Do One Thing Really Well
Lately, it seems like there is never enough time in the day to do all the things on my plate. Between producing media for Doulos, teaching class, blogging, translating, attending study groups, making websites, building a small business on the side and trying to keep my education up to date, I do a lot of things. But lately I’ve been dissatisfied; My work is mediocre by my own standards and I’m not accomplishing things that are meaningful to me.
I want to do better work. I want to do more meaningful things. I want to use my talents more fully. I want to love people better and build deeper relationships. I want to have time to reflect on what I’m doing. I want to use the one life that I have to its maximum potential.
I need to focus my energy on doing one thing really well rather doing many things with mediocrity. After spending time reflecting on my values and passions, I’ve clarified my personal vocation, my “one thing”, as the following;
Helping individuals and organizations serve one another via the web.
My current challenge is bring all the aspects of my life keenly into focus on that vocation, and to gracefully say “no” to anything that doesn’t contribute to it. Rather than focus on the negatives of the things that are distracting me from my vocation, the rest of this post is a glimpse of the positive ways that I am beginning to focus all of my time and energy towards it.
I envision helping people and organizations serve one another in two ways. The first is through craftsmanship, and the second is through apprenticeship.
Craftsmanship means using one’s gifts and talents to skillfully create high quality work and design. My vision is to form a business that will craft high quality websites for a variety of clients and help them cultivate a valuable web presence that will help them serve their target audience.
I have already established a small base of six initial clients for this company. And while I am very familiar with my craft, I have a lot to learn about running a business, so I am working with Fourth Water, a local business accelerator in Jarabacoa, and developing a formal business plan.
The word “apprenticeship” is related to the Spanish word “aprender” (to learn) and it means learning via practical experience from a skilled professional. I believe that apprenticeship is vital to quality work and craftsmanship, and that professionals must constantly be apprentices as well as mentors. My vision is that my role as a professional would become more and more aligned with my role as a teacher.
This past semester I had the opportunity to teach an elective communication class at Doulos. This coming semester, inspired by my passion for craftsmanship on the web and by students requesting to learn computer programming, I am developing plans to teach a programming elective for high school and a code club for elementary school. My long term vision is to be able to connect these students with opportunities to learn and develop their skills via hands on experiences with the business that I am forming.
A Work in Progress
The specifics of this vision are still forming, and there is a long way to go. My desire is that they will continue to become clearer and more focused and that the end result will be a fruitful investment of my time and talents. I will continue to post updates here as things evolve, and I expect to spend a lot of time over the holidays developing and refining a plan.
“Do you want to go to the reservoir with us tomorrow?”
A cute Dominican friend asks me, as I struggle to keep up with her rapid Spanish.
“¡Claro que si!” I reply.
“Great! Can you drive?”
Shoot. I don’t own a car. When I need to, I borrow my roommate’s CRV, but he left on his motorcycle a few hours earlier to go camping. He won’t have cell service and won’t be back for two days.
“¡Si!” I reply simply. My Spanish is not very good yet. I can’t easily explain that I’ll have to borrow my roommate’s car without asking. But she’s cute; better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?
I show up early in the morning at the same time as a few more of her friends who are joining us in a four wheeler and a dune buggy. A few cousins, aunts, and a small child fill up the CRV. I can’t follow the rapid-fire Spanish conversation, but I catch “Vamos!” Let’s go!
We start off on the 45 minute drive through bumpy mountain roads. I’m trying to keep up with the two vehicles in front. How do Dominicans drive so fast on these roads?
We’re headed up the side of a mountain half way to the reservoir, when all of the sudden, the rattle of the CRV’s questionable suspension becomes a much more violent vibration and the car slides off to the side of the road and comes to a halt.
I get out and take a look. Both front wheels are pointed inward. We’re not going anywhere. I learned the word for “tow truck” the day before.
“Does anyone know a grúa we can call?”
It’s Sunday. All of the shops are closed. We’re going to be here for awhile.
I sit down on the side of the road and start to feel bad about borrowing my roommates car without asking. I feel bad that everyone was excited to go to the reservoir and now we’re stuck on the side of a hot, dusty, country road for the rest of the day. I’m about to get ticked at the whole situation.
“You want some cookies?” I hear, as I start forming apologies in my head. I look up to see a six year old grinning and waving cookies at me while everyone else is sitting in the shade by the side of the road, getting drinks out of the cooler, enjoying the day as if nothing happened. No apologies necessary.
The cow pasture we’re next to isn’t the exciting destination I had in mind. But my Dominican friends didn’t even seem to notice. They realized something that I didn’t at first;
The destination isn’t the point. The point is the journey you’re on, and the people you’re with.
Eventually, several hours later, a tow truck came, and I was able to get the CRV fixed before returning it to my roommate, but lesson learned;
Life is chaotic. You don’t always end up where you had set out to go. Stop and look who is beside you on the road or you might miss the point.
And don’t borrow your roommate’s car without asking.
I just got back to Ohio after a 10 month stay in the Dominican Republic. I had a great time in the Dominican; learned, accomplished and experienced a lot. Cultural adjustment was expected going in, and though I had difficult moments, overall, the adjustment of learning to engage with a new culture and language was pretty easy for me. But it changed me a lot, and the last few days of travel and reentering US culture have been an interesting view of they ways that I’ve changed.
Going through the airport in Santiago I realized how much Spanish I’ve learned in the last year. When I entered the country, everything sounded like a complete blur, and I could communicate more effectively using hand motions than anything else. On my way through the first security checkpoint, I understood enough to hear a pretty Dominican security guard tell me, “Hey redhead, you can’t take your beautiful blue eyes on the plane, we’re going to have to cut them out and leave them in this country.” I still haven’t gotten very good at responding quickly in Spanish, so I just smiled– she probably thought I didn’t understand.
Watching the Dominican roads weaving through the mountains as we flew away, I felt that I had a much deeper understanding of how life looks along them than I did flying in– it’s nothing like life along US roads. On our decent into Miami, I was impressed with how organized, planned, and orderly the city was. Cars flowing along large highways, all in their own lanes, driving with purpose from one large building to another.
The airports weren’t as shocking to me as I thought they would be, probably because I didn’t have much time to stop as I rushed through them from flight to flight, but was surprised that there was no free WiFi until Columbus. If you don’t have a cellular data plan in this country, you’re pretty much out of luck.
A friend of mine picked me up at the airport and took me to a Five Iron Frenzy show. I can’t tell you how much I love ska, and how much I’ve missed being able to just dance with a crowd of people to music that I actually like. I’m not a big fan of Dominican merengue or bachata, and despite being in the Caribbean, ska isn’t very well known in the country. I wish I could share the experience with some of my more hippy friends from the DR, I know they would love it.
After the Five Iron show, we went to IHOP. I forgot how hard it is to find an item on the menu that doesn’t have eggs here! In the Dominican, you can just ask for things without mayonnaise (which they put on everything!) and you’ll be fine. Allergies are way more convenient there.
The drive to Akron from Columbus was surreal. The highways were so huge, and empty and lonely. No businesses, people, or motorcycles along the side. It’s weird to feel like your home is a foreign country.
I spent a lot of time on the highway the last three days. I drove with my family to Cincinnati for my cousin’s wedding. I hadn’t seen most of the people there since my other cousin’s wedding last year. It was shocking to see how much some people had changed; one cousin was way taller, another family member looked way older, a lot of people had gained a few pounds; or it might have just been my perception. Dominicans are really skinny.
Now I’m headed to Kenmore, and I’m going to stop at the Chapel in Akron for church tonight. It will be interesting to worship in such a large place, with so many fancy lights, and to hear a sermon in English.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of my friends and community. I’ve missed you all. I’m back for the summer. Let’s kick it.
Lately I’ve been feeling discouraged, feeling like its impossible to stay in the loop about what is happening at Doulos, so that I can do my job of telling the story of the school. Some of it touches on personal insecurity and fears of not being included by others, and other parts of it stem from finding too much of my identity in work. In other words, it’s been a deep soul-level discouragement.
My roommate, Eric, has also been discouraged, after a string of frustrating events with his job at Students International and with our housing situation. So both of us decided that this weekend would be a good time to escape to the beach for a day for some R&R. We may have been more rested and recovered without it.
As I should have learned by now, Eric’s car is not so reliable. About half way to the beach, on our way up a mountain, the car started to overheat. We stopped for awhile, opened the hood to check things out, and let the car cool down. While we waited, Eric told me how the radiator had exploded for the previous owner, splattering boiling coolant fluid all over the hood and windshield. We both agreed it would be good to take it easy driving up the mountains.
Once the car was cooled down and we were ready to get back on the road, we found that the hood wouldn’t latch securely. As we were trying to fix the latch, a Dominican driving by on his motorcycle stopped and helped us tie down the hood with a rubber strap. Definitely a hack, but it seemed like it would hold and soon we were back on our way, driving slowly up the mountain.
Once we were over the mountain, and coming back down the other side, we were able to drive faster again, since the engine wasn’t being pushed so hard and the airflow was keeping things cool. We were cruising along, happily approaching the beach at 50mph when suddenly, BOOM! The hood of the car flew up, shattering the windshield in our faces and blocking our vision! Thankfully, no glass actually cut our faces or got in our eyes, and we were on a straight road and Eric was able to safely stop the car before we hit anything or ended up off-road in a huge ditch or down the side of a mountain.
Though public infrastructure and assistance isn’t so common, Dominicans are very eager to help a stranger. Within 30 seconds, another Dominican stopped to help. He was the manager of a garage about five minutes away, so he helped us get the car there, where they removed the windshield and used an air compressor to blow all of the glass fragments off of the dashboard and seats. A couple of hours later, we were back on our way to the beach.
We had left at 9:30 in the morning to go to a beach less than two hours away. By the time we got there, it was 3:30 in the afternoon. We got to swim in a beautiful crystal clear ocean, and read in our SoCo Hammocks for a few hours. We had a nice Dominican-style dinner, and then drove three hours slowly back to Jarabacoa without a windshield, and nervously watching the temperature gauge to make sure that the radiator wouldn’t overheat and explode.
Neither of us has any idea why we’ve experienced such a string of crazy events. But we both agree that living in the Dominican Republic is teaching us to go with the flow and realize that not everything is always under our control, but that’s ok. We’re learning to be more patient and to accept things for how the are. And to be thankful for what we have, because it really is a lot, even when we hit a rough patch or lose something valuable.
A few weeks ago, I moved into a new house in Jarabacoa with two other roommates. My first couple of weeks here, I lived with a host family who were very generous and welcoming as I began my transition to living in Dominican culture. Living in this new house is allowing me to transition more into life and experiences here.
One of the things that I am excited about living in my own apartment is the ability to host friends. It is common in Dominican culture to gather at friends’ houses, rather than going out together. Without having my own place where I could host friends, I felt that it was difficult to initiate or reciprocate friendships with Dominicans, but now, thankfully, I have that ability.
Having friends over to my house has given me more opportunities to learn Spanish, which is something I absolutely enjoy doing, and allowed me to experience Latin America’s famous dancing talent (and Gringos’ comparative lack of dancing talent) first hand. If you’re wondering why I’m not in this picture, you’ve obviously never seen me try to dance.
I’ve also been able to take my experience with Dominican cuisine to the next level, now that I have my own kitchen in which to cook. I’ve learned how to cook yuca frita, salami, queso frito and tostones (all Dominican favorites) and I’ve discovered, surprisingly, that though they live in a country full of cheap avocados, most Dominicans have never heard of guacamole. Here, apparently, it’s a gringo thing.
One of the downsides of living in a new place is that it is farther from where I work, and I haven’t been able to afford a motorcycle yet. The neighbor girls offered to let me use their “carro”, but it’s not exactly my style.
I’ve been using my longboard to get to work. Though the streets are a little rough, it always provides a little bit of entertainment with the reactions I get from people on the street. This week, on my way home, a motorcycle taxi driver asked if he could try my longboard. He quickly attracted a crowd of people, and though he swore he knew what he was doing, I don’t think he ever rode a longboard before.
So, the longer commute isn’t so bad. It’s also allowed me to explore more of Jarabacoa. I found that Batman apparently has a vacation home here.
And when I finally get home from work, I can relax on my porch and enjoy the view. I definitely miss the beautiful fall weather in Ohio, but this view can definitely compete.
If little labour, little are our gains:
Man’s fate is according to his pains.
When faced with something painful, we can either choose to avoid it, or to endure it. Often, our natural inclination is to avoid suffering. We would prefer to stay safely in our homes, not risking failure, loss or rejection. I have spent as much time as anyone trying to evade hardship, and if you’ve read my blog, or if you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you know that I’ve been faced many times in the last few months with the choice to either avoid suffering or to endure it.
We often miss out on the best things in life by rejecting and avoiding painful experiences, but when we embrace suffering, we often find that the result of our endurance is worth the price that we have paid.
This weekend, a group of guys from Doulos climbed Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Carribean. I knew it would be challenging, but the other mountains I’ve climbed are nothing compared to Pico Duarte. It took us three days to hike the mountain, but by the middle of the first day’s hike, I didn’t want to take another step. I didn’t want to suffer for two more days just to see a view and go home. But I was committed to finishing, and so I endured.
The hike was miserable for me, and when we got to the top, it was cloudy and there was no view. All I experienced the entire trip was suffering. There was no pleasure for me. But I am glad I climbed the mountain. I didn’t receive a tangible external reward, but the endurance produced an intrinsic reward that was worth all of the suffering. Stretching myself so much, and overcoming the challenge grew me as a person in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise grown.
The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Packing up my life in Ohio, saying my goodbyes, arriving in Jarabacoa and trying to get my bearings in a new country and culture has been challenging and exciting. There is so much going on, that it is hard for me to sit down in front of the computer to write, but I want to share what I’ve been doing with all of you. So here are my last two weeks, in pictures;
Bright and early on the first day of my journey, I met up with Dan, Danae and Anginette at the Cleveland airport. Danae and I went to high school together at CVCA, and I am so blessed to be working with her and her husband Dan for the next three years. Dan will be the Expedition Coordinator at Doulos, and Danae will be the Instructional Coach for our teaching staff. Anginette went to CVCA as well, and just graduated this year. She will be at Doulos for the next semester to kick off her college career with Moody Bible Institute.
Our flight was extremely smooth, and once we touched down in Santiago, we met with Tim, the Managing Director of Doulos, who drove us into Jarabacoa. On the way, we stopped to get groceries for dinner at La Sirena (the mermaid), which is more or less the Dominican version of WalMart. Parking lot security is taken very seriously here, and they have watchmen in towers to guard the cars.
This is Jarabacoa, our new home, seen from the mountains. You may be surprised, as I was, that pine trees are very common in the Dominican Republic. Another thing that is very common are the mosquitoes. Our first couple of days here, they couldn’t get enough of our fresh, North American blood. Insects are and lizards are the largest wild animals here. The scariest wildlife I’ve seen so far is a praying mantis, which is more amazing than scary. But some of the staff found a giant tarantula while cleaning out the school’s administration building.
So far my schedule has been focused on learning Spanish (which is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting), and work days at the school. A few of us spent a few hours shoveling gravel, for which our bodies are still punishing us, and I got to spend a lot of time carving wooden signs for some new classrooms. Building things with my hands was a nice change from a 9 to 5 office environment.
There are other changes from my usual routine that have been a little harder to adjust to, such as how laundry is done here. Some people have fully automatic laundry, as in the states, but it is very common here to do laundry with a semi-automatic washer, and then dry it on the line. It takes more time and patience, and it’s not so compatible with my usual procrastination when it comes to laundry. Over time I think I will get used to it and value the extra time to think.
A year ago, if you would have asked me where I saw myself in five years, any place overseas was not on the list. I had been spending the past several years settling into normal, post-college adult life, and I was beginning to get comfortable. I had an enjoyable job developing websites for a laid back eCommerce web development agency, and I envisioned myself living and working in northeast Ohio for the next several years.But alas, I didn’t know everything that was in store for me. In April, a coworker mentioned to me that he was taking a team of people to Doulos Discovery School in Jarabacoa for a week-long Service Learning Trip. The idea didn’t appeal to me, since I have had bad experiences with short term service trips in the past. But he continued to invite me and I decided, at the last minute, that the trip was a better way to spend my vacation time than any of the other ideas I had in mind.
Little did I know the huge impact that such a small decision would have on my life. (Take note; little decisions do matter.) Less than three full months later, I found myself leaving my comfortable, normal life in northeast Ohio to work full time at Doulos as their Media Coordinator. It feels a little bit crazy. There are a lot of challenges, and a lot of unknowns. But when I was presented with the opportunity, I couldn’t be content with the idea of turning it down.
It is as if I had been anticipating this opportunity my whole life, not knowing what it was until it was presented to me. The opportunity to communicate a story that I believe in, using tools with which I am trained and experienced, resonates with my soul. It is a story that I want to tell, and a story in which I want to play a part.
My role at Doulos is to tell the story of the school using web and video media. I will be working to help Doulos create a bilingual, responsive website, which will help Doulos communicate with students, parents, community members and supporters. I will be creating videos to promote Doulos on the web and on local cable television, and I will help students and teachers communicate their stories to their sponsors.
I also hope to immerse myself in Dominican culture, explore the country along with students on their Expeditionary Learning adventures and stay open to the unknown and unexpected. I expect life here to be full of ups and downs and adventures. I am all in and eager to see what my time in the Dominican Republic will hold.
I welcome you to join me on this journey, please take a minute to subscribe to my newsletter and please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about how you can be a part. I am grateful for all of your thoughts, prayers and support!