Pyramid and Date PalmsNine days from today, I won’t be getting dropped off at Dulles Airport, waiting in line to get through security, or boarding an airplane to fly to Egypt.

Walk like an Egyptian… not

It’s not of my own volition that I won’t be doing any of these things. Rather, it’s because a speaking engagement that came my way several months ago disappeared rather abruptly. And as far as I can tell, it disappeared when the organizers were having so much trouble with the many moving parts of the conference, that they decided to remove said moving parts that weren’t important enough.

Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Of course, I was extremely irritated when it happened. I’d blocked off my calendar for the six-to-seven days I thought I’d be abroad, I chose not to attend this year’s PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference, I was trying to juggle my work and deadlines around those dates… and then, poof, it went sailing off into the sky, much like a magic carpet would.

I’m not irritated any more, and I’m not asking you to join me in a pity party. Stuff happens. People get dumped all the time. Even me (!).

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone

What I realized, just the other day, was what a blessing in disguise this unceremonious dumping had been.

There was all this excitement around visiting Egypt – my first visit to an Arab country, to speak at an international conference, no less, what bragging rights I’d have! But along with all that, there was a fair amount of anxiety. Over visas, over how I should dress while traveling and while there, over how I should plan my work, and so many other things.

With the evaporation of the gig, so too did the nerves and irritation at the organizers (who number as some of the most uncommunicative, borderline rude, people I’ve come across so far). The last couple of weeks have been stressful for a variety of reasons; had the trip still been on, my entire approach to dealing with everything would have been to look at it through the Egyptian lens.

“How can I go to Egypt if all this is happening?”

“This better be fixed by the time I leave for Egypt.”

“How could ________ when I have the Egypt trip coming up in a few weeks?!”

Instead, I’ve been able to deal with those issues head-on, without adding an unnecessary layer of stress to what were already stressful situations. I didn’t have to worry about getting X, Y or Z fixed by the time I left for Egypt; I just had to focus on what I needed to do to get X, Y and Z back on the road to normalcy, as it were. I was able to simplify my life in a way that was critical to my mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Business lessons learned

As in life, this happens quite often in business, doesn’t it? We decide what our business objectives are, we have a roadmap and start to use it, we start getting smart about business development… and then, suddenly, something so big, so exciting, so mouthwatering comes along unexpectedly and takes over the entire picture. It occupies our thoughts from sun-up till sundown, and everything starts being adjusted so that This Big Thing can have pride of place.

And in all that, the plans we’d put in place are forgotten. The sometimes dreary, often mundane tasks that we know, if implemented well, should lead to growing the right way, are pushed to the background, and This Big Thing takes center stage.

Now, if This Big Thing turns out well… then that’s great. But what if it doesn’t? What if it disappears as quickly as it shows up… what then? Can you imagine what a pain in the butt it’s going to be to have to go back to Plan A, and pick up the pieces? Jeez, it’s like we’re forever chasing the tail.

This is not to say we shouldn’t welcome new and unexpected opportunities – we absolutely should. But there is a difference in being open to opportunities and letting Shiny New take over. The latter was where I made my mistake.

Part of the plan

Much of my work has come to me in unexpected ways because I’ve been open to new ideas and spontaneous thoughts. But when I take a few steps back and look at my body of work, it becomes clear that all the pieces are complementary to the range of services my business offers. So even though they may seem as if they come somewhat out of nowhere, they actually come about organically because of things I’ve done, perhaps a year, or two, or three, ago, but that have been consistent with who I am as a person, and with the services my business offers.

Had Egypt worked out, would it have been a waste of time? Of course not. It would have been great visibility, it could potentially have led to several new connections, it could have been the precursor to several things.

But so might a lot of other opportunities, and as the owner of my business, it’s my job to keep them all in context. That’s a powerful lesson to learn, or relearn, as the case may be, and it took a doomed trip to Egypt for me to realize that.

Have you had blessings in disguise that you failed to recognize at first? Did they leave you with lessons learned? Do share!

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke