The Road To Israel (is 10 years long)….

When I was in college, I applied for and was accepted to go on a Birthright trip through Emory’s Hillel.  For those who don’t know, Birthright is an organization that allows any Jew between the ages of 18 and 26 to go to Israel, all expenses paid, thanks to philanthropic Jews who make it possible.  From my understanding, their intention is to help Jews connect with Israel, Judaism and each other.  I was excited to go to Israel for a number of reasons. These included being in the midst of a religious studies major; having grown up “Jewish” (born to two Jewish parents but stopped going to Hebrew school and synagogue at age 10, never having a bat-mitzvah); my love of travel and exploration; and my (at the time) four-year investment in studying and practicing Christianity.  Yes, you heard me right, Christianity.

The application and website for Birthright said only that you had to come from Jewish lineage, and if I remember correctly, a minimum of one parent’s being Jewish.  Nowhere did it state you needed to be a practicing or badge-carrying Jew.  So, under no false pre tenses, I applied, and was elated to find out I’d be going over winter break of my junior year of college.

Until I wouldn’t be.

Only a couple weeks before  the trip’s departure date, I got a cryptic phone call from someone who, upon my answering, bluntly asked, “What do you believe about Jesus?”.  Not even a, “Hi, my name is _______ and I’m calling on behalf of Hillel.”  Needless to say, I was completely taken aback and tried to gather my thoughts and understand the situation at hand, while I was being read the riot act about why I would no longer be allowed to attend the trip because of fear that I would “proselytize other participants”.  I tried to ask for an opportunity to provide my side of the story, given that I wasn’t allowed to offer one (their leading question was actually just rhetorical).  Also, I tried to emphasize to this mystery person that I should be their target market: a Jew who had fallen away from the faith/culture/religion/people, and would be a great person to bring on the trip to help me reconnect.  However, they were having none of it and abruptly ended the call, assuring me that I wouldn’t be going on this trip, nor any future Birthright trips.

Fast-forward through the coming weeks which involved differing levels of protests from Jewish friends attending the trip, they proclaimed that they were neither devout nor practicing Jews, so I should be able to attend, but they all were rebuffed.  That, coupled with my thoughtful aunt and uncle (who happen to be a judge and an attorney) who stormed the Birthright offices in DC to explain why I should be allowed to go on the trip. Yet, they too, were turned down and told that “All monies donated to make these trips possible are given by private donors, so it is at their discretion who can and cannot attend.”  So basically, I was left feeling really warm and fuzzy about being a Jew after that…

It took me a while to get past the negative feelings I had about that experience, the way it was handled, and how I felt about my Jewish identity because of that.  In addition, there were other negative experiences I faced from other Jews in college who took it upon themselves to let me know that my version of being Jewish (ie a cultural Jew…like the vast majority of Jews I knew were) was not acceptable, because I coupled it with a spiritual practice that made them uncomfortable.

Let’s fast forward again, this time to 10 years later (now).  It’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that if there is any soap box on which I’ll stand, there’s a good chance it will have to do with networking and the power of relationships and connections. In 2012, I volunteered to join a fledging organization called the Global Shapers.  One of many things that happened as a result of that was that I befriended a fellow member who was not only an Israeli Jew, but worked for an organization which takes groups to Israel.  One of these groups was for social entrepreneurs.  I applied in late 2013, and found out in early 2014 that I’d been accepted and would finally be getting my chance to visit Israel.  This time, I was excited, as well as apprehensive, because it brought back memories from ten years prior.  While this trip wasn’t exclusively for Jews, I had a fear that I’d find a similar result if anyone “knew” that I did things like go to church from time to time, meditate, and pray to a God who could be Jewish, Christian, or anything else for that matter. Fortunately for me, that call never came, and I was able to visit Israel for two weeks, one with the program and one on my own.

I’d actually written what you’ll read next before everything that proceeds it, but realized that without this context, it didn’t truly shed light on the context of my experience. So, here are the details of said experience, unedited from original creation:

 

Where there is no man, be the man.”

–Talmud (L Pirket Avot, Ethics of our Ancestors)

 

Israel: For me, a place that carried a lot of meaning for a number of reasons:  1. the country so many of my “people” claim as their own; 2. a hot bed of historic and current events;  3. the intersection of my academic studies of world religions (mostly Western) and my personal spiritual journey; 4. a country I’d intended to visit in 2003, but ultimately was told I could not.

A lot of anticipation led up to my eventual landing there.

I’m a big believer in the old adage, “It’s about whom you know, not what you know.” Were it not for a friend I’d met through a volunteer organization in which we both participate, I wouldn’t have known about this program and therefore, would not have been able to apply for and ultimately participate in, this trip to Israel.  Through the generosity of The Schusterman Foundation, a group of 37 educators and social entrepreneurs were invited to go to Israel for a week and learn not only about the dynamism of the country, but also about leadership, driven by questions of values and equity.  Because of the current war, only 11 of the 37 attendees opted to participate.  While I’ll never know what it would have been like at full capacity, I’m pleased that the group was this size, as it led to quick and deeper bonds amongst us.

There are so many details I could share about where we visited, what we learned, what each of the participants was like, and then some. I think it best that I paint a broad stroke to give you an idea, but will highlight some of the items that left an impact on me.

A practice I try to embrace is to identify daily points of gratitude.   When we were taught the “Modeh (Modah for women) Ani”, a morning prayer of gratitude which we’d reflect upon and sing as a group every morning, I was pleased.  For perhaps one of the first times in my life, I felt a small connection to my Jewish roots.  A thing that always felt so foreign and disconnected, in this small way felt more relatable. This gratitude not only was expressed by us, but in so many ways it was expressed to us.  When we arrived at the airport, it was expressed to us by Lynn Shusterman herself, the founder of the organization, who apparently had never before gone to the airport to greet a group. Her gratitude for our being there during the current conflict continued to be echoed by so many: the tour guides at sites we’d visit, shop owners, people we’d meet, and hotel staff members.

I tend to have some anxiety before meeting a group of strangers with whom I’ll be spending a week or more without interruption, especially when I read their bios beforehand and got to see how impressive and accomplished they all are. I was relieved to meet so many laid-back and welcoming people right away. With that quick reassurance, we got on our bus and drove North, with the intention of leaving Tel Aviv where the Iron Dome was in full force.

After a beautiful dinner at Moshav Nahalal (our first experience with the fresh, delicious, and abundant spreads of food we’d be offered every night), we checked into our first hotel exhausted.  We were assigned our roommates, and we settled in for a night of a solid 5 hours of sleep (after not sleeping on the flight out there).

The following days were jam-packed with opportunities to meet and speak with a variety of people, who offered different perspectives on life as Israelis, hitting the tourist hot-spots, debriefing as a group, and hopping from city-to-city.  One of the highlights included meeting two Arab-Israeli women who spoke about living as minorities in Israel and the discrimination they feel. Another was a meeting in an

Urban Kibbutz in Nazareth (a Kibbutz literally means a  “gathering, clustering”, and while traditionally it’s a large group of people who live in a shared environment based on agricultural work, many urban groups are now doing more acts of civic or factory work.) We met Dina, an Ethiopian Jew, who’d always heard her mother speak of coming to Israel and after walking through the Ethiopian desert to Uganda, eventually was taken in by Israel

Some of my favorite moments included an ATV tour of Mt. Bental with views overlooking Syria and Lebanon, led by a former military commander.  What a great intersection of fun and learning—maybe some of the educators will take that concept back to their classrooms J Another was visiting Masada, such an incredible history and beautiful remains of a civilization lost. After a hot visit there, it was time to float in the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world.  We experienced what it’s like to feel weightless and decide for ourselves if the water and the mud do, in fact, have special effects on one’s skin and well-being (they didn’t for me, for the record). That evening included a surprise, and one of my favorite moments of the trip: a pop-up dinner and lounge in the middle of the Masada Desert, accompanied by some talented musicians who led us in a group drum circle! Absolutely incredible!

We eventually made our way to Jerusalem about halfway through the week, and stayed there for the remainder of our time as a group.  What a beautiful city that merges history with modernity!

Some additional perspectives we heard while there came from an ultra-orthodox rabbi, city councilwoman of Jerusalem, a social entrepreneur who was doing work in Africa (only perspective of someone doing work as a Jew, not specifically for the Jews or Israelis), and a teacher at a school that combines Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis.

After lots of learning, we were treated to yet another lavish dinner, this time at a Morroccan restaurant with a special guest who is a leading venture capitalist in Israel. I’d never considered what the entrepreneurial landscape looked like in Israel, but was so excited to hear how huge it was: basically the Silicon Valley of the Middle East 🙂

Mid-week, the idea of crafting our Shabbat was presented to us.  It was nice to take some ownership in part of the programming and share our ideas for what we think of when we think of Shabbat.  (For all you non-Jews reading this, it’s the weekly Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday night and goes until sundown on Saturday. Different Jewish denominations practice it in their own way, but the basic principle is to rest for one day out of the week.).  I had little personal history with Shabbat, but thought of my friend who would host a dinner at his home most weekends in Atlanta.  It led me to think of two things: 1. that I appreciated his willingness to prepare a meal for everyone, and 2. my goal to learn to cook a local dish in every country which I visit. So, I volunteered to help prepare one of the meals during Shabbat (if you’re reading this and you’ve known me for any amount of time prior to the last few years, I realize this will be hugely shocking to you).

The next days in Jerusalem, we toured the old city, which I loved! So much culture and history wrapped up into one small area! We went through the 4 primary quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian (who are also Christian).  We spent time at the Western Wall, which was more emotional than I’d anticipated.  We also spent a short time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is on the land where Jesus was crucified.

After an emotional panel with three male Palestinians, we decompressed, and then went to a private dinner at Lynn Shusterman’s beautiful home overlooking Jerusalem. As if that weren’t enough, we did something that was probably the most in my comfort zone: we had a networking mixer with a group of entrepreneurs at a local bar! It was really energizing to meet such vibrant young people and learn about life and business in their country.

The following day we started with a conversation with a holocaust survivor (Annika) who surprised me with her choice to “protect us” from certain details and stories about her experiences.  As she exited the room upon the conclusion of our time together, she limped, put two fingers above her lip as if to mock a small moustache, and said, “A lasting gift from Hitler…” and exited with that chilling joke. Something that stood out to me about Annika was her ability to continue to push forward, believe in humanity, and never give up. She also identified bullying as the root of the problem of the Holocaust. That’s pretty terrifying to think about bullying amongst kids and think that, in it’s extreme form, could lead to genocide.

We spoke about how in 15 years or so, there will be no more remaining Holocaust survivors.  This set the stage for us to visit Yad VeShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial: a place where the memories can be retained when the people cannot share verbal histories. It was interesting to note that, when you talk in numbers, it’s easy to dissociate the humanity that makes up those numbers (ex: 6 million people were killed in the Holocaust, then divide that up into the stats of the different sub-groups, etc).  Those numbers are so hard to understand, which can result in not understanding, and can lead to apathy. I was also struck by the beauty of the people who helped all those in the Holocaust to find safety, even when it meant they jeopardized themselves and their family’s safety.  I wondered if I would I ever be so selfless and/or full of conviction that I’d do what I knew was right?

Somehow making a jump from a powerful experience like this, we were taken to the busiest local market for lunch. Instead, I went off with one of the group’s participants and facilitators, and ventured into the chaos to shop for food for a surprise Shabbat picnic dinner the next night for 20 people (that we could prepare without a kitchen, in a hotel room).  It was a really cool experience to feel for a couple hours what it’s like for many locals every Friday afternoon, as they prep for Shabbat before the city (well, country, for that matter) practically shuts down in observance of Shabbat.

We kicked off that evening on a rooftop in the Old City, listening to sounds of the cultures combining.  On one roof there was a cohort of Orthodox Jewish men chanting prayers. About a block away was the Muslim call to prayer.  It was a pretty incredible moment listening and taking in the sunset.

We walked from there back to the Western Wall.  The energy was entirely different there this time, with people singing and dancing and really celebrating the evening.

After being invited by many women to join their singing circles, we wrapped up our time.  We walked to dinner atop a hill in Jerusalem at Mt Zion Villa, with special guest Avraham Infeld, President Emeritus of Hillel.  (If you read my introduction, you’ll know why someone who is or was affiliated with Hillel made me feel apprehensive.)

The following day, Shabbat continued and we were hosted for lunch graciously at a private home by a family from South Africa.  It was our first time in someone’s home while visiting, and was nice to see. That afternoon, we had more time with Avraham (of Hillel).  Then I bustled to get the picnic ready with the others involved, and took it to a neighboring park where we all enjoyed the food and one another’s company.  Everyone had become like a family in less than a week’s time.

The next morning, Sunday, was our last day together.  We started with a visit to Mt. Herzl, a cemetery for the founding fathers of Israel, the country’s leaders, and a military cemetery.  Being war time during our visit, the experience carried a somber mood. We moved from there back to Mt Zion Villa for our first time to synthesize, reflect, and consider some action steps to take home with us based on our experiences and learning that week.

One of the goals of this trip was to have us better identify our values, as well as to test/try on values that are not necessarily our own. I spent a fair amount of time and energy doing this. Upon arriving in Israel, recognizing that I was amongst such a high-quality group of leaders, I decided to take a step back. In so many arenas of my life, I jump into a position of leadership, which often means to me that I’m taking the lead. I thought it could be valuable for me to take a step back and allow others to shine, as well as to be able to watch and learn from them and their styles of leadership and thought. At first, this was entirely uncomfortable. Not knowing the other participants beforehand, insecurities set in, wondering if I would be viewed as incapable, undeserving of being there, or not smart enough.  I spent the first several days in this quieter approach, really only engaging in smaller groups and one-on-one environments, otherwise mostly listening. I’m a big believer that there are moments when things come together.  If you’re listening, you hear a nugget of wisdom you need.  That nugget knocked me upside my head on night five when I was seated next to one of the program’s staff members who was joining us for dinner that evening at Lynn Schusterman’s home.

During our conversation, he shared with me the quote from the Talmud written at the top of this passage, “Where there is no man, be the man.”  We both agreed that the obvious interpretation of that is that when there is a need and you can fill it, step up and “be the man” (forgive me and the Talmud for the fact that it is from the male perspective).  But, the less obvious interpretation is what really resonated with me: when there IS a man, let him/her be the man/woman.  I loved this because it helped me to identify that some of the discomfort I was feeling from not “being the man” really was okay, and that I was exercising a lesser-used leadership muscle of allowing others to shine.  As I mentioned earlier, each morning we’d start the day by singing the “Modeh Ani” together, a traditional morning prayer of gratitude. Each day, one person would volunteer to share some reflections and lead the gratitude session.  I was able to share this passage from the Talmud and express my experiment in trying on this new way of practicing leadership. It was great to let it be known that this was what my aim had been, and that the side of me they’d gotten to know was just a facet.  I was blown away at the end of the week when we shared some reflections with one another and so many encouraged me for my “quiet leadership” and support of their development.

I’d like to take a moment to point out a few other recurring themes that stood out to me that seem worthy of mention.  The first is that our lifestyles are a choice.  So many people we met chose to make Aliyah and move to Israel. Others chose to stay there even when it wasn’t the easiest decision. Some chose to live in a communal environment like the Kibbutz. Ultimately, so many people were making active choices about where and how to live their lives and it reminds me not to take that for granted. A second is the value in being taken out of your comfort zone to have space to think and challenge your ideas. A third is the question of what leadership is, and how do we deconstruct our preconceived ideas of what that means? On the first day, I had a conversation with one of the participants who was from Madrid.  She shared that in her culture, “being a leader” is perceived as inherently negative.  This was shocking to me who grew up being told always to drive towards being a leader, and reminded me to challenge my own norms. Another item worth noting was the focus on what our core values are, and the diagnosis of if and how these line up with  our lifestyle and leadership choices.  I was pleased to determine that my values are clear, and that my life is in line with them. Where things get blurry is that even though that’s the case, I still feel a bit of unease about some of my decisions on how to spend my time and energies professionally and how I reconcile that. I also noted that values change/shift/grow over time. Some will be consistent, but others will shift in level of priority. It reminds me of the importance of keeping tabs on this for oneself, as well as to identify that when you make decisions based on values that impact other people,  yours might adjust over time.

As if those weren’t enough, a few other themes came to the surface to me.  One was that a culture of separation and discrimination exists between Jewish and Arab Israelis.  20% of Israel is Arab. Many don’t want Arab neighbors. Schools are separate for the most part.  This, to me, was so reminiscent of the US before the civil rights movement.  If citizens, or the country, say they value equality, inclusion, etc, how do they justify this disconnect? This question plays into the next theme which was the dilemma of assigning labels to things.  This is a struggle I’ve had for years, understanding that labels are necessary in so many ways to help us categorize and quickly identify things in life. Yet, they are oftentimes also the root cause of discrimination, prejudice, and hate.  These ideas of discrimination make me pause to wonder how I can use my networking organization to further conversations about diversity and inclusion.

As I mentioned by sharing my history with trying to get to Israel, it presented the foundation for a recurring theme for me: the idea of “what is a Jew?” This is a question I’ve been asking emotionally, spiritually, and academically for about 15 years. It was interesting that of all the people on the trip whom we encountered, the one who put it best for me was Avraham from Hillel (oh, the irony!) who said that Jews are a people, and there are five primary characteristics that unite them.  He continued by saying that not all Jews will embody all five of those elements, but that just by holding on to two or more, you’ll always have something in common with each other.  I loved this because it finally allowed me to feel a part of the peoplehood, not shut out like I had on that cryptic phone call at age 20.

Lastly, I loved the Jewish edict of “Tikun Olam”, to make the world a better place.  It made me wonder how I could be doing more of that.  When coupling that with the current events during a wartime, I wondered if I’d ever be so moved/driven/passionate about something to incite a war, start a movement, etc. A quote we heard during our time there that seems fitting was,“We are not master builders, we are workers.” It’s a good reminder that we will work towards a good goal, but that we will never see the results if we’re working on big enough issues.

SO, are you tired of reading? Well that’s just week one!  But rest assured, week two will be described in way less detail!

Week two: a different vibe than week one, as the group dwindled from 11 (plus 5 staff members) to 5, to 4, to 3, to 2 over the course of the week.  It was certainly a bit of a shock to go from having every moment and meal planned out to being on our own.  Interestingly, we kept to a pretty similar schedule, waking up early and touring ourselves around. But, we also fit in a little more time to go to the beach, socialize with each other, as well as new and old Israeli friends.

The last week is easier to summarize quickly: it included 1 night in Jerusalem (with hookah and the world’s best hummus), 3 nights in Tel Aviv (with a variety of interesting tourist spots, new people met, beach time, and gawking at the beauty of the local Israeli women).  The last 2 nights were spent in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, which is bordered by both Jordan and Egypt.  It’s a tourist beach destination known for its world-class diving. This portion included catching up with a friend from college, making new friends, going to the beach, more hookah, and general relaxation to cap off an exhausting 2 weeks.  The final afternoon was spent driving 4.5 hours through the Negev (beautiful and desolate desert) back to the airport for 24 hours of travel home.  After a nice inquisition from 3-4 different security guards and a pat-down from 2 female ones in a private room, I was en route back to the States, with a head full of memories and thoughts to digest and sort through… And you’ve now witnessed said digestion. Thanks for making it to the end and taking this journey with me.  Here’s to more adventures, learning, and the continued extrapolation of these lessons and questions.
(Want to see some images from the trip? Check out some of my black & whites…)

 

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Some Lessons Stand The Test Of Time

I cherry-picked a few of my old blogs last night to see what’s been on my mind over the past 4-5 years of writing. Amongst others, I stumbled onto this one which resonates  as much today as it did in 2010. It’s a lesson I began to learn four years ago, and one that I’d imagine will continue to evolve.  Here is the original post, which I’m re-posting because I have a hunch it will be just as timely and pertinent now for many of you as it was for us 4 years ago:

February 5, 2010

If Oprah Says It, It Must Be True

There once was a girl who tried to do approximately 1,436,532  things (give or take) each week. She once prided herself on how balanced she was amongst it, and even brow-beat her brother for not seeing the importance of it. Then one day, this pretend girl realized that she no longer felt very balanced at all. In fact, she felt like she was drowning.  The twelve hour days she was putting into her company compiled with the two others she was developing might be enough to make anyone mad.  But not this figment of our imagination.  She also decided to be on three boards and in a slew of networking groups.  She had faint memories of the days gone by when she even had a social life.

This fantasy girl is clearly me…and probably some of you, as well.

I heard a quote last night that really stood out to me for two reasons: 1. Oprah said it, so it has to be true, and 2. because I’ve been mulling over this idea a lot recently.

“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.”  -O.W.

Seems so simple, but I’d imagine I’m not the only one amongst us who struggles with this.  As I mentioned in the ‘fable’, I once preached the importance of balance (particularly work-life) to my brother who caught an earful every time I saw him lose sight of friends and family as he focused all his energy and attention on work.  What happened?  Where did that balanced, non yoga practicing but certainly centered, person go?

I’ll tell you where she went.  She became consumed by her own drive.  There are so many things each of us wants and dreams to do that it really only takes a slight push on the peddle to go into overdrive.

Oprah’s quote resonated with me because it gives me some freedom to think I don’t need to have three successful companies, a full social life, and a significant other with 2.5 kids and a picket-fence today (that last one is debate-able in the first place).  Maybe this is the season of my life where I’m focused on building my career, and when the other parts come, that’s great. But, to try to have them all now is a bit unrealistic for me.  Perhaps any of you who relate to this can agree that while the things we want are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it’s quite difficult to enjoy any of them when you’re too overwhelmed to see straight.

To get back to the story:

After having her heart-strings tugged on a bit by a powerful figurehead’s famous words, this pretend character took a look at her life, got off email, put her blackberry aside (for a bit), and went to enjoy some of the spoils of her toiling.  Off to get a margarita she went.  Work could start again tomorrow.

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My “Entrepreneur Why”

I met with a trusted friend and business colleague today (who shall remain nameless until he publishes his book on this topic) because he brought to my attention recently that there is a clear psychology behind every entrepreneur’s reason for which they are just that—their “entrepreneur why”.  He piqued my interest when he mentioned it so I asked if I could take him to lunch to have him uncover mine.

I quickly shared with him that I am acutely aware of my developmental scarring and my rationale behind most choices I make.  I said this because I knew he was about to start asking pointed questions about my childhood, schooling, socialization, early work years, and current work environment. It felt odd to go from the type of lunch meeting I typically have where it’s a two-way dialogue to one that was entirely focused on me being vulnerable about myself and past experiences.

I won’t share here all of the details of what he uncovered, in part because I don’t want to steal his genius that will ultimately become a book, as well as that I don’t feel it necessary to share all of that here.  That being said, there were a couple items that he shared that stood out to me.

The first of note was that he identified that a motivator behind each of my businesses is giving back. He pointed out that I came from a supported background and that whether it’s my payments company that I continue to grow out of motivation to help business owners save money, my networking organization in which I’m driven to make valuable connections for others, or my financial literacy books for kids that aims to help kids have a stronger financial future.  Candidly, this caught me completely by surprise. I recognized from my narrative to him that I said those things, but I was caught off-guard because I’ve never characterized myself as someone who is motivated by helping others. I actually tend to admire people whom I’d define in that way, and out of no place of humility whatsoever, I simply never self-identified in that way.  It was eye-opening to hear someone hear the synopsis of my life story and evaluate that this is my motivation.

He also pointed out to me that I operate my primary business out of a place of security and rule-following.  He challenged me to identify when/where I’d be able to reallocate some/all of my time and energy into the other ones that tap into my “why” more purely.

It’s tough to open up like this to anyone. It’s also tough to hear feedback about yourself that one part surprises you, one part resonates with what you know to be true,  and in last part touches on doubts, questions and/or concerns with which you’ve already been wrestling.  I’m planning to spend some time further thinking through the “why” and other points he shared with me. Some times you just need a little kick-in-the-pants from an outsider to help you see the spot on which you’re standing.

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Nicaragua

I read a pertinent quote on a recent trip to Nicaragua that said “Travel: the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” I was perched on a chair in my 3-story thatched hut, looking out into the jungle through the “walls” to the room which were entirely made of sliding screens, and listening to the howler monkeys.  It was one of those moments when you know you’re in the right place at the right time.

I traveled to Nicaragua seeking rest, peace of mind, time to turn off the day-to-day stress, tune into myself, and certainly to find a little fun.  After a 2.5 hour drive from the only airport in the country into a remote surf village up many dirt hills, I knew I’d come to the right place.

While only there for 5 days, it was a full trip and exactly the amount of time I needed to get away.  Each morning was spent in an open-air hut with a meditation practice led by one of the most gifted teachers I’ve ever met.  The ocean breeze would blow through at precisely the moments of greatest challenge as well as the ones of great stillness.

The beach was a few minute walk away.  It was sparsely populated, although the waves were full of skilled surfers as it is known as one of the top places in the world to surf.  After a terrifying attempt at surfing in Hawaii almost 15 years ago that resulted in me thinking I may drown, I braved another attempt. When not being a terrible surfer, I’d walk along the beach, swim in the waves, play frisbee for hours, or lay and look at the beautiful landscape or the sunset.

There was one lonely taco stand on the beach that served “the world’s best fish tacos” and they might be correct with that superlative statement.

We ate our meals family style in an open-air dining area, overlooking the mountainside with the ocean in the distance. Food was made on sight and to-order with whatever was local and fresh by Nicaraguan chefs. After breakfast, it was a great time to head up to a hammock and lose yourself in a book (of which I finished three).

At night you’d fall asleep to the breeze coming through the screened walls of the hut and would be awoken to the barking of stray dogs or the howling of the monkeys.  There were even a handful of cats on the property so naturally we became best friends.

Speaking of best friends, I came into the trip with two friends from college and met so many other wonderful people in Maderas Village.  A couple with whom I’d imagine I’ll stay in touch for years. One night after a celebratory dinner for one of the chef’s birthday’s, 8 of us went into a lounge to talk about life and gratitude. Not your normal Saturday night but I could get used to that.

We traveled into the closest nearby city, San Juan del Sur, one evening to check out the nightlife.  It consisted mostly of tourists and was of no interest. What was of interest was sitting along the beach and watching the traffic patterns of the tranny prostitutes as they hit on drunk tourists.

Our last full day was spent on a catamaran we chartered out to a private island. We swam to shore, relaxed on the beach, “met” a few wild pigs who inhabited it, and on our ride back, were accompanied by a school of dolphins!

That night was topped off by a private beach bonfire and dinner on the beach.

En route back to the airport we made a stop in one of the larger cities: Grenada (which may be misleading: Nicaragua is the largest Central American country but it’s entire population is under 6 million). We took a horse-drawn tour of the city and walked and shot photos.  By midnight that night we were back in Atlanta, exhausted from 15 hours of travel, sore from days of intense yoga, but mind at peace. 

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Spoof: Part Deux

Apparently my writing is significantly better when it is comedic, rather than serious. Unfortunately, I don’t have the comedic writing gift. As it turns out, Peter Alan has been at it again and crafted this funny spoof of my latest Yahoo! Article (which was originally supposed to be titled, “The Shit No one Tells You About Starting A Business”). Take a read:

The Shizzle Nobody Tells You About Starting A Business

Did you know that like 96.4% of businesses fail in the first 5 years?  I made that stat up but seriously it’s pretty much like all of them.  The odds aren’t in your favor like your name was Katniss (or technically Prim but whatever).  But when you meet a successful entrepreneur they are all like, “oh man yeah it was hard work but it’s awesome.  And let me tell you something motivating!  Belief in yourself + solid work ethic x discipline divided by (can’t find that key on the keyboard) = a successful you!”  Wait what?  Yeah… I don’t know what the hell that means.  I don’t do math yo.

So I’m going to tell you the shizzle no one tells you about the hardships of starting a biznass and makin’ that chedda!!

1:  Its lonely as hell – One day you will find yourself having a full on conversation with your cat ‘Chairman Meow’ and your like, “hey do you think we should use blue in the logo?” and then you are like whoa I gotta get out of here.  But yeah it’s cool.  Cats have good ideas.

2:  Business partnerships are hard – BFF + your BFF really isn’t that good at stuff = suck.  Ok I guess I do do math.  Maybe I should start a math business with my best friend.  Crap.  Look for attractive people to work with so at least if your business sucks it isn’t a total loss.

3:  You will be poor for a bit – Unless you are like a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, because let’s face it the rest of them are just pretending to be rich (gross) seriously though I’m pretty sure Bravo gives them all Range Rovers to make them look rich because how could they all drive the same freaking car and then all hate each other so much), then guess what?  Yeah it’s going to suck at first because you won’t be making any money.  So then what?  You quit the gym and get fat.  You stop reading magazines and then you don’t know what’s going on in the world so you have to start reading Perez Hilton but he hates Lady Gaga and you really like that Telephone song.  Ahhh man it is really hard.

4:  It is way less sexy than you think – See number 3!  Yeah I know I know, you started a business to tell girls at the club that you own your own business.  Things are going good but then you spend all your money buying her Grey Goose at the bar and then you go to take her home in your leased Kia and you realize that you are almost out of gas and you spent all of your money at the bar.  Then you start thinking, “Who really likes Grey Goose anyway?  This girl is a gold digger and I’m out of gold.”  So then you tell the girl you have a headache (and you feel fat because you quit the gym already) and drop her off but you don’t have enough money to get home so you sleep in the Kia.  I don’t see anything sexy in that scenario.

5:  You will doubt your abilities – While you know deep down inside that you are legit, after the 12th person tells you that your business idea sucks and that you don’t know what you are doing and that you look like you have put on some weight then you start to believe it!  But remember belief + ideas x you = bananas awesome!

6:  You will think you are the only person who has gone through this – But umm yeah what about the 3.6% of businesses that make it?  Don’t be a selfish drama queen!  You are already poor and fat so don’t add dramatic to the list.

7:  You will cry – Seriously?  You try to push your emotions down but then you are in line with you knock-off cereal that comes in a bag and ooohhh snap!

8:  Mistakes are inevitable – Remember the bumper sticker Forrest Gump made famous?  Yeah that goes here.

9:  You will feel clueless at times – As if!!  No but seriously you will feel like an idiot.

10:  Don’t compare yourself – Yeah I know it’s easy to look at Mark Zuckerberger and think, “man that guy is smart.”  But didn’t you see the movie?  He ripped off those two rower dudes.  You could rip somebody off too!

11:  It may not work at all – Didn’t you read the stat I made up from the start?  Your business will probably fail.  And based on the previous 10 things I just said you will lose your best friend because they suck at work, you will get fat, be lonely, you will cry all of the time, feel stupid, and it gets worse.  Want to keep reading this article?  Sucker!

12:  Fancy words just cover up real issues – I’ve got some acquisition indigestion because the ROI for my biz is technically moribound which should have been axiomatic due to the horizontal integration, cross-elasticity of demand, and of course because the lack of a sustainable competitive advantage.  Translation:  I’m broke because as it turns out I have bad ideas.

13:  You will be afraid of not being able to pay for your bills – I mean yeah you slept in your Kia last night but check it:  They won’t cancel your cable for like 6 months, your power for about 4, and the housing industry is so backed up you could probably live for free for at least a year.   Feel better?

14:  Your family and friends will question or doubt you – Who needs those haters?  Say it with me!  “Let them be your motivators.”  People love that crap.  If you want to invent an amusement park for the homeless don’t let your parents try and make you doubt yourself with their logic being, “They can’t afford homes how will they pay the entrance fee?”  People need fun in their lives!  Live your dream playa!

15:  You won’t work 9-5 anymore – But let’s face it, did you really work 9-5 before?  You know you were playing Candy Crush for like 4 hours a day at work anyway that’s why you started your own business in the first place!  But actually this gets worse because you are going to have to work pretty much all the time because you spent 6 hours playing Candy Crush while your friends were doing their normal jobs and then when they want to go out at night you are like, “Oh crap yeah I have to work tonight.”

16:  Say sayonara to a good night’s sleep – That means “good bye” in Japanese.  God, get some culture man!

17:  If you build it, they might not come – Field of Dreams would have sucked if that happened.  And yeah that could be your life but “there is no crying in baseball!”  For those of you keeping track that was the 2nd Tom Hanks movie referenced in this article.  For those of you not keeping track then you just learned something new today so… you’re welcome.

18:  You can’t have black without white – Racist!

19:  There is no such thing as “overnight success.” – Unless you open a business checking account and then you go to the ATM and take out $10.  With that $10 you purchase 10 lottery tickets.  1 of those lottery tickets hits the PowerBall for 480 Million Dollars.  And then I guess you could say that your business was an overnight success, but don’t forget you had to pay a $2.50 transaction fee at the ATM.  Oh snap!!  The man is always trying to hold you down!

20:  Ummm, Yeah somehow I miscounted.  Oh well, trust me it was going to be awesome!

If this article didn’t scare you away then you are cray cray!!  If it did then call me and I’d be happy to purchase your idea from you for like $10.  Sucka!  I’m going to be rich flying around in my cat plane with your ideas!

*The content of this article does not accurately reflect the viewpoints of Darrah Brustein.

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I’ve Been Spoofed!

I don’t think you’ve really made it until strangers begin to poke fun at you. And I think you’ve really made it when you have a Twitter account that someone with too much time on their hands created to mock and/or harass you.  Fortunately, I grew up with two brothers and a father who poked fun at me incessantly, but certainly hadn’t “made it” at that point.  I still haven’t, but I do have my first satirical spoof of one of my recently published articles on ways to improve your reputation.  And since I think it’s hilarious I wanted to share it here. Thanks Peter Alan for sending this my way!

Reputation:  a 4-syllable word that can either rhyme with termination or “give that girl a big promotion” give or take a few syllables.  That’s right people, it is kind of a big deal so don’t screw it up.  And I am not just talking about how you present yourself mano y mano.  I’m talking about hashtag drunk selfie over here too!  You don’t think your boss has Instagram and Facebook?  Man they are on you like white on rice or brown on brown rice.  But… follow my 10 guidelines and you will be taking them checks to da bank!  Poppin’ Cystal like it’s H2O and buying jets with pictures of cats on the side.  Hashtag living the dream!!

1:  Do what you say you’ll do.   Sounds easy right?  But then you are talking to this customer and you are all, “Yeah I can do that.”  But you know for reals that A:  you probably can’t do that and B:  even if you could it’s after 3 on a Friday so it ain’t gonna happen.  But check yo self!  Nobody likes a liar, nobody likes a punk, and nobody likes a narc.

2:  Go out of your way to help others reach their goals.  I know what you are thinking here.  What people?  What goals?  Remember in Kanye’s song, “Gold Digger” when he says “this week he’s moppin’ floors next week it’s the fries”?  Yeah those kind of goals!  A wise man once said, “do good stuff to others and good stuff will happen to you.”  Boom.

3:  Make other people look good.  Most people don’t like ugly people.  Enough said!

4:  Go a step beyond what is expected.  If someone asks you for 1 beer give them a 40oz not one of those tiny Coronitas (I think that is Spanish for tiny Corona).  People don’t like liars, punks, narcs, ugly people, or cheapskates.  This list keeps getting longer – don’t be on it.

5:  Look the part.  When you are going on a job interview pretend you are going on a date.  Not like try to look hot because you are hoping to get some but like you are meeting your girl’s parents for the first time.  Nobody likes a liars, punks, narcs, ugly people, cheapskates, or sloppy people.   Unless you are Daniel Day Lewis rocking some Method Acting for a role as a sloppy person and then probably people would probably still like you but mainly just because you are Daniel Day Lewis and not because of your dress.

6:  Consider your body language.  Ok remember the scene in Clueless when the teachers are sitting next to each other on the bench drinking coffee and their legs were crossed towards each other and then Cher (Alicia Silverstone not the singer) is like “that’s an unequivocal sex invite”?  That’s right!!  So, point your feet at people and get your work on!

7:  Be consistent.  I get’s hard remembering all your lies right?  Do I have an Australian accent or was I pretending to be British?   Was it proper British or more like Cockney?  Did I say I went to Yale or Harvard?  Pretty soon you are walking around like an idiot with a bogus accent and multiply Ivy League degrees.

8:  Act with Integrity.  This should be number 1!  Why is it number 8?  Because I wrote the article and you didn’t!  Get off my back already.  If you think the value menu is a crap value then don’t sell it.  If you know you aren’t going to call someone back then I guess don’t tell them you are going to.  If someone flat out asks you “hey when will you call me back?”  Then pretend you are on your cell phone going through a tunnel and hang up the phone!  But don’t forget to turn your phone off right after then change your number.  Integrity for the win!!!

9:  Get engaged with your community.  Kind of like that Mormon show “Sister Wives” but with your office.  Get all up in their business.  People love that crap!  “Did you hear about Susan?  Oh snap…”

10:  Be likeable.  Not sure I even need to say anything here.  Don’t be stupid.  Just be yourself, unless the real you is a liar, punk, narc, ugly, cheap, or sloppy.  Because remember nobody likes those people!  If you happen to be one of those people then learn the Australian accent and pretend to be a big wave surfer.  Everybody loves Aussies.  Call everybody mate.  Eat out at Outback like a champ and ask people if their babies were eaten by dingos.  Fake it until you make it!!!

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5 Years in Business!

I’m about to celebrate my 5 year benchmark as a self-employed person on Feb. 8th.  I got an alert today that this article I wrote was published on Yahoo! Small Business Advisor and I thought the timing was fitting.  It’s called “20 Things People Won’t Tell You About Starting A Business”.  It does a fine job of helping me recollect the ups-and-downs of this path over the past 60 months. While I’m displeased with their poor editing as they changed some of my wording to make what I think are no longer adequate sentences and oddly deleted some numbering and kept others, you’ll still get the point. Happy 5 years to me!

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