The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Monday, May 29, 2017

12 TKN Wellness Rituals

When you ask someone how they're doing, or how life is going, or how they've been, 9 times out of ten the answer will be 'busy'. The world has gotten faster, and busier - and seemingly, unhappier. Many of us work 8-5 (if not more), to be able to afford to maintain a lifestyle that we don't even have time to enjoy.

Fortunately, there are numerous things we can do, on a regular basis, to ensure that we do invest in ourselves beyond just making sure we're professionally successful. I thought to write about a select few that I try and keep up with, and others that I am starting, and I hope to be able to feature others' at some point too.

1) Writing

No surprises here that I write, often. I write on this blog, I write (real) letters to friends (and yes, I do use a fountain pen similar to the one above), I write to myself. If I'm having a crappy day, or trying to make a difficult decision, it wouldn't be too uncommon to find me grabbing the nearest piece of paper, writing down what I'm thinking, and then more often than not, throwing it away.

Writing is a way to deal with emotions, process your day, get some clarity. In case it wasn't clear enough already, I highly recommend trying it out!

2) Working out

The longer I go without working out, the grumpier I get, on average. It was a little later in life than I should have learnt this, but once I realised that working out regularly keeps me sane, happy and healthy, I've been trying to do it as often as I can.

And no, it's not just me! There are numerous studies out there that have proven the multiple benefits of exercise.

3) Attitude of gratitude

I was listening to a podcast the other day (yes, that's a thing I do nowadays) that talked about the importance of practicing gratitude. The speaker argued that without knowing how to be grateful for what we have, we'll never truly be happy. We'll keep wanting more, but when we get that 'more', we won't know how to appreciate it.

We look at happiness as something that's on the other side of a finish line - but when we get there, the finish line just gets further away. How did we forget that happiness is really found along the way?

I've been working on cultivating this attitude - and I'll admit, it's not as easy as I thought it would be! Two things have helped - meditation, and my '+ jar'. The latter is a glass jar that I've had for many months. When I remember to, I write down positive things that have happened to me, things I'm grateful for, and put them into the jar. These have ranged from 'I got the new job!' to 'I just had a great pizza!'. No surprises at the last one, I'm sure.

Anyone else tried other ways to cultivate this attitude? Please do share! And for those of you who're interested in starting +jars of your own, I'm happy to be an accountability partner.

4) Treating yourself

You know what? If no one's told you this before, I'm happy to be the first. It's okay to treat yourself every so often. Another podcast I was listening to talked about how we motivate ourselves. Sometimes, we tell ourselves 'I'll buy myself this and that once I've achieved this or the other' - a reward system. Sometimes, we say we'll buy ourselves what we want just because!

The speaker argues (and I agree) that it's okay to treat yourself once in a while without having the pressure of having to 'earn it'. 

Personally, massages are an indulgence I like to partake in regularly. In fact, I went for one just yesterday, just because - and it was great.

5) Time alone

I forget how many times I've preached about the benefits of time alone. Whether you're always working around people, you live with your family, you're married, you have kids - whoever you are, being able to spend meaningful time alone, and doing so, are beneficial to your growth, your happiness, and your independence. Whatever form this takes (see 12 below), I encourage you to try it.

6) Time with friends and family 

That being said, don't forget to spend time with friends and family too! Saturday night, my mum, my sister and I curled up in a room to watch a movie together - that same day, I'd spent some quality time with my pups. And tonight, I'm planning on having a wine date with my best friend.

Personally, after working a crazy week, I find it all too easy to spend the weekend in and around my bed, so getting time with my loved ones like this is always nice.

7) Time outdoors

Sunlight, fresh air, blah blah blah - turns out that all those things are actually good for you! I've made no secret of my frustration with how quickly Nairobi is developing upward, so I try and find at least a few minutes a day to step outside, away from the concrete (or as away as I can get...), and just breathe. Weird how just those few minutes can leave me feeling refreshed!

8) Drinking plenty of water

I'm not quite sure what it is about this one that makes me feel better - but I have noticed a marked difference in myself from the days I drink plenty of water to the days I don't. Anyone else?

9) Reading

Being able to be present where I am and appreciate all around me is great - but sometimes, so is being able to immerse myself in others' experiences and learn from them. 

The 'J' in me (MBTI for those of you who're wondering) has actually made two spreadsheets (fiction and non fiction) to keep up with books I've read and want to read. I recently finished all the Harry Potters again, and really enjoyed them!

10) Laughter

Funny YouTube videos. Friends being funny. Pets being silly. Little moments of joy. Laughter is such an important, yet underrated, part of our lives! Try it for yourself and see just how laughing (or smiling more) can do wonders.

11) A well deserved glass of wine

'Wait, doesn't this count as treating yourself?' I can almost hear some of you asking. Those of you who know me will know exactly why, for me, wine is in a category of its own!

There's nothing like sitting down at the end of a long week with a glass (or more) of wine that really signals to my brain that it's time to unwind.

I'm also always on the lookout for new wines to try - you can follow along on my personal Instagram account

12) Vacations

Sometimes, you just need to get away! Last year, my sister and I went to Diani in July. In December, I went to visit family in the U.S. 

Not sure what I'm planning before that, but this December, I decided it's finally time to visit my best friends after three years away! You can bet that I'm looking forward to that one desperately!

What are some wellness rituals you follow? I'd love to hear more!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 3)

We hope you’ve been enjoying the feature on Frazer so far! If you haven’t read the previous parts yet, you can catch them here and here. Today, Frazer will be answering some questions I threw his way.

What are three principles that leaders should live by?
1.      Intense personal reflection
2.      Don’t give a shit
3.      Facilitate radical candor

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
1.      Intuitive
2.      Active
3.      Controlling (see, not all roses and rainbows!)

What’s the best advice that someone has ever given you?
“Use your head”

If there’s an aspect of your journey that has surprised you so far, what would you say it is?
How quickly we can adapt to change

Now-Frazer meets early-20’s-Frazer. What advice would you give him?
If I could give my early-20’s “me” some advice, it would be to not listen to my 42-year old self if I ever show up from the future with advice. Our paths need to happen. Our paths need to unfold. The unfolding is our life.

My incredibly wise words to college seniors when I go back to Sewanee to speak are:

“Do something! As that something will lead to something else.”

There is no defined path for us. There is no single right answer. However, if forced, I would tell myself to take more chances, live interesting places, do more cool shit that I haven’t done before, keep cultivating friends, let love happen, reflect intensely, don’t give such a shit.

Congratulations! You just won a million dollars. What are you going to do with it?
If I won a million dollars, I would perhaps start one micro-foundation of something for each of my kids, for something that are passionate about. I would use it as a way to help them create and cultivate something worthy over their lives. I think this could be a really cool experience for my kids to participate in running a micro-foundation. This perhaps could be the most valuable education they could receive and a really fun way for me to spend time with them.

If you were invited to give a TED talk, what would you speak about?
I would absolutely give a TED talk on the intersection of intense personal reflection and not giving a shit.

What’s your favourite book, and recommended reading for others?
Favorite book:
Panther in the Sky by James Alexander Thom.  It’s not my favorite book from a content standpoint but it was the book that really got me connected into reading at a young age so for that reason, it is my favorite book.

Recommended reading:
A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle
Reflections of a Ghost by Andrew Lytle
Working Days by John Steinbeck

Your biggest source of strength is…

Do you know what your goals and ambitions are going forward?
My goals and ambitions going forward are to live a full life, moment by moment. That’s as specific as I am right now.

If you could host a dinner party and invite any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
I would invite my wife, my son, and my daughter. We would dress up in formal wear and listen to hip hop music.

Many people have different success rituals. Which are yours?
For success rituals, we also would need dozens of pages to cover this topic. I am a very ritualistic person, and I have many rituals that I constantly refine and use to extreme degrees. These rituals include morning routines, workload and schedule management, parenting, nutrition, exercise, sleep. Perhaps we can do a follow-up on these and get into more detail (editor’s note: keep an eye out for this!).

In my first post, I mentioned that Frazer is working on an exciting new project – he’s working to add a new title under his belt – that of ‘author’. Back to Frazer…

Yes, I am working on a book project right now, which includes some of the topics covered in these posts. It is a book about feelings. Specifically, the way we feel throughout our professional careers during points of intensity. Typically, behind any extreme period within our careers (highs, lows, frustrations, fears), there are a set of common feelings. “I feel like I am drowning in work.” “I feel like I am stuck.” “I feel like no one cares about my career.” “I feel like a monkey can do my job.”

I explore why we have these feelings, with deep context of the underlying causes. I also use my experiences throughout my career of having these same feelings to explain tactics to cope through the friction that these feelings create. I have had some crazy-ass experiences in my career, and they have given me some deep points of context. A rare few get context in our professional careers, so the value of the book will hopefully be both understanding that context and taking action from it. The output of this context is this same professional acceleration.

I was inspired to write this book over a long period of time but especially after doing a mentoring session with a large group of professionals at Evolent. One of the participants sent me an email afterward that tipped me over the edge into action.

Similar to mentoring, my ability to share wisdom through context creates efficiency out of inefficiency. The audience for the book is likely primarily individuals who are earlier in their career. However, the spectrum of feelings can span across a broad scope of levels and points of time, so there is value in the material for most folks. I hope to help others understand these periods of intense feelings and equip them with some tools to deal with these periods. At the same time, I hope to make them laugh, as some of the stuff that has happened to me is damn funny.

If anyone is interested further in learning more about the project, you can reach me at

Thanks much for inviting me to contribute!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 2)

In part 1 last week, we met my mentor, Frazer Buntin, and learnt about his early life and education background. Today, he'll talk to us about his career so far.

Work background

Right after school, I worked for my father’s company for about a year. I wanted to see if the business clicked with me and additionally, my older brother, with whom I am very close, was there as well. My plan was to work and live at home and eat Ramen noodles to save as much money as possible for an epic adventure.

I absolutely love adventure. I love adventure more and more throughout my life and also regret not adventuring more along the way. This particular adventure was about 3 months of tramping around New Zealand and Australia with a back pack and a $500 car that I bought off a cork board advertisement in the first hostel I came to in NZ. I hiked and camped and climbed mountains and fly fished and sat in silence for long periods during the middle of the day.

One rainy afternoon, I simply started writing while lying in a bunk bed in a $5 a night hostel. I wrote about what kind of person I wanted to be. I wrote about the values I wanted to hold true to in my life. Many of these values had always been present but had been dulled by the norms of college. Some of these values were new. That day – and the entire trip – ended up being a bit of a personal reset button for me. I came away from that experience with clarity on how I wanted to “show up” to life at my most fundamental level. I cherish that time still today and feel that it set me on a course personally that I still benefit from today.

My professional career has spanned some incredible and crazy-ass experiences. I have worked for huge companies and started companies and have been CEO twice and have travelled all over the US. I have had unbelievable successes and epic failures. My path has been so winding that it would take dozens of pages to describe the way my career has unfolded.

Today, I am president of a large division of a high-growth healthcare company called Evolent Health. Evolent has gone from having 3 employees to over 2,600 in 5 years. We have gone from an idea to a $1 billion IPO in 5 years. Someone once said:

 When you have a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask which seat is yours, just sit down.

That is how I feel about Evolent. We have smart people, great culture, and most importantly, our work is meaningful and interesting to me. Those last two items are the ticket-to-the-dance requirements for me. My main job functions are to hire good people, set the strategy, monitor their behaviors, and measure our results. On a “Monday morning”, that means I am usually on the phone or in a meeting or working on a task that involves making decisions on improving our business. Leading people and solving problems consume most of my time. I have essentially no recurring work and nearly every task, every day is unique.

My successes will have little context for you unless you have worked in the fields or industries that I have, so it’s difficult to make those come alive for you. It is similar with the low points. Just know that I have knocked some home runs out of the park and I have absolutely fallen on my face in parts of my career as well.

All of these stories are long and usually funny, so perhaps, we’ll run into each other sometime and I’ll tell some of them. I will share that when you have the highs and the successes, you should absolutely cherish them. Marinate in them (there’s that word again). Feel like those days never want to end. Let yourself get goosebumps on how well you succeeded. During the lows and the failures, make them right beyond your own expectations. Take something away from them that you learned. Remember careers are a long-game. And then let that shit go.

I can attribute my success to hitting the parent lottery, growing up on a farm, great education, eye-opening experiences, mental wiring for problem-solving, and a knack for motivating people. Deeper than that, I attribute my success over time (not as individual) to intense personal reflection. I have always, throughout my career, taken time to think about what is working and what isn’t working for me – and then to do something about it. That process of reflection has accelerated my pathway down the career “funnel”. This reflection has also allowed me always to be learning. Always to be finding new tactics, methods, and strategies I can apply for all kinds of different scenarios throughout my career. I think I have a knack for surfacing and using tactics very well.

As for key role models, I have covered my parents already. Beyond that, I see anyone as a role model who has found the intersection of doing actual work they are good at doing, in an industry of which they are passionate, and have found a way to be well-compensated. This is the sweet spot of a work career when work doesn’t feel like work. Many of us only get one, a few two, and a very rare few get all three. These are the role models for me.

Regarding work-life balance, I have totally blown this one in my past and had to earn my way back into a balance. I never expected my career to involve as much travel as it has but here I am, 20 years into it, and I have logged A LOT of miles. More so than that, for a long time, I carried work with me as a thinking obsession. Maybe even a thinking addiction.

We would need more pages to give this topic the time it deserves but I am in my own personal “recovery”. Some of you will get this instantly and some might get it 10 years from now.

However, I have found the other side of the Venn diagram. I mentioned the concept of “intense personal reflection” previously as a driver of success. As our biggest strengths are also our biggest weaknesses, I needed another side of the coin to balance me. The other side of my Venn diagram that gives me work-life balance is not to give a shit.

I don’t mean that I don’t care, as I care – intensely. What I mean is that I do intense personal reflection, I make some decisions, I take some action – and then I don’t give a shit after that. I let go of control or expectation or wanting or needing some outcome to happen. I let go of the desire for some future event or thing to bring me happiness. Our brains are tools we use for survival but we must put them down when we are done. If we don’t put them down, we aren’t not actually living our lives, we are living our future lives. This is hard as crap to do for me so it is a practice. There are a whole series of tactics below the level of not giving a shit that we also would need more pages to cover adequately. I am putting a lot of effort into this though and it is working. I can feel myself living a few feet above myself.

Mentors are rare. Good mentors are unicorns. The best type of mentors are when you get lucky and have a direct manager who is also a good mentor. These people are like unicorns, riding a unicorn. I have had a few people who have helped me along the way including one or two unicorns riding unicorns. In hindsight, I am deeply appreciative of these people. Their wisdom was a huge accelerant for me personally and professionally.

For me, I enjoy helping others find their way. I enjoy helping others “be okay” with where they are and where they are going. I enjoy helping others take my tactics and experiences and wisdom and do something even better with them than I have. I think I would have been, and perhaps may be at some point in the future, a decent teacher. Part of my enjoyment of passing on wisdom or guidance or experiences is creating efficiency out of inefficiency. Wisdom should be scaled. Knowledge gained from experiences should be scaled. Again, I was taught to care about things and this is one I care about. If I can get scale on the things I have learned with several other people throughout my life, then I am potentially putting a massive accelerant underneath those people. Perhaps then, their experiences and wisdom and knowledge over time far exceeds mine. If they are inclined, they do the same and we are accelerating the advancement of the human state of mind. That is pretty rad.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 1)

We’ve all heard stories about ‘self-made men or women’ and marvelled at their stories, and wished we were them. The truth, however, is that very few (if any) people are truly ‘self-made’. Be they negative influences or positive ones, the people in our lives, from birth to old age, have a large part in dictating who we are. The people who surround you are the people who also influence who you will be. It is always a good idea to be selective about the people you choose to let into your inner circles!

Among the people who can have massive influences on our lives are mentors and role models – I’d like to introduce you to one of mine.

I first met Frazer Buntin when I attended my first Beyond the Gates weekend at Sewanee. Frazer is a Sewanee alumnus who was assigned to be my mentor for the weekend. While we were unable to connect over the weekend itself, as he had to return home due to a family commitment, we found some time to connect shortly afterward, and I was impressed by what I learnt about him.

Often enough, ‘formal’ mentorships end up not working as well as mentorships that develop over time, but I’m lucky enough that in my case, with Frazer, the first naturally led to the second. We stayed in touch, and throughout the years, he has guided me, advised me, believed in me, and been an invaluable sounding board for when I’ve needed someone to bounce ideas off of. Most, if not all of the career related decisions I’ve taken after graduation were taken after consulting Frazer.

Over the four years that I’ve known him, I’ve always felt that I should share his story with more people, so that they could also get inspired as I have – and now, I have the chance! Over the next few posts, I’ll be featuring Frazer as he tells us a little bit more about his life, his work, and an exciting project that he’s working on!

Sewanee the Light by Stephen Alvarez

Early childhood and Education

I would describe my early childhood as “a silver spoon and a brown shovel”. I grew up on a family farm just outside of Nashville, as the 5th generation of our family to live on this land. Uniquely, my father was not a farmer but the farm was an active agricultural farm as opposed to many “hobby farms” that exist today. As such, the brown shovel side was parts of every summer and weekend that were spent doing hard, physical labor.

For those who haven’t been exposed to a farm, don’t think milking a cow but rather, works such as using a heavy gas-powered weed eater for 8 hours to keep fence rows clear or loading several hundred bales of hay up into a hot, dusty barn in late August. These experiences taught me to be tough, to have confidence in my physical abilities, to want to contribute as an individual, and to “pull my own weight”. As part of this experience, I interacted with all sorts of people associated with farm life. Many had minimal education, were poor by today’s economical standards, and lived simple lives. However, all were kind, interesting, dedicated, and full of ingenuity. All of them wanted more for their kids than they had for themselves. This exposure helped me learn that appearances and education and clothes and houses don’t define a person. I like to think spending time with Albert, Ron, Tinnie, Ernest, and Lolla to name a few, helped me be more open to others throughout my life. It took me a while to come around to that realization – but I see it clearly now.

As for the silver spoon, the other half of my life consisted of the best private school education from kindergarten through to business school. My father owned his own advertising agency in Nashville so we drove to “town” everyday – 45 minutes each way where he traded overalls for a suit and led national accounts for 45+ years as the CEO of a very successful agency. My siblings and I were lucky enough to attend fantastic schools and be friends with others in that environment.

One Saturday might have been shoveling shit on the farm and the next Saturday was a tennis clinic at a country club. It was very schizophrenic, but it kept me grounded as well as allowed me to succeed culturally. All my academic and social life was in Nashville and all my family life was at the farm. It was almost a 50-50 split though. We travelled extensively as a family and covered much of the globe. My parents firmly believed in investing in experiences and culture and education.

I never have driven a new car in my life however, so we were not the “new BMW with a bow on top for our 16th birthday” type of family. We were more of “hand me down cars with 100,000 miles on them but then a trip to Africa for Spring Break” type of family. My father is a bit of a renaissance man and my mother an absolute rock of a person. Values were part of our lives from an early age. We were taught to care about things, to make good decisions, and simply – to be good people.

There were never career path expectations for me. There was never a push to define a college major and march toward that field. I was encouraged to find things that interested me and then bust my ass at them.


I attended college at The University of the South, commonly referred to as Sewanee. I was drawn to it, as it was a small school with a lot of physical space. Additionally, the culture and feeling of the school fit me. Probably most importantly and embarrassingly though, I applied early admission and got in and I have always chosen completion over accuracy, so I chose the first school I applied to. I liked the small class size, the formality of the interaction between student and teacher, the traditions, and yet the ability to be creative.

I actually struggled with both finding my interest and busting my ass considerably though in college, primarily because of the interest side. I am a super practical person and liberal arts educations don’t match with that type of wiring. I majored in Natural Resource Management as naively, I thought it would be nice to be outside during the labs. I know. I am shaking my own head at that decision-making as well. That is some brilliant freshman year logic!

My favorite class ended up being Industrial Psychology as it clicked with the practical side of my brain. Sewanee prepared me for the real world, not in an academic way, but rather how to analyze a situation, be accountable for my actions, speak my mind with logic and preparation, interact with different types of people, and build a network. These skills are much more ambiguous but are more easily carried throughout a career.

I wish I had a do-over at Sewanee though. I don’t regret much in my life but I do regret not marinating (yes, that’s the right word) in the opportunities at Sewanee. I missed out on things because I thought I would miss out on other things. As such, I often chose the wrong things. This regret is part of growing up though and helps me reflect now to consider what I might be missing out on because I think I might miss out on something else. What will I see in 20 years from now when looking back?

After 5 years of career experience after graduating from Sewanee, I found my academic groove at business school at Vanderbilt when the practical side of my wiring and the content of the program married nicely. Correspondingly, I learned a lot more applicable academic content and my GPA reflected it. Although, by business school, I cared not about the grade but rather the absorption of information.  

Keep an eye out for our next post, where we find out more about Frazer and his career so far!   

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