Listening to Mark Zuckerberg’s speech to Harvard’s graduating class of 2017, I was struck by a poignant point he made. “Ideas don’t come out fully formed, they only become clearer as you work on them. You just have to get started.”
Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
As I recently returned from a trip to China, I too have been awed by the journey made since I wrote my first piece for China Personified, “Destination Unknown.”
In this post, I embarked to Beijing with little knowledge of what was to come, except an instinct that told me to go and a dream not yet completely clear.
Looking back now, it is comical and full of irony that I even wrote, “My apprehension is due to the fact that when I step off the plane, I literally have no clue where I’m headed.” And that much was true – I had no idea where I was sleeping when I landed in Beijing. I decided to leave it to spontaneity, the winds of the universe, or Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and fate, as my company is now named.
Little did I know, one small decision really did alter the course of my life. By happenstance I chose a hotel from the suggestions at the airport and as I rode the elevator to my room, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman beside me. As luck would have it, he was a Fulbright scholar, fluent in Chinese and now studying law at NYU. Coincidentally, he too was spending a semester studying at Peking University.
He was living the life I was striving for when I stepped on the plane to Beijing just hours ago. The next day we went apartment hunting together and even rented out apartments in the same complex in the Hanting district near school. As we discussed our futures, the one thing he emphasized was to rethink mine. Corporate law, he said, wasn’t going to give me the life I was dreaming of. Although, I wasn’t quite sure what that life was,
I did take his advice seriously and contemplated my path over again. And so the story goes, that over a bike ride getting lost in Beijing and rethinking my options, I decided to put down those LSAT books I had blogged about packing in my suitcase. Instead, I applied for my Master’s to Columbia University concentrating in China’s economic and legal development.
Choosing a Master’s degree over a law degree was a risk. Unlike a law degree, I would not have a particular trade, a known path, or even a job upon graduation. But I reached into the darkness with open arms and I was pulled into a new journey. Columbia accepted me and awarded me with the Foreign Language and Area Studies scholarship, both supporting my tuition and providing a monthly stipend. This to me was a true testament and proof that I could trust my inner voice against the odds.
And so, I have. Following school, a company called me out of the blue. It was one of those opportunities where you don’t find them – rather they find you. My responsibility was to manage the operations of a large industrial supply facility, which to a girl with a captive imagination, it felt like the magical Willa Wonka’s world of machines and industry.
The expansive facility was filled with sweeping conveyor belts, whirring automated container assembly machines and workers buzzing around on order pickers and rack loaders that often reminded me of centaurs, in which the human and the machine seemed as though they were of one body. I had no idea how I landed in this world, where I donned a hard hat and steel toe boots to work, nor did I have any previous experiences to draw from to guide me. I just became a sponge, as I had done in China, where I learned to observe, listen, mimic, improvise and cultivate.
It was sleeping on kangs in the countryside, living without running water, passing women walking birds on the street, and listening to my Chinese plumber do a stand up musical act in my living room that made my heart and mind open and desirous of opening myself up to possibility, uncertainty and adventure.
That is not to say the path is not riddled with boogiemen, one-eyed monsters and Sirens along the way. Yet, I learned to endure and persist because I have witnessed countless times the beauty that could be, should I let my inner voice lead the way.
And so, once again I took the leap of faith. As I once before wrote, I did not know where I was headed, but the journey was the destination. I felt the winds of change coming and a beckoning to really make use of my passion and experiences in China, so I walked into my work and put in my resignation. I left a vested retirement account should I stay on a mere two more weeks and a fully subsidized MBA program. But I said no, it was time for me to go.
This trip back to China marked the one-year anniversary of my company, Fortuna Holdings International, a US-China cross border advisory firm.
On that trip, I brought clients and projects in the fields of sustainable agriculture, clean energy and healthcare. I also met up for dinner with a former student whom I taught in Bazhong, during my fellowship as an English teacher in rural Sichuan.
Although this journey of mine has really just begun, I felt as though so many things had come full circle. Here was that girl who embarked on a plane, with nothing but a mission to learn Chinese and a whisper of a dream for something far greater. Now, we are on the cusp of accelerating technologies that will hopefully bring sustainable foods, cleaner environments, and healthier lifestyles to both the US and China. This is the dream that has unfolded for me now, which I never would have discovered should I not have gotten on that plane to Beijing, Flight # Destination Unknown. The act of starting a journey can seem so complex, but it really is quite simple.
Plant an idea deep into your heart, put one foot in front of the other, take continuous action, and watch as the seed of an idea blossoms into a magical dream.
You can contact Alexandra at email@example.com.