Recently I spent a week in Cartagena, Colombia attending a business summit. While I was excited to explore a new country, many people thought it was scary that I was going to Colombia. We all know the rumors and have heard the stories of cocaine ridden Colombia and Pablo Escobar (Narcos paints a vivid picture of this.)
What I encountered was much different than a typical Narcos episode. I encountered a culture so rich and rooted. I encountered people who were kind and gentle.
I came away from this experience with a vastly different opinion of Colombia. Through the trip and the various experiences I had, I brought home valuable lessons that I will take into my life going forward.
Here are some of my top lessons:
1. Dance (and live) like you have a blindfold on
On our first day in Colombia, the group went to a temple for some yoga and some “comfort exercises.” Half way through yoga the instructors had us stand up and start dancing. While people were having fun, everyone was pretty tame and calm with their dancing.
What happened next made me reflect on how I show up in life.
The instructors handed everyone in the temple blindfolds, spread us out, and told us to start dancing again. Free from the eyes of others, I found myself dancing harder and moving my body in ways I never have before. I let my mind completely connect to the music. Gone was the subconscious insecurity. It was just me and the music.
Why was this such a big deal?
Because it made me question my authenticity.
Until then, I thought of myself as a very authentic, secure person. I did what I felt was right and I didn’t care what others thought. Or did I?
Where else do I subconsciously hold back?
Where else does the opinion of others change my behavior?
For the rest of the trip (ask my friends about the dance nights), and even now, I feel lighter. I feel more authentic in my thoughts and actions.
I want to live life (and dance) like I have a blindfold on. I am committed to being less concerned about what others think and more concerned about what feels right.
2. Americans have a warped perception about the world and safety
The stereotypes we have about the rest of the world is wrong. I have been to a lot of countries around the world, and I’ve felt safer in Colombia than I have in most others. On top of Cartagena feeling safe, it was also extremely beautiful. This coastal city has a tremendously deep culture. The streets you walk down have a New Orleans meets Cuba vibe to them, colorful and full of character.
Colombia was not on my radar to travel to, and I am extremely grateful this event brought me there. I will definitely be going back and I highly recommend it to others.
3. Wear more linen
I don’t shop. I don’t like buying clothes. And before Colombia, I never wore a linen shirt.
Boy was I missing out.
Linen is amazing.
Linen shirts are the going braless for men. It felt so freeing and breathable.
Main lesson here, dressing up and wearing fun clothes does have its merits. Get out of your comfort zone and wear flashy clothes every now and then.
I will DEFINITELY be wearing more linens going forward
4. Rehabilitation is more effective than incarceration everywhere
The topic of prison inmates and our legal system has been popping up a lot in my life. A few months before my trip, I went to Donovan State Prison in California to meet with maximum security inmates (you can read about my takeaways and experience here). Up until the Donovan experience, prison was a very uncomfortable topic for me; I have an uncle who has served over 25 years in prison.
While we were in Colombia, this topic came up again when we had lunch at Restaurante Interno, a restaurant where the cooks and servers are female prison inmates at the connecting prison. In Colombia, prison inmates do not receive anything. If they want water, they have to pay for it. If they want food, they have to pay for it. Need to go to the hospital? Better have money for a ride and the bill. All proceeds from the restaurant go to upgrading the prison environment, like getting the women access to clean drinking water and mattresses to sleep on.
Interno’s mission is the following:
“INTERNO” is a PRODUCTIVE WORKSHOP of the Internal Action Foundation based on the training of inmates in different trades, equipping them with the necessary skills and tools to guarantee employment when they are released, generating second opportunities from within the establishment that facilitate their process of resocialization and reconciliation with society.
Once more, the recidivism rate (rate of re-incarceration after being released) of the women who work in the restaurant are dramatically lower. Many of the ladies are even getting jobs at some of the best restaurants in Cartagena.
This is just another example of how much more powerful rehabilitation is than simply incarcerating people and then releasing them years later. In California, the recidivism rate of inmates who participate in rehabilitation programs (therapy, GED, etc.) is around 2%, compared to the normal recidivism rate in America which is 88%.
5. If you give people a seed, they will grow a forest
Through the Fundacion CoraJeM, the group I was with were able to meet with members of a local community outside the city limits. Outside the city, conditions aren’t great. Many people don’t have running water or electricity. The foundation helps empower the local community through a variety of activities such as English lessons to children and mothers, creating a free dental clinic for children, and teaching entrepreneurship to the community. One way that they also empower the community to help themselves is by teaching gardening. The foundation teaches people how to use their back yards to grow vegetables and fruits that they can then use or sell. This creates a self-sustaining ecosystem where the locals are less reliant on outside imports which are usually less healthy and much more expensive.
After this experience, someone in the group told a story to us about the power and capability of humans:
He was visiting a local school in a third world country that didn’t have much. They didn’t even have enough food for all the children. So the group he was with taught the school leaders how to garden and gave them a few seeds to get started.
A year later he came back to the school to check in and what he saw he couldn’t believe. Not only had they correctly cultivated the seeds he gave to them, but they expanded to an entire farm. Everywhere he looked were plants and trees producing fruit and vegetables for the children.
The morale of the story here is this: If you give someone a seed, they will grow a forest. Our job is to give people those seeds.
All in all Colombia and its culture showed me that it’s okay to be yourself AND own it. In fact, it is vitally important to living a fulfilled life. It showed me that there is beauty in everything, from small side streets to stories of hardship. And it showed me that our stereotypes and biases are usually wrong, and we can only know for sure if we see it firsthand.
So here is to dancing with a blindfold on, owning yourself completely, and surrendering to life’s beauty.
Want a hack to capture all of the lessons you learn each month?
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