  • I’ve met a girl I adore, whose path I otherwise would have never crossed (our one year anniversary is coming up)
  • I’ve proven that my company, Infosurv, can survive and thrive without me, benefiting everyone involved
  • Heck, I even made the cover of a magazine

All of these things are wonderful, but they only reflect my outward journey.  The inward journey I’ve made is less apparent but far more important.  Though I look about the same as I did 2 years ago, I feel like a new man, with new priorities, new values, and a new life path.

I’m more relaxed now, obviously, but also more self-aware.  I know myself better than ever and have learned to listen, really listen, to my heart.  I’m confident about who I am and who I am not.

I’ve come to value money less and time more;  things less and people more;  recognition less and impact more;  logic less and intuition more;  appearances less and essence more.

I’ve had the time to challenge every assumption I’ve ever made about myself.  Some parts of my identity have been reaffirmed, such as my entrepreneurial drive and love for my family and friends.  Other parts have come into question, such as my religious and political stances.

Ironically, spending nearly 2 years without work has made me value work more.  I’ve learned that work provides much more than financial means, but also a necessary sense of purpose and contribution.  I’m deeply excited to build my next company, which I’ve already begun work on.  My new company will be built around my passions, and it will prioritize social impact over profits (though both are important.)

I’ve come to know many cultures and they’ve each become a small part of me.  I’ve learned to enjoy food like an Italian, to enjoy life like a Brazilian, to love like a Colombian, and to smile like a Thai.  I’ve also built a healthy distrust of the media and how it covertly shapes our impressions of foreign lands.  Believe me, there is a lot more to Colombia than drug cartels and a lot more to Vietnam than a war.  I haven’t yet been to Iraq or Afganistan but am sure the same rule applies.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses for my home country, the United States.  Our sense of innovation, idealism, and optimism is unmatched in the world.  Silicon Valley couldn’t be anywhere else.  On the other hand, our consumerism has gone off the deep end, we’re embarrassingly ignorant about the rest of the world, and our food culture leaves much to be desired.

There are a few aspects of my traveling life which I hope to retain when my travels end:

  1. Minimalism – When I packed up my Atlanta condo, I really thought I would miss all my stuff.  I haven’t.  My big screen TV, Tempur-Pedic mattress, fancy sound system, designer clothes, the art on my walls… haven’t missed them a bit.  I only think about them when I grudgingly pay my Public Storage invoice each month.  I’ve enjoyed a Zen-like calmness knowing that all I need in life can be carried upon my back.  I hope to retain this minimalism as long as I can.
  2. Geographic freedom – One of the rules of my sabbatical was to never plan more than a week in advance.  In practice it was more like 2 days.  I enjoyed knowing that I could stay someplace for a day, a week, a month or year, unconstrained by lease terms or the heavy weight of material possessions.  This isn’t to say that I’ll never again buy furniture or sign a one-year lease, but I’m now more predisposed to renting than owning.
  3. Worldliness – I left on this sabbatical as an American, but I return as a citizen of the world.  I now see the lines we draw on maps as rather arbitrary.  Languages, cultures, religions and political systems differ across nations, but people are people.  Vietnamese Communists want the same things in life as American Capitalists, and Malaysian Muslims want the same things as Thai Buddhists.  Anyone who says otherwise is motivated by either gaining votes or selling newspapers.

So what’s next?

After a few weeks in Scotland to visit my girlfriend’s family, we’ll board a plane to the USA.  After visiting with my family in Atlanta and Denver, we’ll head to San Francisco with the intention of making it home.  Of course, in keeping with #2 above, all geographic options shall remain open.

I’d like to sign out with a few words from the great poet T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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Letter from an Inc. magazine coverboy

For any entrepreneur, it’s a great joy to see his photo on the cover of Inc. magazine. Inc. is a publication that I’ve been reading for many years, as have over 700,000 other entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

In July 2010, I left Infosurv to pursue a life-dream and embark upon an around-the-world traveling sabbatical. I allowed an Inc. magazine writer to follow my adventure and that of my company’s executives back in Atlanta with dozens of interviews via telephone, email, and in-person. Finally, after much quiet anticipation, I got to read the final article about our dual adventures in the November 2011 edition of Inc., currently available on newsstands across the US.

I’m glad that Inc. could capture in words and photos this critical transition in the history of Infosurv. When I left the company last July it reached a new level of maturity, moving from founder-driven to professional management-driven, a leap that not all companies navigate successfully. Without my day-to-day involvement, new leaders emerged in the organization and exhibited a level of independence, motivation, and creativity that I consider inspirational. A special thanks and congratulations goes out to Carl Fusco, our Managing Director, and the other 3 members of our talented Leadership Team: John Barrett, Kyle Burnam, and Kevin Wilensky.

Not all companies thrive and drive forward, as Infosurv has, after the exit of its founder. This has only been possible with a gifted executive team who respects the values I instilled in the organization while not being afraid to exert their individual styles and philosophies. Of course there are times when our styles differ, as the Inc. article highlights, but I respect those differences and encourage my executives to lead in the manner that suites them best. Autonomy and accountability go hand-in-hand.

If you left the Inc. article with the impression that a tension exists between me and Infosurv management, I’m sorry to say that the truth is much less exciting. Several out-of-context quotes and personal impressions were inserted to give that impression, but it’s a journalist technique to add drama, not reality.

The primary goals of my sabbatical were to travel, unwind, and reflect upon the next steps in my life and career. The sabbatical was an unequivocal success thanks to my trusted team back in the office, giving me the confidence to “check out” both physically and mentally. This is a luxury that few entrepreneurs can enjoy, and for this great gift I will be forever grateful.

It’s my hope that our story will serve as an inspiration, both to entrepreneurs who feel ready to step away from their companies and to professional managers who feel ready to take their reigns. Unfortunately the Inc. article didn’t included any detail about the dramatic changes made within the company in the years prior to my sabbatical to facilitate its success: creating a strong leadership team, solid culture and values, clear metrics and accountabilities, and a formal strategic planning process. If you have questions about any of these please feel free to ask. If there’s sufficient interest I’m glad to devote future blog posts to these topics or whatever else interests my readers.

Thanks for visiting ChasingSummer.net and best of luck accomplishing your own dreams, whatever they may be.

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Volunteer teaching in Arequipa, Peru

I have just arrived in Cusco, Peru after living and volunteering in Arequipa, Peru for one month.  I was living with an incredible host family and volunteering in a rural school with 4 and 5 year olds.  My family was extremely welcoming and fed me yummy Peruvian food every night. I had two host brothers that were 21 and 10 years old which I got to know fairly well over the month.  We played games, talked about going out with friends, watched TV together, and practiced our respective languages with each other.

I volunteered with GVI (Global Vision International) for one month which consisted of one week of intensive Spanish language courses and three weeks of volunteering in the 4 and 5 year old class in one of the schools.  My kids were absolutely adorable and I really wanted to bring one of them home with me because he was so cute.  Some of these kids come to school to escape their lives at home.  We give them positive attention, hugs, teach them classroom skills, and even play skills (these don’t come natural to them), and of course provide a warm meal for lunch.  These children are so resilient.  Most of them live in pretty harsh conditions which are evident when you see wind/cold burns on their faces, dirty clothes, protruding stomachs, and the fact that some of them do not know how to use a toilet.

Romel, Luis Alfredo, and Leonel

My class on my last day at school

Friday was my last day at the school and each child made me a card, gave me a hug, and thanked me for helping at their school.  I hope these kids got as much out of my time with them as I got myself.  I have learned so much this past month about these kids and this community and also about myself.  These kids do not know that there is more out there in the world.  They do not know that they can strive to learn more, finish their educations, and find a job one day because no one around them has shown them.  Someone told me, “You won the lottery when you were born where you were born”.  I am so grateful for the supportive family and friends that I have, the opportunities that have been presented to me, and the positive nature in which I was raised.  My time in Arequipa has been unforgettable and I cannot wait to return one day and visit with my host family again.

I visited Machu Picchu yesterday and a blog post will be coming soon!

 

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Lauren is going to Arequipa, Peru to volunteer with children

Jared and I are changing continents and heading to South America!  I will begin a 4 week volunteer teaching program in Arequipa, Peru on November 13, 2010.  We both thought it would be a great time to travel solo for a little while and I wanted to use my skills as an Occupational Therapist to work with children in another country.

I will be a volunteer with GVI (Global Vision International) and be working with children ages 4 and up.  I will also be living with a local family and learning Spanish so I can communicate with my host family and all the children I will be working with in the schools.  These schools are located in the ‘pueblos jovenes’ or the ‘young towns’ which are more rural and benefit greatly from the extra help.  There are too few teachers in the area so we are able to lend a hand and spend one on one time with the children who may need extra attention. We also concentrate on fine motor skills, and classroom basics such as letters and numbers with the younger children. Along with donating school supplies, GVI hopes to promote literacy and education reinforcement.

You can find out more about GVI at http://www.gviusa.com/about-us.

You can also find out more about my specific trip at http://www.gviusa.com/projects/south-america/peru/volunteer-project-peru/home.

These days you pay to volunteer and I am trying to raise money to cover the cost of this 4 week program.  My goal is to raise $3000.00 to cover the cost of the trip (flight, stay with family, all meals, Spanish lessons, and donations to the schools).  GVI is not a non-profit organization and therefore the donation is not tax deductible.  If you feel inclined, you can help sponsor my trip at https://www.donate.net/splash.asp?dept_id=1203

I will try to update the blog as often as possible with pictures and stories from my adventure! Thanks for your help.

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