What It Feels Like to Quit Facebook

quit facebook

At the beginning of this year, I quit Facebook. Well, mostly. I still use Facebook Pages for JadedAid and KinderPerfect as that’s where my customers are, and sometimes I relapse and post to my timeline or cheat and tweet. Yet, I have deleted the app from all my mobile devices, which keeps me honest as I’m too busy at work to fool with Facebook.

So what is it like to quit the Facebook?

I Miss the Quick Rush

When I would post to Facebook, I loved the instant gratification and personal validation that likes and comments conveyed. This of course is the problem. I was incentivized to overshare, and overshare I did. Sometimes I found myself sharing things that were not positive, and I would feel bad about increasing the negativity in the world, but even then it was hard to delete the post – what if someone new liked it?!

I Don’t Miss the Anger

I’d like to say that after the election, I found myself getting into angry arguments on Facebook, but that would be a lie. I went off on people, places, and efforts and said things that would’ve better been left unsaid, or not said in the way I did. Worse, I engaged in those arguments you know you’ll never win, but you just can’t let them be. That frustration I do not miss at all, even though, looking at that argument I just linked to, its taking all my willpower not to continue it with a choice retort.

I Don’t Miss the Casual Friends

This is the greatest surprise for me. One of the main reasons I told myself I needed Facebook, is because I fancy myself a thought leader in my industry. I felt I needed to be on the Facebook to keep engaged with my constituency. I’ve come to realize that this is a false narrative. There are a few people I don’t hear from as often, but overall, those that really matter to me know how to find me when it matters to them and me.

I Love My Vibrant Inbox

The second biggest surprise in leaving Facebook is how vibrant my email inbox is now. What would in the past be a post I’m tagged in, is now an email to me personally. I’ve also taken to emailing things to people I used to post publicly with a tag to them, and as far as I can tell, recipients appreciate the emails more than the tags. For sure, these posts generate a whole slew of responses and each email feels way more authentic than a silly Facebook like.

I love Being Present with My Family

As you might expect, less Facebook means I am more present with my family. In fact, quitting Facebook has me re-evaluating all my extracurricular pursuits, resulting in my parring down my endevours to a few core activities that bring me the most joy. Gone is the incessant timeline checking. Instead I am giggling with my kids, having uninterrupted dinners with my wife, and enjoying “being in the now.”

Join Me!

Yes, do it! Leave the Facebook, the Twitter, the Instagram, and all those other distractions. Walk away from Silicon Valley’s data hungry desires and return to your roots – whatever they are. Mine is creative writing blogging, which is truly my first addiction, and I love it. Yours can be whatever moves you. Join me – do it now.

I’ve Never Been Richer. Yet I’ve Never Been More Worried.

By every objective measure that I can imagine, I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams on my 46th birthday. Warmed by my fireplace and my Taxi Dog, I made a list:

  • I have a wonderful, loving wife
  • I have two beautiful, health, smart daughters
  • I am strong, healthy, and happy with my self
  • I work in a job I enjoy, for a company I respect, in an industry I love
  • I am recognized for my expertise and insight in my profession
  • I have several profitable side interests
  • I have a warm house that my wife and I can afford
  • I have money in various accounts for today and tomorrow
  •  I make more now than I ever have.

For all intents and purposes, I should feel very content. I am the success that I dreamed of as a child. No, scratch that. I am more successful than I ever dreamed as a child, for I grew up poor and my dreams then were very modest.

Today, on my birthday, I am truly wealthy beyond my wildest dreams.

Then why do I feel worried about my future?

I cannot say that my worry is logical. By no measure, should I be apprehensive.

I do think there are existential threats to my profession, yet that shouldn’t worry me too much. There is still a long runway for my skill set and if ICT4D does disappear, I’ve switched careers before. Its not easy, for sure, but it is possible.

Could it be that I worry about my material wealth? With my assets split between stock market investments via retirement accounts, and two massive real estate investments (hello DC & NC mortgages!) I am as diversified as I can be, and both asset classes are solid long-term bets.

Or is it that two years later, I am still not over my Philippine failure? Could the mind-f*ck of losing my job, my home, my family’s place in the world still be lurking in the dark recesses of my conscious, making me feel like every day could be the last before another shoe drops? Maybe so…

Its not my health. I work out three times a week, with a mixture of weight training, swimming, and running. Combined with my Drinking Man’s Diet, I’ve reached my best weight ever. Best of all, I am breaking my personal best running records on a regular basis with longer, faster runs to work.

It certainly cannot be my family. I love my wife, and she loves me. My children are happy, healthy and this weekend, in swim and gymnastics competitions. On their return tomorrow, we’ll have a father-daughter mani-pedi – and I couldn’t be happier!

While I am happy on a day-to-day basis, I don’t fully feel at ease. My apprehension certainly an irrational emotion, all things considered, and yet there it is. Creeping around the corners of my consciousness.

Is it just me? Or do you find yourself oddly worried too?

And Back to Blogging I Go

back to blogging I go

Two awesome reasons to blog again

Why I Started Blogging

Way back in 1997, I started Belly Button Window to record my life. Not because I felt myself so special, but for the simple act of documenting this amazing journey so I can remember what happens.

That means I write first and foremost for me. Then I write for my kids, Hanalei and Archer, and their children, lest I not be there to tell these tales myself. I write because I know what its like to loose a Dad and realize what will never be.

Why I Stopped Blogging

Then in 2010 I stopped blogging my personal life. Why? I would like to say that it was my transition to a semi-professional blogger with multiple different websites to maintain. But in reality, I know exactly why I stopped. I joined Facebook.

Gone was the requirement to think about a post. To plan for text and pictures. To invest in formatting and hosting. I gave it all up to the all-mighty Facebook. As did you, and everyone else. It was so easy to quip and post, it became an addiction.

Back to Blogging I Go!

Now, eight years later, I’m recognizing the result of that addiction. Eight years gone from my online life. Oh there are bits here and there, and a giant trove behind the Facebook wall, but none out here, under my direct control.

So I started to cut down my Facebook usage in 2018, and now that its 2019, its time to go back to blogging. To enjoy long-form writing, and the craft of posting. To care about my personal online presence again.

I’m gonna start easy – one post a month. And we’ll see if we can get back to my best form: a weekly post of my off-line, real life experiences this big blue ball.

To all 5 of you who care, welcome back, and subscribe here to get updates.

3 Lessons Learned From My Philippine Failure


What happens when you bet your career on an illusion, and lose.

In December 2016, my family and I packed away our Washington, DC lives, sold everything, said goodbye to everyone, and embarked on a grand adventure: moving to the Philippines for a dream ICT4D job.

Less than 4 months later, we were back in the USA, our dreams and aspirations dashed, our lives upended, and our careers in shambles.

I’m not the first person to have a job go horribly wrong, but I am a Fail Festival co-founder, so unlike others who might tend to their gaping emotional wounds in private, I cannot hide my failure. I owe it to myself, and to you, to be honest about where I failed.

What follows is my best analysis of what went wrong – how I failed – and most importantly, what I learned from my bad bet on a big career change.

A Dream Job

When the recruiter called to entice me to join a major agricultural research institute as their first ICT4D lead, I was excited about the role. It sounded like a dream job.

I would work on the cutting edge of ICT for agriculture and change the lives of millions of rice farmers and the communities they support. I would work with an innovative team that were upending traditional agricultural extension services. Oh, and live in Los Banõs, Philippines, on an idyllic college campus, where my children could run free and attend the best schools in Asia, and my wife could enjoy her first career break.

After much discussion with my family, I accepted the offer, and we began the massive life change of moving our family overseas.

A Failure to Manage Up

Right from the start, I overlooked little tell-tale signs that should’ve warned me that my dream job wasn’t so dreamy. Like the fact that no one really knew who I would report to, and once they figured out it would be the Deputy Director General, she didn’t seem to prioritize my onboarding.

She wasn’t part of my interview process, and she was so busy that I only had one meeting with her – a 45 minute Skype call – before I started my first day at work. But I didn’t see that as an issue at the time. I was busy too, trying to respectfully wind down my DC life and prepare for this new one.

Once I started, that pattern didn’t change much.

I only had one meeting with her in 3 months, a 2-hour session about a week in that I had to push for, where I asked for direction and was told to figure out what was needed and get on with it. When I asked for a check-in meeting every two weeks, to make sure she knew what I was doing, and that I was on the right track, she said, “Oh, you’re one of those,” in a tone that implied she didn’t find check-in meetings with me to be useful.

So while she apparently relished micromanaging others, I was left adrift, without direction or guidance, clueless of senior management proclivities or preferences.

Now I should’ve taken that as a challenge instead of a directive. I should’ve found ways to communicate my progress to her, that she would’ve appreciated. Maybe bi-weekly emails of my progress? Or asking others to highlight my activities with them, with her? Or even talked with her other direct reports to see how they managed up?

Instead, I just focused on my work, and sent monthly email updates on my progress, trusting that a lower level of communication would be sufficient. As a result, I really didn’t know my boss’s needs and aspirations, or how I could help her succeed, and she didn’t know me at all. Not my work, nor my work style, much less my growing impact and future potential.

A Failure to Understand Culture

In doing my due diligence before I started, I spoke with others who had worked at the agricultural research institute and in the overall system to which it belonged. I had heard that the institutes were generally conservative, and this one doubly so, but I wasn’t too concerned.

I was brought in to shake things up. It was expressly mentioned to me in my interviews with my future peers that I was expected to bring in new ideas, challenge the status quo, and push the institute outside of its comfort zone. This has been my role in multiple organizations over the last decade, and it was clear that I should do the same at this institute too.

The hiring committee loved my can-do attitude and many of my peers celebrated my early innovations as a change agent, like introducing its first organization-wide ICT4D strategy, user-centred design principles, Software as a Service concepts, and even an ICT4Drinks happy hour.

Unfortunately, not everyone wanted a change agent. Unbeknownst to me, several senior management staff were not excited by my innovations, preferring to see them as disruptions, and felt I was threat to the institute’s cultural norms.

In fact, the head of Human Resources proudly said, “This is a staid organization,” as she admonished me for being a change agent.

Now I’m not sure about you, but I never thought the word, “staid” was a positive descriptor. I had only heard it used in to evoke a negative connotation. So when the HR director repeated the phrase, “This is a staid organization” with great emphasis, I vowed to look up the definition of “staid” to see if I had been mistaken in my usage of the term for the last 40 years.

Here is Google’ definition of staid:

Staid /stād/ adjective: sedate, respectable, and unadventurous.Synonyms: quiet, serious, serious-minded, steady, conventional, traditional, unenterprising, set in one’s ways, sober, proper, decorous, formal, stuffy, stiff, priggish.

I have never been called “staid,” not even in jest. And I’ve never worked for an organization that was described as staid. Maybe dysfunctional or bureaucratic, but never staid, and certainly not proudly so.

I obviously failed to appreciate the organization’s conservative culture, and the HR director’s staidness, before I started. Which put me in a very vulnerable position. I was a change agent in an organization whose management didn’t want change, and I had a boss who didn’t seem to care.

A Failure in Political Capital

I quickly realized I would be in for a bumpy ride, especially if I wanted the institute to achieve its potential in ICTforAg. But I am not a quitter. I made a commitment, my whole family made a commitment, and I was going to make it work for the full 3 years promised. Until I couldn’t

In late March, the highest ranking Filipino staff pulled me aside and said that the Philippine secret police told him that I was an agent of George Soros, here to overthrow the Philippine government. I kid you not. Though I reacted the same way you just did – I laughed at the foolishness of such a claim.

I asked if I should worry about it, or change my behavior in any way because of it. I was assured that this claim was baseless, and that I should carry on blogging my awesome lunches and pushing for change. So I did. I didn’t worry about it, and honestly, promptly forgot about it. Well my boss and the HR director didn’t find it funny, and surely didn’t forget about it.

I was called in, told of the accusation, and asked to resign.

In the meeting they acted as if, in its 50-year history, I was the first staff to be noticed by the Philippine government and bring negative attention to the institute. As if this claim could lead to the end of the institute’s presence in the Philippines.

Curiously, for such a grave threat, they never mentioned a risk to myself or my family, never asked us to curtail our wide-ranging Philippine travel, and never suggested that we meet with their security team to think through a response if we were approached by the secret police. Nope. All they talked about was a perceived reputation risk to the institute.

In addition to the secret agent claim, they brought up little transgressions that would’ve been laughably insignificant in another organization, or could’ve been corrected with a simple admonishment in this one. Collectively, they presented all this as fait accompli.

They were clear that I didn’t have any political capital with them, nor any obvious bases of support with their peers in senior management. That I was painlessly expendable, and sending me away was an easy remedy for them to invoke.

My commitment to the institute, my family’s commitment to the Philippines, our cumulative sacrifices to move to the far side of the earth, were capriciously tossed aside at the first bump – 3 months into our 3-year ride.

I am still at a loss as to how I failed in this one.

In many conversations since, none of my peers and mentors believe I was asked to resign because of these minor issues. They are unanimous in their conclusion that the accusation and transgressions were just a convenient excuse. That somehow I had offended someone in power, and my boss sacrificed me like a nameless pawn to protect her political capital.

After countless sleepless nights going over my every word, action, and thought, I can only wonder if my offense was to call out staff for publishing into PDF graveyards, or incite jealousy by enjoying running too much, or simply being myself on social media. I still don’t know what caused my downfall, and I know that I’ll never know.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done, and I’ve learned from it.

3 Lessons Learned

I don’t write this post to prejudice you towards the institute. It is an awesome organization, with a mission I fully support. Had I understood better my manager’s style, and the staid culture of the institute, I might have weathered the accusation, and still be there today, working hard and happily to improve rice farming communities.

But I’m not.

In my failure, I’ve learned three lessons that I’ll certainly carry forward in my career:

1. Look before you leap

I fully admit I didn’t do my usual deep due diligence before I took the job. Before the headhunter called, I’d never even heard of the institute, and I accepted the position after two days of on-site interviews and a handful of conversations with ex-staffers.

I should’ve talked with more ex-staffers, and learned more from partner organizations about the true nature of the institute’s staid culture and risk-averse mindset. I certainly should have made a stronger point of talking with my future boss before I started.

Worst of all, I knew this lesson. I’d made this mistake before – joining a company that wasn’t a good cultural fit for me – and here I am re-learning it. I have no one but myself to blame for thinking I’d succeed in a proudly staid organization.

2. Not all that glitters is gold

To be honest, I was blinded by the bling. All I saw was a full expat ride in a beautiful country with amazingly happy people. I focused on all the non-work benefits, and didn’t really look at who I would be working for and how they worked.

I assumed (and that always makes an ass out of u and me) that everyone at the institute was open to change and wanted someone like me to push for it. I trusted what they told me in my interviews, and didn’t dig deeper. Maybe I even lied to myself about what I did see, because the lure of living in Los Banõs was so strong.

3. Every cloud has a silver lining

Moving to the Philippines was a major trauma to my family and my career. We lost much in moving across the earth twice in four months, and it will take us at least a year to recover financially and emotionally. But we also gained an invaluable experience.

Before this, I was jaded on working in Washington, DC. I felt that I’d done everything I ever wanted from headquarters, and it was time for a field job. Worse, I failed to realize how vibrant and supportive USAID implementer culture is.

With the strong support of staff, from CEOs on down, I was able to do things at US-based international NGOs like April Fools pranksFail Festival events and JadedAid card games, and not only not get fired, but be celebrated for my risk taking. I took that support for granted, thinking that organizations outside of the USAID orbit would have the same go-for-it attitude that keeps US-based iNGOs nimble and innovative.

I will never make that mistake again!

We also were worn down from the struggles of living in DC, worrying about schools, crime, and the daily grind of living in the nation’s capital. Yet, you couldn’t beat me to get me to move out of DC. Amy and I loved the fast pace, loved being in the center of national discourse, and loved our roots in Petworth. We were never fleeing to the suburbs.

Then we lived for four months in paradise.

When your kids can run through your neighbourhood at whim, popping in and out of friends houses, when the neighbourhood pool is everyone’s weekend hangout, when you can leave your doors unlocked day and night, you start to question why you put up with the grit and expense of the big city. You realize that maybe, just maybe, all those people in the suburbs are smart after all.

And that realization would’ve never happened had we stayed in DC. Moving to the Philippines was the change we needed to open our minds to living a new American experience. We are now living in Durham, NCI’m back at an innovative organization, and together Amy and I are building a new life we can love.

Would I Do It Again?

In the end, you might ask, “Would you do it again?” and to that I would answer, “YES!!” without hesitation. Yes to working overseas. Yes to taking a huge professional risk. Yes to living life without regrets, learning from my failures, and growing wiser (I hope!) as I grow older.

Planting a Future in Philippine ICT4Rice

off-to-philippines.png

I am honored and humbled to announce that in January 2017, I will start a new job as the ICT4D lead at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, pronounced “eerie”) in Los Baños, Philippines. This is an awesome opportunity for me to:

  • Innovate with cutting-edge research that impacts more than 3 billion people worldwide who depend on rice as their staple food.
  • Lead technology teams who are deploying practical solutions for the 144 million rice-producing farms worldwide.
  • Experience again the opportunities and challenges of working and living in a developing country, that itself is a major rice producer and consumer.

Yet this decision impacts more than myself. My whole family is moving to Los Baños with me, and I am very lucky that my wife, Amy, is just as excited as I am for this opportunity. This decision also impacts you – my friends, peers, and colleagues.

First, I’m deeply grateful to my FHI 360 family – from my boss, John Zoltner, to his boss, Nadra Franklin, to her boss, Patrick Fine, the CEO. All three have been ardent supporters of even my most extravagant ideas (yes, even JadedAid!), and I cannot speak highly enough of them and all of my peers at FHI 360. I truly love my tenure there, which continues through December, and would highly recommend you working there too.

Next, before you worry, many of my DC-based initiatives will continue on.

  • ICT4Drinks – is already in the capable hands of TechChange, though expect a Manila chapter to be opening shortly.
  • Technology Salon DC – will be run by Rob Baker, who will take it in new directions, while I will still run the overall Technology Salon umbrella organization.
  • ICTworks – will continue with only minor changes, as I will still be the editor, though expect a continued focus on ICTforAg themes.
  • Fail Festival – will still happen this year, so mark your calendars now for December 1 to enjoy the best variety show in Washington, DC.

Beyond that, I need your help. Amy and I will be wrapping up over 15 years of DC living – packing, selling, or giving away everything that doesn’t fit in a suitcase, and transporting the whole family to a new country. We’ll need your advice, guidance, and support with everything from renting out our house to finding quality beer and wine in Manila.

Got any tips or tricks? We’re all ears!