Aug 1, 2018

If you’ve been following me on Instagram or Facebook, you’re probably well aware that I’ve spent the last 12 days in Kenya, Africa.

I knew the trip would be transformational, but knowing something and experiencing it are two very different beasts.

The first half of the trip, we spent at an IDP camp in Nakuru county working on their new school and getting to know the village. The second half of the trip, we spent at the Maasai Mara Reserve on Safari.

Both experiences were emotional ones for me, and left the kind of mark on my heart and spirit that’s permanent. This was the first time in my ENTIRE adult life that I spent any kind of significant time alone – without a spouse or children or work obligations – and that in itself is nerve wracking enough, never mind plunking me down in a country and continent completely foreign to me.

I learned so many things, it’s hard to capture it all in one piece of writing, but if I were to summarize the experience into transformational life/business lessons, here’s what I would say:

Do What Makes You Uncomfortable

The first night in Nairobi, after flying for 24 hours, my timezones were ALL messed up. I knew I only had six hours before getting up to travel 5 hours to the IDP camp so I tried to race into my room and go to sleep as fast as possible. It didn’t work. I barely slept.

Every time I closed my eyes, I saw a map of the world and William’s face halfway across the globe and a surge of anxiety would course through my body. Every sound was new. Every smell was new. I didn’t have a SIM card to put into my phone and couldn’t reach Alex to talk to him and get my anxiety under control.
I popped some Unisom and it didn’t DO A THING.

Suffice to say, that first night was rough – even with beautiful accommodations. I didn’t want to shower because the health clinic guy scared me about the water getting in my mouth. I just laid in the dark, with my soggily traveled clothes still on, staring at the ceiling wondering what the heck possessed me to travel to Africa alone.

I was wildly uncomfortable for the first two and a half days of the trip. I barely ate or slept. When we arrived at the IDP camp, I was OVERCOME with so many conflicting emotions, I had no idea how to process them all.

A funny thing happened though. The discomfort slowly abated as I leaned into the experience. I did get a SIM card (thank goodness) and spent a lot of time texting Alex every new feeling and emotion. I also started talking to the people on the trip with me, sharing my thoughts and feelings – and found camaraderie and comfort in their experiences.

I also did a LOT of writing (some of which you’ll see sprinkled on my social media)…

Discomfort isn’t a sign that something is wrong. It’s a sign that there is a shift happening. Leaning into people and relationships make all the difference. Remember that in life- and business!

Don’t Waste Hardship

One morning at the camp, I saw this little boy – he was maybe 10 or 12 – and he had a young baby on his back, wrapped in a cloth. I felt so much conflict as I snapped a photo of him.

On the one hand, it was an incredible display of love and responsibility for a family member. I couldn’t IMAGINE my son doing such a thing for his younger sibling at that age, and here he was – taking responsibility for a small child while being a child himself.

On the other hand, I felt a sting of pain that he had to effectively do an adult’s job, when he should be free to just be a kid. He wasn’t playing basketball or Fortnight or having movie night with popcorn like all the other kids I know.

I saw this juxtaposition over and over. Incredible acts of responsibility that were a direct result of hardship. I didn’t know how to feel about it all, but I did recognize that hardship is NEVER wasted.

You might be facing some difficult circumstances you didn’t want or expect. Life might be throwing you some curveballs. Do NOT waste it. It will produce amazing experiences and transformation if you let it.

God Is Present In His Creation

I’ve always wanted to Safari. As a little girl, I loved animals more than the average kid. My mom tells the story of taking me to a fair, where I would have NOTHING to do with the rides, but showed no fear or hesitation when it came to petting the animals. I wanted to stay there all day, even when I got too close to an Ostrich and it bit me. I’ve also been bit by numerous dogs in my life, and none of these experiences seemed to deter me from loving all kinds of animals. My daughter Eden, carries the “animal loving” gene as well – she went as Jane Goodall for Halloween this past year.

This passion of mine for nature and animals has dimmed quite a bit in past years, mainly because it felt like a frivolous thing to care about. After all, people need help more than animals! I’ve got four kids and a business and just too much to do to entertain such nonsense.

Well…I’ll tell you what. The minute I stepped off the plane in the Massai Reserve, I struggled to hold back tears. God was there. I felt Him.

Even writing it, I get emotional. There is something about His creation that reaches right past all my logic and anxiety and brings out the adventurous six year old that’s hiding behind all that grown up responsibility.

The last day of the Safari, there was an option to do a short drive from 6am-7am. Only a few of us managed to get up for the drive, but within 30 minutes, we were within feet of one the most majestic of God’s creatures…a male lion and his family.

I understand why C.S Lewis and the scriptures talk about God as a lion. Staring in the eyes of lion is a spiritual experience I cannot describe. The power, the raw wildness…something unlocked inside me.

I took photos of him only a few feet away.

I realized that everyone connects to their spiritual side differently and I don’t think I’ve felt more close to God than on that savannah staring at that lion.

Try New Things With New People

Oh this is one of those beautiful benefits of camping with strangers. You make FAST and furious friendships that last far beyond the trip.

The camping set up was insanely well done and could hardly be called actual camping when the team was cooking three hot meals a day and providing fresh water, coffee, and tea…but even still – when you pee and poop in a makeshift outhouse type hole and use dirt to cover it up, you lose pretenses REAL fast.

Stu and Amy (the founders of Village Impact) are some of the highest caliber of human you can find on planet Earth…which means, they attract amazing people as well.

If you struggle to make friends, try GOING places with people. I’ve shared tears, laughter, and more with this group…and I just know that my business and life will be changed because of these relationships.

There’s Always A Point Of Connection Between Two People If You Look Hard Enough

Seeing my photos, I’m sure it’s no surprise that the children at the camp weaseled their way into my heart in a New York minute, but surprisingly, so did the mothers. I painted the nails of the girls and boys, but also the women in the village too.

At one point, three women wanted to dance and sing with me. We didn’t know each other’s language, but we did both happen to know Amazing Grace – she in Swahili and me in English. Even with the cultural differences and the fact that we live on opposite sides of the planet, we had a connection point.

I also spent some time talking to our Safari driver Sopia – a Maasai local who had seven children. We talked about how expensive they are, and how he spends three months away from his family every quarter by living at the camp we were staying at.

I connected with the guards who walked me to my tent each night…coming to know their stories too. He scanned the forest for hippos and buffalo as we walked, and I couldn’t help but think that in an unlikely surprise animal attack, any differences we might have would be stripped away instantly.

Connection can be found with anyone, anywhere, any time. If this trip taught me anything, it’s that we’re really all the same when you boil it down. We all long for community, connection, and meaning.

The Kenyan people are beautiful. So friendly and helpful and kind. I have never had an experience where I bonded with the staff at a resort the way I did on the Maasai reserve.

Be A Creator, Not A Scavenger

During a game drive, Russell made a funny comment about the hyenas. He said, “They are so lazy. They just circle the lions waiting for them to make a kill. Then, they grab the scraps. They are like the people in business who just rip off what’s working after someone went and did all the work.”

It’s true. There are hunters on the reserve, and there are scavengers. Don’t be a scavenger. Go get what you want. You’ll win some great kills sometimes, and other times you’ll go hungry. That’s just the name of the game.

But if you remain a hyena, you will always just be catching scraps.

Let Things Fall Apart Once In A While

I made a conscious effort to not check email or Voxer while on this trip. About three days into our travels, I received word that my ad account had been shut down. As of the time of this writing, it’s still down.

Of course my first reaction was “Oh shit.” My second reaction was, “Well…let’s see where this goes.”

It was a new feeling to not immediately panic…but to wonder where this new development will lead. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any anxiety at all, but somewhere in the silence of nature, I realized…

This world keeps turning, the animals keep hunting, and life continues – even when you let go of your white knuckle grip on the outcome of life.

And it will all be okay.

It really will.

Silence Is Transformational

I wish I could bottle up what it sounds like out on the reserve when you pull the jeep over and throw down a picnic blanket.

The silence is deafeningly beautiful. I miss it so much. Being out on Safari for three days showed me just how noisy my life is. At the camp, there were no stores. No shopping malls. No pools or bowling alleys or movie nights. None of the typical “resorty” type things to do.

Aside from mealtimes, there were exactly TWO things you could do – go out on a drive and commune with the animals, or relax in your tent with a book or a nap.

That’s it.

The lack of choices was so freeing.

I also didn’t have my laptop – OR any books – so when I was at my tent, aside from the spotty wifi to check Facebook or text Alex, the thing to do was simply…to listen to the sounds outside.

One night, a hippo hung out RIGHT outside my tent and went to town on the grass. Another time, I heard the cold wet slap of a crocodile whipping its prey on the rocks to decapitate it.

I heard a lion roar in the far distance at night.

This kind of experience will strip away any disillusion of how “big” or “important” you are…and allow you to uncover feelings and ideas you didn’t know you had.

Questions Left

There’s so much I didn’t even tell you about this trip. The hot air balloon ride. The late night talks with fellow entrepreneurs around the campfire. The Kazuri bead trip, The Giraffe Center, the long drives over the equator and in the ridiculous Nairobi traffic. The fact that I almost got eaten by a lion during a flat tire (slight exaggeration). The 60 mph drive through rough terrain to catch a glimpse of the illusive rhino. The tiny house tour of the Maasai people.

I think about my life and my work and my friends and family and possible opportunities…and I don’t think I had any specific revelations about what exactly will happen next or change.

But I do know that this experience brought into focus REALLY fast, the relationships most treasured to me. The people that I love. The people I connect with. The people I miss.

Most importantly, the people I want to be with, to serve and change the world. I will be going back to Kenya…and I will be taking a bunch of you with me.


Julie Chenell initials

Get in touch! I teach strategic business growth tacticss for everyday people.


  1. Irene Muriuki

    This is so touching Julie. I follower every minute of your trip on Instagram. In every situation, we get to learn something. From seeing the images and videos and reading this, it goes to say we are all unique in our own way, in order to succeed we have to face a lot of challenges.


    Dear Julie,

    You are blessed to be around Kenya and to serve God and His children,many do not get this chance.God be with you.

  3. John Tower

    I can’t even put into words a thousand thoughts and emotions. I remember landing in Romania and sharing many of the same emotions you allude to here. When you say yes to opportunity and tell fear to take a flying leap….well the adventure really begins! Looking forward to the days ahead with anticipation ! Thank you Julie….God is using you in ways you can’t imagine.

  4. Bonita Elms

    Beautiful images Julie and an amazing life experience my husband and 3 kids are hopefully planning to do next year. We have an 18th and 21st with another 18th following close behind (why do the years go by so fast).
    After reading all about your wonderful trip I’m more convinced that this will be an experience my whole family will love and be forever reliving in our memories!????

  5. Denae Steelman

    Wow, Julie, this is amazing! I can hear and feel your heart in these words and pictures, and you have brought a tiny glimpse and taste of Kenya to me! I saw the magnificence of God’s glory and creation in the Savannah and through the eyes of those adorable children! And I have decided that I have to go with you next time 😉
    Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  6. Brenda Liona

    Hi Julie, I am a member of create your laptop life on Facebook and a subscriber to your email list. I follow keenly what you teach on CYLL and do benefit a lot from what is shared in the group. I am Kenyan and do resonate with everything you mention about your trip here. Even as a native, Nairobi traffic is the worst and I sure I’m glad I work from home, so only get on the road when absolutely necessary. As with the camps, I totally agree with you. always conflicting emotions whenever I visit these. I am happy you had a good time and will be coming back again. I’d love to connect and possibly meetup on your next trip here.

  7. Brittany Byrd

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience Julie! One of my business goals is to be able to pay for a classroom for Impact Village one day. What Stu and Amy have created is incredible- and as Russell says, it’s entrepreneurs who are able to change the world. This excites me and motivates me even more- thank you for sharing!

  8. Miguel Hortiguela

    Good for you. The world needs more people who are willing to step outside their comfortable, privileged lives and recognize that we in the Developed World live in a bubble that is not reflective of the REAL World.

  9. Mary Kathryn Johnson

    If I can bring my husband, I’ll respond when you put out the call for another trip!

    He has always had the dream to visit Africa. I welcome new cultural experiences wherever they may appear!

    So happy to experience your adventure vicariously!

  10. Grant

    Looks like it was an awesome trip, Julie! God, indeed, was among you. I hope to be able to accompany you and fellow entrepreneurs there soon. Keep the inspiration coming.

  11. Curious George

    Thanks for taking the time to share all that in words and pictures. You are sooo good at communicating honestly and clearly and we all get the benefit. Glad you’re home but so happy for you to have this amazing experience that we get to share in it. Xoxo

  12. Lynda

    Your words are inspiration and so heart rendering. They speak a truth that we are all connected on basic levels and that there is also such diversity of culture and lifestyle.

    What an amazing and awe inspiring journey you have had that is life changing. I look forward to hearing more in the time ahead and who knows, perhaps seeing Kenya too!

  13. MaryG Waithaka

    Hey Julie, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s definitely surreal. You do have a way of really putting into words what it’s like. As a native, its easy to take it all for granted. Awesome pictures and I am glad the trip lived up to your expectations. Would love to connect on your next trip…

  14. Bec Brosnan

    Love this! Thank you for sharing. I desperately want to visit Kenya now!

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