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Friday, November 25, 2011

Kim K. does "hot"

There's an important distinction between what we do and what we are.  But I think we often categorize things in a way that is neither helpful nor true.

In my everyday attitudes and language, I might think:

"Wow.  He is so organized."

But that's not really the case.  Working and living in an organized way is a skillset.  It's an activity not an identity.  It's something that must be practiced and cultivated or it's lost.  It takes work and time.  It's not that he is organized; he does organized.

A bit on the flip side, I might think:

"Wow.  Kim Kardashian is attractive."

But that's not really true either.  Being billboard attractive is not a trait, it's an activity that demands discipline, resources, and effort.  It's not that Kim is attractive; she does attractive.  It's what she spends a great deal of her time and imagination on.  And just like "organized," you or I could do it too.

The list goes on.  You do creative.  You do famous.  You do grateful.  You do rich.  You do funny.  You do healthy. You do kind. I think you do most of the things that go into the everyday descriptions of any person.

What you are is a very different list.  It speaks not to your core competencies but to your core, period.  To what is unalterable.  These are the things that don’t and can’t change no matter how you might feel on a given day, no matter what others think of you, no matter how you might draw up your wins and losses to date.

You are a son or daughter and a friend.  You are alive (and sacred for it).  You are a member of the human family.  You are embodied.

You are beautiful and perfect in your being.

You are a decision maker literally thousands of times every day.  You are important.

And you are here for every single moment that you are here.

Do with it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If You're Waiting...


Because check out this interview with Mark Zuckerberg circa 2005 in San Francisco.

He's just some dude.  Some dude who says "like" a lot.  He's in charge of Facebook HQ where they do keg stands at the office.

No advanced degree.  No connections to heads of state or (at the time) ultra-deep pockets, either.  He's just a guy - one of us - with an idea and a fierce commitment to it.  And 6 years later he's changed how the world communicates.

Friends of mine from Haiti who don't have electricity in their homes have Facebook accounts that they check from the hospital breakroom where they work.

So if you are waiting for something before you get to work on your idea, don't.  Because we are it.  There's nobody else today that is in a better position to solve problems or do something beautiful and creative than us.  If you're wondering where the next great business idea, or medical advancement, or breakthrough technology, or artwork, or meaningful writing, or effective legislation, or compassionate community group is going to come from, it's you.  It's me.  And it doesn't have to be (often it shouldn't be) that we take a dangerous, dramatic leap to make something happen.  But we've all got some free time, a computer, talented people around us, and sufficient calories (delicious ones at that!) to start making incremental moves towards the ideas that make us come alive.

And as I read on Chris Guillebeau's excellent blog, it's time to take your ideas very seriously.  The world needs that.  I would love to see it.  And you, you already have (and are) everything you need to make it happen.  And more likely than not, you'll be more eloquent in discussing your work than, like, Zuck.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Damn, why can't I play the ukulele?

I want to be good at everything and I end up kicking myself unnecessarily for not knowing how to do more stuff.

I don't think I'm alone in this.

The other day, after a long stretch of working on HaitiHub business and teaching Creole classes, I headed home.  On the way to my apartment, I passed the instrument repair shop on the corner of my street.  Seated outside were three people all jamming together on ukuleles and I thought, "Man, I really should know how to jam on the ukulele."

Really, self?  Are you serious?  You should know how to play the ukulele?  You've been negligent, have you, in not learning to solo on Hawaii's tiny guitar?

And the answer from my more rational self, of course, is no.  I haven't been negligent.  I just have this urge (that grows out of a kind of insecurity) to be good at everything.

I just started reading this crazy book called The 4 Hour Work Week.  In an early chapter, the author, Tim Ferris, writes:

“Emphasize Strengths, Don't Fix Weaknesses.

Most people are good at a handful of things and utterly miserable at most.  I am great at product creation and marketing but terrible at most of the things that follow.  My body is designed to lift heavy objects and throw them, and that's it.  I ignored this for a long time.  I tried swimming and looked like a drowning monkey.  I tried basketball and looked like a caveman.  Then I became a fighter and took off.  It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor.  The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre.  Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.”
This strikes me as really good advice.  I'm going to start following it and hope to go further faster by doubling down on what I'm good at.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't work on weaknesses at all.  While it's probably a very productive idea to stop stressing about ukuleles, it's extremely important to work continually on weaknesses around discipline, empathy, patience, goal-setting, the biggest things.

And I'm also not saying that I should never learn to play the ukulele.  I think it's an awesome instrument and a beautiful sound.  But if I ever take it up one day, it should be with a sense of joy, not a sense of obligation, inadequacy, or oneupmanship.

So go with strengths.

I'll go first:

I'm really good at managing an online classroom for Haitian Creole students and creating a supportive learning environment.  And I'm really good at creating group identities.

What are you really good at?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm keeping you in my prayers.

I've recently started telling that to people more these days.  I tell them because it's true and also because it feels honest to say it.

Religion is a complicated thing for me.  I think it's always been.

I grew up with a first-hand understanding of the famed "Catholic guilt" and I didn't much like it.

Junior year in college, after a lot of colonial and post-colonial reading for the English major, I went home during a holiday break and asked my mother during a heated discussion if she ever thought it was crazy that her Catholic faith came from people who whipped her ancestors in the Philippines.  I regretted doing that.

You should see my mom's faith.  It's constant, beautiful, and humbling.

Senior year in college I went religion shopping.  One weekend it was a UCC service, the next I was with the Unitarians, the next it was a Mahayana Buddhist temple, the next it was a Sunday with the Self Realization Fellowship.  Maybe that sounds like it must have been a really confusing phase of life, but I have to say that it was actually one of the most interesting and fun things I've ever done.  If you're even just a little bit interested in religions or faith communities, I can't recommend it enough.  Just pick a different tradition every weekend.

I've always been a religious person.  Not just spiritual, but religious.  I'm drawn to the sense of community and shared faith.  I don't feel right if I'm not somewhere on Sunday for some kind of service.  I'm drawn to prayer.  I'm interested in the cultural traditions that form around religion.  I'm comforted by the familiarity of rituals like the Catholic mass.

When I lived in France I learned that two things (and not much else) are identical between France and the US: McDonald's chicken nuggets and Catholic mass.

I promise you, in a side-by-side taste test you would never know which nugget came from which nation.

And sitting in a cold, stone church older than America, despite the foreign culture and the foreign language, I still knew when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel, when to hold hands, when to shake hands.

But it's complicated.  Religion is.  I see that and know it both in myself and in society.  I understand when atheists decry religion, pointing out, correctly, that it has been the source of so much ugliness and conflict in human history.  I understand my friends who do not identify with a faith because of the pain they've experienced in their own lives.  Smart, beautiful, important people.  I get it.

But I'm praying for you.  Not because I think you are lacking or need to be saved or reborn (I have no idea what that even means).  I'm praying for you because that's what I do when I'm at my best for the people I love.

Just wanted you to know.  =)

Monday, May 9, 2011


Attitude is everything.  Or nearly everything.  I've seen that to be true in my own life countless times.

But often, I still do this crazy thing.  I say, "Oh, if only I weren't so sleepy I could do that important work.  If only I weren't so stressed.  If only I knew more about that subject or had that important person's contact info, then I could get meaningful stuff done.  If only I had a Gatorade.  If I only had more time."

But why should I expect that the most valuable work grows out of ideal conditions?  History doesn't bear that out.

If MLK, Jr. had thought to himself while in an Alabama prison cell, "If I weren't in jail I could get my freaking work done," he would have missed his only opportunity to write one of the civil rights movement's most enduring letters.

He even admits:

"Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?"

What we think of as obstacles just might make up the exact set of conditions that our work needs most.

Attitude is everything.  And there's always a choice.

Did you just get laid off?  Did your org just lose funding?  Did your new big thing just get ripped by the critics?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life Is Beautiful

And I love the people in mine!

I just wanted to be in touch with an update and an invite because so much has changed on my end in recent months.

In early February, I quit my non-profit job in LA with a plan to take a real shot at establishing and growing my company HaitiHub (  The LA StartingBloc Institute for young social entrepreneurs was a great way to start building up momentum ( - I'd highly recommend StartingBloc to anyone interested in social innovation.

I decided to move to Durham, North Carolina where my long-time long-distance girlfriend, Emily, lives.  This made sense for our relationship, for sure, since it had been tooooo much long distance for us in recent years.  But it also made a lot of sense for HaitiHub - there are a lot of Haiti-focused organization here, including the authors and publishers of the most popular English-Creole text, Creole Made Easy (the book I learned from in 2007 and the book we currently use for all our HaitiHub Intro classes).  It's also an awesome city with a really great startup culture.  HaitiHub was fortunate enough to make it into a business accelerator program called the Bull City Startup Stampede - an initiative put on by the Chamber of Commerce and several other organizations.  Through the Stampede we get connections, mentors, access to investors, free office space and wifi, discounts on services, and all kinds of other resources designed to help us succeed and contribute to Durham's startup culture.

All in all, I feel like things in life are lining up fantastically right now.  I'm so thankful for it because I know that's not always the case.  The only thing I would change would be to have all of you within walking or biking distance, but I know you all are up to awesome things too.

If you are ever in North Carolina, in the research triangle area perhaps doing something at Duke or UNC Chapel Hill, you must come visit!  You have a place to crash in my little brick duplex apartment!

More soon!  I love you guys and hope to see you sooner rather than later.  Also, I plan on this being the start of the revival of this blog.  (we shall see...)

Love and prayers,


Monday, June 7, 2010

That's it. Screw this, I'm giving you my money.

There's free money in this for you.

I'm not being cute.  I will send you cash.

And I'm not being creative either (got this post idea straight from Seth's Blog).  Here's the most relevant excerpt:

"When we set ourselves a deadline, we're incredibly lax about sticking to it. So don't (set it for yourself, in your head, informally). Write it down instead. Hand it to someone else. Publicize it. Associate it with an external reward or punishment. If you don't make the deadline, your friend gives the $20 you loaned her to a cause you disagree with..."

I think this point is right on.  In my life, I've missed a lot of deadlines.  But for the situations in which peers expected/needed/wanted me to deliver, I've much more often (drastically more) shown up on time and with quality.  This has been true for my group projects, competitive teams, childhood plays, lab partners, jobs, everything.  If it matters even a little bit, I'm much less likely to come up short in front of my peers.  I care what you think.

That I care about that has frustrated me for a long time.  We hear from different places that we shouldn't care about what other people think because being influenced by other people's perceptions is a weakness - a sign of insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, something to overcome.  More recently, however, someone told me that growing up is not about cultivating indifference towards external opinions of you and your work but about being able to discern which people's opinions actually should matter to you.

I know I still have work to do in this discerning process - I still do care too much about random people's criticisms when I shouldn't.  But I also know that my life has been INSANELY blessed with peers who think deeply, who live intentionally, and who have consistently done amazing, inspiring, life-giving, stand-up, straight baller things so far in their time on earth.  Micro loans to Nepalis.  Med school after earthquakes.  Surfing couches to move your life forward through the worst economy we've seen.  Holding up your own family, quietly.  Seeing them through.  So many examples and so many I don't even know about, I'm sure.  You guys -- I care what you think of me and my work.

The big project I'm working on and am extremely invested in is this website and resource we've started to teach Haitian Creole: HaitiHub.  We have well over 100 people signed up just waiting to take classes through Skype.  The problem is that I'm already teaching as many classes as I can.  We're bottlenecked until we organize and orient more teachers - either native speakers or former volunteers.  Until this happens, the project is stuck and a ton of people aren't benefiting from online conversation classes and even more people than that in Haiti aren't benefiting from more Creole-fluent and culturally-fluent volunteers.

And yet, somehow, it's been months with "get more teachers" at the top of my HaitiHub to-do list and we don't have a single one (despite interest from many potential teachers).

So here's the deal: The first two people to like or message or comment about this post, for you two, I'm on the hook for $20 each.

On July 7, if HaitiHub doesn't have at least one new teacher, be in touch with me however you want and I'll send what I owe you in whatever way you'd prefer.  That's it.

I care a lot about you and I care enough about the money for this to actually work.  All I can do is thank all of you guys for your friendship and everything you do and for helping me make some progress with HaitiHub.

(Here at the end, I almost don't want to post because there's something very performative about all this...but I do know that it really will increase the chances of us getting another teacher on board, so onward!)