Lessons from 8,000 miles away…

“So many adventures couldn’t happen today
So many songs we forgot to play
So many dreams swinging out of the blue
We’ll let them come true”

Forgive the schmaltz. There’s going to be a fairly decent amount of it. So if it’s not your cup of Congee Noodles today, I recommend going somewhere else.

Time: 2:52pm, Sunday afternoon, Hong Kong. (1:52am Sunday morning, NYC.)

Location: 59th Floor Executive Lounge, the Conrad Hotel, Hong Kong.

Been walking around all morning… Got up after a few hours of fitful, “it’s 12:30pm Saturday in my mind, why are you first going to sleep” sleep, and hit the gym at around 7:15am, successfully running out the jet-lag in my system. While I don’t get jet-lag per se, that’s only because I’m smart enough to run really hard for four miles as soon as humanly possible after getting off the plane. It works wonders. It really does.

Grabbed breakfast and headed into town. Did some electronics shopping, (Found the new Casio Exilim 10.2. for about $100 cheaper than B+H Photo, which thrilled me to no end.)  Found mom and dad a great New Apartment/Chanukah gift, as well as a few fun things for some friends.

Background…

I have a very close friend who I’ve known for over six years – back in the 90’s, she lived in Hong Kong for a while, after college. She speaks of it fondly, whenever she can. It was the days for her of “I don’t know what I want to do yet, so I’ll go off to Hong Kong, and make some new friends, sneaking in and out of the country via Macau every sixty days or so, so I can keep my non-employment status alive and not get deported.” She’s told me stories in the past of teaching English to kids to pay the bills during the day, and of many drunken, fun-filled nights, too insane to recount. I’ve listened, half fascinated, half enthralled, always with a twang of “wow, that sounded fun.”

I had, I guess, the occasional time like that- my first job after college and grad school – AOL News… Living in a small-ass 2-bedroom with Jen and Angela, working 20 hours a day, downing double-quarter pounders and Dominos like they were going out of style with Gayle, Casey, Tripp, Mark, Regan, Liz, and whomever else… It was a wonderful time – a good 20 months of living at light speed, surviving on the generosity (and high interest) of MasterCard, never thinking one day it would end at 9:45am with 300 of us being escorted out of the building and into the parking lot all at once.

But it was a good time.

My friend emailed me a few days ago, before I left: “If you get a chance, go into Happy Valley, and see where I lived.”

Right. Because in addition to all my shopping, visiting with friends, speaking at this conference, and networking, I’m going to go and drag my ass into the slums to find where you used to walk home shit-faced night after night.

So naturally, this morning, after being totally excited about my camera purchase, I found myself in Admiralty Station with no particular destination in mind. I pulled out the printed email from my friend. “Let’s see,”  The Blue line towards Wan Chai. Ah, what the hell. I’ve nothing else to do.”

Stepping out onto the street at Causeway Bay, I hopped in one of those little busses for HK3.40. Getting off not 500 feet from where I started (the police officer erred on the side of “lazy American,”) I started walking up a little hill.

“Next to the Sanatorium, you’ll see it,” she said.

And sure enough, I found myself staring at her old apartment building, a place she’d stumbled, blind drunk, giggling her head off, or laughing rip-roarious at some ribald joke, with her equally-inebriated friends, hundreds of times during her life here. As I pulled out my camera-phone to grab a photo for her, I noticed the “no-service” icon blinking over and over, and remembered that I wasn’t in NYC anymore. I was thousands of miles away. I had no gadgets to call, no technology to fuel my ADHD. I was just a guy in a foreign city. I was alone.

Then I made the mistake of starting to think.

I imagined my friend, much younger than she is now – out of school, working as an English teacher here, with only the next day or night on her mind – not caring about the next ten years, the next year, hell, the next week, just living for now.

Not having the money for first class to fly back to New York, not having Platinum (or any) status anywhere, not having any credit left on any card…

And not caring.

It wasn’t about that for her. It was about living in the moment. It was about enjoying her time, and enjoying her life. Living for the second, not for what was supposed to happen sometime in the future. It was for where they were going to eat that night, not where the stock market was going the next day. It was where they were going to wind up that weekend, as they struck out, explorers in a strange land.

Walking around the apartment building and adjoining Sanitarium (the jokes coming into my mind were endless) I couldn’t help but feel…

It’s so hard to get old without a cause
I don’t want to perish like a fading horse
Youth’s like diamonds in the sun
And diamonds are forever

Jealous.

Not jealous in a bad way… More… Happy for her. As I walked around her building and her neighborhood, I was living, ever-so-briefly, vicariously through what she’d gone through – what she’d enjoyed during the years she’d lived here. During the times she was able to say “fuck it, I’m just gonna.” And then she did. And she loved every single minute of it. The envy I have of that is indescribable.

There’s a scene in the horrible film “The Beach,” with Leonardo DiCaprio, when he finally gets to a place with a computer and checks his mail. In the background, on the screen, you see all these emails from his parents, friends, with subject lines like “where are you?!”

I felt the same feeling of jealousy when I saw that. Fleeting, but it was there. Jealous that I didn’t know then what I know now. Jealous that my friend was smart enough, so much smarter than I was back then (and probably still smarter than me now) to know that life is just that – life – we’re not given much time here. And to not do something because we’re afraid of the consequences – or simply because we’re too busy worrying about the future – well, that’s just stupid.

My friend knew that eons before I did. And I regret that I didn’t – and I salute her for having that foresight – that level of knowledge – to just do it, and worry about it later. That’s Nobel smart, people. Seriously.

I regret not studying abroad during college. I regret not taking more chances like those my friend took. Not to say I haven’t taken chances – quite the opposite – everything – AirTroductions, Geek Factory, the book, have all come from taking risks, taking chances. And I’ve been more or less successful with most.

I guess in the end, though, I took those chances because of the possibility of return or reward – let’s start a company and grow it so we can do well! Let’s build a website so we can sell it and have the money to build others! Let’s do this, to get that.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! Not in the slightest!!

I just wish that growing up, once in a while, I’d said, “let’s just do this.” And left off the “to get that” part.

Perhaps it’s not too late yet.

Or perhaps it is, and the answer lies in being able to figure out a different way to do it – a better way – but with the same goal in mind – to leave off the “to get that” part, and just see where it takes me.

And to my legion of “students,” (I wish I knew how this blog became so freaking popular with college kids…)

GO TO THE OFFICE RIGHT NOW AND PICK UP THE STUDY ABROAD FORMS. Do it today. Do it for the experience. Do it so you don’t wish you had. Hell, do it for me.

This week produced some serious news about one of my companies. I can’t share it yet, but it’s life-changing. Perhaps everything’s connected – maybe there’s a reason it happened? It’s good news, so maybe the goal isn’t to celebrate, but to use it and learn?

Maybe the goal isn’t to wind up with the most toys, but to exit, stage left, that much richer for the experiences we had, secure in the knowledge that we didn’t arrive securely at the grave safely preserved, but screeched in sideways, out of breath, fattened by wonderful memories and shouting, “what a ride!”

Forever young,
I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever
Forever — and ever

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  • […] At some point during your freshman year, get your butts over to the study abroad office and introduce yourself. You think you’re bogged down with work during “finals?” Wait until you’re 10 years out of college, on deadlines, and the choice isn’t “go to a bar and pull an all-nighter to write that paper or ask for an extension,” but rather “finish the client report, don’t go out, probably skip dinner, get two hours of sleep and be back in the office at 7am, or get fired.” Your workload during the next four years won’t have ANYTHING on your workload for the 40 years after that. Remember that, and study abroad for at least one semester, if not more. If you don’t do it, you’ll be kicking yourself every day that you didn’t. See the world while you still can. I promise you – traveling the world on business is NOT the same as traveling the world for exploration. Every conference room will ALWAYS look the same on a business trip, whether Phuket or Peoria. Trust me on this. Do it now. Need even more proof? Read this: Confessions from 8,000 Miles Away. […]

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