For me, change is always about unwrapping your inner package. When you know what’s inside and can read the owner’s manual, you’re better equipped to navigate your control panel.
Events, also known as experiences, are catalysts to change. If you choose to view life through that lens, your experiences can become your own personal search engine – something happens and you get curious, so you plug in keywords to your inner database and see what comes up.
I just finished up a seven week stint in SEA – Southeast Asia. I started in Bangkok for four days, just to acclimate to the beginning of my journey and did the typical touristy things. Then headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a temple infusion. And as this ‘grinding halt’ was primarily about regaining a sense of self, I decided that a remote island was just in order – so I headed back to Thailand and stayed on Koh Mak Island (yes, I recommend it!). A part of me wished I had booked a longer stay, but the profuse sweating from the heat and the constant swatting at bugs got old, quick. So, to acquiesce to the adamant urging of others coupled with an innate tugging, I begrudgingly headed to Luang Prabang, Laos for 28 days – of rest. I thrive off of adventure and spontaneity while simultaneously needing the comforts of habit, which I quickly established in this ungodly touristic town. I vehemently resisted being here during the first week. My body then decided to make a unilateral decision and I acquired ‘digestive issues’ where I was more or less bed ridden week two while simultaneously being on an unexpected weight loss program. Week three and four were incredible. Why? Because like all the other weeks prior in Thailand and Cambodia, a plethora of events occurred shrouded in shimmering wrapping paper.
When I work with clients, the most common theme I hear is how they (my clients) experienced some form of transgression from another, whether with a colleague, vendor, partner or friend or spouse. And some thread of that transgression is the obstacle to moving forward, rendering them ‘stuck’. My goal in these conversations is to find a way to thread the discussion gently back to this statement:
“Do you want to be right or in relationship?”
While on my seven week journey in SEA, my events asked me that question – daily. As we say in Silicon Valley – I was eating my own dogfood.
I decided to follow the advice of someone I didn’t know and hire a car from my hotel to the Cambodia/Thai border. Well, the driver took me to the wrong border, so a crazy nightmare ensued. I arrived at the border, not knowing (yet) that I was lost. I saw the line through the Thai immigration was practically empty, yet on my right, I noticed a ton of tourists grouped together, waiting around. I decided to be smart and efficient and bypass the crowd, and head directly to the very short line.
When I got to the window, the customs officer gruffly said, “photo”. “I don’t have a photo”, I replied. She handed me my passport and paperwork. “Photo.”. Annoyed, I asked aggressively, “where do I get a photo?”. “Seven” and she points to a blank space on a wall. I gathered that she meant Window 7. So I go Window 7, where a new long line has now formed. After waiting, and sweating, I get to the attendant. “Photo?” I ask. You can hear the irritation and desperation in my voice. She replies, “No.” No? What the heck does no me? Because of course, repeating the question and with increased volume is a winning solution, so I take this approach. “No. No photo.” She says. She points to an abstract space, yonder. Now I am getting angry. I take a chance and head to Window 4 and notice a door to the left. I barge in. Another women is eating soup and has earbuds in her ears. “Photo?”, I bark? She takes her earbuds out of her ears and gives me the facial expression, “What?”. So, I bark again. She pokes at an empty place mid-air and replaces her earbuds and recommences eating. I walk outside, and by now, the group of tourists that were gathered earlier, are now all in line, which stretches out into the hot sun. This little game continues for some time, and I keep getting angrier and angrier. Never once did I think to be in ‘relationship’ with anyone, only ‘right’. I needed something, and something important at that, otherwise I would not be able to cross the border. This experience took almost two hours. I wonder how my experience would have been different had I simply smiled from the beginning. Said thank you. Asked questions to the group of tourists earlier. Any number of other choices, rather than attempting to be right the entire time. I would also venture to say that this state of needing to be right most likely stemmed from being scared. I was dropped off at some part of the world where almost no one spoke English and I had to maneuver a challenging and serious situation in which my survival and safety were priority, all while being surrounded by military border police from both countries. So, my fear drove my actions. I was too busy stressing out and panicking to slow down, gather my thoughts and move from my sympathetic system (fight/flight response) to my parasympathetic system (rest, etc).
Finally, I was in Thailand, on this remote island, and it was gorgeous. I decided to rent a moped to get around. Week two presented rain; it was beautiful and I loved scooting around with the raindrops hitting my face. At one point, I needed gas. When I arrived at the ‘gas station’, it was raining moderately. I entered the hut to notify the owner of my purchase. She exits with a liter of gas and a funnel. She motions me to bring the bike underneath the awning, as I had parked the bike on the street. I looked at her. Really, she doesn’t want to get wet? So, I in turn motioned to her to come to me. She shook her head and motioned again. Going immediately into “I can do this myself” mode, I walked up to her and reached for the bottle, which she in turn yanked away and scolded me loudly in Thai. Then, with the funnel, she pointed to the sky.
I felt like an idiot. Those of you who don’t know, the gas tank is accessed once the seat is lifted, which means that when you remove the cap to the gas tank, the mouth of the tank directly faces the sky, and today, the rain as well. WOW. I was so needing to be efficient and judgmental, that I didn’t stop to see her perspective. I made the assumption she ‘didn’t want to be bothered’ with the rain and I made up a negative story about her. In reality, I am sure she shared a few Thai words with herself about me, probably something along the lines of, “stupid foreigner”, and perhaps a few others. I humbly wheeled the bike underneath the awning, where she filled my tank with gas and took my money.
Though I wasn’t able to slow down at all in either of those moments, I was able to reflect upon them during the quiet times (in the plane, having my morning coffee, etc). And this reflective stance impacted how I chose to show up in Laos. I realized that I might be ‘pushing’ a little too hard in this Southeast Asian culture and maybe my lessons for the rest of the trip were how to be in relationship, rather than right, with those around me.
The qualities of passionate self-reflection and dedicated curiosity (two sides of the same coin?), for me, define true leadership. When I am able to really see how I am showing up, I can choose to continue my path or shift slightly to be more in alignment with the person, the team, the project or with me. When I have this level of insight, I am then able to see situations from different angles and perhaps even cultivate a deeper understanding about someone else’s choices and thus their behaviors or actions.
That stunningly gorgeously wrapped package with the gold, curly ribbons? That’s you. Unwrap yourself and discover what’s hidden inside.
About the Author
Rajkumari Neogy, MA, is a consultant, facilitator, entrepreneur and alchemist who offers coaching and consulting to help individuals and organizations shift – permanently. Over the last 20 years, she has worked with corporations and organizations worldwide, including Fortune 100 companies like Facebook, Sony, Adobe, JVC, and amazon.com. Her systems thinking perspective allows for a holistic and integrative approach which results in incremental and structural change. This solution is a perfect match for complex needs on multiple levels, whether at an intra (self), inter (between others) or systemic (organization), seeking alignment.