Neptune Day

I received a certificate yesterday as I graduated from pollywog to shellback. This rite of passage was earned by 600 of us onboard while crossing the equator. The ritual included being slimed with blue fluids (fish guts, they said), jumping en masse into the pool and kissing not only Neptune’s ring, but also the lips of a flounder. All of which I did happily.

 

I left the head-shaving piece to the young’uns, many of whom are wearing scarves and caps today.

 

At the start of the festivities an onboard administrator announced over the PA system, “We have now passed over the equator. Did you feel the bump?”

 

It’s taken me awhile to get my footing on the high seas. I knew no one when I climbed aboard in Kobe, Japan on February 1. I had opted out of 20-day crossing of the Pacific so that I could wrap up with my clients and groups. The students, faculty and staff began the voyage in California in mid-January. I knew I would miss those early bonding days. But as an adult, I figured that most travelers would be open-minded and generous and that I would fit right in. It took me longer than I’d predicted.

 

I got seasick immediately. Semester at Sea (SAS) is my third ship voyage. The past two rides were on super-sized liners where motion is barely detectable. Not so the MV Explorer, my current ship. I swallowed a couple of ginger pills to stave off the nausea and went about my business.

 

Within a few hours, I was lying across my bed after involuntarily emptying my stomach of its contents repeatedly that first morning. I then slapped on a seasickness-prevention patch, took a long winter’s nap, and rose in time for dinner. Once the patch’s healing chemistry got into my system I was fine and have been ever since.

 

During one shipboard session for LifeLong Learners (LLLs – my category) a professor on the ship, offered all of us an assessment/test (a la Meyers/Briggs) to help us see how travel-friendly we were. It was a way to measure our personal comfort zones. I opted not to fill out the questionnaire, which was already a strong indicator of how narrow my comfort zone might be.

 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I passed the professor in one of the ship’s many corridors where she personally invited (i.e. peer-pressured) me to find out my level of intercultural flexibility. I agreed. Turns out, not surprisingly to me, that I’m not terribly adventurous.

 

But that sparked something in me as she encouraged each of us to go outside our comfort zones, even if was only by an inch, as a means of increasing that intercultural muscle. I wanted to meet that challenge. I always want to self-improve. Why not use this journey for that purpose?

 

Now, I want to say that even embarking on this journey would have been incomprehensible many years ago. My scores would have been rockbottom back then. It wasn’t that I was afraid to leave home back then. More, I couldn’t embrace what the big deal of travel was all about. Limited beliefs and limited imagination. I wanted to grow in these areas.

 

As a result, I’ve had two major transformative moments on this voyage. Neither, when written, appear to be of great consequence. But for me, they were definitive.

 

BTW, this blog entry is not intended to be a travelog. I’ve seen incredible beauty: the Taj Mahal, Crocodile Lake, and the beauty of women in their native make-up in Myanmar. I’ve covered seven countries and thousands of miles on land and at sea. You can look up my itinerary online if you’re interested.

 

It’s the inner journey that’s been most significant.

 

After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (aka Saigon) I boarded the tour bus provided to give our members a quick overview of the city. I signed up for this so I’d feel more comfortable walking there on my own over the next several days.

 

We had been told about the chaotic traffic in the city. Hearing about it is one thing. Experiencing it was another. We crossed one street as a large group with a leader holding up her hand to halt the zillions of motorbikes that fill the roads. Even with her assistance, crossing was challenging.

 

The next day, on my own, there was no escort. Imagine crossing the equivalent of a six-lane boulevard of Times Square proportions with no traffic lights. The advice we were given was to decide when you’re going to cross, make your move, and just keep going. The traffic will find its way around you. The better advice I received and followed was: when possible, walk between two Vietnamese who are also crossing the street. (This advice was actually given in China, but I applied in Vietnam.)

 

On one particular street I was alone and the street was wide. Moving my foot from the sidewalk onto the road represented my commitment to go outside of my comfort zone. I crossed successfully though not without fear. Once I’d accomplished that feat, it made asking for help with a menu item, negotiating with a woman in the marketplace or seeking permission to take a photo of a vegetable stand easier.

 

They don’t give certificates for street-crossing in Vietnam, but if they did, I’d have claimed mine. I didn’t mention that not only are these motorbikes coming at you from all directions, they may also surprise you on a sidewalk when you least expect it.

 

The second transformative experience I had also involved my getting around on my own. This time it was in India. The first days of our stay there were filled with a guided excursion to see the Taj Mahal. Once back in port, I was on my own. I was scouting around for a plan for the day. We couldn’t walk to anything from the ship, and there were dire warnings to not trust the tuk-tuk or taxi drivers. There are large crowds of these men circulating around our port area hassling everyone to take their little vehicles into town. BE CAREFUL! and “don’t travel alone” were the mantras of this port.

I had my own itinerary in mind for the day and no obvious travel buddy. I took a leap of faith and hired a driver, Sajith, to take me around for 4 hours for $15. That’s the equivalent of a one-way, 15-minute ride from my apartment in NYC to Grand Central.

I told him I wanted to see activities of everyday life in the area of Fort Kochi. I was extremely nervous as he began driving me away from the city and onto narrow, residential roads. But when he took out his phone and showed me photos of his sons, I knew I was safe.

 

IMG_0699

Sajith

Sajith showed me the coolest things–guys fishing in the Arabian Sea, pulling the fish out of the nets, cleaning them off in a wheelbarrow full of water, then taking them about 20 feet away to a make-shift tent where customers were waiting to buy the fresh catch of the day.

He drove me to see how they still do laundry in some areas–very old guys flogging wet clothing, hand-wringing it, then hanging it on massive clotheslines to air dry. We saw how they iron without electricity.

We passed school girls with perfect braids and in blue pinafores walking near their school. I loved it all.

Wherever he drove me, there were cows, dogs, goats, cats, etc. amongst all of the usual vehicular traffic, and no one looking twice.

I wanted an ayurvedic massage. Sajith brought me to a small, but lovely center where I got a 60 minute treatment (while he waited) for $25.

I treated to lunch at a place he chose called the Hotel Seagull–rustic, clean and wonderful. I was led out to the patio area where I was the only customer. Ten minutes later a couple from the ship peeked out onto the deck to see the place and ended up joining us for a really fun and delicious time.

On the way back to the ship, I asked Sajith, my driver, if I might use his cell phone to connect with my friend in India. She’s been living in this country for over three years, and we’d arranged that I would call her that day if I were able to get hold of a local phone. No easy task.

I dialed the number she’d given me, but my call went unanswered.

That evening six of us had a lovely dinner at a Taj hotel a short walk from our ship. When we were walking back to our dock, there was the usual crowd of vendors and drivers vying for our attention. I form a mental bubble around myself and ignore them all.

But one of them seemed intent on getting my attention and I realized it was my driver. My friend in India had returned the call to the unknown number which came from Sajith’s phone. He wanted to let me know that she’d tried me a couple of times, then dialed her up for me and invited me to sit in the dock area using his phone for my conversation with her.

Sajith’s act of generosity was the finest moment of this trip to date.
I’m stretching. I’m moving out of my comfort zone, and I’m able to feel the bump.

The date was March 17.

Three years ago on March 17, I received a different document. That one marked a different rite of passage: divorce. Nowhere on my horizon was the life-changing opportunity I embarked upon in February.

 

Bon Voyage sign

Twenty-four hours from now I’ll be en route. I’ve been extremely well feted by friends and family. I’ve gotten to experience the glow of my life here, which I’ll carry with me while abroad.

Last night I said good-bye to my daughter and her family. On the way up to her apartment we crossed paths with the FedEx guy who was just leaving. “You must be Grandma Jane. They’re expecting you, ” he said to my surprise.

And there was my granddaughter Chloe, at the door with this sign, beaming over her handiwork (the stickers), crying out, “Good-bye, Grandma Jane!” having just had a dress rehearsal with said delivery man.

The past week has been filled with such beautiful send-offs mixed with the practicalities of leaving. I’m making last-minute purchases based on last-minute pieces of advice and wisdom:

Put neosporin in your nostrils before each flight to keep germs out.
Forget the 35 mm camera – your iPhone will serve perfectly well.
Take acidophilous tablets in India as a preventive measure.
Et cetera.

I’m comparing my anticipation of this huge adventure to my son and daughter-in-law’s final days before Owen’s birth. You know your life will be changed forever. You know that others have had similar experiences and grown from them. Yet, I have no idea exactly what the day-to-day life will be on the ship and in 11 different countries. It’s glorious and scary to be on this side of the journey.

So, this is good-bye.

I’m not making any promises I’m not sure I can keep about blogging, posting photos or being in touch. I’m giving myself full permission to just BE in the experience of it all. If/when I’m able, I will report out to you. But please allow me the space to NOT be in touch.

I wish you all a healthy, abundant season between now and May. I have the greatest love for everyone in my life and thank you for your good wishes, prayers and positive thougths now until my return.

pre-packing for SAS

Organizing for the organizer

Working backward from my departure next Tuesday, I’m figuring out what meals I still need to shop for and prepare, how many more loads of laundry there are to do and which articles of clothing I can safely pack away into storage to make room for my tenant.

My friend is here helping me by scanning each of the documents I’ll be carrying with me…just in case. I’ve been using Evernote for awhile. Knowing that every important piece of paper (visas, tickets, reservations, etc.) can be produced digitally, if necessary, brings me great comfort. I will travel with all of the paper documents which I’ve organized into a plastic Muji carrying case.

Today I spread out everything on my list, except my clothing, so that I can get a visual sense of what I have. Scarlett is coming tomorrow to help me pack light. The challenge for me is to stay warm enough at the Great Wall of China, cool enough at the equator and the jungles of Vietnam, comfortable while participating in classroom activities, fancy enough for the Ambassadors Ball and meeting dignitaries, yet leaving enough space in my limited luggage capacity for all the beautiful saris, scarves and souvenirs I’ll want to bring back.

As a counterpoint to my exciting adventure, I heard shocking and sad news this morning–the untimely death of a man I met when I first moved here a little over a year ago. He died on Sunday at age 60; he had a heart attack while running in Central Park. We were only passing acquaintances, but I felt a strong connection to him anyway. I looked forward to getting to know him better in the years ahead. One of the last things I’ll do before I leave early Tuesday is attend the Monday afternoon memorial service in his honor.

I don’t need a tragic incident like this to motivate me to live my life fully. But it does catch me up short and remind me that each day really does count.

When I was a kid I thought that to be a grown-up meant knowing how to drive a stick shift car, speaking French and living in a Victorian. I realize these date me, but they represented a worldview that felt like it had my name on it. So did ‘sailing around the world.’ That when you got to be an adult, this was something that you could do.

flax-cover-minus-type

Is this your calling? It was mine.

What I notice now are the other messages I was surrounded by that didn’t become part of my definition: buying a boat, going to the South Pole, having a big diamond ring or becoming President.

Each of us goes through life bumping up against thousands of experiences and being exposed to millions of ideas. I can look back and notice what stuck immediately, what captured my imagination, and what ideas kept recurring until I had them.

Most prominent for me were getting married and having children, becoming a teacher, spending much of my lifetime making art (in the form of Ukrainian Easter eggs), becoming a coach, and now, seeing the world.

The marriage and children were definitely in my DNA. But, I can easily remember the first time I saw a dozen Ukrainian Easter eggs shown to me by Dorothy Discko at Westhill High School in 1972. Or meeeting Valerie Barone (now Taloni), my first coach in the late 90′s and knowing I wanted to do what she did.

Only a few things hit us over the head so hard that we have to take notice.

So when my friend Chrissy mentioned a life-changing trip she was embarking on, I was struck. Had she said, “I’m going to the Arctic,” I would not have paid further attention. But when she said she was sailing around the world, all signals inside of me said: GO!

I’ve spent the past couple of decades clearing out my channels so that these kinds of messages can come through. I’ve let go of caffeine, sugar (not 100% on this score, but closer than I was), wheat, dairy, nightshades and a few relationships. I’m no longer blurry on what feels right or wrong. This can be a good thing, because my direction has become so clear.

But there’s also a responsibility attached to knowing what excites you and has your name on it. You have to do something about it.

I’m curious where you are on your journey and what’s got your name written on it.

The Explorer I’ll be sailing aboard

With just one week to go before my departure, I’ve wound down my groups and have only a few more coaching calls before I climb aboard the MV Explorer in Kobe, Japan.

My final preparations include getting my tax info off to my accountant, converting dollars to yens and getting crispy US bills for my travels in Burma where only the freshest currency is acceptable. Then there’s the haircut, learning how to use my new iPhone and investigating ways to communicate while overseas.

My wardrobe consultant and stylist, Scarlett DeBease, will help me pack. I’m investing in her services which will save me untold thousands in potential panic and aggravation. I’ve read Scarlett’s blogs on how brilliantly she prepares for trips, and I want that service for this big expedition. We’ll take pictures of all my outfit combinations (I could never remember these without visual cues), so that I’ll be comfortably and appropriately attired whether I’m at the equator, the Great Wall of China or a temple in India. And I won’t be ridiculously overpacked, which I would be left to my own devices.

The big question these days is…well, actually there are two: “Are you excited?” And the answer is VERY! The second is, “Are you scared?” And the answer is VERY! But it’s a good scared. A motivating scared.

There are so many unknowns. I’ll be joining a thousand people onboard, only one of whom I’ve met.
I’m not that good a sailor.
I’m concerned about the quality of the food.
I’ll be away from everyone I love.
What will I regret not packing?
How will I survive without a powerful internet connection?
What will I be missing here?

This is countered by the excitement of discovering new places–India, Africa, Vietnam, China, Burma, Morocco. Of  meeting new and interesting people. Getting a world view like never before.

I have received the most wonderful feedback from you wishing me well, congratulating me for pursuing this dream and attracting virtual passengers who will get to their ports (goals) as I arrive at mine. I’m so grateful to have you in my community cheering me on.

More later this week…

IKEA bits

IKEA Deconstructed

My client Heather recently took a giant leap forward in her business and committed to office space outside her home. Her marketing business has grown exponentially, and it’s time to take on staff and a physical presence in her community. She has a big vision and is taking all the right steps to achieve it.

While furniture shopping at IKEA to fill her new space, she ordered several desks, bookcases and cabinetry to go in her freshly painted interiors. At the checkout Heather requested that the pieces she ordered be delivered and set up in her new space.

The well-meaning (and clearly NOT entrepreneurial) check-out person hesitated when she heard the request. Sweetly, and with an attitude of extreme helpfulness, she said to Heather, “Oh, Honey, that’s going to add another $400 to your total.”

To which Heather enthusiastically responded, “I know. Charge it!”

What Heather truly knows is that schlepping huge boxes off the shelves, loading them into a vehicle, unloading them at her new place of business, transporting them into her building and opening the packaging, then taking hours to unpack and assemble the multiple pieces is well worth that relatively small amount. Especially when you compare it to her value helping clients while said pieces are being dealt with.

I teach the art of delegating to all my clients and audiences. I LOVE hearing a success story like Heather’s that demonstrates her implementing this simple yet key strategy.

What have you delegated lately?

Scam Award

I received a congratulatory notice in my inbox that not only had I been nominated (I must’ve missed that email), but I had also been awarded the 2013 Best of Business Award in the Small Business category.

This smelled bad from the get-go. Especially since the subject line read:

Jane Pollak Inc Awarded for the 2013 Best of Business award in Norwalk

#1 – I dissolved my incorporated status a couple of years ago in favor of an LLC entity.

#2 – I haven’t lived in Norwalk for over a year, so my recognition there was somewhat suspect.

If that weren’t enough to put me off, this bogus-looking plaque did.

I wanted to find out more about who the organization was distributing said awards.  Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to rip off the less jaded business owner out there looking for validation. They have constructed an in-depth site that says a bunch of nothing.

Once again, google is a great friend. The fourth entry down when I googled the signator’s name yielded this juicy tidbit, exactly what I was looking for:

Skeezy Scammers On The Prowl In Arcata – August 16, 2011 | The

Aug 16, 2011 – These fresh insults to fair business practices ride into town on top of the usual …. Arizona firm called the “Small Business Community Association” (SBCA). Other than Chairman Rich Thurman, members of the “Selection 

‘Nuf said. Caveat emptor.

transformation butterflyIn a recent correspondence with a friend, after I told her about my upcoming voyage, she posed the question, “What will you do after your trip?”

My resounding response was, “I don’t know! That’s why I’m going.”

Several courageous voyagers have accepted my Come Away With Me offer to also transform where they are now to a heretofore unknown destination by May 2. It could be writing a book, putting together a teleclass or webinar, creating a proposal for a national conference or bringing a product to market.

In each case, mine included, we have a destination that is unknown to us now. The adventure is in the journey.

As I will have ports of call in the next three months, each member of this program has her set goals too.  When I arrive in Shanghai on February 7, you too will be in a new place. We are each traveling towards something larger than what already exists. We’ll touch base in Vietnam, Burma, India, S. Africa and Ghana–a goal for each of you to match my destination dates.

I love the term world traveler. To get there requires vision, determination, consistency, effort, pain and joy. By May 2, I will have earned that credential.

Yours could be author, expert, inventor, artist, etc. I’ve got a vessel and a daily itinerary to carry me to my harbors. What do you have to carry you?

It’s nice to have a guide to lead the way. Let me be yours. I have 3 more spaces. Come away with me!

Carol Scheider and Patricia McKearn at Chi Floral Designs

Carol Scheider and Patricia McKearn at Chi Floral Designs

December 23 was a dreary, rainy day, but Carol Schneider and I had it on our calendars to take a road trip to PA. We went in spite of the downpour–over 2 hours each way. We visited the picturesque town of New Hope, PA where there’s a small, but elegant shop called Chi Floral Designs that carries Carol’s opulent scarves.

Carol (on the right) is modeling one of her infinity scarves in this photo standing next to the prorietor, Patricia McKearn. Carol’s textiles are to her right hanging from antique towel racks, and also behind her on a charming bamboo ladder. They’re selling well, which is always a thrill for the creator.

Like any good craftswoman/business owner, Carol wanted to see her work on display and to reinforce her relationship with the shop owner. Nothing solidifies a relationship like long distance travel. It speaks volumes about your interest level and commitment. We were most warmly received not only by Patricia, but also by her staff.

I tagged along for the ride for several reasons. I love spending time with Carol who is a font of information. She helped Workman Press start their speakers’ bureau. We connect on so many levels–crafts, books, speaking, etc. The ride went quickly in both directions. We never run out of conversation, and I love seeing new parts of the country.

I also am intrigued to meet women business owners like Patricia. I’m fascinated by her history, how she and Carol met (through Patricia’s daughter–a one-time employee of Carol’s) and how she’s building her business. For one thing, she has invested in Fair Trade with Monkeybiz in South Africa to bring their creative products to the US. Since S. Africa is one of my ports of call, I was especially intrigued with her findings there.

Monkeybiz Products

Mostly, I just love to be around creative, enthusiastic women entrepreneurs. There’s nothing like that energy of being your own boss, making your own decisions, having the freedom AND the responsibility of it ALL.

With a lull before Christmas, driving to Pennsylvania on a rainy Monday was just the gift I needed to begin the week of holiday giving. Hope everyone had an abundant and joyful holiday season.

malaria pills listWhile everyone else is scurrying about buying greens to trim their staircases and mantles, wrapping gifts to put under the tree, and baking fruit cakes, I’ve been busy tending to my list for my upcoming travel around the world amidst the Christmas chaos.

Being Jewish eliminates a lot of the ‘have-to’s’, and our holiday has already come and gone freeing me up to focus on this life-changer I’ll be embarking on.

I’ve gotten my vaccines to prevent yellow fever and 4 other scary conditions I could be exposed to. Today, I brought in my prescriptions to prevent malaria, seasickness and other potential stomach disorders. These could be daunting activities, but the excitement I have for this expedition outweighs the chatter that says, “Are you really going to do this?”

Not once have I questioned the wisdom of going, even though the precautions can be daunting. This morning I read Martha Beck’s monthly column in O Magazine entitled, Are You There, Gut? It’s Me, Martha – a tongue in cheek reference to my daughters’ beloved Judy Blume book of a similar title. The article’s descriptor says,

Martha Beck reveals how to quiet what you’re thinking long enough to figure out what you actually feel.

My favorite phrase in the piece about trusting our guts is that we must

quiet the clamor of social training.

I can hear my gremlins in the background, “You’re doing what? Is it safe? You don’t know anybody! Isn’t that a long time to be gone? Aren’t you afraid? What if, what if, what if???”

I’ve trained myself to quiet those voices and listen most closely to my heart and soul, which are screaming at the top of their lungs (well, if they had ‘em): GO! GO! GO!

A friend I just told about the trip asked me what I’m going to do after it. I smiled to myself knowing that after this trip…I’ll know. But, right now, I have no idea.

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