An Unexpected Opportunity – And Some Lessons

This week’s post is late. Here’s why…

Last week, my husband Duncan and I joined a volunteer team involved in a project more than 1000 kilometres or 620 miles away. We received the invitation last minute, giving us minimal time for planning, but the opportunity wouldn’t come again. 

We jumped at the chance to be involved.

First things first – we had to grab some flights. Travelling the 11 hours each way by car wouldn’t be a viable option; we simply didn’t have that much time. Unfortunately, it was the school holidays, which pushed flight costs right up and flight availability right down. We had to take what we could get and we raided our ‘safety net’ bank account to cover the added expense. 

As for the rest of the trip – accommodation, meals, and transport – we would just make it up as we went. That’s not our usual modus operandi and admittedly it was unnerving. We were stepping outside our comfort zone. In the process, we learned a lot, as you always do when you leave your comfort zone.

Here are some lessons from the week:

Lesson 1: Let Go

Our travels are usually rather well-organized, with contingency plans for when something goes awry. It was rather unsettling to let go and embark with so little arranged.

On the matter of letting go, one of my favourite movie scenes is in Finding Nemo. Dory and Marlin (Nemo’s overprotective father) are inside the mouth of a whale. Marlin is certain the whale intends to digest them. Dory, on the other hand, sees the whale as an ally.

The whale tells them to move further back in his mouth. Dory complies but Marlin resists vehemently, certain they will be swallowed.

Translating the whale’s further instructions, Dory tells Marlin, “He says, “It’s time to let go. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Marlin is terrified. 

“How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?” he cries.

Dory replies, “I don’t.”

Bracing himself, Marlin lets go.

If you’ve seen the film, you know how it turns out for Dory and Marlin. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It may be a film for children but it contains valuable lessons for anyone.

Our trip last week encouraged us to loosen our grip on the need to be in control of everything and let go. In exchange, we could stay open to the possibilities of the unexpected and unplanned.

We learned that relinquishing control invites serendipity. Like when, after a long day’s activity, we had to figure out how to get back to our accommodation 25 minutes away. Then a driver was kindly arranged for us, someone we didn’t know. 

Or so we thought. 

It turned out that, while we had never met in person, she had done us an extraordinary kindness more than 25 years ago. We were able to personally thank her for her generosity back then and relive the memories of that time.

Lesson 2: The Value of Real

During the week, we caught up with people we haven’t seen in years… in some cases, decades. It was a joy to reconnect with them. I realised more fully how very precious personal connection is. I also realised what a tremendous toll the last 2 1/2 years of physical distancing and social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic had taken on us all.

To be sure, electronic means of communication went some way towards filling the gap, and social media kept us somewhat up to speed with each other. It could be tempting to settle for that kind of pseudo-connection and believe that it is enough. But there’s simply no substitute for the richness of real person-to-person interaction with all its nuances, vibes, body language, and eye contact.

We are certainly poorer for the loss of in-person contact over recent years, but it is not irreversible. With the pandemic taking more of a back seat in our lives, Duncan and I intend to seek out and cherish once again those rich connections.

Is there someone you could reconnect with?

Lesson 3: Facing Challenges

Years ago, I learned about the way Norwegians approach inclement weather. In Norway, they say,

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

That outlook is from a country where people very much enjoy the outdoors even though almost half of Norway lies above the arctic circle. Norwegians don’t allow bad weather to interrupt their lives; they simply dress for it.

Over the years, Duncan and I have tried to adopt that mindset too. Like the time we and a group of friends planned to attend an outdoor music festival. On the day of the festival, the weather turned sour and all our friends piked at the last minute. We chose to proceed with our plans, just more appropriately dressed.

The festival went ahead in the rain. Despite the weather, the two of us had a great time with the bonus of smaller crowds and easier parking.

We had the opportunity to exercise that mindset again last week. 

The weather turned cold and windy, and it was wet the entire time. And we were outdoors for much of it. However, we had packed with that possibility in mind, so we were suitably attired. When you are appropriately dressed, it’s easier to have a positive frame of mind.   

Aside from the weather, there was another challenge – trying to produce this post while on the go. 

I generally write in a very quiet office where the only sounds are the ticking of the clock and the clack of keyboard keys. However, I succeeded in writing part of this post while steadying a hefty suitcase on wheels between my knees on a noisy, lurching train for several hours. I’ve learned a new skill!

And finally…

To let go and stay open to the unexpected both promotes and requires a growth mindset.

A growth mindset allows us to see every experience as a chance to learn. Even disappointments, challenges, and setbacks afford opportunities to grow. Overcoming problems helps us develop resourcefulness and strengthens our skillset. It’s how we build resilience.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says,

The man who cannot tolerate small ills can never accomplish great things.

How true those words are.

We were given an opportunity last week. Yes, there were ‘small ills’ – wild weather and make-it-up-as-you-go travel plans, seasoned with serious sleep deprivation (and a four-day migraine requiring medication). 

But we had an amazing week! And we feel that we accomplished great things doing what we love with people we love. What could be better than that?

Photo by Matteo Catanese on Unsplash



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