Saturday, October 14, 2017

Prosperity: the Documentary

Several days ago I received an invitation to watch a new documentary online at no cost. When I saw the title of the documentary I have to admit, I was skeptical. "Prosperity" My first thought was that it was some get rich quick scheme. Second thought was a TV evangelist urging me to become a Christian so I could become, miraculously, a multi-millionaire. After reading the overview, my third thought was that it was made by a liberal shouting the same old rhetoric against corporate greed and climate change as he flits around the world in his private jet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was none of the above!

In Prosperity, Pedram Shojai demonstrates an approach to money, personal and global responsibility and success in one of the most balanced and thoughtful ways I have seen. If you click this link, it will take you to his website, where at least for now, you can register to not only view the documentary free, but also watch a number of insightful interviews. I highly recommend taking the time to view this film.

In his side interview with Patrick Gentempo, as well as in the film itself, Shojai talks a lot about one's "philosophy" of life, money and purpose. As I processed what I was hearing, I began to realize that I actually do have a philosophy about this. As a matter of fact, every single person in the world does whether they know it or not! My philosophy will look different than yours, and that's not only okay, but it's also good. My purpose in blogging on this is not to convert you to my philosophy, but rather to encourage you to think about and define your own philosophy in order to analyze it to see if it is healthy, responsible, sustainable and that the way you are living actually reflects what you "say" you believe.

I have always been an entrepreneur and a networker. My first business, at age 7, was a lemonade stand. This is where I first leaned that net sales does not equal net profit. At age 10 I created a joint venture with two of my best friends. We formed a bicycle repair shop where we were the sole customers. Sadly, and not unexpectedly, it failed. Lesson learned. A business must have a customer base.  In 1983 I entered the world of interstate transportation; my life's goal from the age of 3. My first interstate trucking job was as a private contractor for Affiliated Van Lines, Lawton, OK driving a moving truck I leased from them. Those first couple years I have never worked so hard for so little. But WOW, I didn't care!

I was finally living what I had long dreamed of and so impatiently waited for.

I was having a blast. Let me tell you, trucking was fun in the '80s. I had few bills, no real home to speak of and as I crisscrossed the USA I was a free spirit. Eventually, reality set in and I began to realize that making a profit is actually an integral part of running and maintaining a self-sustaining business, no matter how much fun I was having. 

Fast forward 2,000,000 miles and 28 years

I still loved trucking. I still loved business. Not nearly the same fun it used to be, but I still loved the challenge of surviving and prospering in an ever changing market. However, over the previous years my philosophy regarding the purpose of business, what success looked like and how all this affected my life had continued to change. Success began to look less like gross income and more like time at home. Charity and mission, not only financial but in time spent, became a part of my business plan. What I didn't realize is that through all these years and experiences my philosophy was being developed, and in-fact still is.

Eventually, all this prompted our move to Honduras. 

So here we are, 5 years later. Still in Honduras, still an entrepreneur and my "philosophy" is still slowly growing and changing and adapting to fit a new world view and new experiences. 

If you are like me, your own philosophy has probably been a fluid journey of change as new events impact your life, new technology is made available and new ideas and opportunity present themselves. Or, maybe your philosophy has never changed or you've never spent anytime considering it.  

Here are a couple of thoughts, posed as questions, that have an effect on our philosophy
  • How do you view money and it's purpose and value in your life?
  • Do you see wealth as the end result or as a means to an end? If so, to what end?
  • Do you see your personal responsibility as being only to yourself, or does it extend to your your family? your neighbors? your community? your country? your planet?
  • How and in what do you invest your dollars, your time and your emotions?
  • Do you believe that you can actually make a difference in the world?
  • Do your actions actually match your values?

How you answer these questions, in part, defines your philosophy

The last question I posed has actually been my focus this past year. I have worked through the others and have defined my philosophy regarding those, but as I critically analyzed my actions versus my professed beliefs, there seemed to be a fairly large disconnect. Oops!

Example:
Belief;  an employer should treat his employees well, not only financially, but the "whole" person. 
Living it out:
Within the Spanish Institute of Honduras we employ between 15 and 20 people. Two years ago we began to review our "actions" versus our "beliefs" with regard to our employees. Because our employees do not fall under the full-time or permanent employee status, there are not many laws that govern us. As many employers do here, we could have taken full advantage of this to satisfy our own greed. It's an all too common practice. We have always paid our teachers a just wage, but as we reviewed our philosophy versus our actions, we realized that we were failing to care for the whole person. Recognizing this, we implemented 4 weeks of paid vacation a year to ensure our employees have time to rest and spend quality time with family. We now provide a private counseling session once per quarter (and in cases of emergency) for each of our teachers. Through a pastor friend we began a half hour devotional time for them twice a month. Job stability is an important factor, so recently we invested a considerable sum in developing an online class platform to enhance and fill out the work schedule, In January, cost of living raises will go into effect. 

I say all this to say that as we work to live out our philosophy it often comes at a cost to us. If making money to make money so we could buy more stuff was our only goal, well I guess we'd be running a sweat shop, wringing every cent of profit out of each poor soul. Because that is not our philosophy, the rewards we receive are gratifying and in line with our beliefs. Knowing we are doing our part to bring work to a country that desperately needs jobs while fulfilling our responsibility to care for others outside of the family boundaries, not only brings personal satisfaction, but also brings long-term financial rewards, a by-product, full circle, self sustaining process that if properly reinvested continues to grow and prosper. (This same philosophy applies to our clients and providers as well)

Currently, I'm working on a new business model that even further puts action to our philosophy. I'm excited about the future and the opportunities I see to expand our sphere of influence and world impact. We really are working hard to make sure that our actions match our philosophy, because if they don't, then I would propose to you that our actions are a more accurate reflection of what our philosophy really is. 

The film, Prosperity, points out that there are now many, many ways that you and I can live out our philosophy that 20 years ago may not have been available. Are you concerned about greenhouse gases? Hybrid cars and solar energy is now available to you. Do you abhor unfair labor practices? Buy products from companies that do not use low paid, foreign labor. Does corporate greed turn you off? Choose a mutual fund that does not invest in that type of company. Do you believe that chemical fertilizers are bad for your body? Buy organic. Big banking is bad? Choose from any number of small niche banks or locally owned community banks. Sure, all these choices may affect your bottom-line, but then again, is it really all about the money?

We have more opportunities then ever before to live out our philosophy!

Let's do it!


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Does walking away really mean no looking back?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and with Hurricane Irma gaining strength, threatening a direct hit on the East Coast, I've found myself struggling against the urge to be drawn back into something I have walked away from; commercial disaster relief work.

I entered the very lucrative, good old boys club of natural disaster relief cleanup in 2005. It wasn't an easy club to join after Katrina as so many, many people were vying for membership. Many who tried didn't make it and went broke waiting. Fortune, however, smiled on me when the second wealthiest man in Mississippi took me under his wing, eventually giving me responsibility for over half of Harrison County. Contracts with other large FEMA contractors followed and my family and I ended up spending seven months in Mississippi.

Over the years, I have worked many hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes and floods. One of the last storms I worked was Irene where I oversaw the entire debris clean up and disposal for the State of Rhode Island, start to finish. Hurricane Sandy actually delayed our departure for Honduras.

Tornado damage in Springfield, MA

I love disaster relief work

I really do. The adventure, the camaraderie with my crews, the thankfulness of the people we are helping, and yes....the money, all added up to something that really fit me. 

Good Times, Good Memories


But now I've chosen a new path, a new adventure, a new life.

When we moved to Honduras, we didn't know we'd end up staying here. The "plan" was to return to the USA after six months to a year. Then we decided to stay permanently. This required a new plan. The "new plan" was for me to still continue working storms to finance our life here. However, the weather patterns have been pretty quiet for the last 4 years. So, rather than starve, we came up with a "new, new plan". This time it included starting several businesses here in Honduras, but still continuing with disaster relief. Now that plan no longer seems viable. Now I have responsibilities that require me to be here in-country, including a 3 year old child who cannot legally leave Honduras. We have chosen a new life course and with it a new plan and it really leaves no room for a life in the USA, and that includes disaster relief work. Typical of life, all the old plans no longer work.

If you have read between the lines I wrote about my storm career, you will deduce that;  
  • I'm proud of whatever success I achieved 
  • Some of my personal identity is still wrapped up in my past achievements 
  • It's hard for me to let go of that part of my past for those reasons
  • That because of the current situation there exists a conflict of interest going on in me that leaves me unsettled in my current choice
  • That this is affecting my contentment
(I believe that all of this applies to anyone who reflects on or is pulled by the past. We all use terms like; If only I had known, I wish I had done that instead of this, did I make the right choice, what if, maybe I should have....and many others that show that we are undecided if the choices we made are correct or that the past retains a strong pull on us.) 

Through our language school, the Spanish Institute of Honduras, I have watched hundreds of missionaries go through this same struggle. Leaving your life behind and starting fresh is not an easy thing, even if the new life is as good, satisfying or even better than the old one. Some let go, some never do. Sometimes a memory, a smell, a song or an event will trigger the desire to go back. (This struggle may apply to any change in lifestyle, location or career.)

Here are several things I've learned that help me
  • Plans change all the time as life happens. 
  • Once a decision is made, let it stand. If at all possible, don't second guess yourself.
  • Often there is no right or wrong answer to your choice. It's just that, a choice.
  • The future is unknowable, therefore the outcome of any decision is unknowable.
  • It's not always about the money.
  • Contentment comes from letting go of the past and living in the now.
  • It's okay to go back, there is no shame or failure in it. It's just another choice.
  • Hind sight is always 20/20
  • Never say never




For the Christian believer, these feelings can be doubly difficult

We are all aware of the verse found in Luke 9:62. "Jesus replies, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God".  Wow, unfit for service? Really? Talk abut a guilt trip if we sometimes find ourselves wanting the old life. So, here's a couple of questions. Does that mean every decision we make should never allow for regrets or second thoughts? Is it okay to say, "Gosh, I wish I had ordered the double bacon cheeseburger instead of the grilled chicken." Or, "Man, sometimes I really miss my old job." Or, "Did God really call me to Honduras"

So here's my take

Jesus was talking about being a disciple, a follower of him. As a believer there should never exist the question, "Did I do the right thing by choosing to believe in Christ and follow him?" But what about all the other choices we make as frail, finite and flawed human beings? Are we allowed to wonder what if... or to sometimes miss the things we've left behind? Are we allowed to make incorrect, misinformed or faulty choices? My answer is absolutely Yes, because that is part of being human.

There is truth to the plow thing, however. I've never plowed before, but I've driven a lot of miles and I can absolutely assure you that it's hard to stay on the road if you're trying to look behind yourself all the time. A quick look in the rear view mirror is wise and prudent, but not a prolonged, head over the shoulder look. That WILL lead to disaster. If what's behind you is really that worthwhile, better to turn the vehicle around and go back.

Conclusion
  • Love the past and enjoy it, but...
  • Too much time spent looking back or doubting your choice will derail the present and make you ineffective and unhappy 
  • Be content with the choice you made unless you are truly unhappy with it. If that's the case...
  • Be willing to admit you may have made a bad choice and take steps to correct it and...
  • You don't need to justify it to anyone, at least not to me
  • Remember that only eternity is forever
  • Enjoy your past successes but...
  • Focus on the future with all it's unlimited possibilities...
  • Because Today will be Tomorrow's past!

The future is where it's at, baby!



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Secretariat and Charleston Chew candy bars

I have always loved horses. As a young boy I wanted a horse of my own in the worst way. I read every book on and about horses. I pleaded with my dad to let me have one, to no avail. For some strange reason, one year Charleston Chew candy bars, (do they still have those), ran a contest. "Mail in 5 candy bar wrappers with your name and address to enter a drawing to win a pony, or a horse if you prefer". (The year before, the prize had been a real monkey). Scout's honor! This was not what an already chubby 9 year old  boy who dreamt of having his own horse needed to hear. I faithfully consumed Charleston Chew candy bars at an alarming rate. After all, could Dad really say no when my horse I'd worked so hard to win was delivered to our doorstep?

I used to ride my bike to the county fairgrounds where they had stables for the trotters who raced at the county fairs each summer, hoping beyond all hope that one of the owners would see "something special in the lad" and ask me to help them train their horses. Yeah, I loved horses and I still do. 




Yesterday was the 143rd running of the Kentucky derby, the first race of the Triple Crown.  

I remember the first time I watched the movie Secretariat. We were at the Narrow Gauge Cinemas in our hometown of Farmington, Maine. It must have been sometime in the fall of 2010. Barbe and I were going through a very difficult situation at the church we had attended for years. Added to this, I was beginning to feel the stirrings of restlessness and dissatisfaction with the status quo of church life in general and my own life in particular. And of course with the Big 5 0 fast approaching I knew if I didn't make a life change soon, I'd probably spend the rest of my life pounding down the highways of America, which, as much as I loved it was taking its toll on me.

Secretariat

I'm not sure why, but I cried much of the way through the movie. Maybe it was the times we were going through, maybe it was just that everyone loves a movie about overcoming the odds, maybe it was just sentimental old me and my love for horses. All I know is that in the final scene when you can hear the thunder of Secretariat's hooves before he rounds the final turn and the narrator is reading from the Book of Job..."do you give the horse it's strength or clothe it's neck with a flowing mane...it paws fiercely, rejoicing in it's strength and charges into the fray...in frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds..." Thunder of hooves, chills up and down my spine, Secretariat rounds turn three, 13 lengths ahead of his closest rival. The race announcer's excited voice is almost drowned by the cheers and cries of the spectators. Secretariat continues to surge ahead, his speed actually increasing, to win the Belmont Stakes, the final race in the Triple Crown, finishing with a thirty length lead and establishing a new track record of 2:24 minutes, a record that still stands. All I know, is that something established itself deep inside me at that moment and I remember leaning over to a friend sitting in front of us and whispering in a voice choked with emotion, "That's the way I want to live my life". 

Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by thirty lengths

That decision has motivated and moved me ever since. I don't want to live a life always holding back because of fear or worry. I want to run as hard as I can. Below, I'm including a video of Secretariat's three races in the 1973 Triple Crown. Watch it and you will see something incredible. With each consecutive race he actually runs better. That's the way I want to run. I want to finish my life stronger than when I started.

This isn't about racing against each other, or trying to get the most toys. This is about using the gifts, abilities and experience God has given us to run for Him. In our home fellowship group we have been studying through the Book of Hebrews. Chapter twelve begins like this. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." 

That's the race we are meant to run.




Question

Are you allowing fear and doubt to hold you back, entangling you in their grasp, keeping you from running your race? Don't. I encourage you, live life to the fullest

I want to add this thought specifically to Christians. All too often we Christians separate our lives into  the "spiritual" and the "mundane". That's a mistake. One thing I have learned here in Honduras is that ALL of Life is meant to be lived in it's entirety, each moment, each hour, each day.

  Life.  

This is the race we are to engage in.