Category Archives: Retirement

Ready to Semi-Retire – What About Your Business?

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“What about your business?”  This is among the top three questions I get when I mention our pending Ecuadorian move and quite frankly, it is a question that I spend a significant amount of time mulling over.  The fact is, I run a contractual service business, so once our contract is finished later this year, I could go into hibernation/quasi-retirement for a year, and then resurface the following year with a new contract.   However, the concerns I have, have nothing to do with getting hired again, and everything to do with the people I employ and the families we serve.

I am reminded daily about the positive impact we have on children, their self-esteem, and academic success and I see the relationships we build with parents and guardians who are trying their best to raise these young people in urban environments that most of us would never want to live in.    So, is there gratification and pride in the work I do?  Yes!  I also know that our employees rely on this income to help them achieve personal goals, such as car payments, family vacations and gifts.

But an ex-boyfriend once told me that travel was like my lover…and I have to agree.  The thrill of pulling out my passport and whisking off to some location where the first language is not American English…is for me exhilarating.  Like encountering love afresh.  My cheeks even get rosy…or maybe that’s just my blush.

I have also been reminded that there are multiple companies that do my same work (though in my opinion, not as well) and my students and families will just migrate to them.  Reality check!  While I like to think I am indispensable, I can be easily replaced…shucks!  So with that in mind, I am reminded that my staff can find positions with these other companies and I no longer feel bad about shutting down my operations.

I am fortunate, given my business model and the fact that I can essentially walk right back into it, that letting go of the business for a year,  or more, is really not that big of a deal.  I also enjoy rather spartan living, so moving to a less expensive locale will help with the drop in income. However, this solution does not work for many cases, so I leave it to you to decide how you want to retire.  But I do think the decision should be your own and not someone else’s.

For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that I like to keep my decision making relatively simple and stream-lined. I am no different when it comes to running a business and thinking next steps.

 

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Ecuador – Permanent or Temporary Move

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I took a hiatus from writing specifically about Cuenca, Ecuador because I have been mulling over whether our family trip this summer will be a permanent versus a temporary move.  I have always been a “just do it” kind of gal, and I find the leap before you think approach to life very invigorating.  So why am I becoming more hesitant as the weeks roll past?

Because being on vacation is like being drunk at a party – your normal walls and insecurities come down, your hair is loose (be it yours or store-bought) and your soul is free and open.  Then you return home and after a few weeks of the normal routine, that vacation feel starts to wear-off.   That said, the best quick-fix solution I have come up with for reminding me why I am considering making this trip a more permanent move, is a visit to any McDonald’s between the hours of 8:30-10:00 am.

Is it the incredibly gross “beef” products they sell?  No. Is it the $1  any size coffee? No.  It’s all of the older, retired Americans who have made McDonald’s the new hotspot.  Yes people, if you are in your 70s and 80s and looking for a vibrant social scene of your peers….McDonald’s is the spot!!

This is both an interesting and distressing fact, depending on where the McDonald’s is located.  If in the wealthier suburbs, then you see groups playing cards, bingo, and being rather jolly. However, if in an urban or lower social economic center,  well then the scene is just depressing.

Depressing, because it is so clear that so many there simply crave human connection. Another person to hear their voice and know that they exist.  They sit and complain about the family members who no longer care about them, the friends who are awaiting open heart surgery, the medications they take, their aches and pain, their past glories, and the latest in local politics. It is depressing because their communion with the world happens for the few hours they are within the overly fried, mass-produced confines of Micky D’s.  Then it is back to home.

Now…granted, I am under forty, so bingo at Micky D’s is a way off…but it reminds me of how wonderful it is to live in a place where age is considered a privilege and not a purgatory, where friends and neighbors are family and your life is filled with the sight and sounds of young people (if you so choose). It reminds me that there are so many beautiful places and people to experience in this world and I am very blessed to have the opportunity to explore it.

So, we are looking forward to making Ecuador our home for a while and really learning about the country, its history, and its people.  We are looking forward to getting really good with our Spanish, growing our base of wonderful friends, and continuing to live a life rich in adventure, communion, love and laughter.

Yup, this a permanent move for us…well, about at permanent as we get.

Starting A Business Abroad

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“Hi I enjoy your blogs, I am African-American from the States and would like some information about your experiences in Cuenca and if it is a big challenge for blacks to start a business over there. You stated your experience and I thought that was great. I want to experience the life of Ecuadorians and especially Cuenca, what must my expectations be? Is it really true that $300.00 can get you a nice place to live?  Your help will be greatly appreciated.”

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I am one of those people who does not know how to take a true vacation. Laying around beaches or passing the days completely self-indulged is an absolute challenge for me (which is one of a number of reasons why I hate cruises).  While my travel may seem random to an outsider, those in the know, know that there must be a specific interest I have in that country or city and that it is in some way tied to a business idea.

So when I travel to a new place, be it in the United States or anywhere else, I always have an eye out for the business environment and opportunities for entrepreneurship.  I also have a personal principle of not wanting to work for anyone other than myself and my clients, so I definitely try to consider all the possibilities.

That said, over the years I have realized some universal truths for doing business abroad:

  • Take your time. Doing business abroad can be a slow process and you want to make sure not to sink everything you have into a business proposition that is unteste;
  • Travel with an open mind and have no preconceived notions, because they are probably wrong;
  • Get to know a place before you start thinking of business there because what may work where you currently are, may not be feasible in another environment (this requires time);
  • Get to know the people before you put plans in place because their needs and desires may be completely different based on culture, religion, region, etc. (this requires time);
  • Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth closed (regarding business plans).

On this last point, the minute you voice that you are interested in doing business in a place, everyone will (1) immediately know that you are not from there i.e. you are a “gringo” and (2) everyone will present you with a “great” business proposition.

On the challenge of being black and starting a business in Cuenca –  No one cares what color you are…black, brown, purple, neon blue. As a North American foreigner your money is green (yes, you too Canadians), and that is all that matters.  Anyone who runs a business has to hustle and take care not to be hustled, especially when working in developing countries.   You could be in the blackest country in Africa, surrounded by folks you think look like you…but they know you are a “gringo”, “toubab”, “pumoy” foreigner from the West, and trust that they will be first in line to take advantage of any naiveté.  Now that I think of it, that sounds just like New York.

So are there any particular challenges with being a black, North American, person, starting a business in Ecuador? Not particularly because you are essentially a black gringa/o.  What will present a challenge is language.  You will always fare better if you know the language enough to get around and to ensure surrogates are not leading you by the nose. The second challenge is finding trustworthy surrogates, which takes time because everyone has their own agenda.

Next, travel with no expectations, just go… you will never be disappointed and will almost always find something joyful.  Okay, correction. I had no expectations when I went on that cruise and I was still thoroughly disappointed…actually revolted.  So maybe “never” is too absolute, please substitute, “almost never”.

Finally, yes it is possible to find a place in Cuenca that I think is nice for $300.  The operative phrase being “I think”.  I like to be comfortable  but I have simple tastes, I appreciate zen decor and I like living with locals, like a local.  Yes, I have been known to hand wash the family laundry, but  I also require things to be clean, secure and welcoming.    Normal Cuenca apartment pricing means not living in the expat buildings or neighborhoods, negotiating stated prices, and having the ability to speak just a wee little bit of Spanish (you’ll have more leverage).

In the immortal words of Jay-Z and Pharrel (yes..I am going there)

“I’m a hustla baby, I  just want you to know –
It ain’t where I been, but where I’m about to go…”

The Verdict – Cuenca, Ecuador

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Our trip to Cuenca reminded me of a couple of rules to live by:

  1. Always decide for yourself what a place is like, because one person’s Shangi-la may be another person’s Detroit (no offence if that’s your town);
  2. Always travel with an open mind and open heart; and
  3. Always be open to making new friends.

For some, being in Ecuador is about as exotic a place as they can imagine living and everything seems foreign.  For us, it was basically just like home except in Spanish.  Now to be fair, our reference points for “different” are Senegal, China, India, etc., so comparatively, Cuenca is pretty 1st rate and was more like travelling to western Europe than an “exotic” destination point.

For the most part, everything we currently do at home can be done in Cuenca. Again, Cuenca is a 1st rate – 2nd tier city and for a family with young kids, it has most of the amenities you want except for ice skating rinks, McDonalds, and little league baseball (though I may be wrong on that one). Good private schools around the world will beat any US public school and many US private schools 6 out of 10 times, so a good school combined with a Spanish tutor (for my soon to be 4th grader) should meet and hopefully exceed, my expectations.

Based on the above, Cuenca was not an especially impressive city for us in terms of the man-made cityscape, but this is not to say it is not a beautiful city.  It is a nice, peaceful, livable, walkable, temperate, enjoyable place to be.  What impressed us were:

  • The beauty of the mountains and hills that surround the city;
  • The people we met.   Cuencanos (expats and locals) were very nice and welcoming. We started our week not knowing anyone and having some online blogger contacts.  We ended the week having made friendships that I belive will last a lifetime.
  • The extremely low cost of living well; and
  • The abundance and variety of food, extracurricular activities and artistic event options.

So, for now I can say that we will be returning soon, to spend at least 2 months in Cuenca and we will see if we use the other half of our return tickets.

Relax and Follow the Paths Where They May Lead

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This is the question that each of us is faced with when we stand at the cusp of change.  How do you determine the answer?  How much time does it take you to decide?  My own process is random and spontaneous.  I find the more time I spend ruminating and debating a decision, the less likely I am to actually make a decision.  And indecision equates to remaining in the status quo.

That said, the question of whether I should stay in my country of birth and venture forth into the world, is one that recurs every time I am required to use my passport.  That fantastic little blue book, with its battered and worn edges, that allows me, without prior approval (visas), access to so many parts of the world.  It is the only asset I own that I can not do without, the one document that I can locate no matter how disorganized my space may become.

When I travel, the pull not to return to the US is strong if:

  • I am surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and joyous and happy people;
  • I feel relaxed and the pressures of work melt away;
  • My greenback dollar bills actually have significant buying power; and
  • My travel partner is not protesting for a quick return home.

This time around however, I have a specific goal in mind and if I find the spot that meets my few requirements, then I am there.  That simple.  Of course my 24 year-old sister thinks I am experiencing a mid-life crisis and my mother thinks the same, but I just think that I am unafraid of change.  In fact, I crave it.

What about you, would you stay (where you are) or would you go? And what would be the triggers for making that decision?  Inquiring minds would like to know!

As a side note – I was singing this title song in my head this morning, when my 8 year-old started singing it in the shower.

“Should I stay or should I go now. If I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double. So come on and let me know. Should I stay or should I go!” – The Clash

Should I Stay or Should I Go?