Arkansas to Ecuador: When God Said ‘Yes’ to Our Most Laughable Dream

Dana and me back in the days of suits, cocktail parties, benefit art auctions and big business.

Dana and me back in the days of suits, cocktail parties, benefit art auctions and big business.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~ Proverbs 29:18

It’s been quite a year.

My dad died in January. Dana and I explored Ecuador in April, bought a piece of land and began building a house. I started writing a couple of books, and considered the world of self-employment once again. Two months ago, my corporate day job was eliminated, forcing the issue of previously considered self-employment. We paid off 90 percent of our debts. And we’re now eight days away from getting on a plane to Quito (December 21 – the day the Mayans claim the world will end, I might add) and driving into Puerto Cayo where our house should be finished and our new venture into the world of global marketing will begin.

Each night before bed, I expect to wake up the next morning in a dream, but it hasn’t happened yet.

***

October 31, 2009, is a day I’ll never forget.

Nine months prior I’d cashed out well over six figures (everything I had) to launch a new publishing business that I believed was destined for success. I hired the finest people, (many of whom were good friends) bought the best equipment and leased the most advanced facilities I could imagine to put it all in. We were hi-tech, and we looked good.

On the World Poker Tour they would have said I was “all-in.”

But the world had an ace in the hole.

By July I began seeing signs of something I’d never seen before. Getting money was tougher. Selling advertising, even to my closest of business associates, wasn’t like it was before. Businesses were holding back. I had no idea what it was.

It was then, that I understood what recession meant.

Our revenues dried up. Overhead costs were screaming every day, creditors started calling, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat.

On the week leading up to October 31, I fired my entire staff of eight and liquidated all our physical assets. Even then, I was $100k in debt, well beyond broke, and for the first time in my life, had NO vision. Not for tomorrow or next week, and certainly not for the next year or five years.

Things went dark very quickly. Very dark. I thought I’d never return the communications business I loved so much. I thought I’d never write again. And for two years, I didn’t.

***

And when daddy died, it all had to come out. So I created a blog and the world changed.

This blog site became a place of healing. Beyond the steadfast support of my wife, Dana, it was the only such source I ever found. I could write about my failures, my anger, and be transparent about it all because I never really had to look anyone in the eye.

Readers came. Comments rolled in, and slowly and gradually, I started thinking again, and a journey began to finding my former self – one blog post at a time.

After dad died in January, I took a good assessment of life’s brevity. It grew into a desire to explore, and do things I’d never before done. It guided Dana and me to an exploratory trip to Ecuador where there was a defining moment  I’ll never forget.

Dana and me, back in business, but a lot more relaxed, less stress and learning to enjoy life and savor the moment.

Dana and me, back in business, but a lot more relaxed, less stress and learning to enjoy life and savor the moment.

After a nine-hour drive from Guayaquil, we finally arrived on an elevated hill just south of Puerto Cayo, and as I looked at the small fishing village with pristine, uninhabited beach as far as the eye could see, I knew something special would happen there soon, with, or without me.

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. My first view.

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. My first view.

So we bought a piece of land and started building a house, and managed it all via electronic communication from 6,000 miles away. During that time, we’ve laid the ground work for a family of mass communication marketing companies in a part of the world I like to think of as the New West. Opportunity everywhere. It must have been how Lewis and Clark felt each day as they passed through and explored the Louisiana Purchase en route to the Pacific. A new opportunity around every corner.

They too, must have thought they’d wake up in a dream.

I never thought I’d write again. God got a big laugh out of that one.

“Oh yes you will,” he said. “Just never as you’ve before imagined, my son.”

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2012 in Review: A Few Favorite Reader Comments

blogger

Today marks my 230th post since taking up residency on WordPress in late January. Lots of great discussion. The posts will be fewer and farther between for the remainder of the year as we take on some new business opportunities thousands of miles away. The interaction with readers has been my highest honor during 2012. Here are some of my favorite reader comments from the year.

And special thanks to the blogging buddies represented in the three visuals below for their steadfast encouragement throughout the year:

www.project-40.com

www.ourcrowdedheart.wordpress.com

www.writingstraight.com

1. Very inspirational post. This is why you’re on my blogroll – in response to this post.project-40-logo12

2. If there were a way to better put this into words, I would, but can’t. So I’ll simply say thank you for writing this and making it available to a somewhat lost soul who’s often given up on healing and who so desperately needed to hear these words today – in response to this post.

3. Unpatriotic, left-wing, democratic garbage – in response to this post.

4. Steve, this is not funny. Obviously, you’re not the man I thought you were – also in response to the post cited in #3 above.

holly michael5. Your bucket list is not just a list. It’s a framework for how you’ll live your life. You’ve inspired me to create my own bucket list – in response to this post.

6. You’re a very blessed man, but I can see that you already know that – in response to this post.

7. Love your boldness,  Steve, but wasn’t the reader whose comment offended you also within his First Amendment rights? Don’t people have the right to say they don’t want to hear what you have to say? – in response to this post.

8. Thanks for this post. It really helped me understand SEO strategies – in response to this post.

9. Thanks for putting into writing what most of us are thinking – in response to this post.rhonda hardisty

10. I don’t like it. I love it. Best blogging advice I’ve seen on the web – in response to this post.

11. Your dad looks like a young Paul Newman in this photo – blues eyes and all – in response to this post.

Tomorrow:

12.21.2012 – What Time Does the World End Because I Have a Plane to Catch That Day. Seriously.

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Why I’ll Never Say “Never” Again. Never!

***

“Never, say never!”

The ultimate cliché’ I must have heard 10,000 times … and I hate cliché’s. Really hate them.

***

Transparent Background Begins Here:

Four years ago, 19 years into my first marriage, I was a divorced man. My entire life, I said I’d never be divorced.

Subsequently, I cashed out well over $100,000 in a 401k to launch a new publishing and business coaching shop. Six months later we experienced the worst recession in 70 years, businesses stopped advertising, and 10 months after the dream began, I fired seven talented employees, many of whom were dear friends, closed the business, and had zero dollars to my name.

Oh, and by the way, I was newly married. Way to impress the bride, huh?

It was the first time in my life when all vision disappeared. Nothing but darkness with no idea what would transpire tomorrow, much less five years from then.

The depression set in, and I really thought I’d die. Most moments, it was the preferred alternative.

Quick summary: Broke. Depressed. Suicidal.

Yes, being around me – well, it was all kicks and grins as you might imagine.

By far, financial ruin wasn’t the worst of it. It was the darkness, for truer words were never spoken when King Solomon said, “without a vision the people perish.”

Never before had I been without a plan, a hope and a vision, and for two years, those things were completely absent. As remote as the most distant galaxy.

***

Truth is, I thought God was punishing me. That I – the wayward son – had become His favorite whipping post. Reality is – that it was more likely a season of strong discipline – the kind a loving parent gives a misbehaving child.

But whatever it was, it didn’t lessen the agony of so many things that hurt like hell.

***

Yet it was only for a season, and seasons pass, and time marches on. I’d love to share with you how I pulled myself out of the mirey funk, but I’m sure I had nothing to do with it.

And so the independent thinking, self-employed entrepreneur was thrown back into the working world, at one point working a 20-hour week for a non-profit that paid $10 an hour. Did I mention I was broke, and really needed money?

And for another two years, the jobs came and went, me thinking I was above almost all of it, and that this would be my life’s lot all the rest of my days.

It was no longer dark.  Just very, very cloudy and grey.

Wrongly motivated, I went on a seasonal spree contacting a number of Christian missionary-sending organizations thinking I’d dedicate the remainder of my days serving penance for God in some remote part of the world. Inevitably, it came down to one thing. I was a divorced man, and so my testimony could never measure up to that of what a missionary should have. At least that’s what they said. And I accepted that, because they were the ones changing the world for the good, right?

I was unworthy.

And the worst part is, because I was so down –  so unforgiving toward myself , so wrong about who God really is – I bought into that idea.

I’d owned everything I did, but I was still carrying it all around. And the baggage was very heavy.

Enough of the Bad News

Here’s the Good News, and it’s found in the Gospels.

We’re all sinners who’ve broken God’s laws, and God is intolerant of sin. But Christ showed his love for us by taking the punishment, that should’ve been ours, and He died on a cross making a way out so that we can freely receive the gift forgiveness and right standing.

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.” ~ Acts 10: 43

I spent two years in residency at never-never land, and can assure you Peter Pan was nowhere to be found.

***

My two years in Never-Never Land (and honestly up to just a few months ago) had me saying (and believing) the following:

  1. I’d never be self-employed again, yet Dana and I are only days away from launching not one, but three new companies, and it couldn’t be more exciting.
  2. I’d never play golf again, yet I played three times last week and shot an 83 on a beautiful Fall day in Arkansas.
  3. I’d never be smart enough, technologically speaking, to move forward in the field of mass communications which I love so dearly, yet I’ve built a half-dozen web and blog sites in the last year, and three more are in the works.
  4. I’d never see my best friend again, yet he was on the golf course with me last week, witnessed my post at 83, and two days ago shot a 79 himself. What memories!
  5. That because I’d lost my “testimony,” I’d never be worthy of inspiring others again, yet many readers seem to resonate with what I write.
  6. That I’d never have the discipline to write a book and “become an author,” yet I know it will come to pass within months.
  7. That I’d never be a publisher again, yet it was only a few hours ago that we launched this new website for a new global publication that may have more potential than anything I’ve ever dreamed possible.
  8. That because of the branded “D” (divorce) on my forehead, I’d never be worthy of meaningful Christian service, yet one of the organizations that rejected me two years ago, called just two days ago, and now wants to consider partnership with many of the things we decided to do without their help. All of a sudden, I’m worthy again? I’m happy, but confused.

***

With forgiveness, comes hope.

And NEVER (there I go again) discount the power of hope.

***

On a personal note, I mentioned there was a new bride in the midst of all the husband and wifeaforementioned darkness. Anyone else would have justifiably wondered what they’d gotten themselves into, and walked away. She never did. She held my hand, wiped my tears and she gave me hope.

I love you, Dana. I really do.

Case Study: When a Reader Says, “I Know How You Think.”

my writing office

MY COMFORT ZONE – The familiar place where I write every day.

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” ~ Ben Franklin

***

That’s exactly what one reader said in reference to this blog post last week.

“I believe I know how you think,” the reader said, and he went on to recommend one particular author with whose work he thought I’d identify.

***

For a moment, his comment took me aback. Not in a bad way. It simply caused me to pause and think. I wonder just how many readers believe they know how I think? And is that a good or bad thing? Is my work overly predictable? Is it too simplistic? Locked in a genre? Have I failed to offer variety to those who read? If so, it’s all a crying shame.

Or … have I been successful in establishing a stylistic brand that resonates with a specific audience … and, if so, is that what I really want … because I honestly despise predictability and status quo, and would much prefer my reader be surprised, and caught off guard from one post to the next. The ultimate goal in my writing is to make people think. Think, perhaps differently, than they may have thought before.

So what exactly does it mean if a reader knows how a writer thinks? It’s a formidable question.

***

writing tips for authorsIt just so happens that I know this reader. We’re not best buddies, we don’t hang out. We run into one another occasionally, mostly when I visit his retail store in my hometown. But mostly our relationship is via social media, and those communiques are only once a week or so at best.

But when Jay Gunter does send a few words my way, I pay attention. He’s a tactical, skilled entrepreneur, deep thinker and we relate in an extraordinary way on the topic of grace. We share a radical thinking on grace and a mutual distaste for works-based theology.

So when Jay writes, I get quiet, and read, and re-read his every word. I find priceless nuggets in the thoughts he puts into words.

“I believe I know how you think,” he said. Now that’s a pretty audacious thing to say, unless you’re dead solid perfect right. And so he was.

***

Friends and readers (not necessarily exclusive to one another) recommend books to me all the time. If I read every book ever recommended that’s all I’d do.

But that’s exactly what Jay did. He recommended I read the works of Robert Capon. “I think you’ll really identify with what Capon says, and how he says it,” Gunter wrote.books by robert capon

The last 30 minutes of my day, just ahead of bedtime had me researching Capon’s work. Two great reads are: The Parables of Grace and Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus.

In reading the Kindle samples, it took about 10 seconds to experience an extraordinary revelation.

Capon directs much of his effort towards not only breaking down the parables of Jesus, but he teaches through his own parable writing, and suddenly I realized what Jay didn’t say.

I’m prone to write in parables of my own, especially in this post which Jay referenced, and I didn’t even know it.

Now when a reader points to a writer and it produces a revelation like that, well, it’s enormous.

And it’s created a whole new self-understanding of a writing style I never knew I had. What’s the value in that? Priceless, because now, that style will be used more purposefully and effectively.

It’s like seeing the sun come up in the east for the very first time. Those moments are far and few between, and when they happen, you savor them.

Thanks, Jay, for your profound audacity that gracefully revealed a life-changing moment.

And thank God for the readers who presume knowledge of how we think.

Good, bad, or indifferent, I value reader commentary, so fire away any time.

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Unexpectedly Self Employed: 10 Pros – 10 Cons

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” ~ Truman Capote

I’m 46 years old, and for the third time in 24 years I find myself in the wide-open world of self employment. Though it’d been on the radar screen for 18 months or so, it didn’t come about exactly as I’d planned, but it’s all good because my subconscious was mentally preparing for life’s next exciting move anyway. It’s all because the owners at my previous place of employment “…decided to make a change in direction.”

i.e., “Your fired.”

Again, it’s all good.

This go-around will be the decider. In the previous two immersions into the world of the self employed my record is one and one.  This time’s for the championship, and each morning I wake up early, adrenaline flowing, ready to get back in the game.

For those of you who blog, I’m happy to share this important reality: During the last 10 months, I’ve spent 3 to 4 hours a day blogging in my spare time. If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure I’d be in a position to take on a brave new world in the communications market. Blogging’s opened up countless partnerships, alliances, relationships and learning experiences that are simply invaluable. In the beginning, I had no idea where it was all going, but the blogosphere’s definitely led to something more significant and meaningful in my life.

e.g.- One of the most surprising, and rewarding opportunties came from a sister blog I set up some time ago – one designed for personal reasons only – that chronicled an adventure Dana and I set out on last April. Over the months, it’s connected us to dozens of others in the expat world, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to write for International Living magazine on a regular basis. See www.internationallivingmagazine.com. It’s a huge blessing and thrilling opportunity.

Steve and Dana Watkins, owners of PRO Ecuador Marketing and Ecuador Guided ToursOn January 2, Dana and I will launch two new businesses abroad in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The web had already opened up an opportunity to freelance some social media management gigs, and now we’re ready to formalize it all into a more focused umbrella of targeted opportunities. I’m now thrilled to focus 100 percent of our efforts toward the work we most love.

professional marketing agencies in Ecuador

PRO Ecuador Marketing is a comprehensive marketing company that will manage ad campaigns (new and traditional media) for tourism-related industries along the emerging Ecuadorian coast. Its website is currently under development.

Ecuador Guided Tours www.ecuadorguidedtours.com is a full expat service assisting travelers and potential expat explorers looking for new opportunities along the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast. It’s an idea we had almost immediately after we spent two weeks exploring Ecuador on our own, and found no formal services to guide us in a way that would make the most of our time and money.

Full expat service agency for travelers and expats looking for real estate in Ecuador.

It’s an exciting thing to get back into the world of self employment. I’ve been thinking about all the pros and cons, and these are my thoughts so far:

CONS

1. Aside from the work itself, there’s a lot to learn, especially when you own a business that operates both from the U.S., and a foreign country. Different rules apply in both places, and it’s easy to see how a business owner could make serious, consequential mistakes in the complexity of it all. A legal, yet advantageous tax strategy is foremost on the list.

2. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of hiring really smart co-workers who compliment one another’s skills and talents. At least for now, it’s just Dana and me, and I’ll miss the synergy that comes from a small group of really smart people.

3. Also missing from the group dynamic is the luxury of specialization. Previously, I’ve been able to pass on the more technical work to people MUCH smarter than me, but now I’m required to be more tech-savvy than I ever imagined because I simply can’t afford (at this point) to hire highly specialized co-workers.

4. Because the business world is radically different than it was just three years ago, and because technology changes at the speed of light on any given day, there’s a ton of prelimary work that must be managed to properly launch a new business. There are business cards to print, websites to develop, social media distribution tools to create and link together, ad campaign strategies and much more. Our situation is all the more challenging because our communication methods must be effective in two very distinct cultures. I’d be totally lying if I didn’t say it’s all a lot of fun though.

5. It’s a given that income will fluctuate from month to month. That requires a lot of thought with regard to current debt obligations and the cost of necessary future investments.

6. Balance is critical. I’m old enough now to know my strengths and weakness. One weakness is the tendency to immerse myself in work, but experience tells me that’s a double-edged sword. I’m working hard to learn proper self-scheduling. It’s just not possible to monitor email 24 hours a day.

7. In our “spare time,”  Dana and I must become fluent in Latin American Spanish. Those six years of college Spanish were a long time ago, and today, I’m a gringo defined.

8. Today, we’re 38 days out from wheels up to from Memphis to Atlanta-Quito-Manta-Puerto Cayo. The checklist for things to do moves two steps ahead of us every time we take a single step forward.

9. I’ve always enjoyed responding to other bloggers’ requests for coaching or critique. It’s sort of my way of giving back. Now, I’m required to be much more selective in who I can help and whether it will be free or not.

10. There are rare moments when I’m scared. I never want anyone to see it, so there’s a mask to put on from time to time.

“A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” ~ my banker

PROS

1. It gives me the opportunity to thank God for second and third chances. I’ve been praying the Prayer of Jabez for three weeks now, and it often brings a tear to my eye, because I believe those prayers have been answered in such an overwhelmingly unexpected way.

2. I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you it’s the most exciting time in my life.

3. The perks! Unlimited vacation, knocking off at 3 p.m., coming in late. Ha! I know I’ll never really do those things.

4. Never again (I pray) will I be subject to the whims of a pre-maturely elevated, 30-something whipper-snapper who thinks he’s got the world by the tail and has it all figured out.

5. For those us who have certain personality types … I’m a High D, ENFJ, there’s no substitute for sailing your own ship.

6. Pursuing a vision (whatever it may be) is the most fulfilling thing I know.

7. Technology makes the global business world smaller and smaller every day. Dana and I love the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with people in other cultures. A few months ago, I met a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. His name was Caesar. When he first introduced himself, he said, “I’m a citizen of the world,” and it sent chills up my spine.

8. At 46, I’ve made a TON of mistakes in both my business and personal life. Lessons learned the hard way, yet invaluable. With a little luck, I’ll see those issues looming ahead this time, and take the appropriate detours.

9. Four years ago, I had a “great idea” for a business where I intended to be the sole proprietor – all me – and I went to visit several banker friends soliciting a loan to get the business going for a year or so. On my last visit to my last resort, this is what one banker told me: “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” He wanted me to solicit investors – to go out and sell others on my idea, and rather than take on the full risk of investment and the potential full rewards – to share both the risk and those rewards. I ignored his advice and the idea flopped in three months. Sidebar – I didn’t get the loan…  This time, that’s my philosophy going in because it’s quite true: A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING.

10. Honestly, I’ve never been more alive.

What Pro/Con experiences have you enjoyed in the world of self employment, or what advice would you have for others considering a new adventure?

(Steve Watkins is a professional journalist and blogger, and a contributor to International Living Magazine. For more information, see his “about me” page @ http://wp.me/P2bjEC-7:  or contact him at stevewatkins71@yahoo.com.)

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Election 2012: Well – That’s What Happens to a Bunch of White Guys in Blue Suits

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.” ~ 1st Samuel 17:48-50

What in the world does that familiar story have to do with the presidential election? I’ll tell you in just a minute.

***

POTUS

Here’s what happened.

Ever been to a football game where the quarterback predictably handed the ball to a running back time after time after time? Slowly, methodically the team trudges down the field and makes its way to the goal line. It’s boring, not real glitzy, and the crowd hates it. It’s almost silent, but oftentimes, damn effective.

While all the white guys in XXL blue suits were standing ’round the country club bar knocking back Long Island Teas and comparing portfolios, a silent, but deadly ground game was going forward. And the white guys in blue suits never heard them coming.

They were Latino, Hispanic, Black and poor white – minorities we call them. And they were standing in early voting lines, getting on buses, carpooling to the polls and calling their friends. In the political world, it’s called GOTV – get out the vote – and it’s a political science that wins most elections and goes very mistakenly unnoticed because it’s quiet.

WHY A SOLID MINORITY BEATS A FRAGMENTED MAJORITY EVERY SINGLE TIME.

It’s actually slap-you-in-the-face-obvious if you just look at the map.

This election happened in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. What do these states have in common? For one, they hold true to one of our country’s founding principles. They welcome “foreigners” as their own. They embrace diversity. “Give me your tired, your poor,” they say.

And though they may be “minorities” in this country, they are rock-solid together, as one, because they have no other choice.

Oh, how we talk about power of the evangelical Christian right. They’re going to determine this election’s outcome, right? They can’t even agree on the color of the choir robes, much less come together as a body that creates a movement. They haven’t done it since the first century, so why would it happen now? They’re so busy spitting in the eye of freedom of choice, the self-righteousness loses sight of the greater good.

Barack Obama was the most beatable president in recent history. It was Mitt’s to lose, and lose, he did.

Never in the history of social media has a man been so disrespected as the present and future president of the United States. He’s your president today, and is your Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. Suck it up and give your respect. If not, just be quiet, okay?

What does the story of David and Goliath have to do with it all? Only everything.

This country’s solid minority, just beat the fragmented majority like a dog.

From now on, maybe we all should just try to get along.

The majority no longer rules. Get used to it, or do something about it.

***

Now the only question that remains is this: Will Chris Christie face Biden or Clinton (Hillary, that is,) in 2016? That race starts now.

stevenwwatkinsAnd by the way, I am a white guy who occasionally wears blue suits.

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The Scarboroughs on House Hunters International: Atlanta-Cuenca-Puerto Cayo

(Blogger‘s Note: Our friends, Gary and April Scarborough were recently featured on House Hunters International. The show chronicled their move from Atlanta to Cuenca to an ultimate destination of Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, where the Scarboroughs are now developing a beachfront home community called www.laspalmasecuador.com. For more information about this project email me at steve@ecuadorguidedtours.com or april@laspalmasecuador.com)

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The video clip below is a paid advertisement.