Aspen Heights began with the vision to have the best product for students. We looked across a landscape of mostly aging apartment communities and wanted to “Revolutionize Student Living.” We actually listened to students and turned that feedback into communities they love. As we’ve grown, our neighborhoods continue to change and improve, but people have shifted to the forefront of our vision. An engaged, happy community of employees and delighted customers matter most to us.
The goal of Aspen Heights in Africa is to provide housing and education opportunities for those living in abject poverty in Africa. It is an extension of our passion for service for students here in the US. To date, Aspen Heights in Africa has helped provide a world-class education for hundreds of girls in Kenya. As our company has grown, so has our impact, with new projects now underway in Rwanda.
My Definition Of Success | My definition mostly centers on two themes.
First, success means always being in a process of self-discovery. It means learning to answer the most important questions, who am I? And what do I want? These questions can be elusive and their answers never fully achieved, but the process itself is a beautiful one to experience. The more we know who we are, the more our unique gifts can be given to the world. Love and smile at yourself and your individuality…quirks and all.
Second, let suffering do its work. Diamonds are formed from tremendous pressure. Gold is refined through fire. I don’t know why life is this way, but suffering is required. It can grow the soul in deep ways if we let it. When the heart breaks, it can break out like shrapnel and do damage like a bomb, or it can break open and bring more love and truth to your life and others. Holding the tension of hardship and mining it for truth is a real true definition of success. I have certainly succeeded when I can say that I suffered and came out a more loving person on the other side.
I Am Driven By | What drives me is the quest for purpose and profit, making money and making meaning at the same endeavour. The corporate world is changing. People no longer accept the wall set up between the needs of stakeholders and shareholders, between making money and making meaning. I seek to model an approach to business that integrates life, helps people grow, contributes good to the world, and generates profit.
My Highlights | I am most proud of the warmth and love and health that exists in my family and seeing redemption come from times of trial.
I am also most proud of the culture in my company. We laugh a lot, struggle a lot, mess up a lot, work too much, and play too hard. It’s a messy, real, human organization with life and heart and talent. I love it.
The Difference Between Good And Great | In the context of the business world, my observation is that three factors allow a person to live at their potential: A deep connection to and awareness of who you are, the ability to accept your real limits, and the courage to overcome your false limits.
A Key Talent | Two things have been instrumental in helping me grow my business and build good relationships. The first one is the value of kindness. In the business world and life, I have learned the power of treating people with compassion. Believing that people are important and are capable of unlimited potential. The second one is art of conversation and communication. Learning how to have the right conversations, at the right time, in the right way. This is also the ability to authentically and accurately represent reality as best you can regarding yourself and a situation. The art of language and communication is one that I highly recommend practicing. The way I learn this best is through others coaching me and being a mirror for me. How we come off to others is hard to see; find someone who can be a trustworthy mirror so your art can be refined.
These types of conversations build trust and inspire the best of those around you. You could also read some great books around communication and crucial conversations. Then, have a conversation with someone about how you can improve your way of communicating. I’ve made so many mistakes in this area that I can’t count them all, but as I’ve improved, life and work have become more and more enjoyable.
How I Use My Mind | I believe achieving our goals is as much an emotional and psychological process as it is an intellectual ability. We find our intellectual strengths more easily than we mature in our emotional process. It is the reactive, emotional habits we have formed from childhood that block most of us from getting where we want to be, NOT our intellect.
Our minds can be very, very tricky and they can completely fool us. Being up in our heads too much can be really dangerous and can create tremendous blocks. The rehearsals, assumptions, image management and strategies all go on while we’re mostly unconscious of it; struggling with this is just a part of being human. However, just as your physical body and intellect grow and mature into adulthood, you must bring your emotional self to adulthood as well! This will get you where you want to be way faster than just trying to be “smarter”.
Lessons I Have Learnt | Some very important lessons I have learned…
…Let go. Hold things with a light touch. Don’t take yourself too seriously. When your ego takes a hit, it is a gift! The more we let our ego’s defences come down, the more freely we can see truth and love. Sometimes for me, it takes a lot to get my irritating ego out-of-the-way, but when I finally let go, life gets good.
…Observe your habits and emotional reactivity. Watch yourself from a distance and become aware of what hooks you. Then, explore why you were hooked. Rather than being a prisoner to your own reactive patterns, figure out how you can have more of a choice in life and in your relationships.
Dealing With Doubt | I have had tremendous fear and darkness in certain seasons of my life, as well as many big failures. Failures that felt like hell or annihilation. Through the death of my fiancée, then a divorce after 12 years of marriage with 3 young kids, there have been some rough days. At times, the suffering was beyond words.
I’m not sure I could say that I “conquered” fear and pain. No one ever really does. But the beautiful paradox and mystery is the light which comes from the darkness. Trying to “conquer” fear or pain can lead to detachment and bypassing, which is really just taking the issue and shoving it deep into the shadows where it grows and comes out in worse and unconscious ways. So it’s most important to face it and hold it and suffer it rather than trying to conquer it. I’ve done it both ways. Sitting in fear and pain is the hardest thing to do and also how new things are born.
The Meaning Of Life | Love and reality. Love, both for self and others, and both soft and hard kinds of love; the kind of love that goes far beyond emotional fusion or strong feelings. Rather than talking about the piece of music or debating the content of the music, let’s play and enjoy the music. Let’s not intellectually talk about the recipe; rather, let’s enjoy the cake.
Many things in life can keep us from being awake or aware. We get distracted in our own little world too often. So, growing more in touch with reality is another great goal. Not because it’s always good, but because knowing and accepting what actually is is the narrow, true path as well as the keys to the kingdom!!!!
Advice On Building Wealth | Growing rich and building wealth can be a wonderful thing. In order to achieve that, you must work hard and really love education. Lifelong education. A warning though is that if you choose to make being rich your only obsession, it will cost you your life. When the market crashed in America in 2008, so many people committed suicide because they’d built their identity and life all on the goal of being rich and making money. It’s a seductive lie that this alone will make you happy.