Happy New Year! My 2018 in review


After a humbling 2017 marked by what felt like starting over my professional career in New York City, 2018 has been much steadier, with a new job at Wellthy, where I’ve joined an incredible team with an incredible mission. I have so much to be grateful for, but it has to start with Dasha, who I met at the peak (or rock bottom) of my new-job search in 2017 and since, we’ve been inseparable as a team and in finding adventures.

Fittingly, 2018 started with a big New Year’s sunrise at the beach in Guatemala.   20180101_064537

Our first trip of 2018 had us go to Holbox Island in Mexico. 20180301_185605

My new hole-in-the wall apartment/cave in Nolita got it’s share of visitors20180415_14000920180428_01000320180505_11500820180511_20475020180701_192436

Jime and Lowi for a week including Dave Matthews Band Live at Saratoga Springs20180717_212623Always a fun time with the NYC crew20180720_234809



El hermano Rene Zuleta… 2x in NYC!


Weekend escape to Montreal20180729_100322-EFFECTS

P3 crew get-together

Late August trip to Loire and Paris




Wellthy team retreat in October


Luca’s baptism


Dasha’ first sunrise in Atitlan.


Christmas in Guatemala… close family only


Bahamas cruise

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New Years in Miami

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In my mind and in my Kindle:

  • Is the world getting better or worse? What has driven progress? Read: Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker.
  • At a time of so much wealth, why can’t we figure out how to get health, nutrition, and a great education for most children on the planet? And why do good people seem to get so hostile when disagreeing in politics? Why can’t we all just get along? Read: The Righteous Mind, Why good people are divided by politics and religion, by Jonathan Haidt.
  • How to deal with age, as my parents go into their 70’s and I into my 40’s? Read: Being Mortal, by Atul Guwande.


Happy new year to all! Come see me in NYC!

Chapter 5 – Catholics, Catholics, and More Catholics

No one can stop being Catholic unless he was Catholic first. So how did I become so Catholic? I’ll start at the beginning, or as far back as I could trace it.

How Catholic were my ancestors on the Catholicism scale of Richard Dawkins (zero) to Jose Maria Escriba de Balaguer [1](ten)? I did some family tree digging, and it turns out we we’re about a solid 9… just about every ancestor I researched was born and died Catholic.

On my dad’s side, my great-grandparents were all second- or third-generation immigrants from Spanish and Italian Catholic families. They were landowners in the south of Puerto Rico, at a time when abolition should have been written inside quotation marks. They owned sugar plantations, went to Catholic school, had servants at their houses, participated in politics, and got to travel the world.

On my mom’s side, my great-grandparents were all second- or third-generation Spanish immigrant families. They were landowners in western Guatemala, at a time when abolition should have been written inside quotation marks. They owned sugar plantations, went to Catholic school, had servants at their houses, participated in politics, and got to travel the world.

My paternal grandfather was born in a very well-off Catholic home in Ponce (Puerto Rico), went to Catholic school in Ponce, and later studied Agricultural Engineering at Louisiana State University. He married my grandma in his last year of college and moved back to Ponce to tend to the family’s milk farms and processing plant, he would later move on to managing his family’s sugar plantations.

My maternal grandfather was born in a well-off Catholic home in Guatemala, went to Catholic school and later studied Civil Engineering at California Institute of Technology. With the sudden death of his father, he was thrust into managing the family sugar and coffee farms when he was only 22.

My paternal grandmother was born in a well-off Catholic home, she went to (you guessed it) Catholic school and observed all Puerto Rican Catholic traditions such as the day of the Three Kings. In her family, family prevailed, they were so close that her grandparents, aunts, and uncles all shared their backyards and lived on the same city block.

My maternal grandmother was born in a well-off Catholic home, she went to (yup!) Catholic school, and observed all Guatemalan Catholic traditions such as the Day of the Dead. In her family, family prevailed, they were so close that she grew up in a large house that was shared with aunts and uncles, and just steps away from her cousins’ houses.

It’s hard to overstate the Catholicness (it’s a word. But don’t look it up) of my father’s parents. My grandfather retired at 44, the next 30 years his main activity would be as a volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul that, according to their website: “Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (or Vencetians) are men and women who strive to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to individuals in need… we are part of a society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection”. From his retirement to his late 70’s, my grandpa would spend the bulk of his productive time taking the holy eucharist to the sick and elderly… he would visit them all over South Miami, pray with them for a bit, then give them communion. I remember the huge respect the whole family had for the blessed hostia (the piece of bread that has been converted into the body of Christ)… it wouldn’t happen often, but I remember the few times that my grandfather brought it home in between visits or before going out to give communion, the whole house grew quiet, we prayed to it. It was seen as a luxury that our family could have the Lord physically in our home.

As Catholic as my abuelo was, if being catholic was a contest, my grandma would’ve beat him handily. She would go to mass every morning at 6:00AM, except for Sundays when she slept in and went to the 8:00AM service. After mass she’d come back for breakfast, which included a short blessing prayer before eating, sweet pastries or a piece of toast with too much butter spread on it, and strong coffee with three spoons of sugar. Some mornings she’d go visit elderly Catholics, talk some gossip and pray with them, if not, she’d pray on her own… at least one full rosary per day. She’d read the local news on El Herald and would devour any catholic pamphlet she came across. Catholic nonprofit organizations would send her letters asking for money, she got a few every day, and she would write a small check to most of them. My grandma wasn’t rich, but she constantly donated small amounts to all these charities even if she had little clue what they were, she felt so bad about ignoring them!

When we visited our family in Miami, I spent most of my time with my grandma. I loved talking with her and playing together, going for walks and feeding the ducks at the park, or going on a bicycle ride. My grandma loved praying with the rosary and I would pray along with enthusiasm and devotion (though, to tell the truth, it did feel a little long, it was a sacrifice to do one whole rosary). Today my granny is 96 and forgets names, places, and stories, but every single time we talk on the phone (and at least five times a day when I visit) she reminds me of two things: one of them is how much I liked praying with her, and how she feels sad we don’t do it anymore[2]. I haven’t told her I’m an Atheist, I hope she doesn’t find out because she probably won’t ever understand.

Just about every one of my ancestors in the three generations I could reasonably trace back, was born in a Catholic home and all of them stayed Catholic enough to raise their kids Catholic. How can a family can churn Catholics at a 99% rate when only 16% of the World’s population is Catholic? I mean, if humans are rational creatures that make decisions that are best for them, it would follow that either (1) people born outside Catholicism would learn its great advantages and convert, or (2) Catholics would figure out that better alternatives exist, and would leave Catholicism.

Why are well-educated people believing in things that they would otherwise shrug off as superstition? They will say it’s ludicrous that Ixmucane, Goddess of corn, made the dough that shaped the first man, but they are OK with the God of the Bible having made Adam out of mud. They will make fun of Mormons believing Joseph Smith found golden plates containing sacred text, but they wholeheartedly believe that Moses was given the Ten Commandments by God written in some stones on top of a mountain. What happens in families like mine that leads to every new generation to adopt the beliefs of their ancestors?

[1] Founder of Opus Dei, a Catholic sect Prelature (subdivision) of the Catholic Church, founded in 1922. We’ll probably have a chapter on it later on.

[2] The second thing she always tells me? She says if I don’t find a girl now, I’m going to be lonely forever.

Chapter 4 – Prologue

This booklet is about my journey of going from Catholic to atheist. Actually, from very Catholic to very atheist. I wrote this prologue around 2010…

I will try to explain the reasons behind my distancing from the Catholic Church and later why I stopped believing in God. What started as a feeling of “something doesn’t add up”, I confirmed through studying of the Bible, Catechism, other Catholic books like Leo Trese’s “The Faith Explained”, along with science books and studies. The main objective is not degrading the church but rather to show the information I was exposed to and present it to you so you can understand why I stopped believing. I hope some healthy debate comes from it, that it helps others in using reason to make better life decisions, and, who knows, maybe someone comes out with a convincing argument that there is a god and there is a religion that represents it in the world.

When I started writing these things, my main objective was to be at peace with myself. I had been taught that Catholics that become atheists go to hell, so there was an enormous fear of the monumental consequences that might ensue if my reasoning was flawed, namely, burning for the rest of eternity, with Celine Deion’s Greatest Hits Album blasting at 100 decibels on repeat.

Another reason for this booklet is that my family and friends (including priests and Opus Dei Numeraries) can see that my new beliefs (more like “unbeliefs”) are based on solid information and reasoning; and that this change is not merely a tantrum or rebellious reaction. Lastly, I put these words at the disposal of other religious and non-religious people, that might find them useful, or that may encounter errors or omissions in my reasoning (which I’m very eager to receive and sincerely ponder).

focus or diversity? focused on diversity. 10 days of my NYC life…

I’ve been skeptical on publishing this one but it does convey what I’ve been doing in NYC… it feels more like a diary entry than a blog, but here it goes…

Sat May 7: early noon start, cabbing it to Brooklyn Crab where I was forced, against my will and without other recourse, to down several oyster-vodka shots and maybe one or more Jamesons as companions to a few bloody marys, companions themselves to fresh crab and shrimp overload. For dessert, another Jamo and a game of corn hole or two, and some beverage to quench the thirst. Bar 2: Kentuky derby. vodka. vodka. vodka. Bar 3:

wake up Sun at noon, bike over to catch the America’s Cup regatta with friends… aperol spritz? no thanks, not today.

Monday workday, 7pm flag football game with the Drunken Monkeys, then team drinks. True story: our left cornerback goes by the name of Mootown. Mootown after 3 sauvignon blancs: “guys, wifey is leaving with the kids to visit her parents, so I’m having a party this Saturday, you’re all invited. $12 per head will get us: a midget stripper (haven’t decided if male or female), an adult clown (but not the same bastard as last time, that asshole got hammered and had to be carried out to the street), and a gluten-free cock cake from Whole Foods. A cock cake is a cake shaped like a cock. What color? black, cause who doesn’t like chocolate”

I’ll pass, Mootown, thanks for the invite.

Tuesday work day. Dodgeball (yes, dodgeball) game with the Dodgy Style at 8pm… bed early for…

early flight Wed to LA, meeting with City of Pasadena at 3pm, work till 6, work out, dinner with work mates.

More meetings Thursday, Dodgers game at night, Kershaw throws a 3-hit, 11-K shutout, few people but me seem to give shit.

Innovate Pasadena breakfast on Fri morning, where we listened to an entrepreneur tell his story of developing PickMySolar.com, waking up my recently-dormant passion for the internet as a bridge over market inefficiencies.

More meetings Friday. Leave at 4pm to the full experience of LA traffic, arrive at Big Bear Hostel 8pm. Meet these guys who were on the Pacific Crest Trail: 3-4 months of hiking from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. A tough challenge, no doubt, but also what looked like a really chill environment, and no strangers to checking out the local bars at every stop. I was invited by some girls to join this night’s visit to the local pub and, although tempted, I held tough on my pledge not to drink this weekend.

Looks like a good choice on that one, because by staying I met Makena. The PCT challenge was nothing compared to what she was here for: a 52-mile (84-Km) run around and up the Big Bear mountains. We had some good chats on Friday, after her race on Saturday, and then on Sunday.

Recently I’ve been fighting this internal battle of not being great at anything. All throughout my life, I’ve had this idea that I’d find a passion, focus on that, and become great at something. But it hasn’t turned out like that, I’m more like “pretty good” at a few things, with passion bobbing and wavering between these things, and sometimes, others. I’m pretty good at my job, pretty good as a manager and relating to people and helping them be better at what they do, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good friend, brother and son; I’m passionate about helping the world be a better place, but I haven’t devoted my life to that. I keep my body in relatively good shape, watch what I eat, but by no measure am I on track to excel as an athlete; I like travelling, but I’m usually not the best-traveled guy at the table.

Contrast that with Makena… paying for her Nutritionist degree by working part time and living with her parents, training for ultra marathons, taking her body to the limit in her early twenties while eating vegan, a true testament of trusting her studies, and even more to her focus and passion. I was fascinated about how simple her decisions were: “I don’t eat meat because it’s linked to certain diseases, never tried a cigarette because I don’t see what positive can come out of it” she also said she feels happy 100% of the time, and I believe her… me? it’s more like 80%, and I thought that was a pretty good number.

While hiking for a few hours on Saturday, I pondered the question: is my life as a waste of talent? maybe if I picked something and went all out I could leave a bigger mark in the world. On the other hand, it feels like it’s turned out like this because this is who I am, I’m a guy that enjoys diversity, and I’m pretty happy with where I am now, enjoying meeting interesting people and making new friends, and learning and having interesting conversations.

Hiking on Saturday, a few hours of paddle boarding on Sunday, and my mind was back to good, at peace with the idea of being pretty good at a bunch of things, without taking away the respect for the ultra-focused successful people.

Boarded the red-eye on Sunday night, showered at home and got to the office at 9am, where important meetings were being held with potential investors and partners… stressful day! until 6pm when I left to watch portugal.the man and Cage the Elephant rock the stage at central park, drink of choice: rosé.

What a week! what a testament to unique days and adventure!

I’m still looking to find that project that leaves the big footprint, but also contempt for now with this life of exploration and diversity. Thanks for reading!

Children’s Ski Instructor: the best form of birth control?

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They say teaching skiing to kids is the best form of birth control… not for me, it didn’t scare me out of having kids of my own someday (although maybe one or two sound better than three now).  I had a great time teaching skiing to kids! It’s kinda hard to pinpoint why, but I think one big thing were the quick but sincere bonds I made every day. I’m not the funniest or most clever instructor, but I gave the kids freedom to act as long as their actions didn’t harm others fun (like I treat other adults, but with more fun, imagination, and nonsense), and I think in return I got their respect, their commitment to follow my advice, and it made it more fun, which produced very satisfied customers.

Of course “kids say (and do) the darnest things”, and that makes for great comedy.  My favorite story is when a 7yo silently took my friend Jeff’s pole and threw it out the gondola window into The Narrows (a double black diamond trail).  I had a 9yo that was so good with accents, her favorite thing was to ride on chairlifts with strangers and try to convince them she was from Georgia or Australia.

Playing “guess the movie”…

7 yr old kid: leo dicaprio is in it

11 yr old: the aviator

7 yr old: thats not it. it’s very long.

11 yr old kid: that’s what she said

The answer we were looking for was Titanic

Playing “would you rather” (ex. Would you rather ski whenever you want or travel wherever you want for the rest of your life?)… my best one from a 7yo: Would you rather… eat 2 gallons of pink paper or twinkle around like a unicorn?

Some others…

I had a 10 year old who wouldn’t stop asking questions and was driving me crazy, so I gave him a 10 question max during the day, I thougt I was so damn clever, until 5 minutes later I realized the kid was crying because I didn’t limit everyone else… “please stop crying! I’ll give you unlimited questions” problem solved, kid stopped crying… and I spent the rest of the day answering the stupidest fucking questions you could imagine, including “Am I annoying you?” “Can we go down a black diamond” and “what time is it?” for a hundred times.

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I learned a ton from those kids and from Vail, stuff I want to master and apply in many real-life situations:

  1. Make sure your customer’s basic necessities are met before you provide your product or service. If your customer feels uncomfortable (hungry, cold, needs to use the bathroom, feels unsafe, etc.) then his experience will be shitty, no matter how great your product. I knew about Maslow’s Pyramid before, but it’s the first time I applied it consciously to my customers.
  2. You can cover a lot of risks and mistakes by hiring well. Ski school has big challenges:
    1. High employee turnover – I estimate only about 15%-20% of first year ski instructors return for a second year
    2. High expectations – the job is not overly complex, but the guests are accustomed to great service wherever they go, and they pay a lot of money for the service. And mistakes can be costly (an injured or lost child, an unsatisfied guest that decides to take $50,000 family vacations to another resort)
    3. Condensed training – Being a ski instructor requires applying hard rules and soft best practices in safety, teaching, skiing, and client service. Because the season is so short, it’s not efficient to train new hires for months (I had 10 days of paid training, and 6 more days of training on my own to get my certification, Vail training programs and trainers are great)

So how does Vail get around these special challenges? They make sure they hire people that are overqualified in learning quickly and understanding high end customer service. Vail does get a break, though, in that most ski instructors and supervisors are OK with earning a lot less at this job (than their next best alternative) because it’s so fucking cool.

Change it up. When teaching or training, if your traditional method isn’t working, CHANGE IT UP, change SOMETHING, change ANYTHING, but don’t just keep doing the same forever until it works. Some kids would be terrible at flat ground exercises and stopping, but would skip those and excel at the more complex turning and skidding drills, and I wouldn’t know until I tried it.

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Am I on the train? Am I driving?

Let’s see how this blogging thing works out…

One year ago I asked my business partner of 12 years for a short meeting; trembling and with watery eyes I stepped into his smallish office, well within view of our staff through the glass “wall”, a symbol of the transparency preached in our company way before we took over management. I can’t think of another instance where I was afraid to share something with Luis, the #1 person I’d pick in a trust contest, the #1 guy I would pick as my brother in arms to go to war with.

“I’ve been reflecting on my life for the past months, I think I might want to make a big change in my life’s path. I’d like to leave my post as GM of Promotores Unity, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently”.  Tears, hugs, a little rage, a lot of compassion and understanding, then some of the stages of grief. Next, telling my other partners, more understanding and a feeling of “it’ll al be OK”, and friendship, thank you Emmett and Tito!

The transition lasted 7 months, with countless memorable interactions with clients, insurers, friends, family and even my competition, wishing me well and praising my work.  But certainly the most special moments were those with my staff, my teammates!, expressing sentiments of love and respect, and a little fear things might not work out.  No disrespect to them, I think I know that team better than they know themselves, I was confident this decision wouldn’t slow us down, and so far, they’ve proven me right.

Throughout those seven months, the recurring question was “why are you doing this?” with the underlying question being “what do I want to do with my life?”