Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Life Well-Cobbled

I’m trying to learn lessons from our night guard, Sebastian, who I’ve referred to as the happiest man on the planet. He doesn’t seem to let work stress get him down. His job is to be on alert through the night. That is pretty much it. Yet he rides his bike to work each evening with a pillow strapped behind his seat. After he gets here, does a round of checking things out, he settles down, pillow wedged against the wall, into a pretty comfortable fetal-like position. He may be the only askari who is often barefoot. For a better night’s rest no doubt. (We do sleep soundly though as Dexter is on vigilant alert.)

Tonight, at 9 pm, Hillary was reading to Bodie before putting him to sleep, and I prepared and brought out tea for Sebastian. I walked quietly so I wouldn’t wake him. I knew it was absurd as I was doing it, but I still tiptoed. Meanwhile, Bodie is running up and down the hall, screaming, “I’m an airplane, I’m an airplane. Vroooooooooom.” Sebastian snored lightly.

Which raises the question of satisfaction in work. I’ve been motivated for a while to try to create social good, to help others who are improving lives. Here, two months in in Tanzania, where the social need far surpasses anything I’ve ever seen or imagined, I am struggling with where to put my time and energy. Here is my struggle: there is so much need that my experience in social enterprise work, or NGO or project management could be put to good use, and I might even see real, tangible results.

At the same time, if one more person mentions to me that “there is so much opportunity here, it is like the wild west” for business, I’ll wrap my pacifist little fingers around his neck. The implication is that if you're a notch up from comatose, you can just trip on a gillion dollar business opportunity.

I’ve been touting entrepreneurial values for a long time, and this may be the time to truly take a risk and try to start something. I want to contribute and make a difference, but this might also be a time try start a venture that can generate some real revenue (Bodie might top out, stretched on a rack like his dad, at 5’ 8”, so I’m guessing will have limited athletic scholarship options.) It is not a purely black and white decision – the trick is figuring out a business with a sound model that can also do good.

And now – in between things (the expression comes to mind, “when one door closes, another opens, but sometimes there is a long hallway in the middle”) or being in the hallway, I’m wrestling with work/life balance. Rather imbalance. It is all life at this point. And life doesn’t allow you to do work plans, and chart progress against milestones. I have no idea of whether I’m tracking against plan.

I’ve long respected people that assemble certain elements into a cohesive life. This is more of a West Coast approach and decidedly anti-DC career pathing. I’m thinking of those old guys with hairy ears and a straw Fedora, with a business card that says “magician, chess player, trout fisherman”.

So in the immediate future I have a few projects:
  • An assessment project with KickStart, an innovative NGO that focuses on bringing micro-irrigation to small farmers. This has shown to quadruple crop yield and, thereby, household income. 80% of Tanzania is comprised of small farmers, so the need is significant.
  • Working with SolarAid to help them get set up and get going in Tanzania, bringing micro-solar products to off-the-grid rural households.
  • Building a boat. My friend, Mason (pictured with his son, Arlo, who should probably be wearing safety glasses, ready to do some cutting), shipped over a workshop full of tools, and we’re going to build a 15’ sloop. We purchased plans from Devlin Boatbuilding for a boat called a Nancy’s China, and had them shipped over. Now we just need to source some marine grade plywood (well, and then build it.) The thinking goes, if I get to set my own agenda, why not set an agenda that I would have set at age 14, but this time under the auspices of building a “family” sailboat.
Throw in Bodie-time at the beach, and Dexter walks, and squeeze in evenings for Hillary, and an interesting life in Tanzania feels like it is being cobbled together.

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