Climbing Mountains

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A Much Needed Adventure:

It was on the day I hiked Mount Manunggal that I realized my life was about to change. I can’t even remember the view from the top of the mountain but the hike itself and revelations along the way which lead to some major changes in my life and career are stuck in my mind like it was yesterday.    

While traveling in the Philippines we were on the look out for a good hike. We started with grand ambitions, a quick search and we found the tallest mountain in the country, Mount Apo, 9,692 Ft. When we learned Apo was located a few hour flight south and in a region famous for the MILF terrorist group, we quickly opted for Mount Manungal, 3,290 Ft and 30 miles from where we were staying.

 To reach the trail-head we drove hours from Cebu City. When the highway ended we took a dirt road up and over the first peak and then down a steep ravine. There were beautiful flowers, fruit trees and foliage spilling onto the road. Our driver pulled over several times to dig up vegetables, to be re-planted in her garden back in town. She handed a few pesos to the machetes wielding farmers with less negotiation and hassle than a self-checkout at Home Depot. It felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization. It was awesome! This is exactly what I was looking for when I quit my cushy job at Google a few months earlier.

A few locals pointed us to the start of the trail and tried to sell us Coke Zero and cigarettes for the hike. We got the sense that they didn’t see too many hikers in these parts. We were complete strangers but that didn’t stop them from unveiling a state of the art karaoke machine from behind a locked bamboo door. It was rolled out into the pathway along with a few stools and happy kids. We passed on the offer to join in. As we headed up the first part of the trail we heard a spot on rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer. It was the perfect Filipino sendoff for our journey to the top of the mountain. It was also timely reminder of the forced over-feedings from our gracious hosts over the last two weeks – eat eat eat. This hike was going to hurt!

The trail itself turned out not to be much of a trail at all, we were basically walking through a thicket of bushes and tall grass as we went up a steep grade.  After a while, a bit of path emerged and we realized our backs were covered with sticky brown plants. Without saying a word we took turns brushing off each other’s back.  I couldn’t help but think about Indian Jones and his sherpa dusting the tarantulas off each other’s backs with Indy’s whip, on their way to recover the idol.  Wishing thinking perhaps. But this was a big adventure compared to long days in the office, an endless amount of “planning” sessions, client meetings, and conference calls.

We passed a few locals on the trail, planting vegetables and tending to their mixed flocks of goats and chicken — living way off the grid.  We passed two chapels.  They were more lean-to that church but it wasn’t surprising to see a house of worship so far from civilization. It was impossible to go a mile in Philippines without coming across a proper place to pray.

An Unexpected Life Lesson: 

About halfway up the mountain there was a monument for former president, Ramon Magsaysay, who died on that spot in 1957 when his plane crashed in a tragic accident along with many members of his cabinet. On the night of this fatal crash, the president was traveling from Manila to Cebu to see for himself the conditions in that province which caused the price of rice to rise from 35 to 40 pesos - the equivalent of 1/10th of a US cent.

Shortly before his death, President Magsaysay gave a speech in the streets of a Manila ghetto saying that an increase in the price of rice was a matter of great concern even if it was only a few centavos. He then ordered the National Rice and Corn Corporation (NARIC) to reduce the price back to 35 pesos even if it meant the government would lose money.  He proclaimed that his most important priority as President was to help the Filipino people, and his job was to ensure that the countries poorest citizen should not suffer because of unfair price increases to a commodity so essential to life such as rice. 

To commemorate this great leaders life, his supporters built a small monument at the site of the crash.  It wasn’t much of a display, nothing more than the plane’s engine mounted on a piece of cement along with a few plaques.  One listed the passengers names who had died in the crash the other one was a short biography of the presidents life, selfless works, and dedication to bettering the lives of all Filipinos.

Learning about the former President Magsaysay was an incredible inspiration for me but that wasn’t my first reaction. Selfishly, I couldn’t help think about my own personal bio, the one I was required to send out before speaking engagement and conferences.  The thought of work hadn’t crossed my mind for weeks. As I drifted back to my work life I was crushed by the thought of my biography.  I was known as an affective sales and marketing guy.  I had worked at some great companies but my accomplishments were much more about where I had worked than anything else. I kept on asking myself, aside from climbing the corporate ladder, what had I been working towards for the last 10 years? 

It didn’t happen overnight, it crept up on me one promotion and added responsibility at a time. My job had become who I was; it had taken over my identity.  It had taken years to build my resume but it was literally a few minutes on the side of a mountain in the Philippines that made me realize that I needed to change directions.  This wasn’t a completely new thought for me I had already quit my job, packed a bag and planned a trip to Asia with no return date. I had no clue what I wanted to do next with my career but I certain that I shouldn’t wait to be the person I wanted to be. 

Several months prior I would have said that I had a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish in life but on that day it didn’t seem clear at all. I always figured I would work hard, try to make as much money as possible and then use my money to help others around the world. I have great admiration for Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner and the rest of the amazing people that participate in The Giving Pledge even if I never come close to their type of wealth I have always dreamed of having enough for my family to live a comfortable life and then give back the rest. This was no  longer good enough for me. For the first time I realized that I didn’t have to wait to become the person that I wanted to be. As we walked away from the monument I decided the first step would be to update my bio. 

When we got down from the mountain I spent an hour staring at my journal, I was hoping to improve my existing bio but it felt like I was wasting my time. I decided to start fresh, make up a future for myself as if I had already accomplished all of my goals. With this new-found creative freedom, I transformed myself, at least on paper. 

Eric Facas is an entrepreneur and investor with a passion for leveraging Internet and technology for positive social impact. His mission is to help those that make the world a better place do more of what they do. Eric loves to spend time with his family and friends, travel as much ass possible, day dream about solving the worlds problems, and occasionally hike a mountain.

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Fictional Bio:

What started out as a bunch of words on paper has turned into a career altering experience. Without the boundaries of reality I was able to create the life I wanted for myself. That was the hard part. You can’t become that person overnight but you now have a compass to keep you on track. If you’re not working toward your goals then you will never reach them.

In the years since writing my first fictional bio I have learned that you can do anything you want in life, the one thing you can’t control is WHEN. Every goal you haven’t accomplished becomes something you haven’t accomplished yet as long as you’re working on it. 

 

 

I was just about as far from the office as I could imagine when I came across a flyer taped to a light post offering career advice.  We stopped at Olduvai Gorge just south of the Serengeti to eat lunch along with 3 or 4 other jeeps that also appeared to be headed back to civilization.  At first I thought it was a nice gesture by whoever posted the note. As I began reading I started to realize just how different the work environment was in Tanzania.
In the US, we are taught to challenge norms, ask questions, be creative and solve problems, all for the purpose of finding a better, cheaper, or faster way for our companies to do business.  As the flyer sunk in deeper I realized it was intended to create a subservient work force of factory workers, coal minors, and storm troopers. It’s great that people are being taught to be polite and respectful but this type of oppression isn’t helping Africa reach its potential.    

I was just about as far from the office as I could imagine when I came across a flyer taped to a light post offering career advice.  We stopped at Olduvai Gorge just south of the Serengeti to eat lunch along with 3 or 4 other jeeps that also appeared to be headed back to civilization.  At first I thought it was a nice gesture by whoever posted the note. As I began reading I started to realize just how different the work environment was in Tanzania.

In the US, we are taught to challenge norms, ask questions, be creative and solve problems, all for the purpose of finding a better, cheaper, or faster way for our companies to do business.  As the flyer sunk in deeper I realized it was intended to create a subservient work force of factory workers, coal minors, and storm troopers. It’s great that people are being taught to be polite and respectful but this type of oppression isn’t helping Africa reach its potential.    

Who You Gonna Call?

It just dawned on me that 30 is a pretty big number.  I immediately regret committing to giving things away and contacting people that I don’t know for the next 30 days. Don’t get me wrong, both are great exercises that I look forward to completing but I can’t say I look forward to actually doing the work.

Planning is my favorite procrastination technique, so here goes.  Before I can possibly start reaching out to complete strangers, I need to figure out who I should contact and why? While 30 is pretty a big number if you’re calling people, it’s not even a drop in a bucket if your goal is to reach the entire world.  To make the most impact possible with my 30 “cold calls”, I need to connect with people who could introduce me to larger groups of people or otherwise help grow Media Cause.  While I’m at it, I plan on reaching out to people who have inspired me, just to say thank you.

Here is what I’ve come up with so far (note: I reserve the right to make edits as the 30 days moves along).

  1. Bill Gates - (It’s a little bit tough for me to admit this as an ex-Googler but Bill Gates has been a huge inspiration to me.  Learning about the Giving Pledge was a key motivating factor in deciding to give roughly half of my net worth to launch Mediacause.org and run it without pay for a year).  
  2. Alex Bogusky - (His leap from branding guru to consumer advocate with The Fearless Cottage and Common has been very impressive.  Also, if we are going to turn Media Cause into a volunteer led crowdsourced Ad Agency for non-profits, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather ask for advice.) 
  3. Matt Cutts - (Since he inspired this whole exercise, I couldn’t help adding him to the list.  Also, there are over 100,000 people who obsess about SEO following him on Twitter.  If he happens to think Media Cause is a cool idea and decides to send a Tweet introducing us, it would be pretty amazing.)  
  4. John Wood (Founder of RoomtoRead and author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World was the first person to make me believe that it was actually a good idea to quit my job to start a non-profit.  I’d love to say thank you!)
  5. Derek Sivers (He gave his company to charity immediate before selling it for $22million and DOESN’T consider himself an altruist.  He also delivered one my favorite Ted talks of all time.) 
  6. Pierre Omidyar - (Funding for Media Cause from the Omidyar Network would be a dream come true.)
  7. Eric Schmidt - (Working for Google with Eric Schmidt running the show was an amazing experience.  Now that he’s actively investing in start-ups maybe I can convince him that Media Cause is worth getting to know.) 
  8. Joi Ito - (I love the spirit behind the Creative Commons project. I get the feeling that advice from Joi would be priceless.) 
  9. Malcom Gladwell - (If he’s able to turn Spaghetti Sauce into an amazing life lesson, I can only imagine his advice for giving a bigger voice to non-profits.) 
  10. Tim Ferris - (I can’t think of a better Internet marketer on the planet.  Any advice for better engaging with the non-profit and online marketing communities would be worth its weight in gold.  Plus, I’ve bee really impressed with his work for Donorschoose.org.)
  11. Craig Newmark - (CraigConnects is an impressive initiative.  I’d love to use Media Cause to help promote all of the great organizations that Craig works with.)
  12. Reid Hoffman - (No one understands how the Internet could be used to change the world better than Reid Hoffman.  In a perfect world, he’d be really really interested in joining the Media Cause Board of Director.)
  13. Clay Shirky - (His talk on cognitive surplus is outstanding.  The idea that technology could/should allow us to use our free time to make the world a better place is fascinating and right in line with what we’re trying to do with Mediacause.org
  14. Monja Wolf - (Model turned philantropist is doing some amazing work helping people in need throughout the 3rd world)
  15. Ted Turner - (His work with the UN Foundation and the Giving Pledge has been incredibly inspirational.)   
  16. Manny Pacquiao - (Just because he a badass and I’ve got a lot of love for the Philippines.  Also, maybe he could connecting us with interesting organizations in PI that could use our help). 
  17. Guy Kawasaki - (Social media guru and frequent conference speaker)
  18. Someone on, or previously on, the UI design team at Kayak.com.  - (I love their sites functionality, particularly how well they use a series of filters that allow you to sort through 10’s of thousands of entries to find a few possibilities to choose from within a matter of seconds.  If they can refer me to a UI developer interested in a side project at “non-profit” rates that would be a huge win.)
  19. Neil Pasricha - (I love his approach to life and general optimism.  However, I’m even more impressed with how he turned a small idea into a recognizable brand on the web within such a short period of time with 1000awesomethings.com.)
  20. Salman Khan - (I am so impressed with the Khan Academy.  I’d love to use Media Cause to tell more people about the great work they are doing.)

Ok, I’m struggling to come up with the final 10 names, this is harder than I thought and I haven’t even started reaching out to anyone. To be continued…

30 Day Challenge

Inspired by this TEDx talk from Matt Cutts, I decided to take the “30 day challenge”, where you give up and try new things for 30 days. I subscribe to the theory that you can do anything for 30 days and I love self experimentation so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Addition by subtraction.

A few years ago I made the decision to prioritize experiences over things and I’ve never been happier.  It was actually an easy decision, I did the math and realized that I could have traded the clothes and furniture I had bought the previous year for a trip to Africa. No brainer, right?  Keeping with the less is more theme, I am going to give away 30 things in 30 days.  I have no idea what I am going to give away and who I will give each item to but I love the idea of lightening my load and look forward to figuring out how and where to give things that I could do without.

What do I need more of? 

It would be really easy to pick something that I really want to do.  I’d love to give yoga a a serious shot or finally make the time to study another language however I get the feeling that I’ll get more out of this if I step out of my comfort zone.  I have never been a fan of self promotion particularly with people I don’t know.  Yet, I want the whole work to know about the non-profit that I started this year. So for the next 30 days I’m going to tell someone I don’t know about Mediacause.org.  Again, I have no idea who I’ll tell or how I’ll tell them.  This should be an interesting 30 days!

2011 

I generally subscribe to the idea that it’s better to keep plans to yourself.  Not day-to-day plans, I’m talking about things you’d like to accomplish — goals.   I don’t always follow this rule but I try to do my best to spend more time doing and less time talking about stuff before it gets done.  I also believe that in order to get what you’ve never had you need to do what you’ve never done.  In this case, I’m trying to make a career change while making the world a better place so I figured I’d tell everyone with an Internet connection exactly what I have planned for 2011. 

Here goes….

I am not going to try to make any money this year.  Instead I am going to spend the year working on any number of projects that fit two criteria… 

  • They make the world a better place  
  • I am passionate about

I was not blessed with the gift of patience.  Instead of waiting until I am able to retire to take a year off I decided to see what will happen if I jump in.  I look forward to an incredible year of learning.

I Could Do Without Mail

One of my favorite parts about traveling is not getting mail. Whether you’re gone for two weeks or two years, you’re not bothered by useless statements, unwanted upsells, junk mail, and bills.  Who wouldn’t want to live without these.  Even if you’re checking email while away, it’s much easier to stay connected while deleting a couple of e-mails rather than reading and recycling a few pounds of mail a week.  Anyone know how to shut the mail off at my house?  I have already signed up for every single “paperless statement” option that I could find but the mail keeps coming.

My Travel Bug

At the time it difficult to comprehend but more than 25 years later I feel blessed to have been bitten by the travel bug at such a young age.  I still remember the day when my dad came home from work and brought a world globe into the living room.  He spun it around, pointed to a place called Khartoum, Sudan, and asked my brother and I if we wanted to move there.  The answer was hesitantly yes and what sounded like a terrible idea at the time turned out to be one of the best decisions in my life.  My passion for travel, appreciation for different cultures, and perspective of the world all started at the age of 7.

I’ll Try Anything Once

For as long as I can remember, I’ve prided myself as someone who’s willing to try new things when traveling. My rule of thumb has been… I’ll try anything twice. Just because once isn’t enough, at least that’s what I used to believe.

On Saturday we arrived on the island of Cebu to visit a few of Cheryl’s relatives: Grandma, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Second Cousins, Great Aunts and people in town who introduce themselves as relatives despite the fact that no one can remember their real name. I’m talking about you Tiny! Anyway, shortly after our arrival, we found ourselves right in the middle of a huge street festival in the city of Mandaue to honor the Patron Saint Santo Nino (AKA Baby Jesus). The main street wasn’t officially shut down to traffic but there were a few thousand people out in the middle of the road drinking beers and eating food from street vendors. On one end of the street there was a Ferris Wheel, a few stands set up with unbeatable carnival games and about a dozen shifty looking gambling tables. One guy was actually running a game of 3-Card Monty, more commonly known as follow the Queen as I move the cards around on a table and occasionally hide things up my sleeve. On the far end of the block, through the sea of people, there was a disco set up in a dirt lot blasting Filipino remakes of modern hits like “Low” by Flo Rid A. I’m not exactly sure if this is how Baby Jesus would have planned to celebrate his immortality but it was actually a pretty cool vibe despite all of the sinning so maybe he would have been down.

In the midst of the celebration, with several San Miguel Lagers in my belly, Cheryl’s cousin asked me if I’d like to try a local delicacy, called balot. Without any hesitation, I jumped right in, talking about my bravery at the dinner table. I began telling stories about eating escargot in Paris as a kid and cooked chicken hearts just a few months ago at a Brazilian restaurant in San Francisco. In retrospect, these foods fall closer to a bad jellybean flavor compared to what I was about to eat.

Cheryl’s cuz, Phillip, who went by the name Boloy (FYI, everyone has a nickname in PI) called over a vendor, who was really just a teenager riding an old BMX bike wearing a styrofoam cooler over his shoulder. After a few minutes of negotiating, the boy reached into the cooler and pulled out two good sized eggs. Boloy instructed me to crack the top of the egg on the handlebars and peel back the top third of the shell. I knew I would regret asking but it just came out, “Hey man, what are we eating?” Boloy replied, “It’s a baby duck”. He struggled to come up with the right word for a few seconds and then said, “A duck embryo”. As I peeled back the egg I could see a black head of a bird and what looked like the outline of a baby bird in the fetal position surrounded by a typical looking hard boiled egg. Holy shit, what did I get myself into!

I thought about how I could get out of this for a minute or so while Boloy devoured his little chicky but I figured I had made my bed with all that “I’ll try anything twice” talk, so it was time to sleep in it. I think Boloy could sense the hesitation on my face so he showed me how to apply the salt and vinegar properly. I was still a bit frozen but very relieved to find out that I could add some edible condiments into the mix. One last deep breath and I took the whole thing down as quickly as possible, kind of like shooting an oyster. I tried to clear my mind as much as possible as I chewed but it didn’t exactly go down smoothly. The taste itself was not all that unpleasant but the thought of eating another animal’s unborn fetus was more than enough to turn the flavor rancid. After I finished, Boloy told me that the “balots" we had just eaten were 18 days old, meaning that the duck fetus had been given 18 days to develop which is apparently a long time and the reason why we were able to recognize the outline of the baby. He said that he preferred 21 day balots because the fetus was a lot tastier after it had begun to grow feathers. I’m not sure if he was messing with me or not but regardless, I no longer live by the I’ll try anything twice policy… Once is plenty.