When you move to some place new and different everything seems so innocent in the beginning. You are simply enjoying the new place for all of its simple beauties. There is no looking behind the curtain, per se. Essentially what you are doing is surface living, as I like to call it, which essentially is going through life as you would but without having any real and deep understanding of the place in which you are living. You may have made new friends in this place, but do you really understand their morals and values? You may have visited a particularly charming neighborhood in the area, but do you understand the history of the people that live there? You may even have already started a business, but do you really understand the work ethic and values of your employees or colleagues? It takes time to get a real understanding of your local surroundings and until you do so, you are just surface living. That first innocent phase after you move somewhere new is the easy part. It's full of new everything, and your senses seem to be constantly, yet positively, overwhelmed. It's the second part, the real transition to your new place, that is difficult. It requires great effort, such as learning a new language and trying to comprehend the nuances of the people. It requires reading and studying to understand the history and culture of the place. It requires adaptation and acceptance as you must quickly understand it is you who is the outsider and therefore and it is you who must accept how things are, even if you firmly believe there is a better way. You need to accept that you alone are not going to change some esoteric belief or some bureaucratic ridiculousness even if you find something so absurd that you can't believe it's possible. And mostly, it requires perseverance as you will certainly find yourself incredibly frustrated, skeptical, and perhaps even regretful at many times along the way. I've seen so many people arrive and quickly leave Brazil over the past few years that I lost count a long time ago. To say the least, it's not an easy transition, and it's certainly not for everyone. I have seen all walks of life come and go while here, and I can safely say that there is no correlation between someone's intellect and their time of stay here. It's all about ability AND willingness to adapt. Some people come to Brazil, realize quickly that it's not for them and quickly head home. At the very least, I respect that person for evaluating the situation and being decisive. I have seen others come down here, spend a few years drifting around, and then eventually heading home. To me, that seems like a waste of time. In order to take the time and energy that it requires to survive that second phase, there has to be something in that place that you believe will make it worth your while. For me, that was always two completed uncorrelated things: (1) a business opportunity and (2) the chance to experience something totally different than everything I ever knew and to allow this experience to help me grow as a person.
When I initially decided to move to Floripa, I had in my mind a time frame of six months to a year. I wasn't really thinking that I'd be here much longer than that. I figured that I would be back in the states after that first year, but I also wanted to keep my options open in the event that something would work out and allowed me to stay longer. It turns out that I created some businesses that did allow me to stay longer. It also happened to coincide with an unhealthy economy in the US at the time that gave me no real reason to head back to the US. I ended up focusing a large majority of my time on one specific business, Cactus Mexican Food. Over time it became apparent that there was a real opportunity with this idea. However, to make a very long story short, it unfortunately hasn't worked the way I had hoped it would. During this time, I obtained the all important second phase of understanding with regard to business in Brazil, and I'm sad to report that a large majority of my feedback would be very negative (apparently there is a reason Brazil stands at #130 on the World Bank's annual "Ease of Doing Business" report behind such countries at Ethiopia and the Republic of Yemen). That's not to say that I was perfect along the way, as I certainly made my share of mistakes. While I would be happy to share all of my experiences with Cactus, I don't think Google allows for the amount of space it would require to tell the whole story and I would need to do so in order to do it justice. What I can say now is that when I was getting into this business, I never in a million years would have imagined that I would have seen what I have seen. The stories are both incredible and endless. Just recently, we even had a guy purchase two stores, pay for them, and then completely disappear, never to be heard from again. I mean, who does that??? I honestly couldn't make up the things that I have experienced, and one day I will take the time to sit down and write about them. It's just that now is not the time. The story of Cactus is still unfolding, and I truly hope that there is a happy ending.
When I look back at my time in Floripa, I will always be grateful of the personal growth that I believe I have obtained while living here. If you ever want to really get to know someone, it's best to do so when he is completely out of his comfort zone. As for me, I don't think it's possible to have been any more out of my comfort zone. I will always be utterly grateful for my upbringing and everything that came after. I feel as if I have lived a blessed life. It's safe to say, however, that I never (or perhaps rarely, rarely, rarely) ventured outside of my comfort zone. For those of you who have known me for a long time, I think you would all agree. Therefore, it was quite a shock, in so many different ways, to have picked up my life in San Francisco and move to a small island in the south of Brazil. Again, who does that? However, regardless of some of the hardships that I have endured while here as well as the absolute absurdity of the many things I have experienced, it's impossible to put a price on developing as a person. It's arguable that in many cases the hardships are required in order to develop. I feel that today I'm a more understanding person, a more open person, a more patient person, and generally just a more well-rounded person (I'm not trying to toot my own horn, either. I'm just trying to make my point). Would I have gotten to this point if I had stayed in San Francisco pounding away at my old job day after day and living in my bubble? It's possible as I saw my old boss do a complete 180 and become an amazing person during the eight years that I worked with him (I can't say that about him in the beginning). However, in my case, I highly, highly doubt it because I was just so damn stubborn. So thank you Brazil for getting me out of my comfort zone!
At the end of the day, it's safe to say that living in Brazil can drive any normal man to insanity. One day you'll experience something so unbelievably amazing that you can't even believe it. Yet, the next something so annoying or awful will happen that you will have quickly forgotten about the previous day. This sequence literally happens to me all the time. The companies making Prozac and Propecia are probably making a fortune in Brazil for all of the anxiety and hair loss that living here can create. But, at the very least, you can NEVER say that life is dull here. So here's to you Brazil - you are a sly little temptress constantly teasing us with your beauty but never quite putting out. I love you deeply but loathe you immensely, and as such the roller coaster continues on....