I’ve been a perfectionist for most of my life, even as a child. Every poster had to be perfectly centered, the house had to be immaculate, clothes folded perfectly and the list goes on. There are elements of that dynamic that I appreciate and am proud of.
And there are elements that I have realized need to be curbed. I believe there is a healthy level of perfectionism, as well as an unhealthy one.
Unhealthy perfection is when your desire to execute every level of a task with such perfection incapacitates you and prevents you from ever getting your idea out to the world, or finishing a project or resolving a conflict. Perfection has a tendency to transform into obsession, which is just another form of fear.
Healthy perfection is what we call excellence. It means you’re not satisfied to ship work that isn’t your best. You work diligently to ensure the details and nuances are taken care of, and you give it your all. But you also recognize the importance of efficiency. This is a healthy habit and lifestyle that I am a big proponent of.
Sometimes you just need to go for it, perfect or not. We move in a very fast paced world, and if you’re not keeping your propensity for perfection in check, it will blow right by you. Your ideas will be lost. Your relationships will fail.
I used to labor over each blog post, among other things. So many ideas, thoughts and concepts will never be known because I didn’t feel they were perfect enough to share. Not any more. When it comes time to implement, I’ll make it as perfect as I can, but I will not let my desire for perfection limit my productivity or level of efficiency.
Like anything else, even perfection requires some balance. Freeing yourself of the obsession of perfection can allow you to experience the true benefits of operating with excellence.
I just read an excerpt from a book called “The Last Lecture”. Mr. Pausch said, “When you use money to fight poverty, it can be of great value, but too often, you’re working at the margins. When you’re putting people on the moon, you’re inspiring all of us to achieve the maximum of human potential, which is how our greatest problems will be solved”.
I think there’s something worth noting there. We need both, but people need to be inspired, to do more, be more and experience more. Not to collect more “things”, and not to be discontent, but to get more life, out of life. To truly live.
And let’s face it; a great inspirational story like Rocky, Braveheart or The Pursuit of Happiness gets us all pumped up. We find ourselves seriously compelled to go work out, free the people or pursue our dream career because we see that there is more out there and that it’s possible to achieve. We are reminded once again that even ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. We need that.
Why have organizations like Charity:Water and Invisible Children done so well? Because they have inspired us. They’ve taken what were previously insurmountable epidemics and provided us clear, tangible methods for addressing them. And then they show us the fruits of our efforts. That’s a game changer.
Scott Harrison realized that just mastering and sharing the facts about the lack of clean water for the poor is not enough. He needed a better story. So he found a way to inspire us. When you watch a video like this one, you don’t feel sad, you feel inspired. You feel empowered to make a difference.
Invisible Children is tackling the issues of child soldiers in Uganda and Congo, among other worthy issues. This is a horrific epidemic throughout certain areas of Africa. The details are gruesome. But, they chose to inspire us by putting the power of to stop this epidemic in the hands of high schoolers and university students across the US. Their impact is nothing short of profound.
Too often we get so caught up in the immediate needs of people that we forget about the big picture. We’ve spent so much time guilting people into action that we forgot the power of inspiration. Inspired people get things done regardless of circumstances or lack of resources. Guilt fades, especially in the West.
Hollywood has inspired millions of people (myself included) to be more and do more because of the inspirational stories they’ve brought to the silver screen.
When I want someone to do something, I spend about 20% of my time teaching them the methodology and 80% of my time inspiring them. There are few forces greater than a truly inspired individual.
What if we approached development work this way? What if we focused our efforts on inspiring the middle and upper class to take care of their own people? This isn’t a short term solution, nor a substitute for emergency aid. I am merely suggesting an additional and simultaneous methodology.
What is more powerful? Westerners providing aid to Africa, or inspired African’s elevating their own society to the point where they no longer need aid?
* This is the second installment in a series on THE INDUSTRY OF AID.
From the first time I saw We Are the World on MTV in 1985, I was hooked on Africa. I was 6 at the time. I dreamed of coming to Africa to “help”. I had no idea of the journey that would unfold as I followed that dream.
As the years passed, my attention was consistently focused on learning more and more about Africa. I was enthralled with the culture, the people, the stunning landscapes and deep history.
I’m also mesmerized and awed by the sea. I love the coastal culture and for me there is no greater representation of God’s power and creativity in nature than the full moon reflecting off of the sea, palm trees swaying in the wind. Utter bliss.
This love of the coast combined with my love for Africa, naturally led me to Mombasa, Kenya. It’s the culmination of everything I love about Africa, and specifically, the Swahili culture. Swahili is actually an Arabic word meaning “coastal dwellers”, and has now defined a people, region, language and rich culture.
I did not grow up in a financially well off family. However, I did grow up in a family that fostered the idea that we are to dream big and believe in our ability to make manifest those dreams. Since I was 16, my dream has been to live on the beach in Mombasa. 18 years later, here I am.
Ilea and I married on May 8th, 2010. We sat down and said “we are going to believe this Mombasa dream into fruition; we’ll make it manifest, despite all of the odds against us”. We had no money, no concrete plan and very little income. Less than one year later, we are sitting on our balcony, overlooking the sea.
This morning, I woke at 6:30 AM as usual, and stood outside as I sipped my coffee and took it all in. We live in a quaint little two bedroom, one bath condo on the third (top) floor. We have an amazing rooftop where we spend our nights stargazing with my telescope (thank you Ilea and family!). We have a beautifully landscaped common area for a front yard that leads right up to the beach.
The mornings are filled with sounds of exotic birds, geckos (yes, they make noises) and ocean waves; and nothing else. The afternoons are quiet, and the breeze flows soothingly through the house all day. In the evenings, our home is filled with the ever-present symphony of laughter, children and talking from families and visitors on the beach, only 50 meters away. I never tire of that song.
Our home has a new coat of brilliant white from top to bottom. We have no furniture other than a mattress that lies on the floor, draped in a mosquito net. It’s the perfect blank canvas to paint our story and create what my mother calls “a heaven of peace”.
We keep looking at each other and saying, “hey, this is where we live”. We are constantly in awe of it all.
We do the work we love and are passionate about. We have purpose. We have a beautiful marriage. And we just landed the most lucrative (and really cool) consulting contract we’ve ever received. Our adopted Rwandan son, Francois, is moving here to live with us in a month. More on that soon…
In some ways, our lives today seem surreal. But as I contemplate it more this morning, I realize again that this is how our lives were designed to unfold. We were created to live this way.
Every step of the way, we deliberately chose to believe that we could achieve this. We choose not to let fear conquer us. We choose to believe in abundance, that we’ll always have more than what we need. We believe in each other. And we believe that the universe and our Creator are always working for us, not against us.
We chose this life. We didn’t let doubts and social norms stop us from bringing it into fruition. We got out of the way and let it come to us. And now it’s here.
We are blessed, and oh so grateful. And we’re just getting started.
It’s those little things in life that sometimes do wonders to give us perspective. All of our housemates where in the kitchen the other night talking about the fact that we just got a nice (and much needed) tax return.
I jokingly said, “Yeah, I actually almost splurged and bought some Nutella! But I didn’t.”
Nutella is an Italian chocolaty spread made from hazelnuts. It’s admittedly odd that we hold it in such high regard. It costs $5.75 at the grocery (Nakumatt).
It was interesting to analyze the reality that four financially independent, early 30s, world travelers were all in agreement that:
A) Nutella was a suitable splurge to celebrate a financial victory.
B) Spending $5.75 to celebrate is a bit excessive.
That led me to realizing some other similar realities. In Mombasa, in our group of friends, we expect that a meal should not exceed 200 Shillings ($2.30). If it does, it’s “too expensive”. For the most part, we shoot for about $1.00 per meal each.
It’s interesting how your perspective changes when the money you make has true purpose. We don’t view money merely as a way to buy things for ourselves. It’s a tool used to obtain food, clean water, freedom of oppression and cures for diseases. Contributing to those solutions is what brings us joy.
If money exists to bring us joy, you have to ask yourself, “what brings me joy?” Is it buying stuff for myself, or ensuring that the 18 Glue Kids on my street have food in their bellies tonight?
When you’re living in that setting, the answer is pretty clear. It’s when you’ve completely removed yourself from that level of humanity that things become cloudy. And eventually it becomes easier to justify selfish desires over serving others.
Most money conversations that are had in developed nations such as the United States revolve around house mortgages, new cars, designer clothes, cosmetic surgery, makeup and other personal things.
We need money to survive. And life is more than just surviving. But the things I care about most have nothing to do with money. My happiness comes from relationships and serving others. I’m not a martyr. I’m not suffering. And I’m not saying you’re a bad person when you buy a pair of nice jeans.
I believe money can bring us joy when we use it wisely. I believe it is to be used to buy things that that bring us closer to humanity, as well as put clothes on our own backs.
Money only has the power that we give it.
If I have the choice to spend $20 on a meal for myself, or $20 on a meal that will feed 5 kids, and myself, I’ll pick the latter. Why? Because it brings me joy.
Much like Nutella, money is better when shared.
I believe that most anything worth having or achieving typically comes as a result of discipline.
I work out daily because I want my body to perform optimally. Optimal performance helps me achieve the things I believe are most important. When I was learning Kinyarwanda, I disciplined myself to speak it when it was much easier to use a translator.
I’ve poured my heart and soul into many entrepreneurial businesses over the years, making many sacrifices along the way. Sacrifice, in and of itself, implies an act of discipline. In many ways, discipline is synonymous with perseverance.
Conditioning myself to employing a worldview perspective is a discipline that affords me a great deal of peace and balance. I’ve disciplined myself to always see the positive in life. That’s what I default to first.
It takes a lot of discipline to foster a healthy relationship. If I don’t prevent myself from reacting in anger or frustration, it causes serious problems. I have to choose to remain calm, understanding and to always positioning relationships above all else in life. This discipline has provided me with an absolutely beautiful marriage and many thriving relationships that I cherish.
Can you think of anything negative that comes from self-discipline?
Discipline leads to achievement. Consistent achievement leads to self-confidence, which leads to a higher quality of life and a sense of purpose. In the absence of discipline, I feel life is living me, rather than me deliberately seizing each moment of the day.
MLK and Gandhi were disciplined. Even the mere knowledge of being disciplined empowers me to do more and be more.
Discipline is an ongoing, deliberate commitment. It’s a direct reflection of your ethos and intention.
I believe the sweetest things in life are a result of discipline. And when I operate from that perspective, disciplining myself to achieve these things gets easier and easier.
It provides a path to achieving the things I want in life. Thriving relationships, a strong body, self-confidence, inner peace, life balance, understanding and wisdom are all the result of discipline.
The more discipline I employ in my life, the sweeter life becomes.
How does discipline play a role in your life? Can you connect your level of discipline to your quality of life?
In Pastor Terry’s inspirational book TEN, he discusses the importance of audacity and how God created us to “Be an Actor”. As a lifelong philanthropist living in East Africa, I can certainly attest to the validity of this dynamic. God did not put us on this earth simply to bide our time until we go to heaven. There is purpose to our existence.
Pastor Terry asserts, “God doesn’t come down and show up just because we have a dream and are waiting for it to materialize out of thin air. God typically chooses people who have, in some way, given Him something to work with. We have to act!”
I operate in what Pastor Terry and I refer to as “Post Modern Missions”. I often talk with missionaries struggling to raise funding or waiting to hear from God what they should do next. They are quite content to sit and wait for God to just pour his blessings out into their lap.
Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.
I believe God desires to find us working. He needs our work in order to bless it. When we deliberately foster our BHAG (Big Harry Audacious Goal) and actively pursue bringing it into fruition, I believe God looks down and says, “This is someone I can work with”.
God equipped us with an abundant imagination. As children, it naturally exudes from us. For a short time, society fosters this ability in us. But as we grow older, we are conditioned to believe our imagination is only an escape from reality. Somehow it has become a negative character trait. We are also taught that we are not able to do great things due to our abundant limitations.
There is a consequent pervasive belief that we should not waste our time imagining things we couldn’t ever achieve anyway. What?
This is about as asinine as deciding I no longer find speech to be a necessary aspect of my life. For some reason society has deemed imagination to be this frivolous, ethereal element that is no longer a part of a normal, respectable adult life.
Thank God I am in no danger of normality.
Can you think of anyone that did anything great that didn’t employ serious amounts of imagination, audacity, hard work and constant belief that their dream would come into fruition? MLK wasn’t exactly sitting in his armchair waiting for a revolution.
It’s a rare occasion a day passes without me saying to one of our staff or interns, “Just act as if”. I work each day with zero doubt that what I’m working towards will come into fruition. I act as if it’s already happened. My mind is already there.
As we pursue our BHAG, we struggle, overcome and gain wisdom and understanding – in that order. In my years of philanthropy, I’ve experienced a lot of what most people would refer to as failures.
However, I have learned to view them, not as failures, but as necessary steps to success. In the absence of those “failures”, I would never have gained the wisdom, character and relationship with God that is necessary for me to live the preferred future He created me for. All of this happens when I’m working, rather than sitting idly waiting on God to show up.
I believe we were all created with the capacity for greatness. I believe God expects that of us, and He’s a bit disappointed when choose to limit ourselves and just wait for a miracle.
It doesn’t just fall into our laps. The process of fostering big dreams, having faith that they will come into fruition, believing in our ability to achieve them, overcoming setbacks and an aversion to complacency are all integral elements of living the abundant life we were intended to live.
God calls us to live a purposeful life, a TEN life. And He equipped us with the tools we need to do it. We can live this life abundantly. Be inspired, believe in your dreams, and when God comes to bless you, let Him find you working.
This blog post was written for LivingTEN.com as a commentary on the book TEN, written by Pastor Terry Smith of The Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey. Angaza is currently facilitating the development of a leadership curriculum and workshop series for Rwandan leaders based on the principles of TEN.
After five years of living in East Africa, I understand more than ever, the power of a balanced perspective. When I operate from this perspective, I incorporate much more of humanity into my decisions, as opposed to just my particular needs or desires.
Our perspective directly affects our attitude, and more specifically, our default settings. It’s easy to foster a habit of believing our individual circumstances are devastating and incapacitating. But when something goes wrong and we default to a worldview perspective, life seems a lot more manageable.
Remember the times when your perspective has been rocked because you heard of someone less fortunate overcoming outrageous circumstances? How did that affect your perspective?
Your perspective plays a pivotal role in the reality you create around you. It certainly deserves some deliberate attention. There’s something beautiful that happens during the transition from a myopic, self focused perspective, to one that incorporates a broader, more encompassing perspective. I call it the Worldview Space.
What if you lived in that space? What if it was your default?
Living in the worldview space prevents difficult circumstances from controlling our outlook on life. It empowers us to quickly and methodically overcome sadness, self-doubt, relationship issues, and just about anything else that would get us down.
When I’m faced with an extremely difficult situation, I reflect on the many others that suffer so much more than I could ever fathom. It’s the difference between feeling devastated and realizing the problem I’m facing is not so insurmountable after all.
That gives me a healthy balance, and a lot of inner peace.
There are thousands of missions programs, aid agencies and good willed philanthropists in the world today. Altruism has been with us since the beginning of time, and I’m grateful for that. Unfortunately, a lot of the methodology used today also seems to be from the beginning of time.
Civilizations change drastically over time. Our methods of altruism should adapt appropriately. What helped before may no longer be helpful or relevant now. A commitment to adaptability is absolutely crucial.
The business world is constantly adapting to the needs and desires of their customers. Why is this not the pervasive dynamic of philanthropy? Broken, antiquated systems plug along year after year, often causing more damage than good. Donors continue funding them because they are equally out of touch.
Aid agencies are often built on systems that foster donor dependency. They don’t adapt because they risk loosing their funding. They need funding, so they develop a simple mission designed to compel donors. Those donors then insist the agency to continue on that path, despite the need for adaptation.
It’s a bit like turning the Titanic around. It’s too big of a machine with too many moving parts. It’s easier to steady the course and “not rock the boat”, so to speak.
Douglass MacArthur once said “We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”. This doesn’t change the goal, just the methodology. It doesn’t represent a failure. It represents a true commitment and relationship with the people you serve.
If you’re committed to serving the people, not the system, it is always going to be necessary to adapt and advance in another direction when your methods are no longer serving their needs. It’s your duty as a philanthropist to stay in tune with the people enough to know when this need arises.
One of my favorite lines from Braveheart is “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.” Much of society allows circumstances dictate who they are and what they do. They limit their options because they believe a lie that what they want isn’t within their grasp.
Extraordinary lives don’t allow circumstances and environment to dictate who they are or what they experience. They create habits of consistently choosing to see opportunity in difficulty and abundance in the midst of scarcity.
Others have habits of letting circumstances dictate quality of life. If their plan doesn’t work, they pull out. Others make a new plan and keep going, no matter the obstacles that stand in their way.
Some are incapacitated by loss, while others choose to learn from the experience and create new possibilities. Some feel trapped by lack of finances. Others see it as an opportunity to test their creativity and problem solving skills.
For as long as I can remember, my father often asked “Is this a problem or an opportunity for solution?” After years of conditioning myself to that question, I’ve created a habitual reaction of seeing an opportunity for creativity in every problem that arises. It’s my first reaction, and it gives me more confidence the more I practice it.
I’m a big proponent of living life deliberately, which means I am purposeful and deliberate about how I react to the circumstances I encounter, good or bad.
I’ve always lived in my own world, as my parents will attest. I believe we create our own realities by what we choose to believe and let our minds dwell on. Therefor I have no room for worry or doubt.
At the end of the day, I believe our lives are defined by how we react to our experiences.
In 2010 we lived in the US, after four years in Rwanda. It was difficult to be away from our Rwanda crew and to adapt to living in the US. We were clearly designed for East Africa life.
We traveled a ton, spending the majority of our time in LA, San Diego, Nashville and New York. I also spent a month in Cross River State, Nigeria. We lived out of suitcases most of the time.
It was fruitful in terms of business development, learning, growing, enjoying friends and family and getting “centered”. We spent a lot of time determining who we want to be, in our marriage, as individuals and in our business and philanthropic endeavors.
But we missed that deep inspiration and relationship we have with our friends in East Africa. They are a different breed; rugged, lots of life experience, deep, with a true desire to serve humanity above all else. There are few surface discussions. Most are about world events, making the world a better place and other discussions on humanity.
While I was in the states I found it quite difficult to write and get into our work. I was losing touch with the people we serve, with Africa and my soul. But since we’ve been back in Rwanda/Mombasa I’ve had the privilege of meeting people like Philip McAllister and Sebastian Lindstrom that have inspired me once again to be more, do more and expect more. To live life to it’s fullest.
Philip, an Irish chap, just met us and immediately gave up his room for us to stay as long as needed. He’s been in 76 countries and currently fund raises for Camara, a technology based NGO. He’s a magnificent person that inspires me daily. And on top of that, he’s just fun to be around; never short on quality conversation, adventures and good ole Irish wit. He truly loves life and all the beauty it has to offer.
And Sebastian is…totally outrageous and a bit insane; a typical prerequisite for the people I befriend. He and Philippa (an absolute ray of light) are a dynamic duo, whimsically dancing through life, inspiring all those they encounter to follow their dreams and respect the camel.
I love this life. I’m rejuvenated and once again my inspiration is flowing out into the world. I’ve written more in the last week than I did almost all of last year. I am grateful for this journey.