unum Blog

unum… the journey continues

unum… the journey continues

It’s been just over a year since I launched unum and posted my first blog. I still recall that moment when it was time to take the plunge and simply “put myself out there” as they say. I still get anxious when it comes to posting a blog or sharing my thoughts on social media. I guess I need to go back and read some of my own work and heed my own advice in terms of following my passion and overcoming my fears. But what I think makes this journey so interesting to me is that it has forced me to be two things. To be brutally honest with myself and to continue to maintain a sense of curiosity to fuel my passion for who I am and what I do.

Being honest with yourself is not an easy thing to do. I can rationalize anything and I’m quite good at it unfortunately. Being honest means accepting our flaws and coming to terms with WHY you are the person you are and WHY you get the results you get. Honesty means when you don’t like what you see in the mirror it’s the understanding that it’s no one else’s fault but your own. Honesty means when you don’t post a blog for a few months, it’s not because you are too busy, it means you’ve placed greater priority on other things. Or, maybe it just means you’ve sunken back into some shadows of insecurity you thought you’ve overcome but in reality, you have not. For me, this is what makes unum so special. It’s the reality of my journey. The ups and the downs. The journey we all stare down every single day trying to muster up the energy to do something special. Or, maybe just get through another day. Survival mode. Either way, we are all flawed and the sooner we can come to grips with our flaws, and be honest with ourselves, the sooner we can find some inner peace. This sense of peace brings clarity and confidence. And, when we think clearly and act with conviction and confidence, things change.

When we think clearly and act with conviction and confidence, things change.

As for the idea of curiosity, it’s a concept that has completely shaken me in terms of my ideas around passion and purpose. It was a short video by Elizabeth Gilbert that really got me thinking about this concept. As I have been speaking and writing about the importance of passion and purpose so much, I realized that not everyone is even remotely close to understanding what this might mean for them. That finding passion and purpose might not be part of one’s current mental/emotional state and that’s OK. What curiosity does is quite magical really and it’s something we lose through time as we age. Curiosity gives us the courage to explore, try new things, learn, grow, and basically evolve as human beings. So, for me, unum has given me a platform and a gentle nudge towards maintaining a sense of curiosity. This has resulted in tremendous learning opportunities, interactions with some amazing people and some pretty cool experiences. And, when I go back to what my personal mantra is of connecting people with experiences and opportunities… this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Curiosity is fueling this. And, fueling me to keep moving unum forward. To keep moving myself forward.

So, one year later… While unum has slowed in terms of pace at times, it has consistently been moving and re-shaping and evolving and nagging me to keep being me and doing what I do. It has connected people all over the globe and created some pretty cool conversations in the process. I’ve been able to share my story through a TEDx Talk in Germany and from there expand the unum network creating even more opportunities for engagement and connection, building a community of people who simply want more out of life and of themselves. It has also resulted in numerous speaking engagements from grad students at Michigan State University to budding entrepreneurs at a pitch competition in the Kitchener/Waterloo region. Throughout this process, we’ve launched a scholarship program for students and adult learners in El Salvador, supporting their desire to live a better life through education. Hey, we even launched the unum store and sold a t-shirt (yes, only one but it’s a start) in support of the joe’s crew scholarship fund.

My unum soulmates Freddy and Ivan continue to do their part in making the world a better place by building community in their own unique way. My man Sid is driven on a quest of bringing justice to situations, places, and people who have essentially been forgotten by society while their scars are still fresh, even after decades. Norina, the global denizen, continues to “put herself out there” by maintaining her own sense of curiosity through travel and a strong desire to experience everything life has to offer… whether it’s a cold beer with an old friend or a semester in China – she’s game for anything! Our dear Bengali friend Sabrina, the writer, the poet, the advocate, always amazes me with her beautifully woven words and strong sense of self while living in a country of vibrant colours, controlled chaos, and rampant corruption. And, Kayla and Tomas are doing their thing… one step at a time, finding their way, and living their journey. We’re all writing our own story, one page at a time, one chapter at a time.

So, while on the surface it appears we’ve been quiet and still, it doesn’t mean we’re not moving, communicating, growing, and creating positive change. We are just doing it on our terms and at times without fanfare or much notice. And, that’s OK. That’s what makes unum what it is. We will do what we do based on quality not quantity. Based on true connections, not “followers.” Based on real gratitude not “likes.” Based on authenticity not a glossy social media persona. If we are being honest with who we are, and we navigate our way with an openness and sense of curiosity, we can continue to create positive change. Continue to connect and build community. And, most importantly, continue to find that sense of inner peace that is the foundation for a life well lived. For me, that’s what unum represents. A vehicle for expression and connection. And, hopefully, it inspires others to do the same and find their outlet, their vehicle, their light.

Joe’s Crew El Salvador

Joe’s Crew El Salvador

It’s been a week since my most recent visit to El Salvador to establish the Joe’s Crew Scholarship fund and I have to say, the emotions I feel when I’m there have not left me. While violence and crime still have a strong grip on this beautiful country, there is still a sense of hope and the desire for a better future among those I interact with. Especially the children. Born into this environment, they have no choice but to feel anything else. Hope. Love. Laughter. This is what I am greeted with when I visit. And, it humbles you very quickly.

After meetings with the teachers of the local school, members of the community, and a technical college called Agape located in the city of Sonsonate, I am excited to announce that we have an agreement in principle to create a fund that will cover the expenses of those seeking to further their education at the Agape school. In partnership with the school, the community, and the College, we will create the terms of reference for the fund as well as establish the criteria for acceptance to receive funding. Students can select programs such as auto mechanics, welding, electrician, tailoring/seamstress, baker/pastry chef and other trades aimed at creating employment opportunities and/or the foundation for starting a small business. Introductory programs last two months, and students can begin these programs at various times throughout the year.

Funding will be available to those 16 years of age and older. The interesting thing about the Agape school is that there is no tuition. Students need only to cover the costs of their expenses such as transportation and meals for the day while they are in class. When I inquired into these costs I was told that a mere $5 a day is required. Even though this amount might seem meager to you and I, when you are faced with the decision to work as a day labourer making $4 to $6 a day to contribute to the family, OR spending that amount on schooling, the answer becomes simple. Survival takes priority over education unfortunately.

“Joe’s Crew is all about sharing the power of love & building community. Love & community being the ultimate tonic & elixir for a life well lived.” Joe

In our community consultation, everyone was very excited at this opportunity not just for the youth, but for adults to also have a chance at learning a new skill that might have an impact on their future. For the young men in the community, the options beyond basic schooling are pretty much limited to joining the police or the army. Noble professions but unbelievably dangerous in a country that boosts one of the highest murder rates in the world. In rural El Salvador, the options are incredibly limited. So, staying to work on the farm or as a day labourer on a coffee plantation is the answer for many. For young women, it’s even more limited, with many young girls staying home to help with the household duties, or starting a family of their own at a very young age. By gaining valuable technical skills in the courses offered by Agape, the students can seek new opportunities and feel empowered to better their future, on their terms.

In our meeting, I was struck with the level of commitment to the concept and in the intense interest of those present, both men and women. Community leader, Don Fernando, spoke of his own youth and how he never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write. At 53 years of age, his desire to learn has never left him as he expressed his interest in taking one of the courses himself. A man who selflessly contributes to community on a daily basis, I know his intention is not so much to seek gain for himself, but to continue to use these new skills for the betterment of those around him and his community.

These people are not looking for a handout. As I explained to the community, I am not the government, some large international NGO, or a funding agency with deep pockets. I am simply a member of the global community who wants to extend a hand of support. Person to person. Community to community. As our unum mantra reads…. one cause. one community.

In the coming days/week, I will be posting information as to the status of the project, fund raising opportunities, as well as an event in late May that will bring our community together to officially launch the project and celebrate.

A big thank you to Sandra Elizabeth Quinteros and AlFredo Ramos for their friendship and for taking this journey with me. And, also the teachers Gloria Canales, Marisol Sandoval, and Carlos Flores for their dedication to the children of the community. And, of course to my wife Pam for creating this concept and having the belief in me to make this a reality. Each of you are an inspiration to me everyday. Abrazos.

 

If you have any questions, please contact me directly at joe@unum1.ca

Travel with Meaning

Travel with Meaning – 5 tips to make your next trip truly transformational!

With the vacation season upon us and many of us seeking to escape to a warmer place, I thought I’d share my thoughts on how we can maximize our vacation experience beyond merely getting fat poolside with a bunch of other “gringos” seeking the same thing. Now, that might be your thing, and I don’t judge those who are needing to recharge the batteries with some quiet time at an all-inclusive in the Caribbean. However, if you want to experience something a little different, or want to feel inspired or even energized when you get back on the plane to come home, I offer up these 5 simple steps to create a vacation experience that will not only be memorable, but more importantly, transformational.

 

  1. Be Curious. Regardless of whether you are at an all-inclusive in Cuba or you’ve rented a small hut in the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, there are always opportunities to explore the environment around you, beyond your immediate surroundings. No, I am not talking about doing something dangerous or risky or unsafe. I am merely talking about getting slightly off the beaten path, trying different foods, learning about the local culture, or simply talking to a local or another traveler from a different part of the world. I know I crave some gringo food every once in awhile when I’m in Costa Rica, but I also know the gallo pinto is so much better and usually leads to a conversation, or an experience I will never forget. Typically taking me down a path so refreshingly different than when I hit the Hard Rock Café Guanacaste. Go for the rice and beans and an Imperial! Trust me. It’s so much better than the gringo burger and a Bud Light!

 

  1. Be Open. Being curious will only take you so far if you are not open to the experience or even just the potential the experience may hold. Being open means not judging, not being afraid, and most importantly, not making assumptions about something you know little about. Again, being open doesn’t mean taking uncalculated risks. It really means dropping your guard and dazzling someone with your best Spanish in an attempt to make a connection. No, not “dos cervesa por favor.” You can do better than that. It’s about being open to more than just trying new foods or seeing new sights. More importantly, it’s about being open to new perspectives and a world view that might be very different from your own. Marcel Prost once wrote, “the real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new sites, but in having new eyes.” However, if you are stuck in a hot tub and someone starts to talk about the genius that is Trump, leave immediately. No sudden movements. Just walk away.

 

“The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new sites, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Prost

 

  1. Be Aware. Awareness is something we all possess if we zone in, slow down, and really focus on our surroundings. A few weeks ago, I wrote about experiencing a sunset in silence. No talking. No photos. Just me and the energy of the sun and my companions. Put down the phone. Be still. Slow down your breathing. Simply BE in the moment and you will be amazed at what you see and what you feel. You don’t need to be in a rain forest in Latin America to do this by the way. When we are acutely aware of our surroundings, we see things that often go missed. We see those sunsets in a completely different way. As the Buddhist teacher Ayya Khema once said, “We may believe it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.” Try not taking any photos for a day, or even a week. Sometimes we worry more about the photo op than actually immersing ourselves in the moment and capturing a memory that really can’t be conveyed through Instagram. That moment and the memory it created is just for you – cherish it!

 

“We may believe it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.” Ayya Khema

 

  1. Be Reflecting. Reflection is something that is getting increasingly difficult to do as we are overwhelmed with stimuli on a 24-7 basis. True reflection can only be done when we are still, quiet, and give ourselves the opportunity to delve into our thoughts. It’s just YOU and YOU! Think about all those amazing moments you’ve had on your vacations of the past. What do the best moments usually involve? Great people. Lot’s of laughter. Amazing food. And, hopefully some incredible sunsets. However, as we reflect on these moments, think deeper. Think beyond WHAT you experienced. Think about HOW that experience may have impacted you or changed you or simply caused you to slow down and appreciate what’s truly important. This about the emotions you felt as a result of that experience or interaction. Reflection, when grounded in a state of openness and awareness, can take us on a journey that brings new meaning to our experiences.

 

  1. Be Writing. Journaling is something I am sure most of us have done at one point in time during our lives. Did you know that writing something down not only helps in terms of retention of information, it also increases the amount of important information we retain. When we delve deeper into our experiences and subsequently record those experiences, what we are really doing is keeping a history of the most important moments of our lives. Moments that have impact. Moments driven by emotion. Moments that have meaning. Moments that make us who we are. By keeping a journal (and not just when we travel I might add) we are really writing the story of our lives. It’s our own personal non-fiction novel we can turn to from time to time, serving as a reference to the moments, the experiences, the places, and the people who have helped shape the person we are today. That’s why reflecting on not just what happened, but how it made you feel is so important. And, when we capture those emotions on paper, something special happens. It’s part of a deeper journey that can take us to places we never dreamt we could go.

 

So, get out there and explore. Trust yourself and don’t be afraid or make assumptions. Think of your next vacation as more of a journey. As a wise man once said, “a vacation is defined as something separate from our everyday life while a journey becomes part of us. So, go on a journey, don’t take a vacation. Forget the trip of a lifetime… tackle the adventure of the day.” Safe travels everyone!

The Ebb & Flow of Our Experiences

The Ebb & Flow of Our Experiences – The Lessons They Teach Us

365 new days, 365 new chances – that’s what’s lying ahead of us in 2018! Another year passed by! Once we start reflecting on the great things that happened to us in 2017, it should feel like several years put together in one since there were so many unique moments taking place. Instead, one year feels like a tiny moment that just passed by like this – from 2016 to 2017 to 2018! One year feels like one moment feels like one second.

When it comes to the end of a year, people start reflecting on their lives, start questioning their decisions and start thinking about what could have been done differently, using the word differently as a synonym for better. But is it really about living a good or a bad life? Is it really about making things better? Or is it simply about trying to accept your own path, accepting oneself and getting closer to finding true happiness?

I would like to encourage everyone to make the best out of each decision, each day, each week, each month, each year – make the best out of your life! No one can choose the circumstances he or she was/is/will be born in to, but anyone can take the decision to live life to the fullest. It is your life, so live it for yourself – not for anybody else!

Let me share two of my most remarkable 2017 moments with you: Working in Barcelona and organizing TEDxUniPaderborn! Why did I choose these experiences? There were so many more that I could have chosen, but these two seemed to be the right ones. They show that quite often one idea, one experience can lead to the next one!

Working in Barcelona. In 2016, I started an internship in Barcelona. From the beginning, I noticed that it would be a phase of my life where I can learn many things about myself and about possibilities for my future career. I decided to work hard and apparently my boss noticed: After three months of the internship I was offered a full-time job starting as soon as possible. This offer has been one of the most valuable acknowledgements I had ever received until this point in my life. I was really honored and happy at the same time. So, I thought about the offer back and forth. It’s not been easy to decide between coming back home to Germany and starting a Master program or staying in Barcelona and starting a job. At the end, I rejected the offer and it was the right decision – it was the right decision considering my current circumstances, for me and my age and my personal development. So, I finished my six-month internship in Barcelona, finished my Bachelor degree in Germany and started my Master program in October 2017 – and I’m totally happy about it. Choosing not to pursue an opportunity was not a negative thing. It only lead me to other new opportunities and experiences that I am equally excited about.

Organizing TEDxUniPaderborn. While living in Barcelona, a friend of mine introduced me to TED Talks. I’d heard about them before, but it never occurred to me that I would eventually participate in organizing an official TEDx event. Anyway, from that day I watched TED Talks quite often, basically every week. By chance I suddenly found out that there might be a TEDx event taking place at my university in Germany very soon. I knew that I definitely wanted to experience this in some capacity – decision made! I returned back home and went to a friend’s party the first week in Germany. I ended up talking to someone about TED Talks and TEDx events. We were about to finish our conversation when he told me that he was the one initiating the TEDx event in Paderborn. I couldn’t believe that such a coincident just happened. Obviously, I was very excited about this conversation and maintained contact with my new friend. As a result, I ended up being one of two head organizers of the TEDxUniPaderborn event that I initially wanted to experience as a guest. To this point in my life, it has been the biggest and most significant event I had ever organized. This meant a lot to me in that it was something I truly put all of my heart and soul into. Leading up to the event, we were in constant contact, meeting, planning, and coordinating in order to make the event a reality. Even though we had very limited resources we can now say that the conference was a great success – not only for us as head organizers, but for our team of volunteers, for the guests and most importantly, for the speakers. The speakers were the ones who made the event such a unique and unforgettable experience. So, let me encourage you to be brave enough to accept big challenges. I never knew how we could make the event happen until it finally happened! It was quite a big decision to take on the responsibility of organizing such an event, but I knew that every day, every hour and every minute spent on TEDxUniPaderborn would be well-spent and worth it. So, say yes to new challenges and always remember: What could be worse than not trying? Taking on the challenge of organizing an official TEDx event helped me overcome my fear of something so big and to just jump in with both feet. Once the idea was presented to me, not doing it was never an option!

2017 – What were your most remarkable moments? Think about it and reflect on how they taught you lessons!

By Norina Poetter

El Salvador

El Salvador

In recent years, I’ve often thought of the influences some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit have had on my life. I’ve gone so far to say that while I think like a Canadian, my soul is Tico (Costa Rican) and my heart is Salvadoran. In response to the comments made by a racist politician who I refuse to address in name or title, I want to share with each of you some of my favourite photos of El Salvador. A country I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in over the years. While this country has had it’s share of challenges through the years such as natural disasters and a bloody civil war (largely financed by the US government I should add), there is a warmth, an intensity, and a sense of resolve that pulls you in and gets in your blood. And, while you can’t ignore the scars that are still fresh from years of conflict and now gang violence, you can also feel a tremendous sense of hope, of belief, and of love that wraps you in her arms and tells you that while life is hard, it’s going to be OK. I have many great friends in El Salvador that are like family to me. And, I’ve been able to share my Salvadoran family with many of my Canadian friends, creating a community and a bond that will last forever. A testament to the love and passion that the people of El Salvador exude. Don’t get me wrong, there are serious issues in El Salvador. Issues that make it a place that exists on the fringes at times, due to a consistent threat of violence, causing an uneasiness for visitors as well as Salvadorans who try their best to live a life of peace and dignity. And, when you consider the conditions that contributed to years of conflict and violence, how dare anyone, especially a racist politician from the country that caused a great deal of these conditions, call this country a “shithole.” To all my Salvadoran friends I want to send you my love today. Send you my love and thank you for giving me so much and contributing to the person I am today. I will see you soon my friend.

Joe Danis