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Esc Hero #18: “From Financial Analyst to Fishing Captain to Nicaraguan renewable energy”

1. What are you currently doing?

IMG_1694My name is Brett Veerhusen. Besides avoiding the stray dogs, out of control taxis and sweltering heat, I am the Controller for blueEnergy Group.

blueEnergy is an international renewable energy NGO based in Bluefields, Niaragua, which happens to be one of the poorest parts of the country. We install and capacitate rural communities along the Caribbean Coast with wind turbines, solar and water filtration systems.

Additionally, Nicaragua boasts the title of second most impoverished country behind Haiti, so one can imagine how desperate the situation is. As the Controller I manage a small local accounting team in a bilingual office. I manage all financial transactions of blueEnergy and hold a focus on our microfinance projects with Kiva and our local microfinance institution (MFI).

2. What did you do before this?

During my very short heyday in the corporate world, I worked as an Analyst for a finance company based in Seattle, WA. I was a former intern and took a job offer in my senior year, thinking I had the world in the palm of my hand with a fancy office and comfortable paycheck.

I don’t discount the work of my former employer because there are many great people who enjoy what they do. What is relevant is that the company and my position was not a good fit for me as an individual.

3. How long have you dreamt of doing what you are doing now?

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If someone were to have told me a year ago that I would be living in Nicaragua, acting as the Controller for a renewable energy NGO and not getting paid, I would have choked on my tie. However, after I spent three weeks in Argentina during the holidays backpacking around Patagonia, I knew I needed to break free.

I began dreaming up perfect scenarios of giving back to the world while gaining a valuable education in renewable energy and microfinance. Low and behold, here I am, living that exact dream.

4. What inspired you to do it?

Almost immediately after I began my career, Lehman Brothers collapsed and so began the financial meltdown. The mood within the office began to worsen, and I gained a new view from my desk as piles of employees were let go. I stared at an empty floor.

We found out about the second round of layoffs through an online finance blog and no official word was ever mentioned beforehand from any executives. I was tired of living in fear and being surrounded by such negative energy. When you put 20 people in an office who all are worried about their jobs and their futures, even without any word being voiced, a chill of darkness shrouds the atmosphere.

All employees are great people, and I had a hard time stomaching our dismal moods. I gave my resignation four hours after the second round of layoffs occurred. If they were going to make adjustments, they may as well account for one more.

The backend of my resignation is that I was presented with an opportunity to fish commercially with my father and take over as captain when he needed to leave. Before college, I spent every summer with my father commercial fishing along the Alaskan Peninsula.

I welcomed the opportunity to challenge myself to captain a boat and perhaps make a good sum of money while doing so. I figured that the financial prospects would allow me to pursue volunteer options abroad.

Before leaving in June to Alaska, I applied to blueEnergy and Kiva and accepted blueEnergy’s offer in July. I had two weeks after the fishing season to prepare myself to live in Nicaragua for eight months. My dream very quickly became reality.

5. From a practical perspective, how did you plan for it?

CIMG0513At first, I found the search extraordinarily daunting when trying to narrow the best opportunities abroad. I began to ask myself “in a perfect world, what do I want to be doing?”

Once I narrowed down that rather daunting question (daunting is a theme when making such a drastic change) I then focused on a geographic location. That helped narrow down the field and allowed me to hone in on my Internet research.

I kept a spreadsheet (very Analyst of me) of the multiple opportunities and the specifics about each. I recommend people first ask themselves what sounds fun. If you are having fun with our current job, I doubt you would be reading my story. Start with fun and begin narrowing your search. For some strange reason, part of what I believe is fun is challenging myself to accomplish goals that I would never have thought possible. I think I found my match!

6. How are you funding it?

If you are interested in volunteering, don’t be surprised if organizations ask for a pledge or donation, especially if you are looking at a period less than six months. In reality, the organization has to put forth a great amount of energy to get new short-term volunteers on board and train them.

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I pay a futile amount to blueEnergy to cover my room and board, albeit I am still getting a good deal because my small donation doesn’t cover all monthly costs. If you choose somewhere that is inexpensive like Nicaragua, know that your money will go very far.

I am spending pennies on the dollar compared to what I would be spending in Seattle. I recommend doing your own personal fundraising and create a basic webpage through many individual donation sites and explain what you are embarking on.

Sign up for a marathon or another event. Running was the best form of mediation while clearing my head and it serves as an excellent catalyst to challenge yourself before leaving the country. It will give you loads of confidence and also an excellent channel to fundraise.

7. What was the hardest thing about making this happen?

Leaving my friends and life behind. I believe this is true for most people who leave for a long period. Know that when you return home, you will have tremendously changed, while your previous life is almost the same.

8. What has been the best thing about having made this happen?

The best thing about my experience is feeling alive and free again. I’ve gained self-confidence by captaining a boat in Alaska and living in Nicaragua. Instead of feeling trapped and defeated, I feel enthusiastic and confident.

9. What is the best advice you have received?

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I looked to a few mentors for advice when making the change.

One of them is a wonderful lady I met who works for Kiva. She told me her story about the banking world and the switch to microfinance. She encouraged me to tackle all the craziest experiences I could concoct and get out into the field.

My parents gave me all types of advice (of course) but they encouraged me to follow my dreams, as cheesy as that sounds.

Finally, my former university advisor never ceases to support my decisions and offer sage advice. This person has lived through their own doubts and whirlwind adventures and ingrained in my head the message:

“Do what you love.”

10. What advice would you give to other people?

Do what you know. Do what you want to know. Do what you love.

11. What resources have you found really useful?

Books:

Green Volunteers by Fabio Ausenda

The Eden Project: In search of the magical other by James Hollis

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Websites:

www.idealist.org

http://www.kiva.org/about/fellows-program

www.blueenergygroup.org

Events:

Get involved in social events that attract similar minds in what you are interested. In Seattle, I attended Green Drinks, where sustainably conscious people gather and learn about their work. Also, I attended our local microfinance-networking group. I met a lot of great people at these events.

Videos:

This is one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

12. What else?

IMG_1149This relates back to my simple advice I gave for those interested in doing something similar.

When my dad asked me to go back fishing, after leaving the industry for five years, I was a little hesitant. Here I was, a college graduate going back to fish. When I stopped fishing at 18 years old, I held a lot of angst to the industry because while everyone else was at soccer camp, I was stuck in the Bering Sea on a fishing boat.

However, when I returned to Alaska I realized that I had a new passion and love for the fisheries. I grew up with it, and therefore knew the ins and outs. I accepted new challenges within the business.

I firmly believe that we often shy away from what our parents do, simply because it is what our parents do. Yet, we’ve grown up within these industries our whole lives and inevitably developed a remarkable knowledge bank. Don’t be afraid to go back and do what you know.

One of the best motivating factors when you make the change is listening to your peers boast how amazing your new challenge is. Look to your peers for motivation and avoid those who always see the glass half empty. It is easy to get bogged down by those who point out all the “negative” attributes of what you are giving up.

Don’t listen to them.

If you are pursuing something that interests you and you believe is fun, go for it. Know that when you are surviving in a new environment, you can look back at the naysayers with a smile. Buy experiences and not possessions.

Here a few inspirational quotes that I still say to myself on a regular basis:

“Dream Aggressively”

-blueEnergy Group

“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” R.I. Fitzhenry

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