Spots of Time

June 04, 2004

Olympic Dreams Dashed

Today I read an article on CNN.com about the 2004 Summer Olympics and it reminded me about my own Olympic hopes, once bright and hopeful and then, quite suddenly, dashed.

The story was about the "historic" Olympic Torch relay. This year, for the first time, instead of only traveling from the last Olympic city (Sydney) to the current Olympic city (Athens), the torch will pass through 33 cities in 27 countries, including its first visits ever to the South America and African continents. Millions of people will be involved - from organizers, to participants to spectators, on five different continents and in twenty-seven countries. And, I could have been one of them.

You see, about 3 months ago, in Bangkok, I unexpectedly got an email from an old boss of mine, telling me about an opportunity to work with the Olympics - as an advance press agent for the torch relay. The job would include traveling to at least 8-10 of the 33 visited cities, coordinating the media and participants, and then jetting off to the next city to do it all over again. The requirements were public relations and travel experience. I was esctatic! If there was ever a job I was born to do, this was it. It would combine my career experience in PR with my love of traveling. In short, it was a dream come true.

I sent off my resume, and over the next few weeks, exchanged emails with the man in charge of the program. He told me I was well qualified, on the short list for consideration, and could we arrange a phone interview? YES! Logistics were being prepared when he was called to Athens for a meeting. We decided to hold the phone interview when he returned, five days later. The day of his return, I emailed him with a proposed date and time, explained that I was now in India, and waited breathlessly for his response. The next day I got it, and all the breath was knocked out of me.

"We've decided to handle things internally," the email said. "with our people in Athens."

I was heartbroken! Not only did I not get the job, but I didn't even have the chance to prove myself! It had nothing to do with my skills, or my ability - it had to do with circumstances beyond my control. A star that burned so brightly for me was quickly and quietly extinguished. Needless to say, I wasn't great company for the next few days.

But, I believe that everything happens for a reason. Often it takes me a very LONG time to come to this realization, but I always do.

During this time, I was also in discussions with the headmistress at my school in Cangzhou, trying to coordinate our schedules, so that I could come to China to teach after I returned from India. My Olympic dreams had dimmed the "bright light" of working in China, and I found myself stalling for time. I knew I wanted the Olympic job more, but I was keeping China as my back up. When the disappointing news came though, it still took me a while to accept the teaching offer. Somehow, teaching in China didn't seem as cool anymore. Can you blame me? If you had the chance to travel, all expenses paid, from country to country, from continent to continent, with the most famous of all international sports events, would teaching a bunch of kids English compare? On the glamour and excitement scale - not really.

But, after a few weeks, and a lot of soul searching (the timing of my yoga ashram visit could not have been more perfect), I (again) came to the realization that all things happen for a reason and that the past was the past. While the Olympics were a dead end for me now, China was a new beginning - an experience that like the Olympics, would be new and exciting - though in a vastly different way. I accepted the teaching offer.

Several times since my arrival in China, I have found myself thinking of my experience here as medicine - "good for you in the long run, but not always great in the moment."

Sometimes you don't want to do something, or see something, or experience something, because you know it will be hard, or taste yucky, or go down the wrong way. You know that the experience is "good for you" much like a child knows brussel sprouts are "good for them." However, that knowledge does not mean that you want the experience, any more than the child wants the brussel sprouts. Especially when a more appealing offer (the Olympics) or food (ice cream and cake) are also on the menu.

Often their are far more alluring prospects. Prospects which offer more prestige, more glamour, or just more money. They are easy. Its not that the experience in itself won't be beneficial to you - it will. Its not that you won't learn from it - you will. But, it will be familiar to you, or, more familiar than the other option, and a far easier pill to swallow.

As an adult, you often ultimately know that a certain experience will be more beneficial to you than another one. It might open your mind, it might broaden your horizons, it might educate you in a way you never thought possible. But, just like a child, we often shy away from these experiences. We want to take the easier path. We want to eat ice cream and cake. Can you blame us?

I can't lie to you. If I would have been offered the Olympic position, I would have taken it in a heartbeat, China be damned. It was/is a more glamourus job, a more exciting prospect, and would have allowed me a new take on my current traveler lifestyle. It also payed better.

But, maybe for me, there is a reason that door was closed, while the China one stayed open. Maybe someone else out there deserved the Olympic position more? Perhaps it was because I have often wondered if teaching could be a future career path in my life - and China was offering me a change to find out? In short, maybe someone was telling me that I needed to take my medicine, even though, like I child, I just wanted dessert.

I'd like to think that my travel experiences have changed me for the better. That they have made me more open minded, more culturally aware, and less western-centric. My ego also occasionally likes to think that these travel experiences have somehow made me a better, more "perfect" person, a wise and well-traveled sage with a (somewhat) deeper understanding of life and a better ability to chose the "right" path over the "wrong" path. Then something like this comes up and I realize how far that is from the truth. When faced with the glamorous, the prestigious, the thing that "looks good on my resume," I am weak and human and all thoughts of a deeper understanding become nothing short of laughable. I am still the six year old that will chose the bright, colorful package of store bought cookies over plain homemade ones.

I'm not saying that China is the "right" path, and that the Olympics were the "wrong" path. Life is not that black and white. I'm just saying that right now, in this place and time, in this current life of mine, that teaching in China was a door that stayed open for a reason.

I hope it takes me less time, rather than more, to find out why.