It’s the Christmas and holiday season, a time of decorations, shopping, parties, over-indulging, client deadlines, stress, and too little sleep.  Sounds lovely right?   What if this holiday season you made an effort to simplify?  What if we all made an effort to enjoy a work life balance that leaves more time for the people that you love?  What if we had time in our schedules to give back to those less fortunate?

I just returned home from a heartbreaking and inspiring service trip to San Salvador, El Salvador.  This is a city of two economies.  A city in which the average wage is $8 a DAY, but a Wendy’s combo meal costs $5.50 and gas is $4 a gallon.  This is a city that has a lovely safe section of town that is just like any other Central or South American city.  Lots of shopping, doctors, restaurants, 3- 4 bedrooms homes, etc.   The homes in this part of the city also command rent around the $1,000 a month mark and most of the population makes about $200 a month.

The city and country has wide-spread poverty.  We are talking extreme poverty.  Poverty in which the squatter communities made up of concrete block along the railroad tracks are a step up from the squatter communities made up of corrugated metal that are built on an old landfill.   Both of these communities are controlled by violent and ruthless gang activity.  The residents in these communities often make $4 a day if they can find work at all.  They must then pay the gangs $40 a month for a “protection” fee to continue to live in that neighborhood.  School shootings are a common occurrence.  The country has an incredibly high homicide rate due to the prevalent gang activity.  Women and young girls sell themselves on the street by force or because they can’t find another job that could pay them $15 or $20 a day.

The situation seems hopeless to us, I can’t imagine how challenging it seems to those that live it.  During our trip we had the opportunity to reach out to bring a morning of fun to over 600 of these children.  While we aren’t under the impression that we are going to change their lives just by bringing a bounce house and some crafts to their neighborhoods, I believe we did succeed in bringing just a little bit of joy to their day.  We allowed this kids to actually be kids for at least one morning.

One of the things that stood out to me during the trip was how happy people were, despite their dire literal life and death situations.  It’s been challenging to come home to our very blessed lives and not be affected by my time there.

Here is a quick video of some of our time in El Salvador if you want to see what we were up to….

 

 

There are two main changes that I hope to be making to my life as a result of my time in El Salvador.  The first is to really truly enforce more of a work life balance and try to be more present when I am with my kids.   That means setting up FIRM shooting and working times in 2014.  (I’m terrible about adding in a shoot here and there or offering to do a shoot on days that I don’t normally shoot at the sacrifice of my family time)  It also means that I will do my best NOT to check email constantly on my phone and try to keep that during “office hours” only.  I only checked email once a day while I was away…in the busy season….and it was fine!

I also hope to create more opportunities in my life to help others in my community.  What causes are you passionate about that you could help in your community?  Could you volunteer time to feed the homeless?  Collect food for a food pantry?  Donate toys for children who may not get a Christmas present this year without help?  Volunteer to walk or photograph adoptable dogs?  Become a foster for the overrun shelters?  If you are interested in working with your shelters, check out the organization HeARTs Speak.

While your motive should be pure and come from a place of wanting to help the charity that you work with, there are plenty of opportunities to create some charitable marketing opportunities with your business as well.  Here are some past articles on charitable marketing and the next blog post will share some tricks and tips for creating a mini-session event that supports a charity near you!

Take a few minutes and enjoy the holidays.  You only live once and I don’t think ANYONE went to their grave wishing they had worked more….even if they loved their job.