One of the self-evident truths about life in corporate America is that shit happens. Especially when you work in a sector or company that has been struggling for a while. So, I was not really surprised when I was summoned to HR one morning in May and told that my position was eliminated and it would be announced broadly 6 hours later – with a slew of other executive changes.
But this article isn’t about how shit happens.
It’s about embracing the positive when shit happens, and making lemonades out of lemons. In my case, I maybe went as far as mixing up a pitcher of frozen margaritas!
Which is why shortly after this unfortunate day, I boarded a plane to Japan with my husband and son with only a one-way ticket! We then spent 9.5 weeks travelling around seven Asian countries (Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and India) – visiting 20 different locations and countless sights, enjoying dozens of unforgettable meals, and meeting incredible hosts in every place. I suspect i could have single-handedly broken Instagram if I tried to capture and post every amazing thing we saw.
I wanted to share some reflections on that once-in-a-lifetime experience:
- I expected to be amazed and dazzled with the myriad of cultures, sights, sounds, tastes and experiences on this trip. What I did not expect was that the most valuable part of the experience in the end for me was the simple gift of being truly and fully present for my family, particularly my son. To be 100% focused on what we wanted to do as a family since every day was pretty unplanned and just for us. Not worrying about things back at the office, and not really worrying about what comes next for my career. So, this is what life feels like!
- I was also blessed to explore the power of possibilities — firstly, these Asian economies were at all different stages of development, so there was a huge sense of possibilities as they each try to create their own version of what modern capitalism (mostly) and a successful society looks like. Most of them have incredibly young populations with the median age around 30-40 (with Japan as the notable exception), so it was exciting to personally witness what the creation of the world’s largest middle class ever looks like. It’s not all pretty to be sure – with such common woes of pollution, congestion, income inequality, corruption and different degrees of political instability affecting every place we visited. But there was a strong sense of building towards a brighter future, with the creation of new rules and new possibilities!
- On a more personal level, we had the wonderful luxury of creating our own version of “luxury backpacking” — in the sense, that we did not have a fixed itinerary or set dates but rather just a wish list of places to get to. We mostly never had a hotel booked for the next day or even sometimes for that night, and we usually booked flights to the next city or country the night before. All this was only possible with the existence of the amazing budget airlines of the region, and the digital travel apps that became our most used apps for sure (making a nice break from Outlook and Excel!). Every day was filled with possibilities rather than rigid plans.
- And of course, the most miraculous thing about this experience was and is the people we met AND the people in my own network who reached out and supported me in so many ways. Everyone in these countries was friendly and warm, and so proud to share their own cultures while trying to shape and absorb the forces of globalization. We met entrepreneurs, students, tour guides, taxi drivers, “Uber” drivers, hotel staff, backpackers, train conductors, teachers, monks, waiters, street vendors, bartenders, and so many others. Each person was so unique and individual, yet there were so many common hopes, dreams and fears across countries, cultures and social strata. People are just people after all.
I had many friends tell me how brave we were to embark on such a trip under prompted by such unlikely beginnings as losing a job! I do not feel brave, but I definitely feel blessed — and not blind to what a privileged life I lead that this kind of trip was possible. However, I do hope that what I learnt and experienced can be useful to others regardless of where they are on their journey – as I certainly mean to carry them forward now regardless of where I am!