Before today I hadn’t considered printing dollar bills with my face on them. And before I get in trouble with the Feds, that’s not what this post is about – at all! This post is about a life changing experience, and how that gave my company its soul. It’s like having my very own currency.
Whenever I tell this story I often begin with the line; “I was really high this one day…” Seeing that perplexed look on peoples’ faces is humorous. I quickly explain that it was not that type of high. That instead, I was hiking the mountains of Peru for two days on my way to Machu Picchu when I had this moment of transformation. The trip was a form of personal celebration and a chance to hit the reset button after finishing school and having quit a “real” job to start my own business.
Up in the mountains, the last hike began at dawn, with the objective to catch the sunrise from the last peaks before reaching the Incan ruins. I wanted to be the first of all the hikers to get the view so I powered ahead. Having read on the topic of the Incas I thought I knew what to expect, but Machu Picchu is one of the few places in the world where reality surpassed my imagination. The light reflects off the river a distant 2,000 feet below which make the green mound topped by miniature ruins appear like a present tied with a silver ribbon. The clouds cleared and the day turned beautiful. The experience was magical.
For weeks after that hike I had a nagging feeling that there was a lesson to be learned in all of this. And on my last night in Lima, it was cold and rainy, I went out just before midnight for snacks to take on the plane and met this wonderful woman selling fruits from a cart. Not like the small ones we see here in the city, but a large cart like the ones pulled by horses in a farm. I bought a random number of things and paid with all of the local currency left in my pocket. She very kindly pointed out that I was overpaying. I explained that I was leaving the country and that it was my gift to her. At first she was apprehensive, but I insisted. She broke down in tears and told me she hadn’t made a sale because of the wet weather, and that she had refused to go home with what little money she’d made. It was a touching moment, we hugged, and I was an emotional mess. Then, from under the cart, a little girl, six or seven, crawled out and rushed me with a tight hug at the hip and said “gracias!” Yeah, I cried all the way back to the hotel.
The business plan I wrote in school contains a number of dashboards and a matrix by which to manage ‘success.’ I’ve run my business for almost six years now, and developing creative ideas for our clients, particularly with social media, still excites me. HOWEVER, it’s my commitment – if only to myself – to do something about the ugly reality children wake up to every single day in other parts of the world, that gives me the energy to work long hours and keeps me focused.
Through my South America experience, I discovered the true purpose for my business – and in the process, my definition for personal success.
Later this week, my wife and I are going to San Marcos, Sololá, a village two hours by car and an additional 45 minutes by boat outside Guatemala, where we are adopting a school of 60+ students. We hope to provide teachers and students with incentive programs, technology, and may very well be starting the first charter school in that part of the world. Wish us luck!