Having a clear expectation of your goals is a sign of maturity and drive… or so I thought. So what happens when all your expectation disappear? I’ve been reflecting on 2015 as so many of us do this time of year and I thought I would share with you an opportunity that I had to grow and stretch myself more than I thought was possible.
In August, I had the pleasure of attending the eWomenNetwork Conference in Dallas, Texas for the second consecutive year. After attending the 2014 conference, as you might expect, I had some expectations for the 2015 conference. I knew there would be lessons to learn, wonderful speakers/presenters, connections to make with other smart, talented women from all over the world, and of course GREAT food (I have to admit that one of my all-time favorite things to do while traveling, is to try something new that is local and can only be found in that area).
I was blessed with the company of my amazing 15 year old daughter to share in the learning, networking, and stretching of our comfort zones. The pressure was on to maintain professionalism, learn new skills/insights, and still be mom. Looking back I realize that is exactly the challenge of a good leader in any organization, business, or family.
Did you say India!?
My comfort zone was about to be completely shattered! While at the conference, I met a wonderful woman named Carmell Clark. She introduced me to the idea of traveling to India to attend a personal and spiritual growth retreat called “Inner Transformation.” At first I thought she had said Indiana… but she didn’t. The thought of traveling to the other side of the world and visiting a culture that I knew very little about was intriguing and terrifying all at the same time. I believe that a person’s life should be an adventure and every person has the power to choose how that journey will go. This trip was my opportunity to make a choice that I knew would challenge me and stretch me as a person, wife, mother, and professional.
For the first time in a very long time, I made a decision based on a gut feeling and not on logic. My reasoning told me this was a crazy idea. I thought to myself – this trip would be expensive, I didn’t need to travel to the other side of the world, there are retreats in the US that wouldn’t require so much time off work and not to mention the amount of travel time just to get there. But as I looked at my daughter, I knew that my logic would be no match for what I felt deep down. I needed to do this trip as an example for my daughter.
I decided to go!
I booked the airline tickets right away so I wouldn’t give myself any room to back out. The adventure was just beginning. The process of booking airline tickets for connecting flights, applying for a tourist visa, finding any consistency in packing suggestions was just the start of my adventure.
The morning I was to fly out of Sioux Falls, I was shaking so much that holding a cup of coffee was a challenge. I spent the morning running a couple of errands and having coffee with a very dear friend, all of which helped me to stay distracted from the impending flight. After wrapping up lunch with my husband (not that I was able to eat very much), he drove me to the airport and we said our goodbyes.
Once I was dropped off at the airport in Sioux Falls I was on my own. I felt the churning of butterflies deep in the pit of my stomach with each step. I knew that great things were waiting for me and yet I had no idea exactly what to expect. This was such an unnatural thing for me. I’m a planner by nature and yet here I am traveling to India all alone with no clear cut set of directions or expectations. I made the conscious decision to take each experience one at a time and be present in each moment. I kept telling myself, “It’s all part of the adventure.”
And we’re off!
My first of three flights was from Sioux Falls to Chicago. The second was from Chicago to Newark, NJ. Both flights so far were uneventful, but the third flight was the one I was nervous about. Newark direct into New Delhi, India. The flight alone was almost 18 hours long and I hadn’t been on an international flight since I was a very young child and I’m positive the flights then didn’t have the technology flights have today. Here’s a snapshot of the screen that was placed directly in front of me, showing the progression of the flight.
Are we there yet?
After 22 hours and multiple time zone changes I arrived at the New Delhi international airport. The local time was midnight.
I managed to find my way through what seemed like a twisting, winding terminal to the luggage carrousel area. Nothing was organized and it took me quite a while before I realized that I was at the wrong carrousel. I only realized this once the carrousel I was standing by finished running and shutdown. I started to wonder around and finally found my lavender suitcase three carrousel’s down. At this point I turned my attention to finding a money exchange booth. I knew I’d need to have local currency before leaving the airport, but this wasn’t going to be easy. It was the very early hours of the morning and nothing was open. As I wondered around trying to find a currency exchange booth that was open, I inadvertently left the security of the airport.
When I tried to retrace my steps, I was stopped by an armed guard and it was made very clear (not in English, but very clear) that I was not permitted to reenter the terminal. At this point I did what most Americans do; I turned on my cell phone to find where I could get local currency and a ride to my hotel. This is when I realize my cellphone plan doesn’t cover international calls or data, and to add salt to that wound, India doesn’t have free Wi-Fi everywhere. Just guess where all of my notes including the name, address, and directions for my hotel are stored. At this point, I’m in sheer panic as I realize that I don’t speak the language, I have no idea how I’m getting to my hotel, or even where the hotel is located in this massive city.
Hello? Is anybody there?
Survival mode sets in as I think of all the research I did for this trip. I recall asking about transportation, lodging, and food; all of which were included in my retreat so there MUST be someone, somewhere that is looking for me, right?
I began walking around the outside of the airport terminal, which has armed guards to my right and a strange barricade type fencing to my left. There are thousands of faces looking back at me on the other side of the barricade and I literally gasp for air as the inner panic streak yet again. All sorts of questions start popping into my head like: who’s looking for me? How will I know if they’re safe? This wasn’t what I had in mind as part of my adventure’ this was so far outside of my comfort zone.
I was reminded on my decision to take one step at a time and that’s exactly what I did. I started walking up and down the area between the armed guards and the barricade fencing taking in as much as I could and trying to find anything that felt right. I walked the stretch of concrete back and forth what felt like an eternity. As the panic started to become unbearable, I see my name, hand written on a sign just inside the fencing. The sense of relief and comfort in that moment made me start to shake. I walked up to the gentlemen holding the sign and proceed to tell him that it was my name on the sign and all about my mishaps had how was beyond grateful to see him.
Midsentence, asking him where the car was and how far was it to the hotel, I noticed that he was looking at me like I was speaking another language and, guess what, I was! He didn’t speak a bit of English. We spent several minutes back and forth trying to communicate. He constantly smiled and shook his head like he was agreeing with everything that I was saying. Normally, that would be great, but in this situation I was tired from traveling, so I was extremely irritated. His phone rang and he answered it and started walking away from me. I wasn’t about to let him out of my site. After all, he was the only connection I had to get to my hotel. As I followed him, he turned around and started talking to me. I had a flash of what he must have felt like when I was talking to him just a few minutes before. He finally just handed me the phone and I was stunned, I stood there holding his phone in my hand looking at him like I was lost.
The reality finally hit me that there could be someone on the other end of the phone that could speak English and could answer my questions. I put the phone to my ear and said hello. The female voice on the other end was the sweetest voice I think I’ve ever heard. She spoke English and she called me by name. The relief I felt made me light headed. I was instructed to give my bags to the driver and follow him to the car. There would be one more passenger arriving within the next few minutes and then we would be on our way to the hotel.
Testing my expectations
When I signed up for this retreat, I had expectations of stretching myself and setting a good example for my daughter. Just getting to India was a personal stretch, and I knew the expectations that I had for the rest of the retreat would be tested as well. I knew this journey was just the beginning of an amazing chapter in my life.
My travel to India taught me that as mature and organized as I think I am, there are always surprises that can and will lead you to self-growth if you let it. I have been transformed by my experience and I’m charging ahead into 2016 with renewed perspective. Here’s to wishing you a very happy and transforming New Year!