I am writing this from an airport lounge at JFK airport where I sit in a comfy armchair nursing a cup of coffee and a raspberry yogurt before taking off on my fifth business trip to China. To be honest, the coffee is passable and the yogurt is just OK, but I'm choosing to enjoy them because once I get to Beijing for a week to facilitate presentation skills workshops for a few clients, I know that the only coffee I'll have will come from the little jar of instant Maxwell House that I've scurried away in my luggage, and that the only dairy I'll have will be... none. So for right now, at this moment, the coffee is a gift for my alertness, and the yogurt is a gift for my bones.
"Beijing again? How exciting!" My friends have said with genuine enthusiasm.
"Wow! You work in China?" My colleagues have asked, in awe.
"That's so cool. I never get to go any place that cool," My CrossFit workout buddies have chimed in (competitively, of course).
Even though this is my fifth business trip to China in as many years, I'm still wrestling with an undercurrent of anxiety about the coming week. The flight is long and cramped (34 hours round trip, with connections, and seat 32C is nothing to write home about). Once I arrive, the temperature threatens to hover between the low 90s and the mid-90s with lots of humidity. I have packed four air pollution masks that I will need to wear to protect myself from the hazardous breathing conditions. And my recent review of the food safely guidelines in China revealed this caution: "Avoid anything that looks particularly fresh or nutritious."
It could be so easy to approach this week as something to endure. How easy? Trust me: I've gone there repeatedly in the last month, week, day and hour.
But I don't want to stay there. I realize that among the many choices I have is choosing what I focus on and what perspective will serve me best. In fact, ever since my first trip to China when I was warned not to speak of the three "Ts" in public (Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen), I came to appreciate the luxury of having freedom of thought as well as freedom of speech. With that freedom comes the right to gripe and groan, of course. And I exercise those rights plenty. But this week, especially with such pain and turmoil in the world, I'm choosing to focus on what I have got rather than what I have not.
So instead of focusing on the burden of a fifth business trip to China, I will focus on the blessing of having paid work that makes a positive impact on others and makes me happy.
Instead of focusing on how tedious the flight it, I will focus on this rare opportunity to watch six movies in a row -- all of my own choosing.
Instead of focusing on the heat, I'll focus on the humidity (just kidding!). I'll focus on the fact that there is very little risk of being caught in an Inner Mongolian snowstorm, as I was during my first visit here in the winter.
Instead of focusing on the air quality here, I'll focus on how lucky I am that I have clean air to breathe at home the rest of the year. (And yes - that's from a New Yorker!)
Instead of focusing on the food that could make me sick, I'll focus on enjoying my peanut butter, oatmeal packets and thinkThin bars I've packed from home -- and use this as an opportunity to drop a pound or two this week, the healthy way.
And finally, instead of focusing on how taxing this week will be, I'll focus on the everyday dividends I get from living in the United States, where I am free to choose and communicate freely what I focus on, each and every day.
Am I up for a sixth trip back to China? Let's not push it. At least, not yet.