When my friends would talk about how they want to grow up and be millionaires, I’d respond, “Screw that! I’m going to be a billionaire.”
Growing up, I was consumed by expectations. I wanted what the world told me I wanted. I longed to be rich and successful and I knew there were certain boxes I’d have to check to get there. I was an over-achieving nerd trying way too hard to be well-rounded. And the more boxes I checked, the less happy I became.
Becoming a Nomad
Ever since childhood, I fantasized about exploring far-off lands. At the University of Illinois’ study abroad fair, my prayers were heard:
It was winter break, freshman year, in a course titled LAS 199 – Globalization.
We learned about East meeting West in Istanbul, Turkey. It was fantastic, mesmerizing and beautiful. A larger than life time capsule navigating Ottoman and Byzantine architecture & culture smashed together. The people were so colorful; women with dark hair, olive-colored skin and green eyes. Even perfect strangers would exchange intense eye contact. We were connected in a way that was previously unimaginable. Everything was a photo opportunity: every step, every building, every person, every interaction, every bird sitting in every fountain. I was in love. Life would never be the same again.
Over the next eight years, I would become a nomad; traveling through more than 50 countries. With every experience, worldviews were shattered and rebuilt. Each country saw me saved, killed and reborn. Each leg of the journey brought me closer to my calling. And worldviews evolved, too. Perhaps, there’s more to life than earning money, I thought.
Money, Money, Money!
I felt like the decision had already been made. Everyone told me it was such a good job, such a big respectable company, and a great foundation for a long career! I was lucky I had a job in finance during the peak of the 2008 crisis. It would have been career suicide to walk away.
I stepped into the polished, pointy shoes of a high-flying consultant. Flying around the country, eating in nice restaurants and staying at the best hotels was fun for a bit. Then, it quickly became unnecessarily opulent. Long nights analyzing spreadsheets to make the rich richer jangled my values.
The path to more money was clearly laid out. The paths to happiness, purpose, self-actualization and making a positive impact on the world weren’t even mentioned. I was confused.
One fine afternoon, I was reviewing loan files from a Minneapolis high-rise. There were stories of widows and veterans that had been making payments for 28 years on a 30-year mortgages. They couldn’t afford the $347/month interest payment anymore, so the bank had to foreclose. In the wake of the financial crisis, banks were handling more foreclosures than they had ever seen. Legacy processes weren’t working anymore. That’s where the consultants come in. I sat back and realized my job was to help the bank foreclose on people more efficiently. I had enough. I decided I’m destined for more than money.
Over the next few years, I would try many things. I thought, if I try hard enough at enough things, surely something will stick.
I tried to be an entrepreneur, but lacked earnest belief. I tried applying for jobs at startups, but I didn’t have enough experience in the space. I tried teaching myself to code, but that was not fun. I moved to New York and tried to marry a girl, but that’s a story for another time. I tried with all my might, but nothing clicked.
While I kept trying and failing, my friends were getting promoted, finding their soulmates and buying big city condos. My bank account was dwindling and I had nothing to show for the last two years of my life. Turned out that the straight-As world traveler couldn’t make it in the real world.
When my engagement was called off, I shattered into a million little pieces. This was the straw that broke my back. Life had lost all purpose and direction. Hope was forgotten. My own father said he couldn’t recognize me anymore. He pleaded, “Where has my son gone? I want him back.”
It was my family’s love and prayers that resurrected my soul. No amount of confusion or apathy or self-loathing could extinguish their faith in me.
I needed to reset. I went back to my happy place: travel. I escaped to Costa Rica thirsty for an adventure.
That month, there was no trying. It was all about enjoying the ride and forgetting there was a destination. There was no need to incessantly try and make everything work. Once I stopped trying so hard, it all started coming together more miraculously than I could have ever planned.
While traveling around Costa Rica, home of eco-tourism, I got curious. Most of the time, it wasn’t clear what ‘eco’ actually meant. Years of exploring had me realize how damaging travel can be for local communities and environments. How could this be made better?
In order to pull it off, one would likely need some business and travel experience coupled with the popular sentiment of making the world a better place. My calling was looking for me. One thing led to the next and I was off down the rabbit hole into Pandora’s box of sustainable living and travel. This discovery changed everything.
A Whole New World
I started to wonder, “What if there was an eco lodge that grew organic food, built structures from natural materials and had tours that actually connected with people in local communities? A place serving travelers, not tourists.”
If I want to learn how to build that kind of place, I thought, I should find one like it and work there.
That’s how I found Rancho Margot, an eco lodge that’s actually eco. Here’s an example of their dedication to sustainability:
One of the daily jobs as a volunteer on Rancho Margot’s permaculture farm was to shovel cow shit. Most people didn’t like this job because, well, it’s shitty. This was my favorite job. We’d fill the manure in wheelbarrows, and take it over to the composting area where it would get mixed in with scraps from the kitchen and other ‘waste’ organic matter from the grounds. The reaction produces heat which is harnessed to warm water for hotel guests’ showers. All the materials decompose into soil that is rich in nutrients and bioactivity. The soil is cycled back into the garden where delicious and resilient food is grown. They make food and heat out of cow shit.
The more I learned, the more I realized there is so much more to learn.
From Costa Rica, I made my way North to a permaculture farm called Finca Bona Fide. Ideas gained momentum and morphed into experiments. It was evident that the community of dreamers is massive. I met people from all corners of the world in Nicaragua. Everyone was actively working toward building a more sustainable world. They even told me they’d help when I break ground on the eco lodge.
I got more strategic about learning and became one of the founding students of a new type of graduate school called Experience Institute. With the support of Ei’s learning framework, curiosity guided me all over the world to study the intersection of business, nature and community. The year with Ei led me to activate teams building a more sustainable world in the Philippines, Chicago and Australia.
Happy coincidences are flowing strong. Help in the most unexpected situations keeps showing up; that’s what happens when you’re on the path of your calling. All the forces of the universe conspire in your favor. This is synchronicity.
Often, help leads to direct conflict with societal expectations. Yet, synchronicity is always present and pursuing it has been the most important thing I have ever done. Expectations are becoming a fading memory.
I’ve stepped into the shoes of a barefoot businessman.
I’m back in Nicaragua and my family is on board. We’re the stewards of more than 75 acres of virgin land near Playa Hermosa, outside of San Juan Del Sur. We’re especially jazzed about organic farming, natural building, yoga and community empowerment.
Circulo is the culmination of a quest for joy. Circulo is a dream being realized. Circulo is where things come full circle.
We will be remembered not for the space that we created, but for the family that we became.