Last October, I participated in the same program through my company, except I flew to Bangladesh, to teach a seminar on Report Writing and Communications. A week and a half before Bangladesh, my thyroid was removed. About a month before that, my bag was stolen on the way to meet Evan in Tanzania. And just two weeks later, I relocated to London. 2011 was exhausting and I flew on fumes I no longer know. My priorities shifted, and I’m taking stock and listening.
In Dhaka, I pulled two all-nighters to prep for the presentation and I trekked to Sirajganj and Belkuchi to see first-hand Room to Read’s impact on the Bengali community. Maybe it was because I read John Wood’s incredible story, or maybe it was that I’m so enthused by writing that I was whole-heartedly in-love with the experience. I do remember at some point feeling so out of my comfort zone that I wanted to stop eating with people that ate with their hands and hole myself up in my room. But I couldn’t, because I was getting more heaps of rice, and eating is such a communal experience, that I didn’t have the heart to say No. I was full and I just wanted out.
China was different from the start. I wasn’t working on a topic that I loved, so that affected me, justifiably so. It was busy at work, so preparing for my trip ate into my personal time, which I didn’t handle well. I wanted to blog and to write and to do guest posts, but I found myself sending drafts of my presentation to PlaNet Finance at 1:00 A.M. I worried about the food I would eat. I don’t strictly follow a Paleo diet, but I’m in tune with what I consume; meat, veggies, fruits and chai lattes. And I would be responsible for the hotel and food, but given my financial goals, I didn’t know how to get the most out of my experience while sticking to my priorities.
In the end I compromised, which I found essential. I delivered an awesome Asset and Liability Management presentation. I splurged on a driver recommended by a friend, who took me to The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Bird’s Nest. After getting lost in the Summer Palace amongst heaps and heaps of Chinese people, the driver saw my despairing look and said: “McDonald’s for Lunch?” and I said, “okay,” secretly enjoying the comfort of seeing something so familiar. I found Beijing duck to be okay, and I tried the handmade noodles that Christina recommended. Yesterday, I wanted to eat alone, so I escaped from the conference and bought myself a hamburger! With Fries! And an Iced Latte! It was heavenly to sit there reading The Help in Spanish, eating food that I recognized, instead of battling liver and tofu with chopsticks.
But I also ate some street food and socialized with the PlaNet Finance crowd, which I found engaging and delightful. I will never be as experienced traveling as they are, and I’m learning to be okay with that. While they change the world helping Microfinance institutions thrive in Africa and Asia, visiting places like Nigeria, I’m learning that in choosing writing, I will give back. In choosing to live authentically and passionately, I will make a difference. The conference participants were also intelligent and grateful for the Workshop that PlaNet Finance organized with the help of Credit Suisse. I chose not to go on the field visit, because I knew I wouldn’t find it enjoyable.
And today, instead of battling the heat and many a Chinese people, I slept until 1:00 PM and ventured out to the local Costa for a ham and cheese sandwich and for my regular here, an Iced Capuccino. I won’t be doing any of the things I planned to do today. I’m going to focus on writing, getting another coffee and sandwich, and prepping for my trip home tomorrow.
Overall, my experience here goes beyond how I chose to spend my time. Thinking, working through my thoughts, and the conclusions I reached are what matters. In having space, I reaffirmed my gratefulness for the life I have at home with Evan, who I adore to the core of my being. In being thirteen hours ahead of my family in New York, I’m happy that I’m only separated by a five hour time difference, as I feel so much further from them, here. I validated my plan to spend ten vacation days this year focusing on what matters most to me now; writing, crossfitting, and cooking some amazing Paleo meals. Before here, I was considering spending that time taking a meditation course or taking another trip abroad to volunteer. But right now, I’m choosing to flex my writing, crossfitting and cooking muscles over my traveling alone and volunteering abroad muscles. And this choice makes me feel that I’m growing leaps and bounds, finally leaving expectations behind, forgetting about the should haves, and following my truest path.