There we sat like knots on a log, two late-40-something men bored and useless at one of the tediously never-ending Junior Auxiliary fundraisers, when my buddy offered a dubious reading recommendation.
“That new Truett Cathy book is pretty good. I think you’d enjoy it,” he said, staring off into space toward the luxury porta-potties apparently necessary for this particular outdoor charity event at the “ranch.”
“Chick-fil-A?” I responded, silently scoffing at the likelihood of some fast-food propaganda promo and how I might benefit from it.
“That’s him,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll check it out,” I lied.
“Hey, did you check out those porta potties?”
“Yep. Sweet. Very sweet. I think I’ll go back in and pee again.”
Two days later he shows up at my office Monday morning with his used, dog-eared copy.
Trapped. Great Caesar’s Ghost.
But I read it. And something stuck.
Truett Cathy was a fine man. He did a lot of good, instilled much goodwill, set an example for the kind of life to which I aspire. He had his haters. Who doesn’t these days?
But Cathy founded his business with good people. From corporate execs to the janitorial staff, everything was/is personal. And he successfully created an environment that makes people happy to work at Chick-fil-A. He wanted people to give customers heartfelt service with a genuine smile – the kind that comes naturally.
The next time you run through a Chick-fil-A, listen for a key word.
What do you hear at the speaker greeting? “Welcome to Chick-fil-A. It will be my pleasure to serve you. Order whenever you’re ready.”
Need ketchup? “It will be my pleasure.”
Soft drink too flat? “It’ll be my pleasure to replace that sir/ma’am.”
Cathy created an environment making it a pleasure for his employees to work there, and they pass their pleasure on to the customer. However you may feel about their public positions on certain issues, rarely will you have a bad experience at Chick-fil-A.
Civility’s rapid decay during the last two years has on occasion made me physically ill.
Through modeling from public figures of the highest profile, by way of mass media, the entertainment industry, the lingering effects of a recession from which some will never, ever recover, and the slow, drip, drip, conditioning it creates in a very numb society, it’s now easier to treat others with incredulous disdain than with kindness. We’re almost unconscious in our rude behavior.
The Resistance??? There are may things we need to resist now, and the players in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be our least worries. We must resist becoming void of all kindness and civility. The hard part is, no one can do it but you.
I made a decision in October than I will not bow to civil decay. That requires an intentional, conscious effort every day in taking responsibility for myself. Add to a plan of a balanced diet, exercise and spiritual well-being, this:
Intentional gratitude. I’m pausing for it several times a day now.
As I focus on what’s good, (especially people in my life) it actually requires less and less effort over time. It makes it much easier to take my eyes off myself and look outward.
Truth is, it makes almost everything a PLEASURE. Regularly, throughout the day, and with no force of thought I find myself in conversation regularly saying …
“It’s my pleasure.”
“The pleasure is mine.”
“It couldn’t be more of a pleasure.”
And I’m laughing as I write this, but I mean it. Things are much more a pleasure now than they were when I paid attention to all the garbage. I’m not going back into the mire. That behavior is unacceptable. I reject it. This is my Resistance.
And so in everything I now pursue, it’s become an unintentional mantra, and I wasn’t even going for that.
El Gusto es mio…
AND THAT’S A PLEASURE!
After three weeks we are pleased to kick off this work week with the announcement of our first major property offering in a new development you have to see to believe.
We call it Buena Vista (Good Views) Ecuador, and “good views” doesn’t come close to an adequate description.
This property is being released to the market today, and in this new year we will host three complimentary “Discovery Weekends” that can accommodate 12 couples during each weekend.
Come explore, and check out our new website by clicking on the Buena Vista icon to the right, or simply go directly to http://www.buenavistaecuador.com for more information.
And follow our Facebook fan page “PRO Ecuador Marketing” for real-time updates on this project.
Now that the moment’s upon us, I’m not quite sure what to say, or how to say it.
For six months now, Dana and I have awaited this hour, the time when we’d return to Ecuador to breathe new life into a very different future.
In 24 hours we’ll drive 70 miles to Memphis International Airport, take a quick flight to Atlanta, then on 5,000 miles south to Quito, then Manta, grab a rental car there, and drive an hour further south to Puerto Cayo where our new home is finished and where we’ll set up shop for a new family of marketing-related businesses. Latitude 1 South. We’ve been laying the groundwork there for almost a year.
And quite a year it’s been.
My 71-year-old dad died in January, and for me it created a profound moment, when for the first time, I’d truly assess life’s “vaporish” quality. I began writing my first series of books focusing on redemption. Three months after dad’s passing we made an exploratory trip to Ecuador, purchased a 1/3 acre lot by the beach and began building second home. We joined a new church that helped us better understand our roles as “every-day missionaries,” and just more than 60 days ago the human resource director at the company where I worked called me into his office to say “the owners have decided to go in a different direction, (and you’re not going along for the ride).”
Enter Plan B.
Fortunately, the wheels in my head had been turning just enough to assess the possibilities for one last entrepreneurial adventure, this time in a “foreign” land. The moment we first laid eyes on Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, I told Dana it was soon to be something very special and you could see opportunities everywhere. So there’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for lesson in there somewhere.
Now, we’re headed for a 99-day follow-up trip to see where it might further lead.
His book’s subtitle is, “Moving from Success to Significance.” What we’re about to do, Buford would say, is a “seismic test,” a low-to-moderate risk to assess the bigger possibilities for the greater good. And so, our seismic test now begins.
It all means several things for Dana and me, including but not limited to:
- A willingness to “unlearn” many of the cultural biases that are almost instinctive. We must leave behind the notions that the way we do most things is the correct manner in which to do them. That’s not necessarily true in a very big world.
- We must exercise patience, and listen a lot more than we talk.
- That even if this venture fails by our standards, it’s not the end of the world because you never, never, never quit, and God has a plan even when you don’t.
- A greater understanding that life is a balancing act, and your best is all you can do.
- Finding new ways to help others understand that redemption, in whatever form it may present itself, is a wonderful and powerful thing.
My wife saves everything. She’s not a hoarder, but somehow uses her skills to organize our chaotic life. Last night she showed me a few “fortunes” she’d saved from the cookies we’d broken over the last year during visits to some of our favorite Asian restaurants. Yes, she saved the fortune cookie fortunes. A few fortunes read:
- “You discover treasures where others see nothing unusual.”
- “Ideas you believe are absurd, ultimately lead to success.”
- “Others take notice of your radiance. Share your happiness.”
- “Every production of genius, must first be the product of enthusiasm.”
- “God looks after you, especially.”
We’ve said our goodbyes to family and friends. And now we go.
To all the readers for whom I’m so very thankful, my next post, and all those that follow for the succeeding 99 days, will be from a new base in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. We’ll share stories of our new adventure, grab photos of this beautiful land and invite you to enjoy it all with us.
Until then, thanks for coming along. If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.
Vaya con Dios for now.
“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.
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.
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.”
And this is who I found – Levi and Maria.
Levi and Maria are students, and work at my alma mater, Arkansas State University.
Levi has an undergraduate degree in Spanish and a graduate degree in
geography. He works in the Center for International Studies, and will soon pursue a terminal geography degree in Texas or New Mexico.
They are a delightful young couple willing to help an old gringo, provided he has $25 in his pocket for every hour! And it’s worth every penny.
Levi instructs me in basics and fundamentals: proper conjugation, tenses, especially on permanent and temporary tenses, which I find quite difficult. Many times we use flash cards, and that’s helpful for a visual learner.
With her background in business education, and parents from the corporate world in Latin America, Maria instructs me in proper business protocol, ethics, how a friendly relationship almost always comes before business, and how to “unlearn” most of what I’ve learned in the U.S. business world. Because things (everything) moves much slower in Latin America, I have to back off my tendency to be so aggressive in business.
If you’re looking to learn a second language, Rosetta Stone and many other programs are good, but there’s no substitute for the interaction that comes with a tutor and practice by speaking.
Gracias y mucho gusto en conocerlo Levi y Maria!
Photos by Dana Hoggard Watkins
Joseph had taken every personality profile assessment you can imagine, and multiple times.
Eventually, he thought, the results would come up different, but they never did.
Joseph was driven, intense, introspective and a strategic thinker. He also had a compassionate heart, and the latter only added to his internal drive for change. He’d always believed, that together, with a like-minded group of friends, they could change the world.
He worked at a small company, independently owned, and somewhat entrepreneurial in culture. Joseph loved the diversity in his colleagues, especially because they were smart in so many ways he was not.
For two years, every morning around 7:20, Joseph arrived early for work, each day entering through the front door.
For all its forward thinking and self-proclaimed image to embrace new ideas, each day Joseph walked in the front door, he quietly wished his colleagues would turn their culture upside-down and get really radical. He wished they’d take on a genuine “what-if” mentality, because the world was changing, and changing fast.
Some days, Joseph did what he could to impose a new way of thinking, but it never quite took hold, and he wasn’t senior enough to come right out and say some things. Imposition of change never works anyway, he’d learned.
On occasion, when he was bold enough to cross a certain line, his thinking was listened to, but not really heard.
The days, weeks and months went on, and the culture eventually took its toll on Joseph. He’d becoming something he really was not – accepting of the status quo.
So Joseph walked through the front door each day at 7:20 a.m., and privately felt as if he were betraying his own heart.
One day, hope arrived.
Before 8 a.m., (everyone in the company was an overachiever), a senior company team called Joseph in to take on a major project for which he’d previously solicited leadership responsibility. They told him to go with it, and to use his own creative gut instincts to get it done.
So Joseph was elated.
Creative freedom was offered, accepted, and now, he started once again to feel true to himself. His strategies were bold, radical and counter to anything that’d ever been done, and he was thrilled with all the possible outcome scenarios.
They might just change the world after all.
At some point, a company client got wind of the culture change to which Joseph had been assigned, and they called senior management with their disapproval. “Things have been just fine for 30 years now,” they said. “Let’s not go and start changing now.”
Yes, the client had been with the company from almost day one – and with that came a certain freedom to call some shots.
Quickly, senior management back-tracked, called Joseph in, and asked him to call the client explaining the new approach wouldn’t be so radical after all.
The follow-up meeting brought only one phrase to Joseph’s mind: “Thrown under the bus.”
Prone to sometimes quick and emotional decisions himself (after so much bs), Joseph got up, and walked out the door that gave him safe passage every day.
For years, he obsessed in disgust, and for years he never went back, until one day something prompted him to go back and visit old friends.
His parking space, long-lost over the years to multiple generations of new “idea” guys, Joseph parked in the back lot, and took entry through an obscure warehouse door.
Oddly, Joseph noticed, the back door was slightly cracked.
He was warmly greeted as he walked the warehouse aisles en route to the area where all the real thinking went on. Around the next corner, he bumped into an old adversary who “managed” the company’s entrepreneurial culture.
Then the adversary asked something interesting.
“It’s just you and me here in the back of the warehouse. Since we’re here, would you remind me about the vision you had for the corporate culture change?
Our submissions guidelines for Ecuador Living Magazine. Feel free to re-post, or share with anyone who may be interested.
Ecuador Living supports the work of professional bloggers and freelance writers. Some 25 percent of our editorial content for each issue is reserved for emerging writers.
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“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.
Enough of the Bad News
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.
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:
- 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.
- I’d never play golf again, yet I played three times last week and shot an 83 on a beautiful Fall day in Arkansas.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 aforementioned 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.
- The Forgiveness of God (lacykitkat.wordpress.com)
- Who is lavish with forgiveness? (mww1954.wordpress.com)
- Take your mat and walk! (graceismessy.com)
“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” ~ Tom Brokaw
I know of nothing more exciting than launching a new business. Taking it from absolutely nothing – to something.
There’s also nothing more challenging. I’m in the midst of my third go-around in a new business launch and among all things, it’s a time-consuming, moving target that brings out the best and worst in me.
About a year ago, and during a time when I was fully invested in finding a literary agent (a notion I’ve long since abandoned for the brave new world of self publishing), I came across a candidate with whom I felt a kinship connection.
He was the first and only agent who shared a tangible method for writing a successful book, and his counsel came from the Bible‘s book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, otherwise known as the parable of the Valley of the Dry Bones.
Read Chapter 37’s conclusion:
“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on the slain, that they may come to life.'” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
And no, I’m not a religious wack-job as one former colleague once mis-characterized me.
The agent’s lesson was this: One way to write a great book is to: assemble the bones (academically formalize your ideas); put flesh on the bones (tell great stories that support your ideas); and breathe life into the bones (give the reader added-value to help him/her understand their own application moving forward after they’ve read your book.)
I adopted the theory immediately in book writing, and almost everything I’ve done since.
Today, Dana and I are 35 days out from wheels down in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, where we’ll launch a new marketing agency and an expatriate guide service for adventurers exploring the Ecuadorian Pacific coast. You can see our new business cards in the right sidebar.
And we started at ground-zero.
Here’s what we had to do to:
GATHERING THE BONES
Connecting Ecuador to the WORLD through honest business practices, mutually beneficial relationships, and alliances that collectively benefit from an ever-increasing awareness of all that Ecuador has to offer.
- Create Mission, Vision and Purpose statements to better understand our business culture and self-understanding of what we’d do, how we’d do it and how it would be designed to make a difference for the greater good.
- And primarily, in developing a business framework, we identified effective, affordable resources that would maximize our time, money and productivity to create excellent client services and products. Among them, but, but not exclusive of them are:
- http://www.godaddy.com for domain research and support
- http://www.wix.com for website development
- Obviously, I’m a big fan/supporter of http://www.wordpress.com for communication
- http://www.mailchimp.com for email marketing campaigns and newsletter templates
- http://www.internationallivingmagazine for research and relationship building
- http://www.consumerbase.com for target market email addresses and email distribution
- http://www.pageturnerpro.com for creating virtual, online magazines.
- And a plethora of relationships we’ve developed with fellow bloggers and expatriates around the world.
PUTTING FLESH ON THE BONES
- Hands-on conceptualizing and execution for an effective social media platform
- Hands-on branding (graphic design, logos, message, theme, consistency, etc.)
- Hands-on content marketing development
- Hands-on web design
- Hands-on social media marketing and researching what’s free and what’s not
- Hands on partnership and relationship building ( a dying art)
- BTW – This is a pretty “hands-on” ordeal.
BREATHING LIFE INTO THE BONES
- Launching new blogs, websites and other methods of communication. Timing is EVERYTHING
- Creating real and tangible added value in our services
- Interacting (as a real person, not a voice mail or text message) with potential clients
- Bouncing ideas off those who have been there, done that
- Creating the proper expression to clients, and everyone else how truly passionate and excited we are about what we’re about to do
Ezekiel got it right.
The model’s working, and for that, we give thanks.
- New Horizons. Different Hemisphere. (stevenwwatkins.com)