Have you ever got really close to achieving a bold ambition, but fate got in the way? I have – very recently, in fact. It made me understand the fragility of living a creative life – and how our mindset and attitude are the very things that can lead to a flourishing career.
For years, one of my ambitions has been to run workshops on the west coast of America. I love the relaxed vibe and entrepreneurial spirit of California. When I was offered a contract to coach a number of speakers for a TED-style conference, I was thrilled.
But a few days before, I became ill and was so busy with other work I didn’t get chance to rest. I headed out to the airport exhausted and with a stomach problem. But 11 hours on the plane in the good company of my colleague Rona gave me plenty of time to recharge. When I arrived in the States I was well enough to work. What a relief!
However, the challenge was just about to begin. I went to bed and woke up the next morning to the smell of smoke. At breakfast Rona and I noticed flakes of ash on the outside terrace. The news came in that, overnight, extreme forest fires had sprung up in the area and were spreading wildly. We were shocked and hoped that this wasn’t going to affect the conference.
A couple of hours later, we received an email from our client saying that the conference venue had been turned into an evacuation centre and that many of the speakers had been affected by the fire in one way or another. Two hundred people had flown in from all over the globe for the conference and the speakers were ready to go, but with nowhere to speak.
As I’m sure you can imagine, we were gutted. I created a video blog here, which describes how I felt at the time. It was one of those moments in life where I had to think through how I could manage the situation for the best. I was about to go into a meeting with a distraught client and had no idea what was going to happen. Would the whole job be cancelled? Would I have to go back to London? Did the fires affect people’s homes? It was all unknown.
Do check out my thoughts!
Part 2 – How it worked out.
That morning, I went to the meeting with the intention that I would be the person to bring a sense of warmth and positivity and offer support to the client to help them redeem a tragic situation. My job may not be to coach the speakers as planned, but to be flexible in this hour of crisis.
The client looked pale and exhausted. She had been up late trying to find another venue for the talks, but to no avail.
We discussed the options and decided we would continue with the coaching as planned. Instead of running the event in front of 200 people, the speakers would be filmed delivering their speeches in front of each other at the company’s offices.
We met the group and, although there was a feeling of sadness in the room, the session soon became an intimate space of stories and sharing. One by one, the speakers stood up and spoke of personal life experiences, how they’d dealt with challenges, and described who they had become as a result.
One woman told the story of how she’d been beaten up as a young woman and that this was the first time she’d opened up about it. A scientist spoke of the vulnerabilities of being in business and how he’d experienced imposter syndrome in his career. Another woman spoke of how she used to be a mercenary and critical boss until one of her junior members of staff taught her to be humble and kind. When he died suddenly in a car accident, it shifted her perception of what success meant to her and that it was better to be kind.
The talks shifted the tragedy into a bonding experience. They were profound and touching. I was inspired by the fighting spirit among this group who wanted to continue with their talks, despite friends and families being evacuated and affected by the tragedy.
On our final day we were invited to join a beautiful cruise around San Francisco bay with all the staff and speakers. Rona Steinberg and I were continually thanked, hugged and told how special the experience was. We were really struck by their kindness. One woman insisted that she would take us on a tour when we returned.
I loved the generosity and resilience of these Americans and will never forget this enriching experience. One of the talks was called ‘Don’t let a tragedy define you’ and that summed up their positive outlook for me.
I also learnt two things from this experience.
First – how setbacks can be an incredible part of our learning journey and our careers. Things may not always go the way we want them to, but if we can bring a sense of positivity to our experiences and find the wisdom in them, then our careers can be richer for it.
Second – it reminded me of the power of storytelling. How in life’s turbulent experiences, stories can enrich our lives and bring us the wisdom that brings us closer to others.
And – we will be teaching story telling on our up and coming online programme on 6 November. Check out the details here: Trailblazing Creatives Online Programme.