(Left: Soraya Deen, Sophie and David Rosell — Sri Lanka November 2019. Right: Sophie Rosell with Chaturi | Photos courtesy of Rosell Wealth Management)
Before I started my financial firm here in Bend almost 20 years ago, I owned a small business that took a product from recycled car tires that we diligently applied to asphalt driveways to both protect and beautify them with a smooth layer of black rubber. When winter came along it was too cold for the material to adhere so I would travel the globe for six months each year. I was able to create a life for myself that enabled me to spend a month in each of 65 different countries around the world over the following ten years. Most of my sojourns found my one-man tent and I in developing countries throughout South and Central America, Southeast Asia and Africa. This was a time to learn about diverse cultures, political viewpoints and certainly, myself.
At first, I considered the gracious people I encountered in the small, rural villages in developing countries around the world as poor as many lived in diminutive houses with rusted metal roofs, dirt floors and absent of any windows. Families had no cars, televisions, iPods and certainly no IRAs. But it did not take long for me to realize that most of the villagers were undeniably happy, regardless of the items they did not have. I had the sudden, obvious realization that material wealth does not equate to spiritual health and happiness. My perspective began to widen from its narrow focus and although these villagers had very few possessions, I no longer considered them to be poor.
Upon returning to the States I was shocked to compare the difference in standard of living. Grocery markets piled with food flown in from around the world, online shopping that can get you nearly anything with one click, and cars so abundant that they clogged the road and slowed down traffic to the pace of a bicycle. You would think with such abundance we would be equally wealthy in happiness. But I have found that this is often not the case, rather the opposite. How many ‘problems’ we have in the United States may come from having too much, rather than too little? And because of these problems, we have what most call stress, which makes us unhappy. I imagine that the villagers that I met on my trips abroad might consider people in the U.S. rich with an abundance of money and possessions, but would they truly consider us wealthy from a heart perspective?
I am always meeting people who are accumulating for their retirement who have shared with me that they are working harder than ever before and have successfully increased their standard of living and yet they are feeling less fulfilled. Many are working diligently to acquire ‘things’ and build wealth for their family. This is a dignified ambition and my job is to help guide them so they can eventually live the life that they have always imagined. Many of us share similar goals, but I think it is important to ask ourselves if this path of accumulating things is truly leading to a life of abundance and contentment? I will be the first to admit that it is satisfying to have some of the niceties of life, but I also find myself pondering if having more is better. Does it truly bring greater happiness into our lives? I observe people who must work harder and harder to support their acquisitions and this places a great deal of stress on their lives. If we set a goal to acquire possessions, it is important that we build a gap between the costs of servicing the acquisitions and the income we are earning. This valuable life lesson of what makes true “wealth” is one that I shared with my children at an early age.
Now that my kids are young adults, I’ve had the opportunity to get back into the spirit of my previous travel days. Last November, just before my daughter Sophie left to begin her college studies, we traveled into the lush mountains of Sri Lanka. We had no idea that this trip would make such a profound impact on our lives, and consequently, the lives of 148 children and their families. This story is one of serendipity, synchronicity and love that I’d like to share with you. The beautiful yet very impoverished village of Uda Pussallewa is located amongst tea plantations where women labor in the fields and men process the tea in factories from sunrise till sunset. Their children attend St. Margaret’s Elementary School where all 148 students crowd into three small classrooms and have only two bathrooms, which are just holes in the ground. Like many children across Sri Lanka, many dream of excelling on the scholarship examination, which can enable them to transfer to a national school and have a chance for a good education and the opportunity to build a life of work other than on a plantation. This is very difficult with their limited resources in the poor, rural areas.
I’m still amazed to this day how this story began when I (by chance) met Soraya Deen in a shared Uber ride in 2015 heading to LAX in Los Angeles — years before my trip to Sri Lanka. By the time we arrived at the airport, we realized we were both authors, professional speakers and world travelers. We had no idea at that moment that this serendipitous encounter would not only lead to a meaningful friendship, it would take us speaking together in front of televised audiences to share the message of tolerance and understanding and most importantly, we would together change the village of Uda Pussallewa.
In 2017, I invited Soraya to Bend. She traveled over 1,000 miles and met closer to a thousand Oregonians speaking to them about “Being a Muslim in America.”
Today we have together built a network of friendships that believe in a compassionate world, with dignity, equality and human rights for all.
Soraya is Sri Lankan native, living in California. She’s a mother of two children, a talented lawyer, acclaimed author, an international women’s rights advocate and a facilitator for OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership, a Chicago-based nonprofit that trains leaders for Interfaith Peacemaker Teams. She has traveled and spoken extensively around the globe.
Our meeting spurred me to wanting to see this beautiful country located adjacent to India and do so while Soraya was visiting her homeland. When Sophie and I visited Sri Lanka, Soraya graciously introduced us to the students and teachers at St. Margaret’s. She mentioned that she was leading the charge to raise the $14,400 needed to build two new classrooms and their first toilets with running water. It was at that moment that I had an epiphany that I would help with her goal to raise the funds needed for the project. Just last month, I received amazing news that we received a grant that I applied for through the Valmark Global Gift Fund. As a member office we were able to apply, and we received half of the amount to make our vision come true! Next it was my quest to raise the other half, which equates to $7,200. This amount may seem small, however, to the people of this village, it is an enormous amount and will make a positive impact on the lives of their children. Each day we get closer to our goal and I’ll keep you posted as this new school becomes a reality later this year. You can learn more at globalgiving.org/projects/running-water-and-top-school-spots-for-tea-farm-kids.
I believe there are certain keys to life and I’d like to share a few of them with you:
- There is so much strife currently in our country because some people only want to associate with others who are just like them. Rather than shun, reject and misunderstand people who are different from us, I suggest we welcome, accept and embrace them. In 2020 there are 195 countries, 4,200 religions and roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. I enjoy world travel to experience those who are so very different from me and our culture. I think it would be boring if we were all the same! Let’s not see through each other but help see each other through these challenging times.
- Live below your means to have the time to be happy. It’s an effective way to reduce your stress and increase your joy!
- Let’s face it; the real measure of wealth is our peace of mind, family, friends and the legacy we leave to others. Winston Churchill may have said it best; “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
As we work our way through a summer of COVID, protests, unemployment, a contentious presidential campaign, volatile stock markets, excessively heated real estate markets, tourism, our children who don’t even know if they will be returning to school in the fall and an overall energy of fear — I hope we can all do our best to slow down, breathe, be grateful for what we do have and maybe even learn from the content and gregarious children of St Margaret’s School in Uda Pussallewa, Sri Lanka.
David Rosell is President of Rosell Wealth Management in Bend. RosellWealthManagement.com. He is the creator of Recession-Proof Your Retirement Podcast and author of Failure is Not an Option — Creating Certainty in the Uncertainty of Retirement and Keep Climbing — A Millennial’s Guide to Financial Planning. Find David’s books on Audible and iBooks as well as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Locally, they can be found at Newport Market, Sintra Restaurant, Bluebird Coffee Shop, Dudley’s Bookshop, Roundabout Books and Sunriver Resort.
Investment advisory services offered through Valmark Advisers, Inc. an SEC Registered Investment Advisor Securities offered through Valmark Securities, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC 130 Springside Drive, Ste. 300 Akron, Ohio 44333-2431. 800-765-5201. Rosell Wealth Management is a separate entity from Valmark Securities, Inc. and Valmark Advisers, Inc.