Balance. Every time I think of the word, a picture of a judgment scale comes to mind.
Like many people, I like it in almost every regard and most especially when it comes to reciprocity. I grew up learning to mutually give in return and that notion stayed with me in adulthood. In lieu of feeling entitled to others, I prefer doing things myself.
Which is why the story of my first day traveling solo was so eventful.
Take 1: Finding Oscar in the Lost and Found
I had a long 6-hour layover in Miami before I was due in Ecuador. My backpack was digging into my back so I spent the first half hour reorganizing the contents. I pulled out my Nexus to get online when I noticed the battery was almost dead which when I discovered I had forgotten to pack my charger. There are two electronic stores in the Miami airport and both stores didn’t have the one I needed in stock. I was contemplating getting a taxi to venture outside the airport when I had the brilliant idea to go to the lost and found section to see if I can get one there.
When I finally found it, I played it off like I had just lost mine. The man behind the counter took out a catalogued binder, leafed through it to the current date and told me one had not been turned in yet that day. I asked if he had any that had not been claimed that he can give to me anyway. He stated that each item is itemized and sold to Goodwill after 30 days.
“Well then, can I buy one from you?”
“Sorry, ma’am. Protocol prohibits me from doing so. But I can help you find the nearest store.”
He started a Google search when I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Your best bet is the Best Buy. It is about 15 mins away by taxi.” I turned around to find an attractive, 30ish, well-build, groomed man with a suitcase. After I thanked both of them for their help, I went downstairs only to discover I had gone to the wrong floor. I turned around when I ran into the same man who had just suggested Best Buy.
“You’re lost, aren’t you? I know this is going to sound strange but I can give you a ride and back. I have some time to kill.”
Um, yeah. Time to kill ME I thought. I don’t want to die before I step onto my first destination. I hesitated for a minute while I gave him the once-over.
He introduced himself as Oscar and told me he was in town from Boston to take care of his mother who was ill. ”Are you sure you don’t mind? Okay, let’s do it.”
During the car ride, we hit it off right away. He shared stories about his gay partner, his disapproving father, and his adopted African-American son and I told him about my trip and why I was going. We had a lot in common and he ended up inviting me to have lunch with his Mother after I picked up my charger. It was a fun excursion and he drove me back with plenty of time to catch my flight.
Take 2: Rescued by Juan & Maria
I request an exit row when I learn the middle seat is empty so I can stretch out during my 3-hour ride to Ecuador. A short, stocky and what I assume Ecuadorian man sits by the window and I take the aisle seat.
When the pilot announces we’re 20 minutes away, I pull out the printed directions I received from the Program Director at the Spanish Immersion School I enrolled in. I chose to participate in a home stay which means I’ll be staying with a local family while I study. One of the sheets has a list of the families and their addresses. I look for mine and notice it is not on the list.
I go back to the email that had the attachment and ensure I have the correct name.
Yep. No “Familia Ponce” on the list.
There’s a link to a map in the email and I ask the flight attendant if WIFI is available on the plane or the airport so I can grab the address.
I look over to man sitting to my right and strike up a conversation. His name is Juan and although his English is not very good but I’m able to learn he is in fact from Ecuador and he’s returning from a business trip in Miami. He had missed his flight the previous day and his wife will be picking him up from the airport. I explain my predicament and ask if there’s a nearby Internet cafe where I can figure out the address. He says he’ll ask around when we land.
I gather my hiking backpack from baggage claim and walk out to the lobby, thinking that he may have left during the 30-minutes it took for me to finally get bag. I see someone waving to me in the corner of my eye and discover him standing there with his beautiful wife. He asks for the URL in my email and types it in his wife’s phone. It’s a slow connection but we finally find it. I breathe a sigh of relief and thank them for their help. By this time, at least 45 minutes have passed and I can’t stop expressing my gratitude. They tell me to barter with the taxi before getting into the car as they usually double the fare for tourists. I assure them I will and turn around to head to the exit when Juan stops me.
“Actually, it late. We give you ride.”
“No, no, you’ve done enough. Thank you for the offer but I will be fine. Don’t let me take up anymore of your time.”
“We go that way too. It no problem.”
I nod and follow them as tears well up in my eyes. This couple had no idea who I was an hour ago, they took time out of their night to help me despite our language barrier, and on top of that they were going the extra mile to ensure I got to my destination safe and sound.
As we drive to Quito, Juan and his wife, Maria, point out attractions and make suggestions on where I should go along the way. We end up getting lost and having to ask for directions multiple times. When we finally get there, it’s 9:30pm, two hours later than when I was due. I take money out of my waist belt and go to thank Juan yet again as Maria talks to my house Mother. He shakes his head feverishly and puts out his hand, refusing to accept it. “When I was stuck in Miami yesterday, a stranger help me. I pay it back. Please, no. Just be safe.” He asks for my phone and inputs his number and his wife’s number, telling me to call if I need anything. I ask him to include his address so I can send him a postcard. He obliges, we all hug, and they get back into their car for what I learn will be another 40-minute drive until they get home.
I don’t know what would have happened without these two random acts of kindness. I could have gone without a charger or taken a taxi to get one. I would have probably found another way to get to my destination but I can’t say either would have been as pleasant.
I learned an important lesson the first day. Sometimes the balance scale doesn’t perfectly align and it’s okay. Sometimes, you have to place faith in others and allow them to help you. And sometimes, all you can do in return is continue the cycle and pay it forward in the future.
Thank you Oscar, Juan, and Maria for that message and for making my first day one to remember. <3
My life hasn’t been “normal” by any means.
I didn’t have a childhood – had to grow up fast.
My family were refugees of the Persian Gulf War.
I started working at a young age of nine, helping my family run a 24-hour convenience store.
I didn’t have the typical college experience – I worked two jobs to put myself through school.
I started a company a couple of years later that was later acquired in 2011.
All while I had limited opportunities as it took me 22 years of living in the U.S. to become a citizen.
Comparing my path against my friends since the sale has been the most ordinary my life has been. I have a 9 to 5 job with health insurance, a stable paycheck, and co-workers who have become like a second family. Despite running Girl Develop It Philly and everything else I’m involved in, I have more free time than ever – something that had been unattainable to me for decades. I’ve had time to think about going the predictable route – settling down, getting married, having kids, etc. and it’s something I’ve come to think is a possibility. At 31-years-old, things generally seem good.
However, I haven’t been able to become accustomed to the rut I fell into. I go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’ve had this persistant gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that something wasn’t right but I was unable figure it out. A recent vacation to Costa Rica brought it to the forefront.
All I’ve known my whole life is hard work. I’ve struggled to attain everything I’ve achieved. And you know what? I’m damn tired. Burned out. Exhausted.
I used to quote the mantra “work hard now, play hard later” to justify my work ethic in college, at the first consulting company I was involved in, and later at 123LinkIt. My family and friends were in a constant battle for my attention and that chant would pull me through tough times. My perception of it now? Fuck that motto right in la culata. I want to go back in time and slap myself silly every time I contemplated that sentence. While I was away, I was mesmerized by the climate, mountains, jungles, animals and most of all, the people in Costa Rica. They work to live, coveting relationships with loved ones over the daily grind. I realized that wanderlust and more meaningful relationships are what I want during this stage of my life. To put my career on the back burner for a change and discover who I am without my laptop.
It leads to the reason I’m traveling. I don’t do anything half-way, which is why it’s for a prolonged duration. I will be flying into Quito, Ecuador on May 30th where I’ll stay with a host family while immersing myself in the Spanish language and culture for the first 6 weeks. I move on to Colombia, maybe Venezuela, head down to Brazil, then Argentina and loop back around to Chile and Peru, where I’ll return right before Thanksgiving. I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I haven’t made specific plans besides booking a trek on the Inca trail. It’s a solo trip, I don’t know a single person, and I’m hoping family and friends will visit along the way.
My life’s path has been restrictive due to circumstances beyond my control and for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to steer away and do what I CHOOSE rather than the limited scope I have been given. I’m looking forward to traveling towards undefined destinations and letting things happen as they may.
When I come back, I plan to tackle the Middle East and then who knows what else. All I do know is that it won’t be following the status quo.
P.S. Recommended reading: “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” – A nurse outlines profound, common themes she witnesses among her ailing patients. The first two ring truest for me.
For the last two years, I’ve been following Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review outline to reflect on the past year. I make a list of what went well and what could have been better, then I compare it with my notes from the previous year. Without hesitation, 2012 has been the absolute best year of my life. I’ve grown tremendously, achieved consequential milestones, and accomplished some really neat things if I do say so myself. I didn’t realize just how much until I wrote it all down. When I’m an old, wrinkly grandma, I imagine it’ll fun to reminisce and tell my grandkids about what a geek I used to be. Hopefully they’ll think I’m the cooler than I really am. While I’ll keep the full review to myself, I’ll share some of the fabulous things that made this year so exceptional:
- I moved into my very own apartment for the first time. Twenty-eight years after living at home (As embarrassing as it is, it was a great decision as it made it easier to put myself through school and start a business with lower costs), a one-month stint at an ex’s and eight hellish months with a roommate, I made a home in a cozy studio in Center City, Philadelphia.
- I turned 30. Related, I’m really an adult! I don’t know why but sometimes I still have to remind myself of that.
- I mentored and spoke at many events including Lean Philly, WordPress Philly, IgnitePhilly, Startup Weekend, Temple University, and other tech meetups.
- I helped organize the first Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia to great success.
- I finally became a U.S. citizen after 22 years! The link will say much more than I can in this short summary.
- I became a foodie. If you talk to old friends or family, they will tell you I had a particularly selective palate. Once I started making money, that went out the window. I now loooove sushi, I’ve had caviar, quail’s egg, beef tongue, bone marrow and other things I can’t think of at the moment that I never would have tried. I think my brain chose this interim picky mentality to lessen the blow of how destitute I was. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!
- I ran the Broad Street run. From the encouragement of my coworkers (4 out of 6 of us did this), I shocked myself by agreeing to do this. While I could have trained better and I hurt my knee during the last two miles (I kept going because I didn’t want to stop which was a bad idea), I’m glad I pushed myself. Will I do it again this year? HELL. NO. Forget about it.
- I made some really good close friends. I’ve always preferred a few intimate friends to a large number of acquaintances and it’s difficult for me to let someone in. A special shout-out to Lisa Burgess who I absolutely adore.
- I went to more concerts – Blue October, Fun., M83, Foster & the People, Florence and the Machine to name those I remember at the moment.
- I got my motorcycle permit! The obvious goal for this year – get a bike! Also, learn how to ride one. Probably in the reverse order.
- I learned to code enough to call myself a front-end developer and created my first site. Thanks Girl Develop It (GDI)!
- I worked my first full year at NetLine. I couldn’t ask for better coworkers. And yay to health insurance and stable pay checks. Who knew how glorious the two would be? I went to a REAL dentist the other day, not the Temple Dentistry Clinic where incompetent students work on your teeth for five times as long for a reduced rate. (Do you sense a little bitterness there, because I totally meant it that way. I hate that place!).
- Thanks to my new citizenship status, I voted in my first election and even better, the candidate I selected was the victor.
- Again, because of my citizenship status, I was able to get my U.S. passport and travel on my first International trip to Costa Rica.
- …where I bungee-jumped! This deserves its own bullet. It was windy, foggy and raining, the ideal setting for someone who doesn’t normally participate in thrill-seeking activities (/end sarcasm and the tram was swaying side to side as we descended into the middle of the rain forest. I looked at my guide like he had two heads, “we’re really going through with this in THIS weather?” He had to count down to 5 three times, peel my fingers from the railing and push me over (Okay, not really). In short while I’m glad I had the experience, I’ll never, and I mean NEVER EVER EVER, do this again.
- I got Lasik surgery. After 15 years of being legally blind (maybe I’m exaggerating a little but it sure felt like it), I still wake up from time to time, pause, and marvel at the wonders of science.
- I donated to more charities than all my adult years combined. My go-to one at the moment: Prajwala India which helps stop sex trafficking in India. The recent horrific gang rape of the 23-year-old student who died a week ago opened my eyes to the horrors women experience there. I’m hoping the woman who runs the organization will get back to me about letting GDI Philly redo their site (fingers crossed). If you’re inclined to help, the donation page can be hard to find so I’m linking to it here.
- Girl Develop It Philly hit some great milestones. Note: there are two links there.
- I assisted TechGirlz in raising money to help spread awareness of the fun of technology to middle-school girls. One day, I may write a blog post about how I was able to raise $2k in an hour from Twitter by capitalizing on a hot news item.
- I supplemented my income in various ways. From blogging, AirBnb, GDI and my full-time job, I was busy working all the angles.
- Girl Develop It and 123LinkIt received a lot of press mentions, including TechnicallyPhilly, Flying Kite, WHYY, NPR & the front page of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer (woot, woot!).
I can’t wait to have enough of a collection of these reviews that I’ll be able to look back and reminisce about how far I’ve come. Five years ago, I had outrageous dreams about hitting it big while working at my first partnership where I was earning just under $20,000 a year. Ten years prior, I was slaving away at two under-the-table jobs to put myself through school. It’s humbling to reflect at how things have progressed. I can’t wait to move forward even more this year.
Before I end this post, I have to take a moment and say thank you to all the wonderful people who have had an impact on my life – I extend my gracious gratitude and wish you all a happy 2013!
I started this blog in April of 2011 and made it a point to post regularly, no matter how busy I got. Somehow that changed last year. Publishing new posts became sporadic and I only updated my blog for 5 months of the year. This is something I’ll be refocusing in the new year. Even with the low volume, a couple of posts really took off on Hacker News and BlogHer, with the first three receiving the bulk of the traffic. The top five blog posts of 2012 are:
- Marketing 101 for Developers – I spent about 8 hours in this post outlining a step-by-step approach on how to approach marketing a product or business. While I geared it towards technical people more, it can apply to anyone who wants a methodology to follow.
- Living the American Dream – I love this post as it came from the heart and was easiest I’ve ever written. I took some time to recount the road my family has taken since we migrated to Pennsylvania, including immigration obstacles that caused a 22-year-old wait for me to gain my citizenship.
- Finding Interns in Philadelphia – A repeat of last year, this gathered a list of internship opportunities for local universities including who to contact.
- 10 Years Ago - This is also a repeat of last year and I’m surprised to see it here. It’s a story of my life and how I got to where I am today.
I enjoy reading blogs much more than writing them and you can view which ones I follow on the sidebar to the right. Enjoy browsing!
P.S. You can take a look at last year’s list here.
This post was written on November 18th.
I’m on my first leg of my flight to Costa Rica, what I’ve determined to be my first vacation in 10 years (and first international trip since I became a U.S. citizen). I’m thinking about how it’s been a long time since I didn’t have a startup to run. I can unplug and enjoy myself without a never ending todo list running through my head. I actually set an out of office message on my work and personal email, something I’ve never imagined doing.
Coincidentally, it’s been a year since the acquisition paperwork for 123LinkIt was signed. The anniversary of my first full-time job is approaching (less than 2 weeks). I have undergone many changes, both personally and professionally. As I’m reflecting, I marvel at the roller-coaster ride that’s transpired – from the initial excitement at having a dream come true to the gut-wrenching feelings as I let the company go to the postpartum depression of coming to face with the realization its path is now determined by others.
Acquisitions appear to be rosy looking in from the outside. We read the stories, congratulate the entrepreneurs, and envy them from a distance. I know because I was one of those people.
What you don’t hear about is what occurs next, the loss of identity and control, the broken promises you make yourself believe, and the surprising and varying levels of sadness.
My Company and I were one person. I’m not a mother but sometimes I imagine the acquisition is equivalent to selling a first born. Letting go has not been easy. I went through an identity crisis, trying to determine who I was now that I was no longer consumed by my Company. It’s as if I checked myself into a prison, got released, then walked out to be blinded by the bright sun.
I learned about the processes at NetLine and RevResponse, took on my role as Product Marketing Manager, and tackled some challenging projects within the Company. I no longer work or make decisions on my own. My responsibilities for 123LinkIt dwindled. I fell into a routine that was closer to a 9 to 5 schedule. I found myself with free time, a social life even. I started making new friends and dating more. As time went on, I spent less and less of it on 123LinkIt where I would miss even the most mundane tasks.
As always, time helps, allowing you to let things go. And I’m getting there. It helps that I have coworkers I love, a fun office environment and a boss that puts up with my never-ending flow of ideas and wild antics.
What can you take away from this post? All entrepreneurs become obsessive with their startups. I definitely overdid it. If I can go back in time, I would try to make more of a distinction between my personal & professional life.