As much as I espouse the merits of coffee meetings (and frankly a good coffee with or without a meeting is still a wonderful thing), I often underestimate the power of having a quiet drink with a good friend, client or colleague.
I am not sure if it is the relaxed environment, the alcohol, or perhaps the chance to just unwind, but sometimes some of life’s greatest epiphanies comes from such interactions. Or maybe is really just the alcohol kicking in on the second glass. My point is that more often than not, a piece of a puzzle that I had been looking for just seems to find its way to me while sipping on a vodka, and talking nonsense with friends. Perhaps it is simply that such a relaxed state of being allows the mind to wander to places you wouldn’t ordinarily direct it to go.
Two nights I ago I met up with a good friend of mine over a couple of drinks. We are both men in our fifties, from the same country, and have some common interests. So, the conversation is always easy and enjoyable.
“You know, in my thirties, I would have told you categorically that I would never leave my home town. Never. And look at where we are now”, my friend commented. We were sitting in the middle of Manila in a quiet lounge talking nonsense and just relaxing over a couple of beers. Both of us are long term expats having been out of our home country more than 20 years.
And that got me thinking. Not about alcohol. But about change. About second and third and fourth chances. About resilience. About tolerance and bad tempers. About completely messing things up, and then starting again.
I am a firm believer that no one gets it right, that everyone struggles in their own way. My friend’s comment is so typical of so many expats that find themselves sitting in exotic places so completely alien to their home town. Pushing them way outside their comfort zone and having to redefine their reality. Many falter and fall, so many more never look at their lives the same way again. Some push through and become something greater than they thought possible doing the 9 to 5 in their home town.
I find expats who are also entrepreneurs to be inspiring or at the very least entertaining. And most of them got it completely wrong at some time. Their businesses failed, families split, and their world crashed and burned. You don’t see that in their faces until maybe the third drink kicks in and the story telling really begins.
Despite the fact that these people are all quite unique and their backgrounds so diverse, the common thread is that most have had some major life changing event (call it an expat phenomenon) and had to redefine their realities. Okay, let’s be honest, not one major life changing event but often several concurrently. These are stories that any good fiction writer would be proud to have penned. But it’s fact not fiction. These entrepreneurs and expats are not geniuses, certainly not saints, and absolutely opinionated.
“Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning … breathe in and out all-day long. Then after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out … and then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while” (Sleepless in Seattle). This is what I hear on the second or third drink. The first one or two drinks is usually about how great things are now. And by the time I get to the fourth drink, I am usually totally inspired if not asleep.
Joking aside, the expat community is littered with entrepreneurs and their phoenix stories. I have come to realise that second chances are a myth (yes, I think I really am a slow learner). It’s all about third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. Second chances are just the warm up or perhaps the initiation. Maybe getting older doesn’t mean less failure, it just means we often look for the next chance sooner. Another second chance to rise from the ashes.
If nothing else, the trials and tribulations we survive throughout our existence, pays testimony to the fact that opportunities are not all second chances, but just a continuation of our life’s lessons. Do we take up the challenge to live, learn and move forward given these opportunities, or do we give up, give in and wonder what could have been?