My mom left my dad after he once kidnapped me and I had to be rescued. I grew up in the barrio of Belén Buena Vista, a neighborhoud inflicted with poverty, daily crime & violence. Many family friends & neighbours have lost their lives. Seeing people suffer is what inspired me to dream of doing good things in life. I had a vision of world peace, eliminating hunger and poverty and providing a safe haven to my family being the oldest son.
Key-figures who empowered me at the roots of who I am today:
- My uncle, mechanic, who gave me a Spaceshuttle miniature puzzle, introduced me to science and played different sports with me
- Another uncle, scout-leader, who teached me to develop a survival instinct and to take care of myself
- My aunt, singer, who build her own home brick by brick and teached me how to chop wood and why to be self-sustainable
- My cousin, who was my partner in crime while being toddlers.
- My other uncle, painter, showed me humility and to enjoy the simple things in life
- My grandfather, philosopher with entrepreneural mind, planted seeds of wisdom in me I couldn't comprehend at that time but started to fruit only after his death. I live by his guidance.
- My grandmother, who raised me together with my Mother and always showed me patience, told me lots of amazing stories and even took me on adventures such as goldmines, mountains and other cities.
And ofcourse my lovely & powerful Mother, who protected me as a fierce Lioness in a dangerious urban jungle, who sacrificed all that she had to give me a joyful youth, one that everybody deserves but only few in Colombia have. She teached me to believe, to have hope, to rise and to never give up on my dreams. She is the artist that gave me my brightest colors.
Mid 90's my Mother took the leap to migrate to the Netherlands, where my stephfather is from (I will refer to him as Dad from now on), and leave everybody and everthing behind to aim for a better future. We had to integrate in a total new environment.
Some of the sacrifices were coping with emotional loss, abandonment and confrontation with discrimination by culturally ignorant people. This impacted my self-esteem, challenging me to build it back up.
I found relief in sports, science & creativity:
- I remember reading enclycopedias by the age of 6, learning the periodic table and reading about the history of pirates.
- To learn Dutch I had to write stories at school. I seem to be pretty good at it so I got invited to write for a Dutch book publisher.
- I loved creating gadgets and once got invited by Fox Kids to showcase my "inventionts" on national TV.
- During the week I went to Judo, in the weekends I was a scout and reconnaissance at The Biesbosch and I participated in local sport championships. I remember one time my dad being the only parent, running the whole track along my side coaching me and empowering me to finish withtout stopping. The older guys were much faster than I, but at a certain point I would see them bend-over catching breath (some puking) and I would pass them like the turtle passed the hare. I didn't made it to the medals but I got rewarded with a present by the school's principal for my attitude. This motivated me a lot, thank you!
- Also, the man with a golden heart, my little brother, was born this year.
Years later, I had "earned" my place in my new home. I had made friends who at the moment of writing, still are close and very dear to me.
- Most of these friends I met at Judo, where we trained during the week and did a tournament almost every weekend. Later we would experiment with other fighting sports and join training camps.
- We all went to the same high school, where I did VWO (Dutch high school system) I was a dedicated and joyful student and in the first year I would score only straight A's.
- Once puberty started, I joined other friends to play in their soccer team. I wasn't the best player but somehow I got lucky during the seizon's championship finale and scored the winning goal against older and bigger guys. Shortly after, my older teammembers introduced me to parties, alcohol and chasing girls. I guess this was a turning point in my life because soon after, I got my first girlfriend. I found her the prettiest, sweetest girl ever and she was the teachers' favourite as well. She would motivate me to keep up with her as in this point in my life I was performing less well at school.
Our family situation was becoming more turbulent as my Dad's job [Royal Marines] required him to leave for sensitive missions, sometimes for a whole year, while my Mom was busy raising my babybrother on her own. I remember my Dad coming back and seeing me being a total different guy, I had become an adolescent...
The Explorer | Curaçao [CW] '07
After some years, my Dad decided to pass for new missions but in exchange we had to move for 3 years all together to a caribbean island where other missions are planned and new Marines get some of their training.
Again we had to leave our worlds behind, this time we were the 4 of us.
- In return, I got the opportunity to finish my high school in a private school, funded by the Dutch government. I also got my drivers license.
- I got a closer look into the military life, joining camps, training and partying with new recruits incl. one of my soccerteam friends in the Netherlands who was deployed here as well. We had great fun.
- My new girlfriend introduced me to the #1 martial arts club of the island where we eventually would train together. I participated with the island's free fight tournament and became champion in my division.
- I also re-discovered my Latin identity, which was faded away while adapting to the Netherlands in the years before. Being located close to the shore of Venezuela, I met lots of Latin guys like me, who ended up on the island through a less fortunate lifepath than I did. It made me become more grateful with the opportunities I had. We visited our family in Colombia again for the first time in 7 years, where I got welcomed with a big hug by my 6 year old cousin I had never met before.
In between I flew back to the Netherlands to sign-up for the Airforce. Since the contract in Curaçao got extended for an extra year, they suggested me to take a year to think about it but just hours before the subscription deadline for the new academic year, I made a spontanious decision...
Instead of waiting for 1 more year, I would leave the island, my parents & my brother and follow Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology for a year to have advantage over other Airforce candidates.
At first, I was not attracted to the studentlife at all and again, I felt I had to earn my position, this time in a different Dutch city where I didn't fit as an international student nor as a Dutch student.
Just before the year ended, I found a student society with students from all over the world with an open and authentic character. They showed me a new type of harmony that allowed me to forget about the military ambition.
I started to explore a new life perspective, got to meet André Kuipers Wubbo Ockels (astronauts) and eventually got the honor to kick-off an European engineering event together with Wubbo. A new world opened up for me. Without having a specific aim regarding job or career, I was determined to stay in Delft and just learn as much as possible.
- I took extra-curricular tracks on sustainability, business, a teacher program (physics) and antropology (Leiden University).
- The student society offered me a board position and sent me out as representative to multiple European assembles.
- The University sports division selected me for the soccer team with whom we won the 2nd place in an European championship.
- In the last years of my study I would participate in business tracks and competitions organized by YES (incubator, former YesDelft).
I would sometimes would meet people like AirForce ret. Col. General Ben Droste, who happened to become our faculty dean. He started the Space Expedition Corporation and wanted to launch them on Caribbean Spaceport Curaçao...coincidence or not, this is how every now and then, my past would wonder through my mind...
While still studying, I experimented with different side-jobs to be able to provide for my travelling lifestyle with the student society. This included a 3-month, paid Solar Energy internship in Medellin I managed to arrange to be able to spend longer time with my family in Colombia. Unfortunately my grandfather passed away a couple of months before so I didn't manage to see him anymore. A good thing is that I was able to make a quick trip in between to Miami for an emotional rendevouz with my aunt and cousin, as they moved there right after I moved to the Netherlands so we hadn't seen each other for 16 years!
From all the side-jobs, working as a teacher was the most fullfiling one. What started as being a temporary college teacher substitute, resulted in getting hired by multiple colleges, by the municipality for teaching eldern people and eventually I found myself instructing hundreds of new, graduated teachers for the fastest growing educational institute in the Netherlands. In the evenings I was having private students coming over and for the hardest Aerospace exam with a 5% passrate, I hired master-students and an office, to prepare our bachelor students, resulting in a 40% passrate.
At a certain point it felt as if teaching others the same thing for a couple of years in a row, was limiting me from learning new things.
I applied for a side-job at YesDelft spin-off Eternal Sun (now multi-million dollar international business). I remember CEO Chokri Mousaoui giving me a compliment about my CV and background, asking me the following: "Juan, do you want to become the next billionaire entrepreneur, or do you want to become the next Leonardo da Vinci? When you know the answer, come back to me!". I left feeling flattered and confused at the same time...
That same summer I voluntary did a full-time internship at a drone manufacturer. I got inspired by the founder and while my own idea's & concepts started to become more successful I realized it was time to focus on my own growth and to try-out my own creative ventures.
Yup, that's Spidey Juan on the left
It was in 2009 that I build my first website and being a real night-owl, allowed me to experiment with dozens of other websites and learn new E-commerce skills, purely out of creativity and curiosity. To balance it with more practical fieldwork I dove into marketing and PR and even started organizing small events. One day just before going for a drink in the citycenter, I posted something on Facebook related to just a small event. This same night the post went viral and before the weekend ended we had reached 3.3 Million people, organically! This eventually led me to collaborate with cinema's, tv-producers and pr-agencies. I got invited to exclusive parties with actors, models, artists and I got hired to contribute to filmpremières, fashion shows etc. The flashy stuff was nice to experience once in my life but more interesting was how it seemed to attract other entrepreneurs who would then hire me to help them with their business. I never thought about making this my full-time job, untill 2016 where a harsh but liberating decision was made for me:
Due to an error with an administration system of the university, I had to pay a big fine. The university didn't want to admit this error and I, stubborn that I was, just didn't want to pay the fine. I had to show up in front of the universities jury where it was my ideal backed by unquestionable evidence against the University's ego and preservation of a flawless image... I lost the case without any explanation whatsoever.
After I confronted the dean with the injustice of it, he told me the words: "Juan, we are a human-resources organisation preparing new work-force for big companies. You are made for something different". I left and dropped out...
This gave me the space to open my E-commerce agency, with an office in Delft, associates and even interns. This brought many interesting people, wonderful experiences & high value skills into my life.
Soon enough I was confronting myself with my purpose. Why do I do what I do? What am I made for to do? Who am I actually?
While running my business, I actively worked on methods to keep up with my personal development on all aspects of life. My passion and enthousiasm for self development led me to meet a few mentors I am truelly thankful for. They introduced me to the world of Self Actualization, Self Mastery and Social Entrepreneurship and helped me get more clarity on myself as a human being and as an entrepreneur. It also led to write about my life, dreams & insights, which became a quest of self exploration.
The Aerospace dream of exploring far away worlds was replaced by discovering the deepest corners of my heart.
The white belt lifestyle - Master Jigoro Kano
Every week I had extensive sessions with my mentors where we would study philosophy, ethics, logic, human nature, history and more. I would spend my money on workshops, online courses and events about personal growth, business growth, habits for improvement. health, relationship management, time & mind- management, live music, musea, theatre. I spent time painting, writing poems, meditating, breathing exercises, being in nature. My lifestyle was build around becoming a better human being while expressing myself.
I got inspired by "The 7 works of Mercy" by Carvaggio and the Dutch version from Meester Alkmaar (Rijksmuseum). Motivating me to spend time with refugees from Syria, Palestina and with homeless people and listen to their stories. I would try to consolidate and offer help in finding stability in the Netherlands. Again it showed me how incredibly lucky and blessed I have been in my life. I started to do charity projects and actively build relationships with all sorts of people in my neighbourhood.
Besides the fact that this is a strange year for the whole world, I could say that the Corona, or crown has become a very personal symbol for my life which comes with the responsibility of becoming a better son, brother, friend, partner, citizen and human being.
Letting go of the past, to look into the future
I decided to let go of past ventures and apply for a job, where I could bring my unique portfolio of competences to the table while I would observe and learn from the older generation before they would retire.
Just after closing my business, Covid19 happened, making the application proces harder than expected. While applying for jobs I volunteered for a charity that builds wells, playgrounds and orphanages in third world countries. I also participated with Adecco's CEO for 1 month- challenge and made it to the semi-finals.
Foreign Economic Affairs
In July a networkpartner spotted a vacancy matching my profile. The job was at the foreign economic affairs of an embassy in The Hague. I had a direct interview with the minister, passed extensive capacity and personality tests, went through security clearance and managed to deliver a proper case-study based on an actual case. The chemistry was good and my soon to become team invited me for dinner. Unfortunately we received the unconvenient news from the HR-company (located abroad) that they were forced to cancel my employment. Ouch! [Strike 1]
The Dutch government
Luckily, within a month I was offered a job at the Dutch government. Again I went through the necessary procedure. Everything seemd well but only 3 days after the confirmation, I got diagnosed with cancer... my life changed in a single second not knowing the roller-coaster I was about to enter...
Memento Mori was closer than ever before and it made me interpret life from a whole different perspective. Within 48 hours I published a website on my passion project I was had been working on for the last 5 years since my future was insecure and I felt I had to manifest what's important.
4 days later I was laying on the table for urgent surgery where the malicious tumor got cut out. 2 days later I received a call from a representative telling me my job at the government had to be cancelled...Ouch! [Strike 2]
A Second chance
Thanks to God days later I received good news from the hospital, saying the results of my CT-scan & blood-tests were clean allowing me to start the cancer-free recovery phase within a relatively short period of time. Again I can not express my gratitude to God, the Universe. This is what led me to write this story about my life's transformational phases and openly share it with you.
I hope by the time you are reading this, I am living a healthy second chance at life and thriving at my new job
"One does not learn to be humble, one gets humbled by life!" - Mike Tyson
🙏 Thank You
"I feel NOW is always the time for re-birth, not only by renewing the physical form but also by closing all the past chapters of our lives. It is a new opportunity for a new life and thanks to all of our past experiences, good ones and challenging ones, we are able to dedicate this new version of ourselves to all that what the Universe has in store for us, for our families, for our beloved ones, for our society, for our future generations and for our pure, innocent and most sacred inner child who started our journeys and made everthing possible today, just like the young Juan "The Dreamer", who paved the road for my destiny."
Wishing you all the best
Let's write the next chapter of our stories, together.