“I was hanging out in Nepal doing this hike. I saw this one kid over a few days who was wearing this paper-thin t-shirt. Every day he wore this same t-shirt. My first instinct was to think, ‘Oh poor kid… he only has one t-shirt.’ I quickly realized that he was one of the lucky kids in the village. He was the only one who had a t-shirt!”
“I came home to my life. I looked in my closet and there were quite literally ten lifetimes of clothes. These people were using to their clothes to their functional end. Here I was changing styles every year. I was disgusted with myself.”
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Jay Baydala was a successful IT project manager for large scale software development. After thirteen years of what he deep down knew was not meaningful work, he left the industry and sold most of his worldly belongings including half of his clothes (he’s working on the rest).
That was four years ago. Today marks the opening of his dream… ChristmasFuture (christmasfuture.org), an organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty by redirecting a percentage of consumer spending.
I interviewed Jay to learn about his journey so that I could (perhaps selfishly) extract some of his wisdom for myself. He’d be the first to say that he’s still learning, still “figuring it out”, and that every person must find their own path. But regardless of the path, I think pioneers have many common qualities.
Here are parts of that interview and my irreverent and real take on the lessons I learned.
* * *
What led you to leave your job?
There wasn’t one moment. I enjoyed IT project management. I enjoyed working with a team. I enjoyed making things better. However along that journey, I also realized that it wasn’t enough for me that the company saved “x” millions of dollars.
I got to a point where I had to move away from this. In reality, I did not know what I was moving towards. But the moving away, clarified what I was moving towards. You had to have a faith that this [job] wasn’t it.
The “Letting Go” Lesson: Sometimes the problem is that the job, the relationship, or the situation takes up so much space that it crowds out all other possibilities.
Only when you leave it behind do you invite the answers into your life. Be prepared still! AND also have faith that you have the ability to figure it out.
How would you describe the birth of ChristmasFuture?
I realized that I didn’t want to live in a world where someone starved to death for no good reason because they didn’t get 20 cent medicine. It wasn’t right. The more I saw how much I actually had in my life compared to what I saw in the developing world… the more I wanted to engage in this issue.
The Compassion Lesson: True compassion is not just about feeling sorry or pity for someone’s suffering. It’s about feeling the suffering of the other and doing something about it.
How did you come up with ChristmasFuture?
I wanted some way to engage in changing the world. So I looked for something I wanted, and it didn’t exist. That’s part of my business training. When you’re looking for something and it doesn’t exist, there is probably someone else looking for it… which means opportunity.
This is something that I can do. I have the skills. I have the connections. I can make it happen… accompanied with some faith.
The “it’s never too late” lesson: Just because you leave your previous job behind doesn’t mean that you leave behind your abilities or your experiences. Not everything you’ve learned up until now is throwaway.
How did you get started?
My training said business plan. You have to be able to communicate your business. An effective tool is the business plan. That honestly took about a year. I ended up with a 145-page document which highlighted everything. Then I summarized it down to ten pages so that I can get the right people involved for the next level.
I had a high-level view of the pieces. But I didn’t know enough to bring that through to reality. I knew I had to learn. Part of that process is finding [what we had to learn] from the bigger picture. For example, we don’t know enough about Christmas spending through the internet. Let’s find out more information about that.
It’s an iterative process. The more you learn about one thing, the more it changes how you view other the pieces.
That’s what I’m good at. Fitting the big picture pieces together. I’m not so good about the details, but I had to do it. I had sold my stuff afterall!
The “You are the Business” Lesson: There is the “start with the big picture and work your way down” lesson.
But I think the tougher lesson is, if you want to start something new, be prepared to do some things you are good at, some things you’re not good at and many things you need to learn to be good at!
What gets you through the tough times in building ChristmasFuture?
The thirteen years of not living a meaningful life. Thirteen years of learning that other way and now feeling this and experiencing this. This is a far better way to live!
This has made every choice very easy. I’m not trying to want to or wanting to want to. I want to. I want to sell my big SUV that is polluting the atmosphere and costing me hundreds of dollars. I want to sell my house that fills up with things I don’t need. It’s clear. It hasn’t been a struggle.
The “Surviving Through Tough Times” Lesson: When you are on purpose with what you want to do, it becomes easier to do what needs to be done, learn from the challenges, and change your behaviour.
What happens when no one knows the answer?
You mean what happens when no one knows the answer or knows where to look for the answer? First is panic [laugh].
Then it comes down to trying some things in a controlled setting, looking for examples of similar things, similar industries, similar patterns that could transfer. Then you try those theories out like in a lab… without hurting anyone.
You also have to be transparent. We don’t know. We’re learning. The answers aren’t within the four walls of your organization. Open it up to learn from everyone.
The Pioneering Lesson: In the frontier, you can’t only rely on what has been done before because no one has done it before! Get over the panic. Open yourself to what life has to offer and use inquiry and testing to find a way through.
What has been your process of waking up?
I’ve been on a journey. Part of living this awake life is realizing what is most important. Thinking, “I don’t need the expensive new pair of jeans.” You wake up first and go down that path. Then you want to do something about it and participate. Then after going down that path you realize the complexity of the things that you are doing.
You move from doing something that makes you feel good to doing something that does good. ChristmasFuture is about doing good. It’s not just a water well. It’s about how you move people out of that situation. It’s about how you empower people to live a life where they have some choice and freedom.
The Waking Up Lesson: Waking up is a continuous process of seeing what needs to be done and doing something about it.
Ultimately it is a choice. Like in the Matrix, you can wake up, hate what you see, take the blue pill and go back into the Matrix where you will find safety and even success. Or you can decide to live the real life where what you do is meaningful and worthwhile.
What would you like for society to wake up to?
I would like for all of us to understand how much we have. Not just in our head, but in our heart to experience the feeling of knowing that we’ve got a lot. That’s part of it. And part of it is realizing the connectedness of all lives. It’s not us and them. It’s not, “Let them starve to death” or “It doesn’t effect me”. We’re all connected and we’re all responsible.
I use to say, “It doesn’t matter.” I drove a big sports utility vehicle. Every time someone criticized me, I’d think, “I make a lot of money. I can afford it. Why can’t I?” That was my attitude.
NO! It’s not okay. Every choice I make affects everyone else. That’s why I’ve tattooed “WE” to my forearm. There is no “just” affecting me even if I create the illusion that it doesn’t. The “WE” reminds me. Keeps me alert. What are you choosing today?
The Connection Lesson: We are part of a larger community and that is one step to waking up. See “Have you thanked humanity lately?”
What does it mean to be fully alive and human?
It’s being on that journey towards who you are and realizing and joining that connection with everything around you. It’s not about you. Yes, you are writing a story of your life, but if you think it’s all about you, you’re going to miss it. It’s about everything and your connection to it.
The Life Lesson: Life is not about you. You are about life.
Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching
Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.