First steps in Brazil — March 2016

On March 17th 2016 I landed at the airport of São Paulo Guarulhos, approximately at 6pm. I spent my first 3 days in Brazil hosted by a couple of friends that not only provided me with accommodation and guidance, but also introduced me to a number of interesting people.

Eni and Marc.

It’s about the two of them that I would like to write a little, even though I know that no post could ever make them justice without being unbearably long. During my first three days in South America, I learned things that still echo in me, like the music of a song you don’t quite understand and yet you can’t shake the feeling that it is somehow important and very meaningful to you.

Eni is an old friend, of the unique kind that you see once a year if you’re lucky and you never really know what they are up to. A very naive and quite uptight teenage version of me encountered her back in high school, the year 2009. Hardly you could find two more different people. She was an explosive, confident and ambitious 18 years old girl, with her future apparently very clear in her mind. Little did teenage-me know that she would play an important role in choices I was going to make some 6 years later. I didn’t want to travel, I didn’t speak English decently and, most of all, I completely lack that spontaneity that seemed to guide her decisions.

After graduating in London and working in England for some time, she moved to Brazil, joining the team of UnCollege, where she mentored the 2nd cohort of fellows, in the austral spring of 2014. Back then I was still in university, preparing the thesis for my final exam while working part-time in a ceramic factory.

I do remember meeting her the previous August for a quick aperitif in our hometown of Bassano: the same energy, the same smile, but way happier than I had ever seen before. She told me she was leaving her job in Liverpool and joining the UnCollege Brasil staff in Ilhabela (SP), the same organization I was going to join one and a half year later, thanks to her. She had met this amazing Brazilian guy and had fallen right in love with him. That was the first time I heard of Marc.

I remember asking Marc how old he was, we were sitting in their apartment in São Paulo, talking about life, learning techniques and the hero’s journey. We had just come home from a workshop organized and directed by Marc’s company, PROVE, at the University. To be completely honest, it would be quite generous to say that I understood some 30% of what had been said that day, since my Portuguese was less than basic and the general content of the workshop was very new to me.

The main focus of PROVE, as I perceived it, is to help people develop a sensibility to their own individuality, to their passions and talents. It is true that nowadays we tend to lead our daily lives, as well as we make some very important choices, while driven by some sort of autopilot, an almost unconscious mechanism of social expectation and common sense that dictates what you should do in order to achieve what society consider a successful life.

Sometimes, however, the realization of the most common goals indicated by this mechanism and pursued by our autopilot, like a good degree or a highly paying job, eventually doesn’t pay off quite as much in terms of personal development, self-knowledge and general satisfaction. In other words: it doesn’t grant you happiness.

With its workshops, PROVE helps people, especially students, stop for a second and reflect on themselves, who they are, what they like to do, where their passions and talents lie and, most importantly, it helps them find the confidence to follow these passions, wherever they might lead them.

Marc was born in 1992, the guy is my age. I would have given him something from 28 to 30 years, not because he seems older, but rather because he speaks with conviction and wisdom, in a way that I had never seen in any person of my age, even less so in myself.

Eni now works for an organization called Impact Hub, which is present all over the world and offers assistance and mentoring to companies that have social impact as their main objective. Now, my 3 days in São Paulo were clearly not enough to give me a complete sense of the city, but it’s not difficult to imagine that it must not be easy to live there, especially for a foreigner.

I asked them both whether what they were doing was worth the effort of living in an expensive and often dangerous town, even when they have possibilities and qualifications to work anywhere else.

Yes, they could do something else, make a lot more money, live in a better place and have all the time they want to travel, but, as they said to me, they couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t do what felt right for them. The energy that animates this couple in their quest for their real personal value is one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in these last 6 months, like a lesson to keep in mind for future choices.

This is what they taught me, not with words, but with their daily life, and so much more I could write about them and what they do — and maybe I will — but for now this is what is important.