“Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises. Sometimes that beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or writes something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you.” ~Mark Oliver Everett (author: Things The Grandchildren Should Know)
“The universe is conspiring against me.”
How many times have I repeated those words to myself? It’s not rhetorical. Seriously, let me recall a few of the times.
- When my consulting business dried up, but the economy was fine, the decision makers were saying “Yes, but not right now,” even though their need was clear.
- When we showed up at a home, checkbook in hand, ready to turn over years’ worth of money and the real estate agent says “No, the seller has changed his mind.”
- When all the schools you are considering for you child say “no,” then a random run-in with a quasi-acquaintance reveals a previously unknown alternative.
Conversely, there are times when the universe is conspiring for you.
- When two home offers before yours drop out and you get the home that was not as nice, big or well situated but ended up being just the right fit.
- When you learn than you are unable to have children, and that the doctor prescribes a purposeful, slowdown of life in order to give the body time to “relax and prepare,” (conveniently facilitated by the inactivity of work).
- When you call up the alternative school, and learn that the only two openings happen to be in the classes that fit your two children.
Following the Rabbit
In the Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is told by the computer to “follow the white rabbit,” which makes no sense at first. The words appear on the computer screen, typed by an invisible hand. He then encounters a person who asks him to come to a club, which he initially declines until seeing a girl with the tattoo of a white rabbit on her shoulder. He changes his mind, deciding to follow the white rabbit to the club. It is there where he meets a person who will change his life and his destiny.
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” ~Morpheus, “The Matrix”
I don’t live in the world of a Matrix, but sometimes I think life is as divinely structured as a computer program, for looking back on key points in my life, I wonder: random coincidence? Divine intervention? Or is it the great, universal Karma-in-the-sky taking control, pushing me towards a different destiny than the one I had planned out for myself?Depending on your spiritual and emotional persuasion, upbringing, your experiences, it may perhaps be one, all or none of the above.
In speaking with over twenty-five individuals from all walks of life for my current book, Last One Standing: Why some succeed when others fail, I’ve circled the questions of destiny, luck, divine intervention, belief and attitude as contributory elements to the road an individual travels to the destination known as “success.” Nearly all gave accounts where they were given a choice to make a decision of gravity, and when prompted to make one choice, they had made another instead. Then, months or years later, a similar situation presented itself, and sure enough, they followed the prompting.
“I didn’t trust my gut,” recalled the former CEO of a three-hundred million dollar real estate firm. The option was to purchase and refurbish a building in downtown Salt Lake City. He passed on the project, only to have another entity purchase, invigorate and later sell the property for hundreds of millions of dollars. “Those types of opportunities don’t come along frequently and it took me years to make up the money I would have gained from that single transaction.” What he lacked, he admitted, was the belief in himself to see the project through. “From that time forward, I became highly sensitive to those promptings and learned to trust myself.” The financial windfalls would eventually arrive, but it took time.
“What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” ~ Morpheus
Even when all signals point to an eventual outcome, it’s still not obvious to you. Thankfully, it is to others.
Elaborating on becoming pregnant, this was preceded by seven years of an internal battle with my husband about having a family. It was a challenging notion, since we were both working seven days a work, much of it on the road for our respective careers. And while I wanted to move on to the next stage in life, he didn’t. THE. END.
All the while, however, I was feeding energy into the universe (e.g. praying my guts out) that his heart would be softened and that things would work out the way it should. Note that I wasn’t praying he would change his mind. Quite the opposite. If it wasn’t meant to be, then the answer might come as my own personal change of attitude and emotions to one of acceptance instead of a never-ending longing.
The answer came in the form of business gradually drying up. So gradual, in fact, that I started filling my time with writing business books. At first, it was an hour here and there. Then half a day, then full days over the course of six months. Neither my husband, Roger, nor I thought out it as a divinely-structured plan for the future. Nor was pressing Roger about the matter. I’d let it go. Looking back, it relieved him of any pressured I’d been consciously (or even subconsciously) giving him.
As the revenue from my business decreased, offers to sit on boards increased along with my writing. One day, he just looked at me and announced: “You know, since it’s clear the universe doesn’t want you to be a consultant for the time being, you might as well get pregnant.”
That was it. No brass horns or bouquet of flowers. Just the pragmatic attitude of a type-A personality who was taking full advantage of my available time. It’s sounds as odd and as funny in the retelling as it was at the time. I mean, I had nothing but time on my hand, so heck, let’s go have a baby! In hindsight, when I let go of trying to control the situation and him, he had free will and the opportunity to evaluate children on his own terms and timeline. That’s when the magic happened.
It was divinely inspired after all…
No sooner did I get pregnant then the board positions turned into consulting projects that I could do from home, without travel, all on my laptop. Those continued after I gave birth, and offered the perfect compromise to my previous career habits.
Seven years is a long time to wait, you might be thinking, but was it really waiting? I had a personal desire, but someone far smarter than me knew that Roger wasn’t ready. We were having fun, traveling and spending time doing all the things two professionals without kids do; focus on ourselves. It was only when outside forces seemingly intervened did our focus change.
The same held true on a subject almost as significant, and that was our home. For nearly four years, Rog and I had felt as though we should move. It was odd, as our friends said, because we’d spent over a decade building, extending and pouring our life-blood into our residence. Before we had kids, it was our refuge, and heck, every financial advisor alive spouts investing in your residence, so that’s what we did.
Yet, something within us was becoming unsettled. It was both environmental (we seriously think the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a natural disaster) but it was also financial. We couldn’t help but think we could downsize, (Rog likes to call it “rightsize”) and be less burdened by “things.” We wanted to travel more and mow our lawn less.
So, we launched on what would eventually be a four-year effort to find our next home. We went to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, all states where the outdoors severely matched our lifestyle and interests. But time and again, we’d show up, check book in hand, only to find severe flaws in the structure, or it had water-supply issues, or we found outrageous prices for schools or even the lack of a Costco (did you know that Costco doesn’t have a single location in Wyoming? Not one?!)
The pinnacle of disappointment was when we’d absolutely fallen in love with a home and we showed up, ready to hand over money, and the agent simply said the buyer had changed his mind. At that point, we sat back, took a breath, and said “Ok, this isn’t meant to be.” Nine months later, I was sitting on a large rock by my pond and had this overwhelming feeling of loss. I clearly recall the emotion that it was time to leave, and that it was time to turn the home over to someone else. I was so profoundly impacted, I grew emotional. Not long thereafter, I was visiting my parents in another state when Roger called me and announced, “I’ve found it! I’ve found our next house.” It was in a city I couldn’t pronounce or spell, but when I came home the following day, we drove to see it, and at once, I agreed with him.
It was quite different than all the previous homes we’d looked at. It was half the footprint, featuring a strip of lawn that could be mowed in less than three minutes versus five acres, fully landscaped, required two hours on a riding lawn mower. My prayers and Roger’s desires were answered. It just happened to be in a city, and state, that I’d never, ever, thought I’d live in.
It was clear, clean and easy. And that’s when you know something is meant to be. When it takes too much work, effort and challenge are encountered every step of the way, it is a higher power telling you stop, wait, and reconsider.
In this case, it took four years of universal conspiracy for the timing and mental attitude to unite. For I must admit, had I been presented with this option earlier, at any time right up until that moment on the rock by my pond, I would have rejected the notion outright. Boy, what four years of perspective does.
“Surprise is just a paradox. Sometimes it annoys us; sometimes it shakes the tears of joy within us; sometimes it makes us ponder; sometimes it ceases our words and leaves our jaws open, and sometimes, it shuts our lips; for a moment, surprises can put our minds into a state of confusion and halt the movement of the body. Watch out for surprises for surprises are there to surprise you!”~ Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
The universe sees what we fail to simply see, oftentimes because it doesn’t gel with what we want
While our long-term desires were answered, it wasn’t easy at first, but the Universe (in Rog’s words, God in mine), knew that up front. In other blogs, I’ve touched on the strange, but ultimately beneficial challenges I’ve experienced by living here, and this is the perfect venue to focus on the positives, the start of which is by stating a simple truth. I can’t see around the corner, but God can. Trust it and trust Him. Or as Roger often says, if you put good Karma out to the universe, it will come back to you.
Regardless of the “why,” the positive impact on my professional was indisputable. Along with leaving behind the high-maintenance home, I left behind the noise and the distractions that are the blessing and curse of a metropolitan area. No more Ethiopian, Greek, good Italian, French or even Mexican food. Not a Nordstrom, Saks, Nieman Marcus or Barney’s in sight. One Target. One Costco, and it’s the central hub for those from Canada, eighty miles north of me, or Montana, forty miles east. Are you getting the visual? It’s a much simpler life, which takes some adjustment, but the inconvenience of doing without some things entirely (and not having the immediate gratification of others) has taken a subservient role to a complete appreciation for getting by with less, realizing that “stuff” doesn’t bring happiness or contentment. While I thought I’d absorbed that philosophy years ago, it became real clear, real fast that I agreed with philosophy but not the practicality. That part took months, and through it all, I had to chant like a mantra: This is where I’m supposed to be. I’m meant to be here. It will all work out.
And it did work out, and in ways I’d never imagined. Fast forward nine months from our move-in date. I’d finished three books and one screenplay, along with signing an off-Broadway deal. Two years beyond that time, I’d written four more books and a On-Broadway deal is nearly done. The movie producer, Lucas Foster, a good friend after nearly ten years of working together (link to other blog on Seattle Freeze), told me that moving to Idaho was the best thing to ever happen to me. Of course, he admitted being a “greedy capitalist,” who would benefit from my books that he could turn into movies, and I had to agree. The lack of eating out, shopping and general distractions had turned my already type-A focus into overdrive mode.
“You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, disbelief. Free. Your. Mind.” ~Morpheus
Belief and its strange bedfellow, fortitude
What I love about interviewing others who are more experienced than myself (age does not equate to wisdom) is that I’ve found a direct correlation to have a belief in something. Oneself, a higher being, the universal law of Karma, to name the three dominant responses. This is invariably coupled with a fortitude or perseverance, because, as one man who started out as a junior attorney and ended up becoming a billionaire thanks to his investments told me:
“My belief that I was meant to do good things for people led to believing that I could make anything happen with enough hard work,” he told me. Long hours and choosing to take on an unknown and relatively annoying son of a client turned into the first, and largest cellular phone company in the world, McCaw Cellular. Listening to him speak, it was as though the belief mixed with attitude and action. The outcome was almost inevitable.
When I queried him about my hypothesis, he went back to the “universal karma” notion. He didn’t believe it was fate that put him as a junior attorney at this particular law firm in Seattle, nor did he think it was a random act that the senior, supervising lawyer on Craig McCaw’s father’s account dismissed this young man’s “absurd idea,” for wireless-cellular technology. It was all a part of a grand conspiracy—otherwise referred to as “a plan”—that put him in that spot, at that time, in order to make a bunch of money that he could later put towards good purposes (which he has, and continues to do).
The key is recognition then action
Going back to my earlier experience, sometimes I can recognize divine intervention, other times, not so much. It’s impossible to see around the corner, and while I like to believe I have the faith to always walk blind, I’m not perfect. I stumble. Then thankfully, I’m forced by circumstances (the home) or it’s pointed out by others (Rog most often, but others within my inner circle, to be sure) to catch things I miss. What is certain is that my focus on seeing what before was invisible, discerning the right direction I should take versus and then acting on it, quickly and definitively. I’ve observed all too often how a solution is given to an individual but then its followed by inaction. One must not only be in the proper mental state to ask the question and receive the answer, but act.
“So many people make it to the ninety-yard line, but then stop, never making it the last ten.” ~Ezra Taft Benson
As an aside, I have found a relatively good sushi joint, Mexican and an absolutely amazing Italian eatery, but have yet to find a good Greek restaurant. Don’t even talk to me about Ethiopian.
And the adventure continues…
Sarah Gerdes is an award-winning author of eight books that have been published in sixteen countries. Before she became an author, she was an internationally recognized expert in the field of creating alliances, and her successes have been featured publications such as Fortune Magazine, Inc., Entrepreneur and the Economist.
Her clients have ranged from the development groups of Ireland and Britain and across a dozen industries, from including such companies as Microsoft, IBM, HBO, FileNet, Amazon, and many others. Her much sought after expertise has led her to speak at over 100 business and entrepreneurial events around the world including Inc. Magazine’s Annual 500, Young Entrepreneur, the Chinese Software Association and many more.
She has been the recipient of many awards for starting and running her own business, as well as helping other entrepreneurs, businesses from start-ups to F500 increase revenue through partnerships. These include Young Entrepreneur of the year (regional), 40 Under 40 in Seattle, Women Entrepreneur of the Year.