Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Discovering My Purpose

November 5, 2009
My professional life has been guided by an experience that I had in about 1986. I was an undergraduate student at Iowa State University in the Leisure Studies program. I had a wonderful advisor Steve Simpson, who assisted me in refining my curriculum to focus towards outdoor recreation with an emphasis on protecting the environment.

Leisure Studies was a program of study that I stumbled upon as I was trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up (I was 26). I had been floating between a variety of disciplines including business, biology and hadn’t found a niche. In order to fill up a semester course schedule I took an introductory Leisure Studies course. It fit perfectly. I thought ¨what better kind of work than to help people enjoy their leisure – isn’t that why we all work so hard?¨

Steve’s emphasis and teaching methods were very effective and influential. It took us to a place where we studied people like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Ralph Waldo Emerson and other great thinkers including, still living, Fritoj Capra (Center for Ecoliteracy). Our classes consisted of readings from all of these authors and many more, combined with Steve’s true passion “experiential education”. We did classes where we participated and lead activities like biking, rock climbing, kayaking, windsurfing, and also participated on outdoor excursions.

Even though I was very enthusiastic about outdoor recreation, I was still not clear what exactly I was supposed to do with my career. I had an idea to be a naturalist videographer, but I don’t think I had the patience for that profession. My answer to my “mission” conundrum came to me on canoe trip on the St. Croix river between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Now, as a little preparatory statement, I have discovered that many of my greatest personal discoveries occurred as a result of personal crises – times of great sorrow, struggle, or even at a juncture where I have had a choice, usually not conscious, between life or death. Those points where I was confronted with opportunities or challenges that relate to my character, or growth as a person. In many respects this relates to spiritual growth from my life experiences.

What I relate next could be easily avoided, and part of me would rather not reveal the “true story”. However, I believe it is possibly the most important fact, because if it weren’t for the circumstances to be exactly as they were, I likely would have not had the experience that I did.

One of my personal challenges in my life has been my relations to women. I have had struggles, and it likely goes all the way back to my relationship with my own mother. My woman “chooser” usually ends up getting me with women whom I, unconsciously, wanted to save. I have a sort of “hero complex”. So back to the story, in our Leisure Studies courses there was a woman whom I had a crush on. The problem was, I was married.

We were having a wonderful experience canoeing on the St. Croix to natural areas that were only accessible from the river. The day before I had my epiphany for what my “mission” was, we had taken a hike in a pine forest. It was incredible. Quiet, the tall, straight trees, and the whispering breeze as we entered, and then the silence of the forest was so memorable. I don’t know why it had such an impact on me this time, but I remember it to set the stage for the events that would follow the next morning. We finished the hike in the forest and returned to camp. We spent some time “processing” the experience and then were prepared to go to sleep in our tents. I don’t remember the details, but I remember I wanted to get into the tent with
this lady I had a crush on. But she wouldn’t let me. And the greater part of me knew that I didn’t want to anyway. It was a struggle between my lower and higher nature.
It was going to get cold that night, but I had a good sleeping bag. And maybe I was pouting, or maybe I wanted to punish myself, it could have been any number of reasons. So, I decided to sleep next to the tributary, Bear Creek, of the main branch of the St. Croix. It did get quite cold.

In fact, when I awoke at daybreak there was snow on the ground.

When I awoke, I just woke up and for some reason I had this realization about what I was supposed to do in this world – what my mission was. I don’t recall the details of thoughts, or anything. But to this day that experience marks the juncture in my life where I had a clear sense of how I could make a difference. I was supposed to work to help people experience the out-of-doors. To facilitate experiences, like we were having in this class, to where people, especially young people, could have an experience that might re-connect their spirit to the spirit abundant in the natural world. I don’t know exactly how this knowing came to me, but it is as clear today as it must have been then.

Now, this mission, this purpose, or responsibility has taken me on a very winding path in my life. Sometimes my work, or experiences have seemed to be a detour, or dead-end. But I now understand, at this point, that these experiences were part of a twenty year training program.

As is described in Appendix B with my Ecotourism Consulting International term paper, my path started with an idea to assist in developing businesses that would assist people’s in developing countries to create alternative economic strategies that would help protect the rainforests.

Here is a short summary of just a few of my more pertinent jobs and schooling which will provide a summary of this winding career path. To improve my credibility, and train me in natural resource management I got a masters degree in Forestry, with a focus on agroforestry and alternative energy systems. After that I spent five years with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, first developing the first “nature tourism” program called Texas Adventures, and then running a mail-order catalog (the TPWD Collection) within the same agency. Following that took me to back to school to become the Assistant Director of the Center for Nature and Heritage Tourism, where I learned the geographical perspective, and became knowledgeable about the Internet and geographic information systems (GIS). My PhD Dissertation is entitled “Nature Tourism in Cyberspace: An Examination of it’s Geography and Character in the

Finally, I ended up being a professor and research scientist at Texas A&M University where my first responsibilities were to teach farmers and ranchers how to start a nature tourism business, to work with communities interested in nature tourism, to create a Internet based tourism information system (TexBox), to be the founder of a tourism and technology business out of the university (AdventGX) and finally to become an assistant to the Vice President for Research in the areas of new environmental technologies (hyperspectral sensors) and commercialization strategies.

After all of this, and my mentor and boss Dr. Ewing passing, I took another huge risk to get back to my original dream and left academia to come to South America to develop, real, on-the -ground strategies for rural sustainable revitalization and empowerment. Over the years, my perspectives have greatly expanded based on my understanding of political, economic, social, business and bureaucratic realities, while at the same time increasing my passion for the need to stimulate spiritual awakenings in people.

I have experienced vast and numerous experiences with people and places, but one truth that rises up from it all, that we have to help people, and protect the planet. I have also found that almost all people are inherently good, and they just need some help to understand how to better live and relate to each other and Gaia. The means to accomplish this is through a principle I call “people helping people” and through education.

In any case, the core of my ideas in this regard, related to rural revitalization and
empowerment, are presented in the “Vision to Transform the World”. This story, of realizing “my mission” is the final contribution to this book “I Am Sharing” – although it very likely is just the beginning of a series of books that will go into detail about the various components and requirements of rural, regional development strategies. I feel I have been honored more than any other person with my experiences in this world. And I will continue on this meandering path, with the hopes to achieve some level of success to make my contribution to helping people to be happy and to have more fun – which is why I think that we came to the beautiful
place we call Earth!


  1. Thanks for sharing this Andy. You have done some very interesting jobs in some very interesting fields. Your expertise seems very of-the-moment!

  2. Thank you Karen, it does seem that my skill sets and my experience is going to reveal itself as quite useful. I am getting very nice signs of significant movement on a few fronts that I have been patiently working on.