March 20 – Working the Nets and Happy Accidents

Sunrise/ Sunset:  6:48 / 6:56

Foo Song: This is a Call

Sunrise Pic:

Forgot to take a selfie, so I snapped this beauty (squirrel skull?). Doesn’t really fit with the rest of this blog entry, but I couldn’t foresee what kind of day I was about to have

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Today was one of those awesome days where I felt on my game. Some days I’m just head down. Other days I’m scatterbrained and get nothing of substance done or have my mind on non-work concerns and am inefficient as heck. And some days even if I’m doing my work, it doesn’t feel so inspiring. But then there are some days like today, where I’m just buzzing and the connections are popping all around, where work and “beyond work” melt into one fluid stream.  I discover connections or make introductions or have people I’ve met separately know each other. Somehow creating a great community of intersecting orbits. I find that thrilling. It’s a calling. No need for any resignation anymore (or self-doubt as to whether I should spend much time on this).

In hoops, it’s a common saying to describe selfless players who go after the rebounds and dish out passes to shooters, keeping their team in the game, as “working the boards.”  In my professional and personal life, I spend a lot of time working the nets via networking, and helping connect people to ideas and opportunities. It’s really what makes me tick. Professor Adam Grant (Wharton School of Business’ youngest ever tenured professor) is a model for me In this article from the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/is-giving-the-secret-to-getting-ahead.html , the author describes Grant’s “theories about prosocial motivation — the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback …For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”

Grant divides people into Givers, Matchers, and Takers. “Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf.”

Today was one of the days I was energized, feeling a lot like a Giver. I started out with a breakfast meeting, helping Anne, a colleague of mine who began her career at EcoLogic as an intern supervised loosely by me. Anne was getting excited for an upcoming trip to Colombia, so my breakfast with her was all about guiding her through some different itineraries. One of my favorite things to do is to promote Colombia and help people find engaging stuff to do off the beaten path. I still have dreams of setting up some kind of consultancy or operation that helps travelers connect to the real Colombia.

A bit later in the day I submitted an application to Vuka, a co-working space in Austin (recently merged with Center 61 to form ImpactHub Austin). In my application, I wrote that I thrive on an active environment full of white noise, with a design aesthetic that is inspiring (including standing desks, my preferred working position) and with people around me doing work that is really innovative. I would love to be able to find mentors and potential partners and to have a chance to practice new skills, make pitches in a relatively welcoming environment, and to have people to socialize with inside and outside of work. At my current organization, and, I think, anytime one is inside a single organization and steeped in its culture, it’s a bit easy to get complacent and/or not be exposed to a diversity of ideas, something I really enjoyed in my formal studies. I think a co-working environment can increase the chances for happy accidents and co-creation while preventing me from getting stale. I also particularly love unleashing and tapping into others’ talents and assets – serving as a mentor and forging connections between people and ideas. I find this somewhat intangible, loose notion to encapsulate what I’m really good at. I see connections and remember things as a creative, lateral thinker that others don’t seem able to do (or as apt to do). This often manifests itself in new partnerships and skilled use of interns and volunteers to tackle work my colleagues think is too daunting”

Literally just as I was typing the Vuka application, I got a call from the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. They asked me for help vetting a social enterprise they are considering supporting – rfcx.org – which re-purposes old cell phones to combat illegal logging. They connected with me because one staff member is named Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, who recently changed jobs from academia (Harvard Kennedy School), and she remembered me and EcoLogic based on my earlier reaching out to her for help with nonprofit branding / re-branding. I didn’t have her as a prof at the Kennedy School, but I reached out based on that connection after reading an article she wrote (http://bit.ly/npbrandidea) and was able to pull her into the EcoLogic community, setting up a talk with our board and coursework/practicum work with two students in her course. I love that I can help her now in her new role and simultaneously learn about such a cool idea (Rainforest Connection). The fact that people reach out to me for advice makes me feel really good about my knowledge and reputation. I think people feel very comfortable asking for my help, and I love giving back in this way.

At lunch,  I took the friend of an acquaintance out to help him brainstorm his next steps in his career. He sought advice after being pulled out of the Peace Corps earlier this year, along with all Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador, where the program has been shut down (I’m not certain how temporary the shutdown is). I told him about my experience moving from teaching in Colombia to the neighborhoods of Boston and then into my current focus on international development and conservation while listening closely to understand his interests. The single clearest outcome of our meeting was connecting him with Vilas Dhar, founder of the Next Mile Project (somewhat similar to what Center 61 was about as far as I can tell) http://nextmileproject.org/ and setting him up with a meeting that was sure to provide him even more direction than I’m capable of providing.

I’m definitely known at EcoLogic as the guy who always runs into people he knows. After building community outside of work over the past 15 years in Boston, I’ll be craving an opportunity to do the same kind of thing in my new city.

Later that afternoon, I spoke with a woman namedTanya Dimitrova – she has some cool stuff going on. I recently had the good fortune to meet her and learn about her organization, Earth Science Journal for Kids: http://www.earthsciencejournal.org/organization.html  Tanya and her team select published science articles and work with the authors to adapt them for children’s education / classroom curriculum.Her mission with the Science Journal for Kids is to translate peer-reviewed open source journal articles on science topics to a student audience. For example, she took this article on “A comparative analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of wheat and beef in the US” and transformed it into “How Much Does it Cost When Cows Burp”   I had been trying to connect her with folks in the PARTNERS network. I wrote folks to tell them how impressed I’ve become by Tanya’s spirit and entrepreneurial drive, especially shown via her journal, which translates some of the most cutting edge published research into an engaging format for a high school audience- kids and their teachers alike. Tanya’s also been an author on Mongabay, which is where a former intern of mine, Julian, knows her from and how he connected her to me (and I had connected Julian to the PARTNERS network …)  She’s also written for Ecosystem Marketplace and Grist, including a focus on carbon/REDD+ in Colombia 🙂

Last but not least, I helped a kid I met in Colombia find his way into applying for teaching in Colombia, and then it turned out that a former intern of mine at EcoLogic, now based in Colombia, was going to interview him. She wrote me, “Christian just messaged me, and he is interviewing to be an english teacher in the program I work for!  You’re definitely a pro-networker. How’d you get in contact with him?”  And I responded, “Pro Networker? Ha! I listed something like that as one of my top three skills on an application for a co-working space in Austin, where I think I’d thrive (called ImpactHub, formerly called Vuka, a very Austin kinda place).  I met Christian along with his parents at the Feria de Cali (the big salsa parade called the Salsodromo). His dad actually tapped me on the shoulder, and it turned out we had a lot in common, including a mutual friend, a guy I taught with in Cali in 1998. And his company (he works in science textbook publishing) has a contract with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (promotional videos and educational videos). I have to say I have more of these kinds of accidental run-ins than seem normal. It makes me wonder, in an existential kinda way, what’s going on.  It freaks me out and excites me at the same time!! Just last weekend, we had Jessie Norriss here for a Colombian patacon and music fest with friends and neighbors, and my neighbor cornered me in the kitchen and said “I think I know Jessie but don’t know from where,” and it turns out that Jessie was a camper in my neighbor’s summer camp for many years, the same camp we sent Mateo to last year (Jessie would come up each summer from Austin to be with her grandfather in Newton). Crazy, right? Anyway, I helped Christian connect with my former boss, the woman who hired me in 2006 at EcoLogic, who was head of training in Peace Corps in Paraguay (now heads all of Peace Corps in Panama), but she didn’t have any way to influence the bureaucracy in the Peace Corps selection process. Then he and I corresponded a few times about options. He seems like a great guy. His mom is Colombian, so he must be wonderful ;)”

Interwoven connections. A lot like the image on my wedding ring:

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March 17 – St. Patrick’s Texas Barbecue in Russian Jewish Neighborhood

Sunrise/ Sunset:  6:53 / 6:52

Foo Song: Times Like These

Pushups: oops, I forgot today …

Sunrise Pic:

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Today had a a great ending. I got home pretty late on my bike after some spectacular thunderstorms had cleared, and the light was amazing. Here’s a shot captured by my brother-in-law, Alex:

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When the setting sun’s light gets wedged in a layer of clouds, there’s less atmospheric scattering, and we get the full brilliance of the sun. It’s pretty awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera or phone handy, and I had to race home. I even saw a rainbow behind Fort Hill (Roxbury). But it was pretty cool for St. Patty’s Day and the luck o’ the Irish, especially after a mentally exhausting day.

My work was intense today. I woke up early to prepare for a performance review / discussion of my role with my boss, and my mind was racing with thoughts about my work, my aspirations, and my critiques of my colleagues and organization. And relationships with colleagues. It’s been a long time – almost 12 years since interning – and so many ideas have been recycled in my mind, sometimes festering, sometimes finding an outlet, but going over old ideas sometimes feels like opening old wounds, often self-inflicted. I’m all for feedback and review, but something about the sessions I have always leave me feeling a little odd. I’m not quite sure why. But it’s best to let it settle in and try to focus on my work in a practical way, not always my strong suit. After nonstop meetings and preparing a presentation for our Board, it was showtime, with a Board meeting in the afternoon.

So when I got home, riding through that brilliant light, I was ready to let loose. Alana, Mateo, Nira, and I went for a run (I walked the dog, the kiddos jogged) up past the field by English High (America’s oldest public high school?) and over to the school’s track, where the kids did a couple of laps and asked for me to put them through the paces with jumping jacks and stuff. Coach Dad! Then we saw an Irish marching band rounding the corner by Doyle’s Pub, and Mateo, fast little runner that he is, raced over to the fence to watch them up close.

We finished up the night with an impulsive decision to go out together to dinner in Brookline (home of a mix of ethnic groups but well known for Russian Jews, especially in the particular neighborhood we visited) at a Texas BBQ place with a Brazilian waiter and a mix of country tunes and Celtic music for the evening’s occasion. So of course I got a margarita, Caro got a corona, and the kids had fun, between coloring and playing tic tac toe and observing the progressively more drunk people at the table next to us.

Topped off the evening by adding a photo to the Facebook nature photo challenge my dad got me into (today was day 3, and I put this pic up, from Sierra Nevada del Cocuy National Park in Colombia, which I took in August 2014):

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Frailejones in the Paramo

Then I started looking for rentals in Austin, finding one that I reallllly like in Rosedale right next to this park, Ramsey Park: http://austinparks.org/parks/ramsey-park/. We’ll see, but I prioritize location over size and modern features any day:

bungalow

Last but not least, I finished off the day watching the Daily Show, laughing with Trevor Noah ripping Mitch McConnell for his partisan idiocy surrounding Obama’s nomination to fill the vacancy left by Judge Sacalia, with a mild-mannered judge named Merrick Garland. In this season of political circus acts, we’ll see where this goes. But the Daily Show keeps me sane.

Definitely “times like these” help me learn to live again. And again and again.

March 6 – Notches & Courageous Texas Talk

Sunrise/ Sunset:  6:11 am/ 5:39pm

Foo Song: St. Cecilia (because it was recorded in Austin)

Pushups: 35

Sunrise Pic:

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Backyard futbol monster

Today was a good, Texas-sized day. I started the day off with a great morning run in the Arboretum, with a small side trip to Harvest Co-op to snag ingredients for making a good pancake breakfast. Count this on the “stuff I’m really gonna miss from JP” list.

After chocolate chip, plain, and banana panqueques, I got some work done and house-related organizing and email, then played foursquare (actually three square) with goobers in the “backyard.” Gorgeous sunny 40-degree day that Mateo wanted to treat by wearing shorts and long socks. Goofball. We carried books up to small little free pop up library (another miss from JP list item), then came back and bought supplies, including Stubbs’ BBQ Sauce, for Lindsay’s house.

In morning, Caro said “I’m proud of us,” while I was making pancakes after running. That we finally took the leap. Yep, me too. Yesterday, when going through all those piles and notes, I realized we’d zeroed in on something we’ve wanted for a long time. No doubt we’ll miss a ton from JP (I will for sure), but we’ve been thinking about milder climates and different, active places for a while – San Francisco Bay Area / Santa Cruz, Boulder, Asheville, Greenfield/Brattleboro, Colombia – and we finally nailed it. Austin ain’t gonna be perfect. It’s going to take adjustments. The look and feel isn’t the same as JP. But it’s gonna be awesome.

Hadn’t seen my amiga Lindsay Sobel much except for chance run-ins here and there in JP at Halloween. Turns out she and her family are moving to Austin. And her daughter Zoe is a year ahead of Alana is school and just 6 months apart in age. She works as the ED of this impressive organization: http://teachplus.org/who-we-are/our-mission-and-theory-change  Her husband has given up a career as a lawyer in Boston to write and perform country / alt music. That’s courage. Wow. Do something that scares you every day. I’ve heard that said. He sure is living that now! Lindsay’s been in Boston since 1998, and Terry since about 2000, even longer than us, but both seem extraordinarily ready for the move.

Their daughter Beebee (spelling?) played with Mateo while Alana and Zoe made some fancy recipe (amazing brownies), while we shot the breeze about Austin and moving from Boston and our mutual interest in Son Volt, Wilco, etc. (at least me and Terry), plus Caro’s excitement about being with a team of teachers and having a trova bar to go see Latin American protest music (without her husband, who  has a strange habit of falling asleep in Silvio Rodriguez concerts)  – plus about a hundred or so amazing restaurants they’ve already been to, Hamilton Pool, the Greenbelt, wow. Really nice time sharing notes. So similar why we want to move, what we like about the place. Lindsay’s quote, “I think it’s going to feel like we’re on vacation every day.” Not sure that’s going to be 100% true, but I like it. That’s the lifestyle versus job attitude that pervades Austin and is pretty different than Boston, in general.

We ended the afternoon with a great performance by Terry of his song Notches, about moving and leaving an old house behind, but about how memories, and the notches that mark children’s height as they grow, are forever embedded in a place, how it’s impossible not to leave a piece of one’s heart behind. Gave me goosebumps.

Texas-sized goosebumps.