A Day on El Camino

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” –GK Chesterton

Never have I understood these words more than while walking the ancient pilgrimage called El Camino. It will be different for each peregrino, but my two weeks along The Way quickly became a steady parade of reminders for “how rare and beautiful it is to even exist” (song). As always, the peace comes just in time.

During my college years, I’d fallen in love with learning more than ever before. I became swept up in gathering information and hypothesizing about the world we live in, but from time to time, there was also an inner voice bidding me to be silent… to just take everything in. Through the hustle-bustle of costs, benefits, projects, and papers, I had willingly brushed aside my childlike capability for wonder. After four semesters too long, I finally rediscovered my balance– a sort of necessary rhythm emerging between fervent knowledge acquirement and quiet awe. Luckily, this is also exactly the kind of thing that a walking pilgrimage engrains within you. 🙂

To commemorate the end of that life-chapter, I’ve decided to write-up the happenings of a typical day on El Camino. The narrative is simple– walk, talk, eat, sleep– and the fluidity of the days made them nearly as a dream (save the very real blisters and ever-pressing laundry needs). Buen camino!

__________

5:53 am: Waking up seven minutes before my alarm (courtesy of my heavy Polish bunk-neighbor thumping to the ground), I gather that half the room has already emptied out. The older couples like to hit the trail before the day heats up. I emerge from my cocoon sleep-sack, since it’s usually smart to follow the older and wiser. 😉

6:00 am: The rest of our group begins to awake, and we greet each other with a sleepy nod and smile while stumbling to brush our teeth in the dorm-style bathroom. Wow, my nose and shoulders got some serious sun yesterday… those pack straps are going to feel grrrrreat!

6:30 am: On our way, at last! The air is magnificently fresh in the morning, and our group decides to stop at the next town over (someone said its “only 4km away”) for the usual chocolate croissants and cafe con leche. The sleep-soreness is worked out of my body as I hit my stepping rhythm.

8:00 am: We step onto those narrow cobble-stone streets, just as the special Camino cafes begin to open– since the usual opening time for any business in Spain is actually around 10am… (what a life!). It is very common to find that the cafe and hostal owners were once Camino peregrinos themselves, who have decided to stay. This establishment is no exception, and while I wait in line for my espresso, I gaze at their grainy old Camino photos on the walls.

11:30 am: Since we’ve fallen behind a km or so, Favorite Pilgrim and I decide to rest for a hot minute, snacking on almonds and taking in the poppy-speckled wheat fields that cloak the sun-soaked hillsides. Turns out, nature’s fruitful offering is more effective at healing aching bodies than Advil 🙂

1:30 pm: We’ve arrived into our final town for the day! This hostal looks divine– a neat, clean little gift from God. We bring out our pilgrim passports to be stamped while eagerly looking at the peaceful wading pool and hammocks that grace our newest residence.

2:00 pm: The cool showers can wait just a little while longer while we trade our boots for a pair of breathable flip-flops and stumble into the neighboring cafe for lunch sandwiches. It feels so good to sit around, eating and drinking and sharing stories from the other peregrinos we met today along the way. (It has been said that the Camino is the world’s largest walking group therapy…haha).

4:00 pm: Laundry hooray! These words will come back to bite me one day, but I actually have a real love of doing laundry… it’s sooo soothing.

5:00 pm: Interspersed exploration, chatting with other peregrinos (the “so why are you walking the Camino” conversation starter is a tried and true favorite) and card games until…

7:00 pm: Mass time! We pilgrims join the local daily-Mass-goers for the sacred celebration, which always concludes with a special pilgrim blessing. This time, the twinkly-eyed priest demanded that each nationality sings a hymn in their native tongue. Forced performance is good for humility, and I’ll never forget the Italian couple whose (clearly) polished performance put us all to shame 😉

8:00 pm: Dinner (at last). Bring forth the three courses of salad, seafood, ice cream and unlimited vino! I take a moment to admire the bubbling, cross-border camaraderie. People can be so good.

10:00 pm: Fortunately, the hostal curfew doesn’t mean the merriment has to end. Here’s to the nights of bunk-jumping, story-sharing, and giggling ourselves to sleep! Before submitting to the exhaustion, I lift up my heart to the One who gave me feet, food, friends, and the beautiful Christian faith… and I pray for the chance to do it all again tomorrow 🙂

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If there is anything I’m taking with me from the pilgrimage, and if there is any reason that you should consider El Camino, it is this:

“If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder, and every one of them true.” — St. Brendan of Birr

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On Homelessness and Helping

Spring has come! ‘Tis the season of pink blossoms, green pastures, and showing off those white winter legs in a new pair of shorts. It’s the season of hiking, biking, and a growing disregard for dirt tracked into the living room.

It is also the season when we once again interact with certain neighbors in our community: homeless people who sleep under the city bridge and stand at the intersections.

These temperature temperatures have allowed me to transpose my runs back to the early morning, and it is there that I’ve encountered the familiar faces who rest on the park benches and wave to me as I huff past the library. And recently, I was overjoyed (though unsurprised) to find some great insights from Econtalk’s most recent episode, Erica Sandberg on Homelessness and Downtown Streets Team. It was the perfect confluence of these reminders that led me to reflect on the title’s question in a more practical way than ever before. I’ve concluded that there are three main things, actually constituting a hierarchy, that I want to remember when meeting and greeting homeless people in my neighborhood every day.

Good: It’s Yours (to Give Away)

The first time I encountered the below quote, I was struck by something that I had never before realized. In the recent past, I’ve tried to quell my desire to give money away, as I learned that my actions could incentivize begging or that the money would be spent on substances– both of which scenarios only exacerbate the person’s long-term sufferings. But is the chance of this enough to justify withholding assistance?

On the other hand, the economist in me notices that money can be used much more efficiently than in-kind donations of things like food and even gift cards. For example, cash can be applied to clothing and rent whereas fast food gift cards are obviously limited. Finally, there was one question that I couldn’t ignore: If I have extra change in my purse after all my needs (and even most wants) have been met, would it truly be better for me to hold onto it?

 “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been ‘had for a sucker’ by any number of impostors: but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need… Another thing that annoys me is when people say ‘Why did you give that man money? He’ll probably go and drink it.’ My reply is ‘But if I’d kept [it] I should probably have drunk it.’” — C.S. Lewis

There is a strange ring of justice here; one that utilitarian calculations cannot truly grasp. As the famous English jurist William Blackstone once wrote, “It is better than ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent person suffer.” So, if I do come to the point of question, may the benefit of the doubt be with homeless people and may I give that extra food or money which is mine– mine to give away.

And my genuine smile and wave too, yes, those are mine to give away as well.

Even Better: The Dignity of Work

But there is still something better; charity is only a temporary fix for a persisting problem. As Sandberg describes in the EconTalk above, restoring dignity through work is unquestionably the sustainable solution. The goal is not that homeless people will remain the object of our charity, but rather that we will come alongside them to help them walk the way out of homelessness. This is precisely where the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity go hand-in-hand. See Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno:

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them” (399)

The heart of solidarity is standing with one another through the trials and triumphs of life, essentially, recognizing our interdependence. The reason for both solidarity and subsidiarity are the same: human dignity. And part of human dignity is respecting the essential dignity of work. (For another great example in downtown LA, read Tattoos on the Heart.)

Best: You Need Them

Again, the dignity of work is wonderful, but there is still a prior wonder: the dignity of each human person. We need each other. We need our moms, our brothers, our friends, and we need the people in our city who are currently homeless. Each relationship is like an open door, allowing us to practice our human talents and to become even more ourselves than ever before. For a parting quote, I look to Pope Benedict:

“The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good.

Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on…

In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.”

The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C.S. Lewis)

Originally and politely suggested in an ISI email, it nevertheless took a long line at the DMV (sneaky payback for every speed limit I’ve ever scoffed at?) for me to finally resign myself to reading this article. For some reason, I have a hearty disdain and distrust of these kind of articles that sell sweeping fix-alls and revolutionary advice. Perhaps it’s my generation; perhaps it’s just me. But I quickly knew that this advice would be true and truly original, since the opening paragraphs were not afraid to tell me that I was very wrong in my thinking but that someone else was very right. “The Muses do not keep a calendar or follow a plan,” is the summery trap I found myself in recently, but luckily, we are given the antidote:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Funny me for muddling it all together. The river needs strong banks to channel its energy. The author proceeds to cite the fruitful routines of Lewis and Churchill to drive the point home (just mention Mr. C.S. Lewis and I’m all ears).

So– in my funny, long-winded way I’m politely suggesting that you read this article and take it’s advice to heart. Building routines in your life is like what happens in a simple piano piece when you merge the dancing right hand with the undercurrent of the left. Art is limitation. Games only work when we play by the rules. It’s yet another paradox of this life; know first what everything is for and then the mysteries of the world will flower before you.


Source: The Way to Flourish at College and Beyond

Alain de Botton on “The Art of Travel”

The first time I laid eyes upon The Art of TravelI immediately knew that I would adore it. Not only did its giver have an impeccable track record for book gifts, but travel, art, and beauty, all explained through the eyes of a witty English philosopher?* How much better could it get? If we could eat books, this would be my first course.

And now, precisely a year later, I have reopened the pages (to be welcomed by a small shower of Domincan sand) to once again meet the text for use in a short speech assignment. I’ve come to the sad realization that rarely do friends take my fervent book recommendations into serious consideration (God bless them when they do), and so the speech is a fun way to share my favorite portions. The chapters chosen were “On Curiosity,” “On the Country and the City,” and “On the Sublime.” Although my real presentation includes a notes-sheet packed with delicious verses, for simplicity’s sake I’ve included just one per chapter here, along with my Prezi:

I. On Curiosity

“Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, form a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions. In childhood we ask, ‘Why is there good and evil?’ ‘How does nature work?’ ‘Why am I me?’ If circumstances and temperament allow, we then build on these questions during adulthood, our curiosity encompassing more and more of the world until at some point we may reach that elusive stage where we are bored by nothing. The blunt large questions become connected to smaller, apparently esoteric ones. We end up wondering about flies on the sides of mountains or about a particular fresco on the wall of a sixteenth-century palace.” (pg. 116)

II. On the Country and the City

“Of what moment is that when compared with what I trust is their destiny, to console the afflicted, to add sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier, to teach the young and the gracious of every age to see, to think and feel, and therefore to become more actively and securely virtuous; this is their office, which I trust they will faithfully perform long after we (that is, all that is mortal of us) are mouldered in our graves” –Wordsworth in a letter to Lady Beaumont after his poetry was initially described as “namby-pamby” and “a piece of babyish absurdity”

III. On the Sublime

“‘Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me’…When divine wisdom eludes human understanding, the righteous, made aware of their limitations by the spectacle of sublime nature, must continue to trust in God’s plans for the universe” (pg. 171)

Surely there is nothing more enthusing than the prospect of traveling, not only to new places but with such playfully enlightened eyes.


 

*If you need any more reason to read the text, consider that there is a portion entitled “The Exoticism of Shitting Donkeys.”

Piccoli Passi Possibile

Life has been a whirlwind lately. A powerful, exhilarating whirlwind– and better than I deserve to be sure. I’ve been fighting to maintain the delicate balance between my classes, internships, teaching, other positions, and the consistent presence of writing, reading and sheer spontaneity that I am fond of upholding throughout my weeks. Guess which portion has been sadly neglected? Though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my duties come first, especially those that involve the trust and reliance of others, my brain has been collecting thought-essays which have the stubborn habit of arising to the forefront of my mind, time and time again. Like little children tugging at my skirt begging to be picked-up, they beg to be written down. So, it is the day of rest, I have a free hour, and I submit!

I have picked a little, shining one to unburden first:

Piccoli Passi Possibile

(literally, “small, possible steps”)

I first encountered this phrase in this article about St. Chiara, an Italian mother who recently passed away after choosing her child’s life instead of aborting the unborn babies within her– three times.* The saying really struck a chord with me, since it was similar to a familiar phrase that my dear housemate Lexi often encourages me with, saying: “little victories.” Both revolve around the idea, “give us this day our daily bread.” Our human nature strongly tempts us to fixate on the future, anxiously making sense of the whole picture immediately so as to predict and control it. I have felt myself become paralyzed when I think of all the tasks I must accomplish, even just for the week. Leaving faith aside, there is clearly a sane logic in taking each day for what it’s worth. When you perform each action to the best of your ability, for example, spending the extra minutes to craft concise, clear and cheerful emails, people notice. There is something irresistible about a soul who lives life consciously.

If there is any grace that I have been taught this semester, it is to understand that this rich life is packaged into 24-hour portions for a reason. The genius is that each day brings the perfect amount of happenings that we can handle (though somehow still always flowing over with blessings, when we have the eyes to see.) Although I cannot write an economic research paper in one day, teach my confirmation class all I would love for them to know, or even learn a chapter of finance all at once, I have the daily power to spend an hour or two toward the desired goals. We trust that one day it will all make sense. Until then, piccoli passi possibile along this breathtakingly beautiful path.


And still, the best news is yet to come: at the end of the daily battles, our eyes will be opened to see that our goals were too tame, our sights set too low, and that there were unimaginable miracles in store for each of us all along.

cs-lewis-quote-we-are-far-too-easily-pleased

*Upon finishing the article with brimming eyes, I immediately ordered her biography (fully aware that an imperfect, yet enthusiastic essay-to-be lies in store when I finish it.) Stay tuned!

The Intern To-Do List

Whether you’re looong past your interning days or just about to make your interning debut in the flourishing business ecosystem, it does one good to step back and put yourself in the shoes of an intern: essentially a paid observer, learner, and most importantly value-adder. To get really metaphorical (you’ve probably picked up on this annoying theme throughout my writings), who among us is not an intern in the business of life, where we observe, learn, and add value until we hopefully pass onto something better? Here are ten internship best practices, in my humble opinion:

1. Always say hi to the girl in line next to you. 

Maybe you both have a passion for delicious salads, or maybe you could both go on for hours about your favorite historical sites, but definitely find a way to make a friend out of all those new faces. Everyone will most likely be on the overwhelmed side of nervousness on the first day, so finding an ally in the room can work wonders.

2. Develop birdwatching skills.

The business world is loud, competitive, and busy with started-from-the-bottom-now-I’m-here mentalities. Here’s a way to stand out: be quiet and simply watch (not to be confused with having a glazed-over-I’m-bored sort of expression.) Absorb! Never have I ever regretted paying attention and being observant. Remember names like they’re the words to your favorite song. Watch carefully how people treat each other, since it reveals their true colors every time. And especially, be open and curious to learn about whatever crosses your path.

A great way to exercise intelligence is to gather it first.

3. Never be afraid to speak up and give a compliment.

I’ve had my heaping share of shy days (when I get this itch to drive far away and melt into the background of some obscure diner) but this is a fabulous people-rule that will never let you down. Genuine compliments are (almost) a foolproof way to initiate conversation and plant the seeds of respectful and trusting relationships. People love to feel noticed. In case that’s not enough to spur you to action, just think about how great you feel when on the receiving end of a meaningful compliment. Hello, walking-on-sunshine type of feelings!

4. In general, take care of your team work first and then begin your personal projects.

Pretty soon into the internship, a lot of offers to work on projects both in teams and individually will begin to flow in. In most cases, tackling your portion of the teamwork is a best practice as there are others relying upon you. Don’t be lured by the short-term buzz of flying through personal projects while sacrificing the valuable experience and trust gained by learning to work on a team.

5. Read industry-related articles– and pass them along!

An insight is not an insight until you share it. A mentor just flat-out told me to sent him interesting articles one morning, and it’s definitely been mentally filed under top 3 pieces of professional advice I’ve ever gotten. Not enough people take the time to educate those around them, much less begin a conversation about things that matter. Instead of going for the easy small-talk pieces, engage your coworkers by discussing ideas that really matter to you both.

6. What’s your story?

It’s inevitable that people will be asking you a little bit about yourself, and so being able to tell your story is a paramount ability. I definitely still rehearse mine in the mirror from time to time 🙂 Be concise, show your character, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

7.  You are your best teacher.

Sometimes I really pity those that are on the opposite end, delegating tasks to the interns. While some instruction is obviously necessitated, it’s a huge asset to be able to find the answers yourself. This means know the tools you have at your disposal, which are essentially unlimited given the internet. You are not above YouTube tutorials!

8. Read. And be proud of it. 

My parents brought me up to love this nerdy thing called reading, and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thanked them for sharing that passion. Turns out that the business world is indeed inhabited by adults (for the most part), thus two of the coolest attributes one can have are a love of reading and a natural curiosity for the world around us.

9. Everything about you is a direct reflection on you. 

By now you probably know the power of each little thing when it comes to first impressions, but don’t gradually backslide into laziness each day after. Excellence is a habit. And if you screw up once in awhile– which would only make you human– remember that each day is a new start.

10. Develop a vision that transcends the work week.

Internships are a lot like dating (now that I think about it, so are a lot of things.) It is not enough to only focus on the short-term, rather, allow a long-term vision to be the guiding star in your behavior and it will save you much heartache. Is this a company you’d want to work for permanently? If so, are you being cognizant of the little ways of building rapport, respect, and going the extra mile? If not, how do you want to be remembered?

Here’s to coffee galore & endless opportunities!

4 Business Lessons From Papa Jace

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

~St. Francis of Assisi

Maybe it’s because I miss playing hooky to walk and talk around the park, or perhaps it’s because I have no one to grill or make pancakes for me on demand here in Kansas City, but I miss my dad (the tiniest bit.) Bad jokes, overprotectiveness, lectures, annoying exuberance and all. How good it was these past two weeks to wake up (more like be jolted awake by all the Jace clan morning chaos) in my own bed! Those precious free weeks prior to my current internship were refreshing and put to good use. For ages now, I had been meaning to effectively summarize and articulate the lessons concerning business that I was taught by my biggest role model, and considering that the internship season of my life is in full bloom, there is no better time than this Thursday summer night. Not to mention that studying investment philosophies can only entertain a young girl for so long.

And something well worth noting: these little nuggets of wisdom were spoken out loud about 1% of the time and simply lived out the other 99%.

  1. Go the extra mile. No doubt that every individual would jot this down under their “good advice” mental note-to-self, but fewer have had the luxury of watching an example of this commendable habit throughout their entire life. In seizing the early hours of the morning to workout and cook breakfast for us kids, in driving hours upon hours for a family weekend at the cabin and still having the grit to mow the lawn and clean the house once we arrive, in red-eye flights to be my date for the Red Dress Gala, in forcing us to go to the art museum when all we want to do is lounge through our Sunday, and in the way you paid close attention to the items needed to make our new house a home, you give 100% to every person and situation. In the business world, we all want to work with true partners: the kind of people who know how to get excited about their work, the kind who will have burst of genius in the line at the grocery store because they didn’t just shut off their brains after a long day of work, the ones who stare life straight in the eyes and engage with each new adventure, situation and person to the best of their God-given ability. You engage. It is that very spirit that spurs you through the extra miles upon miles and inspires me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  1. Grin and bear it. Sometimes, even those ordinary miles will hurt. You always forced me to follow through on my commitments, no matter if they had turned out to be painful mistakes (way too often.) Well kids, you’re learning an important lesson. There will be days, oh so many of them, when the only thing tiding you over is that cup of coffee (did someone say Redbull?) you’re clutching with your weary hands. I think that’s actually a good sign, and I know that I saw you power through many of these times with a big smile still on your face. Hard work is crucial, but it is hardly laudable without cheerfulness. To retain one’s optimism while relentlessly attack the tasks of the day, now that is rare. Somehow, you figured out the real art of laughing and learning from your failures and inspire me to do likewise, personally as well as professionally.
  2. The beauty of art, classical music, and nature is important. Sure these luxuries are nice, but how does this make you a better businessperson? Turns out the whole business side takes care of itself when you simply focus on becoming a better person from the start. Not only is beauty enchanting, but it has the joint power of motivating us to make something more beautiful out of the piece of work we call ourselves. There is an unmistakable challenge, a reawakening of our nursery curiosity, effusing from a work like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or a dazzling sunset in Assisi. It may not seem like the most direct way, but learning to appreciate art, music and nature is a skill that will enhance any social circle and remind you to gaze upon the exquisiteness of this world with grateful eyes– even and especially in the office. The way that you and mom sacrificed so much time and effort to expose us to the majesty of man and nature, whether found in our local parks or in France, speaks to the fact that you find value in permitting yourself to be moved and elevated by our surroundings and inspires me to do the same, personally as well as professionally.
  3. Your life is not your own. By extension, neither are your successes, failures, trials and tribulations. And that is a very freeing thing. It is clear that there is a real atmosphere of ownership–of a strong individualistic focus– infused in the American business ecosystem today. To a certain extent, that is it’s biggest strength. Yet when we focus solely on ourselves and forget that, for better or worse, we are heirs to a family, organization, community, and nation larger than ourselves, our perception goes awry. In fact, there is a massive body of research that points to the fact that when we remember that we belong to each other, we are happier. There is this concept of the servant leader that comes to light time and time again in the business world, and I always think of you. You allow yourself to be humbled by the bigger mission and inspire me to do the same, both personally and professionally.
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!
And on that note, happy early Fathers Day from your favorite child!