I am here in the deserted lobby of the 5 star JiaHua Hotel in Beijing at 4 am, reveling in - and writing about - the extraordinary experiences I’ve had these past few days. What a privilege it was speaking for an appreciative audience of 1800 people at China’s 12th Annual Direct Selling convention. I even had a rather unique Justin Bieber experience (minus the screaming girls) and was mobbed after my presentation by eager picture-takers.
I luxuriated in jasmine hot springs, had my toes nibbled on by tiny fish, enjoyed the benefits of a rigorous head-to-toe Thai massage, and was hosted 24-7 by Ms. Cathy, my gracious interpreter who attended to my every need (pictured here with my lucky Mr. Blue Heron journal, flying with his Chinese brethren).
What I’m embarrassed to tell you is … this trip almost didn’t happen. Here’s why.
I’m normally an adventurous person. A frequently-asked question these past 12 months on my YEAR BY THE WATER has been some version of, “How did you get the courage to give away 95% of your possessions and take off on the road … all by yourself? That’s so brave. I could never do that.”
Well, I never thought setting off on this venture was brave. I grew up riding horses. Even when we were 8 and 9 years old, my sister Cheri and I would be gone all day riding with our friends and our parents never worried. If something went wrong, and things often did, they trusted us to “figure it out.”
What if our bridle broke and we’re out in the middle of nowhere? Figure it out.
What if we got bucked off or our horse ran away with us? Figure it out.
I’ll always be grateful to Mom and Dad because the underlying theme of our growing up years was “Life is an adventure; you're supposed to get out in the world and experience it.”
Instead of seeing the world as a dangerous place to be scared of – we grew up seeing it as a safe place to explore. Instead of worrying “What if something goes wrong?” we kind of expected things to go right. If things did go wrong, no worries, we had faith we could figure them out.
So, I was shocked when a course of events led me to “playing it safe” and almost backing out of this China trip. Here’s what happened.
My sister (who’s run my business for 15 years) and I have been negotiating this trip for more than three months. We finally signed the contract two weeks (yes, two weeks, and no, that’s not the norm) before I was to jump on a plane. In the confirmation email, our contact casually mentioned I needed to get a visa.
Need to get a visa?! That had never been mentioned in the three months of negotiating this trip. I’ve had the privilege of speaking around the world – from South Korea to Germany – and never had to apply for a visa before.
I went online to research it and discovered you couldn’t do this online; you needed to go to a Chinese consulate in your state of residence, apply in person and return four-five days later to pick up the approved visa.
Well, that was a deal-breaker.
I’m on the road, my schedule’s fully committed with clients the next two weeks, and I’m nowhere near my home state (not that I even have one anymore).
Plus, the fact that this requirement had come “out of the blue” at this late date made me wonder, “What else hasn’t been mentioned that I need to know?”
Then, a fluke event threw me even deeper into doubt. The day I found out about the visa requirement was the day numerous major internet sites crashed. As you may remember, there were a lot of theories about who caused this and why – and one of the theories was that China or Russia was behind this cyber-attack.
Yikes. Normally, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but all of a sudden I had big trust issues with this trip. I was flying half-way around the world to a country where I didn’t speak the language and was putting myself in the hands of people I didn’t know. What if the internet went down while I was there and I had no way of contacting loved ones? What did I really know about this organization anyway?
There was another factor contributing to my rapidly multiplying doubts. Over the years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize my travels so I don’t get overwhelmed. I focus on one event at a time as the date gets closer, and that works just fine.
But our contact had not sent us ANY details about my speaking engagement. I didn’t know what hotel I’d be staying at, the event logistics or audience profile, whether there’d be simultaneous translation, etc.
We normally have ALL the W’s – Who, What, Where, When, Why – spelled out months in advance on our contract, but that hadn’t happened with this particular client and I hadn’t been paying attention. Red flags were flying.
I’m a fan of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama,” but I found myself uncharacteristically consumed with doubts and fears about this trip. Normally, I wouldn’t think of backing out of a commitment, but I wasn’t sure I could trust this organization. Should I get on that plane or not?
Well, enter my son Tom and daughter-in-law Patty to the rescue. I called them for advice and spelled out the situation. They had been to China and I trusted them to offer a much-needed fresh, objective perspective.
Thank heaven for Millennials and their wise counsel and proactive mentality.
Two minutes into our conversation, Tom had already Googled where I was staying, (Denver), and told me, “Mom, there’s a place called Mile High Visa that has a courier service that can handle this for you. They’ll pick up your application, process it, and return it to you.
Plus, there’s no need to put yourself at the mercy of someone you’re not sure you can count on. Here’s the contact info for the U.S. Embassy in China. Print it out and take it with you. If anything goes wrong, head there. Be sure to get an international phone card for your cell. And write your contact today and tell her exactly what you need from her to feel safe making this trip.”
Patty chimed in to say there was English signage throughout Beijing so I would be able to find my way around if necessary. “We loved our trip there, found the people very friendly, and look forward to going back some day.”
That was enough to “flip the mental switch” from the left side of the ledger where doubts and fears reside - to the right side of the ledger where faith and trust live.
If you know me, you know I love to juxtapose things. I think it’s the quickest way to make complex ideas (and decisions) crystal clear.
What do I mean by juxtaposition? Get a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. The left column stands for what’s WRONG. The right column stands for what’s RIGHT.
Or the left column stands for what SABOTAGES or COMPROMISES our effectiveness and success. The right column stands for what SUPPORTS and CONTRIBUTES to our effectiveness and success.
Or, the left column stands for the PAST, the right column stands for the FUTURE.
You get the idea. When you are trying to make a decision, you can put down all the CONS and WORST CASE SCENARIOS (reasons to say NO or NOT GO) on the left. Put down all the PROS and the BEST CASE SCENARIOS (reasons to say YES or TO GO) on the right.
When I did this, it was clear to me that I had drifted over to the doubts and fears on the left side of the ledger because I had AN ABSENCE of INFORMATION.
Anxiety is defined as “not knowing.” I didn’t know what was happening and that absence of information caused a mild state of panic. When we don’t know, we start filling in the blanks, and those blanks often dwell on worse-case scenarios.
But, as Tom and Patty demonstrated, lack of information can be fixed. They gave me tangible resources that helped me regain confidence I could take care of myself and “figure it out” if things went wrong. They filled up the right side of the ledger with their positive experience and expectations that I could have the same.
I needed to do one more thing. When facing a big decision, I’ve always advised my sons to “take the bolder of the options.” I needed to project ahead and ask myself, “Would I regret being a ‘chicken’ and backing out of this trip?”
I think backing out of things is a slippery slope. It’s easy to start being cautious. Playing it safe can become a habit. That’s not who I want to be ... and that's not the path to our SerenDestiny.
George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
We have a choice when considering whether to take a trip – and I mean “trip” in every sense of the word. Trip to a new job. Trip to a new country. Trip to a new relationship. We can stay on the left side of the ledger and focus on worries and worse-case scenarios and talk ourselves out of going.
Or we can focus on the right side of the ledger, secure the information we need to feel safe, see the world as an adventurous place waiting to be explored and experienced ... and GO.
I chose the right side of the ledger and I’ll always be glad I did.