When I was twenty three, I was on my way to answer a share accommodation ad, when I knocked on the door of the wrong house.
“Come in and have breakfast,” said the fun young couple inside. I liked them instantly and longed to break out of my insular group and meet more interesting people at that time. I seriously considered their offer for a few seconds — before I panicked. “I have to go — I’m already late,” I apologised and rushed off like the white rabbit to meet my responsibilities.
Waiting down the road at the correct address was a man who, due to my failure to believe in any other possibility, would soon become my boyfriend — a seemingly safe, but stifling relationship that I later described as like entering an emotional coma.
Had I yielded to that split second of yearning just a few minutes earlier, I may not only have made some interesting new friends, but saved myself from a poor life detour.
I was not skilled in listening to my heart at twenty-three; I over-rode my feelings with the stompy voice of reason and practicality. After growing up in an oppressive fundamentalist religion, life choices that kept me safe distance from my passions felt a lot more comfortable.
Afew years later, I was free from that relationship and out at a beach-side film festival when my crush du jour stood me up to comfort an ex-girlfriend. Angry and upset, I wandered towards the water. My jilted heart told me to take a moment and enjoy the sunset. My head said, “you’ll look like a loser sitting all alone.” For once, I defied my ego and sat down. Within what felt like a minute, I noticed a handsome young guy walking purposefully towards me on the sand. He smiled. I looked behind me — there was nobody there.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” he asked in a French accent.
“Sure,” I said, surprised to find myself smiling back.
The relationship that began that day came with young children attached who catapulted me out of my carefully controlled existence into an intense but wonderful new reality. I was raised in a divided and indifferent household. Becoming part of a family that, not only demanded my presence, but loved me without hesitation healed my heart in a magical way I could never have predicted. I could not have imagined my way into that set of circumstances. Still in my 20’s, becoming a mother of any description was the last thing on my mind. The gap between it happening at all was a fleeting matter of seconds. (Postscript we didn’t end up “together” forever — but we remain forever family. But this is not a love story).
Without realising it, I’d begun to learn to trust my heart. And looking back, it’s clear my heart knew better than my head what was good for me at that time.
Many of my life’s best opportunities have come in moments that I almost didn’t show up for. Which says a lot about the fickleness of fate. It’s also taught me that when good opportunities do arrive, we often need to respond in an instant. But, I’m a slow learner.
There are the times when you half-follow your heart, but you’re not ready to act. This can read like not trusting others. More often means we don’t trust ourselves.
Some years on, I open the morning newspaper to read about a successful businessman who is inviting contact from business owners like me. It’s an unusual request and his story hits me with a jolt of electricity. He lives in New York; a city I plan to move to, and I feel an urgency to contact him.
Unaccustomed to risking rejection, I push through fear — re-writing the email a dozen times before I hit send. A few weeks later, to my surprise, I’m in downtown New York on my way to his office. Yet, every step forward, my head repeats the mantra, I’m not ready for this — not good enough yet. I walk inside store after store in Madison Ave, trying to find an outfit to ‘look the part’ I feel I must play to connect with this man who holds a key to my dream.
My phone rings, interrupting my obsessive thoughts. It’s him — asking to bring the meeting forward. But I haven’t found the perfect outfit yet and I panic.
“I’ve finished early, can you meet now?” he asks. It’s lunchtime and despite tbe advantages of a longer meeting, I can’t imagine surviving the awkwardness of a social setting in my state of fear. “I can’t,” I lied. “I — have another meeting.”
He is warm and personable when I do arrive. Casually dressed in jeans and a creased white shirt — he introduces me to his team like an old friend, offering many opportunities to glimpse inside the inner workings of his business. I like him instantly, yet I don’t trust what I am feeling. “Why would someone that successful be this nice to someone like me?” is the conversation playing through my mind. I settle on the explanation: “Maybe he’s a fraud?” Then in an effort to stay a mental step ahead, I proceed to stone-wall every attempt at connection.
We agree to meet again to discuss “possible next steps” — even those words should have felt like a victory of some kind. Yet I am frozen with anxiety and when I get back to my hotel, my overseas mobile dies — almost on cue — preventing me from receiving any messages for days. When I revive it, my voicemail is empty. Convinced he didn’t call, I travel home without even trying to get back in touch. I bury my New York dream, but spend the next few years tracking his progress trying to make sense of my own actions. In time, he sells the business I had visited for several billion dollars proving beyond doubt he’s the real deal — something I might have been part of, or at least have learned from.
Years later, another foreign investor knocks on my door, out of the blue, to invest in one of my passion projects. “Would you be open to taking this venture global?” he asked. It feels unreal, but by now, I have learned to give my heart a longer leash. I go to many meetings with an open mind.
Things progress in a positive direction for several months before my head calls time-out on me. We are in a meeting discussing concrete “next steps” when the investor asks me to consider a new strategic approach and my ego kicks in and I begin second-guessing his agenda. I voice my thoughts and the mood between us changes forever. I try to recover things after the meeting — and we remain friendly — but my trust issues mean I’ve broken trust and unfortunately, he no longer pursues the opportunity.
My pride tells me I did the right thing because “these things never work out anyway.” My heart tells me I blew-up another rare life-changing opportunity
I’ve since witnessed both investors go on to build great creations with others who are not so different from me. My heart was right.
What’s next? A few months ago, an equally rare business opportunity knocked on my door. This time, I recognised it for the miracle that it is and signed up for the adventure without hesitation. The nice thing about miracles is, if you stay open-hearted, they tend to stick around a lot longer. Every few weeks a new door to this particular venture has opened and so far I just keep walking through them. I’ll keep you posted.
We are often told it’s important to chase down big opportunities in life — and chase them hard. Yet I have found the very best opportunities invite us to walk through the door, sit down, or have a meal with them. Not the other way around. Whether we take that chance or even recognise it is up to us. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.