life

Boat Milica: A family's Story

On a cooler than normal day last spring with a bit of overcast and wind, my family along with a visiting friend decided to do something that we had not done in the two years of living in Montenegro, take a boat tour around Skadar Lake National Park. After asking our friends from Undiscovered Montenegro, Ben and Emma, they recommended Boat Milica. Within a few hours, we were off for our 3 hour tour around the largest lake on the Balkan Peninsula.

We arrived in Virpazar about 30 minutes outside of Podgorica to begin the tour around the lake which included seeing the local wildlife and monasteries. It is easy to tell from the pictures that the tour itself was amazing. The vibrant greens signaling the newness of the season created the perfect backdrops for the old, stone monasteries being restored. As we went around, our guide, Ksenija, was exceptional at pointing out the intricacies of the lake, its history, and wildlife. After a quick dip in the lake by our friend, we returned from our tour with a new appreciation for Montenegro’s wild beauty which happens to be only a short drive from us.

While the tour was memorable and the service provided is highly recommended, it is the story of the Boat Milica which really draws me in, and causes an even greater appreciation for their business. The family Dabanovic is from Virpazar knowing the lake intimately. During the economic downturn around 2011, the Jelena guided her family to do something different to survive. They started Boat Milica.

As a family, they divided responsibilities and took to creating their business building it slowly. The daughters learned new languages to specifically help with foreign tourists, they built their wooden boat in the shop of an old master in Podgorica, and Andrija began guiding tours. Andrija grew up on the lake and is familiar with al the ins and outs. The stories, legends, history, and diversity all get proper treatment during the tour. And Jelena became the only woman in Virpazar to own and operate a boat tour showing off Skadar Lake

The family worked together and have been successful together. Even in the face of some struggles, they have proven resilient and creative to help one another and their town by attracting tourists to this natural resource hidden in the interior of Montenegro.

The Dabanovic story is one of resilience in the face of difficulty. It is exemplary of what it takes to be resourceful and succeed. The family found support among themselves continually encouraging each other to do better and achieve their goals.

Tips for Today's Leader

While doing a bit of reflecting, I began thinking on the different areas of leadership that I have held. And how fulfilling these roles brought responsibility for the success of myself, my family, co-workers, a organization, or maybe a group of friends. In most cases, all or some of these were bound together. Here are three lessons/principles that I feel summarize not only my experience, but some of the greatest successes and failures of leaders that I have admired, or at least gleaned understanding.

BE

At the moment, I am a bit consumed with this little, yet significant word. In any case, a leader must “BE.” A leader must BE himself. A leader must BE present in the situation, organization, crisis, etc. A leader must simply “BE.”

Too many times, leaders can become sidetracked by their position or title and fail at any of the above examples or countless others. Many times, I have witnessed leaders who fail at the first because they do not know who they are. Therefore they fail at being themselves which is usually why the position of leader was acquired. The reality remains that if a leader fails at being who they have been made to be, it is only a matter of time before other stressors are evident: unrealistic expectations, taking on tasks that are not a good fit, poor vision, etc. All of which can be curbed to a great degree when a leader knows their own person, and chooses to BE that person.

BUILD

Leaders must be able to build around themselves. This means understanding personal weaknesses, and building a team that will meet those weaknesses. This also requires a leader to be secure enough to admit faults and recognize that others excel in these areas. Too many times, leaders try to cover their failures and weaknesses at the fear of being “exposed” as a fraud. A true leader will understand these faults and recognize them as strengths within others looking to build the best possible team.

Not only does a leader build a team, but they also build an environment in which the team functions. The trustworthy leader facilitates and orchestrates the environment in which the team will flourish. This is not unchecked freedom, but accountability balanced with room for errors which can bring growth. Significant growth if the right environment has been built. LEaders bear this weight. It is tough, but that is why they are leaders.

EMPOWER

Leaders empower those around them. Plain and simple. If someone is not exercising empowerment, they are more of a manager or authoritarian rather than a leader. Leaders set people free to excel and create in ways and areas in which the leader may not be able to do. This is tied into the security of the one leading. In my experiences, those who are most insecure are the ones most controlling and authoritarian. The adverse has been true as well. Those who I have found to be most inspiring as leaders were the ones empowering me to be who I was made to be, and even helping me get there.

A leader who encourages their team member(s) to grow can be empowering. The leader who says, “Yes. Now let me help you get there,” is truly empowering and moving not only the individual forward, but the team is moving forward. It is not enough to “inspire” people to do what we want them to do. This can easily become manipulation. But leaders must inspire and empower people to become what they are passionate about and driven toward.

A leader who can be, build, and empower is a leader worth following. He is also a leader who is usually willing to follow when it is necessary.

What lessons or principles on leadership could you share?

Moving Abroad: Tips for success

The thought of moving abroad has always been a part of my dreams. Living life in what was the “normal” context was not appealing. The feeling was so strong that even when I was dating, I would ask their feelings to adventure through life outside of the U.S. However, living abroad does not come without challenges, and a mental struggle that will force many people back to the U.S. (or their country of origin). The expat life is not for the weak heart.

As I reflect on 4 years of living abroad, and doing business in a foreign country, here are some suggestions that I wish someone had given me.

Make connections before arrival.

This was the single most important advice that no one ever gave me. As you settle on where you will move and the business that you will conduct, begin making connections with others working the same or similar fields. Local groups exist which will be a valuable support network, and offer a way for one to begin automatically giving back to their host culture. Too many times, this gets overlooked, or people think they will grow their network upon arrival. However, this can be a slow process depending on the culture. Research and find out who the influencers and more interactive people in the community where you will move, and reach out to meet as soon as you arrive. Making connections before arrival will speed up trust building a relationship prior to setting foot in a country.

Social media is your friend.

 

Before leaving the U.S., I was warned of the “dangers” of being too active on social media when trying to adjust to a new life and culture. It would cause me to be too homesick, worsen culture shock, etc. For me, this was not the case. Social media can be and should be your friend for building your network, meeting new people outside of your normal context, and keeping up with current events that are not available because of language barriers. A majority of the people I meet come via FacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram. I have been able to meet government officials because of one tweet. Relationships for me have started long before meeting someone for the first coffee or business meeting because of the interaction through social channels. Active and genuine engagement are important for social media and the personality that is put out there, but this is a later post.

Begin learning the language before departure.

Another valuable insight that did not get mentioned. Learning the language is important, and usually gets emphasized upon arriving in a new country. However, one can start prior to arrival. For most, hearing the language is a struggle. Before leaving for your new home, take time each day to listen to music, radio, or stories in the host culture’s language. This will begin tuning the ear to the new sounds. Most linguists say it can take up to 6 months of just listening before one truly hears the unique sounds. This is an easy task to complete each day while driving, working, cooking, etc. that will pay off in the long run. Also, learning simple phrases and introductory conversations is easily accessible online. There is no reason to wait. Start the learning process before departure.

Learn new skills. Adopt new hobbies.

I am an advocate for life long learning. Many people will pigeonhole themselves based on their degree or background. Never stop learning. Moving abroad is the perfect context to take up a new hobby or learn a new skill that has been sitting in the back of the mind. We are never truly defined by our past, and should look to move forward in our careers and activities. The internet makes acquiring new skills such as coding, marketing, along with other the skills highly accessible. Again, social media, will open opportunities to learn about local clubs and hobbies that peak our interest. For me, it was cycling, blogging, and photography. These have been two things that have introduced me to new people, and given me another creative outlet. Do not be afraid to try something new and stretch yourself.

Humility goes a long way.

a lesson continually learned: humility. Sometimes approaching a new culture can bring a sense of pride as if the one entering has something to teach their host. The opposite is actually more accurate. The one entering has much to learn from their host. Enter the new culture with humility willing to ask those you meet for help. A space of humility creates trust and builds friendships faster and stronger than acting in the reverse. Maybe this one was told to me, but I was not humble enough to receive it. 

These are some suggestions for moving abroad. Some things can be done to help the transition process. Those mentioned have been what has impacted me the most. If you live abroad, where do you live? And What lessons have you learned?

Realigning Your Focus for the New Year

It is the year’s end, and we are facing the next. Ads and messaging bombard us to think about New Year’s goals and resolutions which, undoubtedly, will be abandoned by mid-February, and forgotten by April.

The challenge?

FOCUS.

Focus on goals and aspirations held deep within one’s heart and mind.

Reassess and refocus on the goals you had set, but did not achieve.

This is how the New Year should begin: with a realignment of focus for this coming year. Everyone becomes distracted, waivers off course, or completely derails from their original objectives (which can be good or bad). However, for those few things that are worthy enough of our time and effort, what is needed to see them take shape?

Here are 5 ways to realign your focus for the New Year.

Reflect honestly on the past year.

Every year is a fresh start for something new to happen or a restart to complete a journey previously started. Going into a a new year provides the perfect opportunity to reflect honestly and openly on the past year. Question yourself, and allow others to ask questions. This process of honest reflection opens the space to see if a goal went unmet because it was unrealistic or resulted from a lack of passion.

Reflection helps to know if we need to  realign our focus on the goal, or completely change possibly abandon the goal altogether. It reveals our passions and aspirations getting the new year started with proper focus.

Evaluate your purpose statement.

Simon Sinek spearheads the “Know Your Why” movement that has swept the business community. Read more from him here. The new year provides the perfect place to evaluate your purpose, your “Why” and how it is being lived out in daily life, especially work.

If and when the things we are doing do not lead to this purpose and passion, then we are forced with a decision. Do I leave this position? Do I quit this project? How can I refocus? Ultimately, how does my current profession, start-up, or project fit my purpose? Creating a purpose statement and evaluating it quarterly or annually creates focus heading into the new year.

Create goals and processes that lead to your purpose.

Goals and processes are the pathways to operating in your purpose and passions. Once getting a clear focus on what these are, set goals that will serve as clear benchmarks to show progress along the way. Goals challenge and push toward that vision and purpose statement for one’s life. Goals should be clear and concise to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty. Here is good resource for several different perspectives and types of goals.

Pro tip: Share your goals with those you trust. It is easier to take steps with others supporting and helping to clarify your goals along the way. 

The other side of achieving your purpose statement is mapping the necessary processes. Create a strategic plan for hitting milestones. Carefully, consider not only the benchmarks, but the steps and challenges you will face. Identify new skills that need to be learned, and how you will acquire them. Once your processes have been set, stick to them for 3-4 months and evaluate. Are the processes moving you toward the goals and purpose laid out? Can they be improved?

Reassess your schedule.

Schedules are necessary. Some will cry reading this, but they are. They guide a day, week, month, or the year. A schedule sets the tone for productivity and creation. It provides structure that many of us need, even when we do not like to admit it.

They can also be a hazard to achieving goals. Poorly done schedules give the sense of busyness without considering direction. At the end of working day or week, it is easy to feel a lack off accomplishment despite the long hours. This is a result of a poor schedule.

Reassess your schedule. Make sure it guides toward your purpose and the individual goals set. Be flexible only when understanding personal processes for achieving your goals. Stick to it. Be unapologetic about it.

Reassess relationships.

The new year and a realigned focus also provides the perfect opportunity to reassess relationships. Those who surround us and serve as sounding boards for ideas, projects, and pursuits may not be the best to help achieve our passions and purpose. While it may not be necessary to completely cutoff relationships, it is good to evaluate where our time is spent. Do others help us achieve our goals or distract from them? Are they positive forces in our lives giving motivation and encouragement, or do they take energy and time?

Everyone needs to evaluate the people around them. Create circles where ideas can be challenged, informed, and progressed. Consider taking on a mentor to help you stay on track, or overcome challenges.

In a few days, we will kick off a new year. It is time for a fresh start. It is a time to adjust. It is a time to realign your focus for this year.

Let us know how we can  help. Drop us an email. Tell us about your purpose, passion, and ideas that you are working toward.

Rural Tourism in Montenegro: The views of Lipovo Village

In the late summer days toward the last part of August, my family and I decided to escape the summer heat of Podgorica in exchange for the fresher air and cooler temperatures of the mountains. We booked a farm stay option through Meanderbug.

Meanderbug is a sustainable, social enterprise which helps underdeveloped areas through rural tourism. With a variety of options spreading across all of Montenegro, Meanderbug has created a network of partners surely to offer something for everyone to enjoy a rural tourism experience.  

We made our choice to stay on a family farm just outside of the mountain town of Kolasin, a growing winter desitnation regionally for its skiing. However, Kolasin and its villages have an opportunity to capitalize on a longer season offering a more profitable opportunity for a large spectrum of citizens. 

 We also have a few friends from Kolasin and more specifically Lipovo so it made the stay more intimate for us. During our stay, we found out that our hosts are related to a few of our friends.  

Here are a few reasons to enjoy the Dulovic Farm in Lipovo.

Location

Lipovo is set about 12 kilometers from the northern Montenegrin town of Kolasin. The Dulovic Farm is set at the end of Lipovo village. More importantly, the village is set in the middle of three or four peaks which are all accessible for a day hike. This location makes Lipovo advantageous for adventurers or families who enjoy exploring nature together. The farm serves as the perfect base for multiple mountain outings during a Montenegro farm experience. 

Hospitality

Gordana and Dragan are some of the most hospitable people that I have met in Montenegro. Hospitality is characteristic among the cultures in this part of Europe. I have seen it displayed personally on a variety of occasions in different ways. Gordana and Dragan went above and beyond in their care for us. 

Our three small boys took them very quickly, and followed Dragan closely when he made any moves toward the barn. He welcomed them warmly to help take fresh eggs, pull vegetables from the ground and witness the process of making “Kolasinski sir” a local, layered cheese to go with the fresh bread for the morning’s breakfast. 

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Perspective

We have lived in the capital, Podgorica, for a few years now. Before moving to Montenegro, we have lived in Dallas, Portland area, etc. We are used to city life. The quicker pace and active lifestyle is comfortable for us.

However, a stay in Lipovo offers a completely different perspective of life in Montenegro. Some say, “more authentic,” but I feel this is too strong. Farmers have a different way to gauge life around them, a different approach and mentality. I believe it was healthy to experience this as a family. 

Our kids learned about pulling fresh vegetables from the ground, taking fresh eggs from coop, and caring for animals. As a family, we were forced to slow down, enjoy a slower moment, and allowed to breathe in a little deeper. To be honest, I was uncomfortable. I didn’t know exactly what to do. But I enjoyed it!

Environment

As you can see from the pictures, the environment and surroundings is quite specatacular and awe inspiring. The dramatic cliffs of the mountains presented a backdrop perfect for any sunset. The sunset itself presented an array of colors. The coolness of the evening contrasted greatly with the warmth of the late summer sun. 

However, the local environment also presented some of the struggles that farmers and those living in rural areas face. Living at the end of Lipovo village makes trash collection a desperate problem to solve for the country of Montenegro as a whole. Farming as a way of life has its own challenges for providing a sustainable future, however, the country which prides itself as an ecological state can do more to address trash strewn throughout the country. 

Rural tourism brings great potential and promise to Lipovo and other villages like, however, proper solutions to trash disposal need to be adopted especially for these areas. 

 Let me be clear this is a challenge to be conquered. It definitely was not a reason to pass on visiting the Dulovic farm in the small village.

I would recommend visiting Lipovo and staying with the Dulovic family especially for those who want to slow down and enjoy the outdoors a bit more. It is a wonderful place to launch for a hike, a place to unplug, and location to connect who you are with as well as a new culture.

Visiting Montenegro: What to do in May

May has been called the best time to travel to Montenegro. The tourist season is not in full swing at this time. The weather has warmed, and late spring rains have all but cleared completely out of the country. The air is fresh still slightly cooled in the evenings and early mornings. The days are full of sunshine making the sea good for a swim on a warm, sun-filled day.

I tell most of my friends and family to come visit Montenegro during May for the above reasons. I also tell them to be ready to visit the lesser known areas. Of course, the Bay of Kotor is majestic especially from the top of St. John’s Fortress. The coastline is dotted with old towns that capture the imagination of a bygone time. However, most of the magic and majesty lies in the lesser known areas. My recommendation is to visit these and catch the usual spots as time allows.

Explore Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar takes the name from a northern Albanian town, however, the majority of the lake lies in Montenegrin territory. It is the largest lake in the Balkans with a diverse ecological system. The lake is becoming one of the most popular areas for exploring Montenegro. Historically, the area around the lake has contributed significantly to the culture of the country feeding its wine and cheese industries.

Lake Skadar has so much to offer the traveler the tone could easily spend a holiday there. And if you do, I would recommend my friends at Undiscovered Montenegro and their villa that rests above the town of Virpazar. Traveling around the lake visiting the village of Rijeka Crnojevica among other villages that play sanctuary to the local birds and animal life is a treat. They also provide some of the best photo opportunities in the country.

Relax on a Farm

An up and coming part of the tourism industry and important aspect for rural development is agro-toursim. Montenegro offers a vast amount of rural area and farmland to get out of the city/towns to relax. The beauty of Montenegro is the size which makes it easy to enjoy a farm stay in the North while having access to the regular tourist attractions and towns.

Visit my friends at Meanderbug to explore the possibilities of staying in the countryside of Montenegro. They can help you plan and book the perfect spot that will fit your needs and wants the most. Step outside the norm and unplug for a few days in the villages of Montenegro.

Drive Mountains to coast

It is said that one can spend the day in the mountains hiking and enjoying the rugged nature of Montenegro then head to the sea for a late lunch or dinner on a similarly rugged coastline. I would agree, and do so from firsthand experience. Such an experience allows one to take in this small Adriatic country from a different perspective. The smaller roads that wind North and South; East to West across the countryside expose some of the best scenes from the country that would never be experienced without such exploration. For a taste of what a drive across the country offers watch the video below.

Rest on the Sea

While I recommend visiting Kotor, Budva, and Porto (especially if you want a little luxury), my suggestion would be to visit these towns, explore their history, and enjoy. However, stay outside of them. Look for the smaller villages along the coast which offer accommodations. Or if you are a digital nomad visit my friends at Playworking. Mix work and play at Montenegro’s first coliving space on the coast for a retreat while not completely neglecting your work.

Whether you decide to bring your work along or leave it at home, take a few days to rest along the coast of Montenegro. If doing so, consider coming to Spark.me for a bit of inspiration for your work while you recharge. The Spark.me conference is hosted just outside of Budva, Montenegro the beautiful resort of Mediteran.

I would recommend the boutique hotel experience of Casa del Mare along the coast. To escape even more outside of the towns, you can check out some of the offerings from my friends at Meanderbug, here.

Hike among the villages

For the more adventurous traveler consider exploring the “wild beauty” of Montenegro by taking a tour through the mountains from village to village. A lot of work has been done to restore old paths and trails that once extended across the country. Now guided tours are offered to help navigate the terrain. One highly recommended tour is the Peak of the Balkans which actually goes into Kosovo and Albania. You can find more information here.

Wherever you decide to spend your holiday in Montenegro, May is the perfect time to explore the country. Being a smaller country, a variety of experiences are possible. From the mountains to the sea, Montenegro offers adventure, rest, a slower pace, and whatever else you can dream up. Visit Montenegro in May.