Waking Up in Addis Ababa

I climbed down the stairs out of the plane and walked across a big runway and in through a little door into a big warehouse-like building. Mobs of people crowded the little airport, all speaking languages I didn’t understand. I had arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Scanning the crowds, I finally found my host. Accompanying him was a young Ethiopian man who kept laughing nervously. I got a weird vibe. We found my luggage and left the airport, walking down the long ramp to the parking lot, where Giovanni’s big brother the Taxi Driver was waiting to give us a ride.

Suddenly I heard a sound behind me I’d never heard in my life: Ear-piercing, high-pitched, “Le le le le le le le le!” Like a siren. I turned around to see women with their faces covered, wailing alongside a coffin that had been carried out of the airplane. Others were sobbing or even screaming. I later learned the sound I’d heard is a very common ritualistic song of sorts called “ululation.”

Everything was dark, and everyone was beautiful. I was in the most foreign place I’d ever been.

I hopped into the little blue and white taxi and felt like I fell straight through to the concrete below. The entire back bench was caved in. I reached up to buckle my seat belt, but who was I kidding, there were no seat belts. Off we went, careening at an uncomfortable speed up and down windy roads, through a dark Ethiopian night. Coming around one bend, my door flew wide open and I held onto the seat in front of me for dear life.

I could see very little in this darkness—there were no lights like you see in the night here. I could make out the occasional shack or shed we passed and saw a few wild dogs. Eventually we turned down a dark dirt alleyway and arrived at my new home, a little house on a compound with high walls. We barred the iron gates behind us and I was shown up to my bedroom to sleep after the longest journey I’d ever taken. I was in a very different place. Very new.

 

Let me pause my story to tell you about what I knew of Africa. You see, I’m from America, and I had grown up in a home where I learned only very specific things about Africa: That everyone was poor and uneducated. That everyone was sick and desperately in need of help. That I was on my way to save them.

 

Back to my story. They warn you about jet lag, but you have to live it to really understand. The next morning I tossed and turned, barely waking up only to fall back into restless sleep. I dreamed dreams that you would only dream if you were waking up for the first time to the beautiful and enchanting sounds of Muslim prayers being chanted over a loud speaker from a nearby mosque. I kept gasping for breath as I adjusted to the high altitude of Addis Ababa.

Suddenly I woke all the way up. Something wasn’t right. I was hearing a sound that didn’t fit. The American pop-rock band Train has a song called “Hey Soul Sister” that was all the rage in America ten years ago, and it was now being broadcast on loudspeaker all across Mekanisa, Addis Ababa. Maybe Ethiopia wasn’t quite as far back in the dark ages as I thought. I went to the window and looked out to see very normal people doing very normal things outside a nearby apartment complex.

I went downstairs for breakfast and chatted with Kidane, the kid that made me nervous the night before. Turns out he was just a cool guy. The coolest! Very “normal” and just the greatest person! We talked about normal stuff, like music, relationships, and favorites.

My host sent me with Kidane to explore my new town. Sure, there was stuff I’d never seen—like a freshly severed cow head laying on the road. And yes, Kidane had a sad, scary story that included being beaten and robbed in Nairobi, Kenya. But there was more to Africa. There were skyscrapers and advertisements. People dressed in clothes far more stylish than mine, listening to their iPods, playing on their smartphones. Kidane introduced me to a local business owner in a fancy suit. We stopped at an internet café, crowded with young Ethiopian adults, browsing Facebook, looking at pictures of them and their friends partying.

It was not what I expected to see. At all. Here’s the thing, guys. The west is rich, though we have our homeless. And Africa is poor, but it has wealth, education, and progress the TV doesn’t always show you.

Don’t trust clichés and stereotypes.

 

I love traveling and exploring new cultures more than almost anything else in the world. Reflecting on my first big cross-cultural experience the other day, I found this summary from a blog post I wrote about my first day waking up in Addis Ababa:

“I can’t really explain it, but it was like my mind stood up, stepped straight out of my inexperienced head, and said, ‘You are finally beginning to understand the world. Never put me back in that narrow mind again.'”

Ethiopia 2

Ethics

When you accomplish or get something by putting people at risk, when you could accomplish or get it through a little more effort or sacrifice without putting people at risk–that is not called being productive, successful, or thrifty. In my opinion, that is just called being lazy and selfish.

Some situations are sticky because life isn’t all black and white. But some situations are just sticky because someone knows they can get what they want easily by putting others in uncomfortable situations.

This is a call to recognize the value to each person you meet of their own integrity.

You don’t have to cheat to get ahead. You can–and then just hope nobody gets hurt. Or instead, you can put forth a little more effort, be able to sleep at night, and be a good citizen of this world full of people whose lives matter just as much as yours.

Ethics of strangers - Bill Moyers

“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings. . . . Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.” – Albert Schweitzer

A Glimpse Into My World of Slow Concussion Recovery

My best friend and teammate and life-person Lyssi wrote this yesterday. I asked her if I could share it on my own blog as a window into what concussion recovery can look like. Really it’s the same sort of stuff as a lot of people go through: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.

For all of us, life can be a lot more confusing, challenging, and sad on the inside than people can see on the outside. I think it’s really good to remember that with each other. So here’s a somewhat vulnerable peek into my world lately.

Also, I have to give credit and say how thankful I am for Lyssi, who has been the strongest, kindest, and most supportive friend I could have ever asked for through this!

To anyone else out there living with stuff that doesn’t show up on the outside, remember you’re not alone! Don’t hesitate to share with me, if an ear will ever help! :)

concussion

Look at this kid! He just won first place as an evaluator in a Toastmaster’s competition this weekend. He also just aced his accounting final. Just gotta show him off a lil bit. (Don’t worry, I bought him cheese to celebrate).

While I’m bragging, I’m gonna brag some more.

As most of you know, back in August my adorably happy go lucky life-person jumped headfirst into a sideways tree trunk (turns out wearing a hat can drastically increase your blindspots when mobilizing upwards at significant velocity) and what we originally brushed off as “ouch”, and later “altitude sickness” (we were 4 miles into a 8 mile hike in the Rockies), turned out to be his second concussion in 18 months. That same day he started school. When he was officially diagnosed a week later with a concussion, he took a couple days off work, but stayed in school (even though thinking through things or putting thoughts together or even speaking/remembering what he said or what was said to him was difficult). Though he was told it was a “minor” concussion, the injury has greatly affected his day to day life and the things he is capable of physically, emotionally, and mentally. While both injuries have had obvious initial physical effects, this second one has added a side dish of cognitive effects that he didn’t experience the first time around. He’s had to give up a lot of the things he loves the most, some temporarily, some that remain challenging in surprising ways. He’s been in a lot of physical pain on and off, has experienced cycles of severe anxiety and occasional panic attacks, and had to completely give up all strenuous physical activity for much longer than expected.

Sensory things like noise, or lights, or music, or emotional movies, or high energy people (or people who aren’t high energy but are sharing excitement and joy or anger and stress) often feel overwhelming or threatening and can cause him to shut down physically and emotionally. (This can look like me sharing lots of details about my day or telling a happy story with enthusiasm and a minute later he can go from totally tracking with me to suddenly overstimulated, and in need of calming sensory input. Sometimes he has to lay down and have complete lack of stimulation, take a nap, put on headphones, turn off the lights, stop talking, do something that has a calming sensory affect like deep breathing, meditating, a hot shower, heavy blankets, etc).

A lot has healed and improved in the last couple of months – he has been able to go on a few runs or do some low impact workouts recently, he has worked with a therapist for anxiety, he is more cognitively “quick”, has a little more mental and emotional stamina, and is getting really good grades in his accelerated accounting course 😛 – but a lot of things are unexpectedly difficult. There are stretches of days where it will seem that everything is mostly back to normal, he can go running, he can be around noise, the anxiety subsides to manageable, and things feel “normal”. Then randomly days where trying an easy workout or thinking too hard or processing an emotional or stressful moment sends his brain back into a relapse of sorts (he’ll experience brain “fog”, extreme anxiety and heightened emotions, and intense headaches), sometimes for an hour or two, sometimes for days. This can be frustrating because of how unpredictable it is. Lots of starts and stops and excitement and discouragement and trying and waiting again. He’ll have good weeks with bad days, or good days with bad weeks.

He’s had to relearn how to take care of himself. He’s had to relearn how he learns and thinks and processes and works and relates and finds balance and happiness and peace. So many things changed for him. We’ve had to relearn how to take care of eachother. The concussion-induced anxiety is something that’s hard to talk about sometimes, because some don’t believe it or think it’s being blown out of proportion, because some misunderstand what it is or try to help in ways that actually hurt, because it’s deeply personal and constant and affects everything in life. It’s exhausting for him. Emotionally, but the anxiety also takes a physical toll. We have friends and family who openly or secretly also struggle through anxiety (and depression, PTSD, etc – so many of the things that are still misunderstood and mishandled), and they are some of the most understanding, strong, and kind people we have in our lives. We’re so thankful for them (and to the ones we know but don’t know about, you deserve a shout out too!).

As the person who is there to see all of it every day, it makes me love him SO MUCH and it makes me hurt for him SO MUCH and it makes me SO PROUD of the way he keeps working through therapy, through school, through work, through friendships and relationships, through physical recovery, through all of life. How weird and unsettling and hard it’s been for him to build himself back up into this new person who is relearning strength and vulnerability and safety and peace and love and everything he knew about himself, after a “minor” concussion that from outward appearances hasn’t changed much of anything at all.

Peter has talked openly about some of the struggles he has faced in the last few months, and he’s always honest but completely positive about it. I just want to give him an extra shout out because it is HARD and he’s a CHAMP. And if your person ever suffers long term side effects from a head injury, big or small, obvious or subtle, you have our support and love.

A Note for People Who Keep Not Getting Hired

I’ve been looking for a way to say something–writing and scrapping blog posts, mulling it over for a while–maybe I’ll just say it as simply and bluntly as possible:

Lots and lots of people get told “We went with another candidate we felt was a better fit for the position.” You’ve probably been told this. Some people get told that 20% of the time. Some people get told that 50% of the time. But some people get told that almost every time. If you are one of those people, this note is from me to you because you probably need to know something:

You not being the “ideal candidate” in the corporate world is NOT something to be ashamed of. You are amazing and very needed.

 

A lot of organizations desperately need to put up the “right” numbers NOW. This constant pressure to increase the bottom line is driven by very real fears that it will lose investors, or that boards will lose faith in managers, etc.

But we all know that growth and progress in all areas of life doesn’t just happen at a consistently high speed. We also all know that life isn’t all about financial success. It’s just that translating these facts into the life of an organization–with boards and investors and customers and employees depending on its financial health for their livelihoods–is really, really, really hard.

So at the end of the day, in many organizations people still tend to get hired whose resumes and interviews suggest they will produce the fastest numbers and bring with them the fewest question marks.

 

This means that very often when it comes to interviewing for a job:

extroverts are often preferred over introverts;

people with more related resume experience have a leg up on people looking to make a change or get started in a new field;

gaps in employment history are met with extra caution;

people who are better at small talk and “fitting in” have a leg up on people who are a bit more shy, “green,” or have a unique or alternative style or personality;

people who can play politics, say the “right things,” and avoid rocking the boat are sometimes preferred over people who are more blunt, straight-forward, or skeptical. . . .

And the list goes on and on and on. I am so sorry if you are one of those people who has a harder time getting hired in the working world, and I’m so sorry if it sometimes makes you feel discouraged, inadequate, or like a failure.

Please, please know that those little characteristics used to measure you as a candidate in the very brief and narrow arena of an interview, are just that: Little characteristics that just happen these days to be looked for by many organizations hoping to quickly fulfill very specific, immediate needs. Those characteristics are only a tiny piece of the puzzle of life–or business, too, for that matter.

 

Please remember this when you’re feeling down: There is so much more to life than those characteristics being measured. A great salesperson doesn’t necessarily make a great friend or partner, a loyal teammate, a good parent, or a strong and caring member of the community. Sure extroverts are better than introverts at some things, but introverts are better than extroverts at plenty of things, too. The world needs all kinds of people! We need compassionate people, quiet people, careful people, excited people, strong people, smart people, patient people, methodical people, deep-thinking people, risk-averse people, passionate people, shameless people, blunt people, adventurous people, dreaming people, honest people…

A world full of “ideal candidates” wouldn’t work.

 

In my limited experience, I see and hear things starting to get a lot more progressive in the business world–thank goodness! We’re learning that we need people like you in business just as much as we need the charismatic salesman or confident executive. And a lot of organizations are leading the way toward a society that treats all types of personalities, and people with all varieties of experiences and backgrounds, as equally valuable people, worthy of sharing in amazing opportunities and meaningful work–even people with limited experience or other characteristics that might mean they’ll need a little extra help getting started, a different schedule, or a little more understanding.

But growth and change in society is slow, so in the meantime you may still be turned down again and again by some organizations in the working world because you’re an introvert, because you took several years off to raise little kiddos or take care of yourself, because you decided not to go to college, or because you’re not as comfortable in professional settings as others.

First of all–don’t give up on what you love and want. You’ll find a way. People do. You’ve got this.

But more importantly, please, please, please–when this happens to you–don’t for a second question your worth and don’t feel like the world doesn’t need you. Don’t measure yourself through this. There is more to life than the team that didn’t hire you. So much  more to life. Even if you could never make a single sale your entire life, so many unique things about you make a huge difference in the lives of the people around you every day. The world desperately needs people like you, whether you got that job or not.

 

Thanks for letting me share. If this has been a thing in your life, I hope that I didn’t discourage you further. I was afraid of writing something that would hurt or be insensitive. I hope, though, that you’ll remember that life is not about whether you fit “the mold.” You mean so much more than that–to yourself and to the people in your life.

Albert Einstein - Everybody is a genius

There Aren’t Normal People

A thought occurred to me today as I watched my adorable wife randomly dancing a carefree (and quite unpredictable) little dance. After a minute she laughed and said, “Do you ever think about if other couples do things like this, just be silly or weird around each other? Or if most people are more normal?”

Honestly, yes, I think most couples do random goofy things around each other. Definitely, definitely, definitely–in private, wherever self-consciousness isn’t an issue, yes: EVERYONE does weird and carefree and goofy things.

I think there just aren’t “normal” people.

We think of the world as being full of “adults” who are “normal” and “mature” and do “sensible” things and aren’t “childish” or “silly.” But behind closed doors, I don’t think anyone is “normal.”

A well-spoken doctor suddenly reverts to high school when his buddy shows up. Chest-bumping, high-fiving, saying things like “my man” and “eeeyyyy” and “sick bro!”

A suit-wearing executive jumps and screams watching his favorite sports team in the postseason.

Or there’s someone like me, who can be found sitting alone, smiling and laughing out of sheer happiness as I read the wine-and-cheese book I got for Christmas. Cheese….. :)

And everybody dances. Or sings. Or just makes weird noises. Or uses goofy voices. At least when nobody’s around to watch.

Think of the person with whom you’ve had the most comfortable friendship in your whole life. Your best “buddy.” Maybe it’s your significant other. How weird and silly have you gotten when they’re the only person around? You just let it all hang out, childishness, mischievousness, laughter till your sides hurt, and all the silliness inside you.

Maybe there are some “adults” here and there who are “normal” and “mature” and never free their childlike side–never do any weird little dances. I’m afraid that in my experience with those types, it means they’re trying really hard to earn or prove something.

But I think for the most part, people who have found the freedom to just be themselves (at least when they’re with their safe few best friends) aren’t normal. They chase their significant other around the house, they make outrageously dumb puns, they pull strange stunts just to crack each other up, and they dance silly little carefree dances.

And there’s something happy and safe and relieving and inspiring about that. We’re all just people. Emotional, curious, excitable, goofy, sometimes childish people. Free.

Someone recently suggested I be more like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character from the hilarious movie Central Intelligence. He was picked on for being himself in high school. But when he grew up to be a cool, strong, intimidating bad-ass, he still shows up in a baby blue shirt with a colorful unicorn on it and the words Always Be You. “Unicorns are the most lethal animals on the planet,” he explains. Because he just. Doesn’t. Care.

Thinking today about how silly and false the idea of “normal” is, a couple close friends come to mind who just 100% lean into their happy energy. Sometimes they seem “weird” or “different.” But they’re the most loving, happy, supportive, people to be around. And their complete genuineness–their total lack of facade–makes them inspiring and freeing people to just be with.

I realize I want to be even more like them: Just myself. Just real. Nothing to prove. Nobody’s approval to earn. Carefree and silly. Just free.

NOT normal!

How silly do YOU get when nobody else is watching?

unicorn
Central Intelligence