I was recently asked about the kind of advice I would offer to my younger self. As I approach the end of my twenties, the question was meant as way of teasing out what I could the offer the questioner who themself is at the start of the decade.
I don’t feel accomplished. The wisdom I have accumulated thus far has been tested in trying circumstances but the results have not left me where I would like to be and feeling how I would like to feel. Still, I found the question a fascinating challenge. I thought of sharing some longer anecdotes but simultaneously failed to remember all but the most powerful I’d heard. I wasn’t about to share such weighty advice. So with the self awareness that I lack both depth and breadth of experience, I opted for brevity and personal meaning.
The quality I’ve developed and continued to temper over this decade is resilience. If quickness in bouncing back from difficulty is part of this measure then I previously wasn’t resilient as I would repeatedly discover I needed to be. In the moments of trying to find a way to try, an inner push, the phrase offered up from my subconscious was, Fortune favours the brave.
Brave in my sense was not so much facing up to danger or a threat. It was fighting against my interpretation of certain failure. In doing this repeatedly, I’ve found two important learnings.
1, to remember that if humans are involved in a system there is always some leeway.
2, that agility is a precious part of preparedness.
In everyday terms it means I know that I should always wear shoes and clothing I can run in. It also means making sure that I am ready to run. This agility is physical, mental, and metaphysical. That if the situation should arise, it can and often does, I am ready in at least this attribute. Running for buses, trains, even planes although infrequent, are reminders that being able to move is invaluable.
Recently I proved this quality to myself again. My visa allowed for 30 days in China before it needed to be submitted for the residence permit process. Due to some administrative hiccups I was without a room to stay when I returned to China. I packed very light so what should’ve been lugging around heavy bags in Beijing on the evening I arrived turned in a delightfully easy bike ride. Always carrying earplugs meant a silent night’s sleep. Organising my packing meaningfully made getting what I needed in my shallow upper bunk bed near effortless. Regular deliberate fasting meant being free from needing meals if inconvenient.
Problems kept arising and the deadline for submitting my passport was brought forward a week by a significant national holiday. I had a week less than I expected and suddenly needed to submit. I had been trying repeatedly and continually every day so I was able to submit a few days before deadline. On the final day I was due to be interviewed by the Exit-Entry Bureau. It was here that it was discovered I was missing a university seal. A very important no-residence-permit-for-you stamp. I was told I had until noon to return before the holiday closure, and the knowledge that I’d have to leave the country for failing to complete my application in time.
I rushed back to the university. Spoke to the people who could help me. People who I’d interacted with many times before. A frustating process for me and I can’t even begin to imagine how tiresome for them as my needs were eclipsed by hundreds of students’. I think we often forget that people behind service desks are humans too. I have long known this and learning 1 is a reminder that if people like you they help you just a little bit better than if they don’t.
Mistakes happen. The stamp should’ve been there but it wasn’t. It was going to take 45min to organise the meeting to obtain it. From a different building on the massive campus. Our timing showed, I’d have mere minutes to return to the Bureau from the university. But first the stamp, and the patient wait in the office as the appointment was organised. I smiled in momentary resignation.
The rush to the stamp providing building was the warm up. Stamped certificate in hand my map app said I’d need over an hour on public transport, nearly 50min in a taxi, just under an hour on foot. Time? 11:43. Checkmate. Teleportation and jetpacks notwithstanding, such a journey across Beijing is impossible.
People need time to leave the office I thought. There might be queue. Ready for action in my casual clothes, and well trained on Beijing’s ever available rental bikes. I took off. As fast as I could pedal. Even a footbridge to traverse the traffic was a chance for a high intensity interval upper body workout as I hauled the bike up and down the stairs, fireman style. Push ups, every morning, suddenly useful. Darting along the streets, patiently waiting only to momentarily ensure safety at busy intersections, I raced the seconds.
4min spare, drenched in sweat, I arrived. The Bureau nearly empty, officials already casually dressed. I am still grateful for attention China gives to timing. Permit successfully submitted. I wondered, how many links on the chain had to come together for my window of opportunity, so barely open it appeared shut, to allow my flicker of light through?
Packing light was the first link. No, being polite was more important. Or was it a continued appreciation for cycling? The daily pushups and stretches? Maybe it is just luck. Luck that only became statistically possible, then likely, as I pressed against the odds and as I dared to prepare for the unknown.
There is a third learning. We have to try and continue to try. This is the bravery in a more traditional sense. Sometimes we can claw open a closed door and Fortune may favour our attempt.