Beyond networking: Building Alliances

Most everyone knows the power of building and maintaining a network for your career. Today we focus on going beyond networking to build alliances. The most effective way to grow professionally.

The meaning of going beyond networking

For starters, and as a matter of course, for me networking is never about going out there to collect business cards. It should be seamlessly integrated into your daily life and not be a separate activity that you do when you need a job. Going on a conference spree so that you can meet as many people in as short a period of time as possible is never the way to go. Not only it’s unlikely to produce the results you seek, but it can become frustrating as few leads will turn out to be true leads.

People can tell when you’re under pressure or desperate to get a job. It is the worst position to be in whenever you need something. So, when I suggest that you think beyond networking, I mean that you 1) Turn networking into a lifestyle 2) Start building alliances rather than collecting business cards.

Networking for shy professionals
Going beyond networking

Develop a real interest in the people. It’s the first step to build alliances. Photo Credit: Annie Spratt. Unsplash.

Beyond Networking = Long Term

To identify current or potential allies and conscientiously develop a relationship with them you must have a long-term mindset. A mentality that sees every person as someone who will be in your life for a very long time and who is worth investing in. And just as you would invest in a friend by learning about their life, their goals, their likes and dislikes, their skills, knowledge, experience and by spending time with them, you should invest time in your allies. This has been true throughout my life and career and the only reason why I’ve been able to flourish in my space. Not only Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nobody builds Rome alone.

What is an ally?

Before we go any further, let’s agree on our definition of an ally. In the context of this post, an ally is someone who can help you excel in your career and fulfill your goals. Someone who has your back and your best interests in mind.

Building mutual alliances quote

Always try to build two-way relationships.

Develop mutually beneficial alliances

Because one of the Red Shoe Movement’s methodology pillars is Mutual Mentoring, I encourage you to develop mutually beneficial alliances. In other words, identify people who can support your career growth and whose career you can support. This win-win situation is much more natural than a one-way street relationship where you expect someone to support you without reciprocating. It potentiates each party by helping both of you flourish in the organization. It’s also a contagious phenomenon. Once your colleagues see the results you get from your partnership, they’ll want to emulate you. This in turn is likely to attract more allies to you while it reinforces your leadership brand.

Who could be potential allies?

Anyone in your ecosystem is an ally candidate. Here’s a list to make it perfectly clear:

  • Colleagues who are part of your team
  • Bosses
  • Administrative & support staff
  • Members of various executive committees
  • Members of Business Resource Groups
  • Senior Management
  • Your friends & family
  • Vendors
  • Customers & corporate clients
  • Members of Professional Associations to which you belong or that your company supports
  • Members of Trade Associations

As you see, there’s no shortage of potential allies with whom to develop a strong, mutually beneficial alliance. Going beyond networking means, however, that you shouldn’t just know their names but that you get to know them well. Because time is a limited resource, you it behooves you to be selective and strategic.

Networking for people who hate networking

A rising tide lifts all boats

Photo Credit: Lexie Jenney. Unsplash

How do you build an alliance?

First you must comb through your network to identify who’s already in it and with whom you may want to deepen the current relationship. Second, you must look at the above list of potential allies and decide where there may be opportunities to connect with certain individuals with whom to establish new relationships. Once these two first steps are taken care of, you can get down to the business of building an alliance.

1Be relentlessly generous

This is a basic principle for going beyond networking. If you want to build a strong foundation for your relationships, begin by thinking of ways in which you can help the other person. What can you offer them that might be beneficial? Time? Resources? Information? A helping hand in a project for which they have a tight deadline? Connections? By keeping a generous mindset, you’ll show your potential allies that you honestly care about them and their goals. This leads to trust and likely, to a desire to reciprocate. But keep in mind that to build a true alliance, generosity can’t be a one-time occurrence and it can’t be something you do with an agenda. Be relentlessly generous and your alliance will build over time.

2Include your allies in key decisions

It’s easier to get people’s support when they feel they are part of a decision you’re making. Or when you consult them about a project so that you can make the right decision. So if you know you’ll need your allies to stand by your side, it’s a good idea to fill them in ahead of time. Blindsiding anyone makes it harder for them to support you even if they would have, had you told them about your plans.

3Offer recognition whenever you get a chance

One of the best ways to nurture your allies is by recognizing them publicly whenever appropriate. Many people take their allies for granted, making it look like everything they accomplished they’ve done on their own. How about the boss who provided air cover at every turn? Or the assistant who worked until the wee hours of the morning and weekends to get the reports ready for the presentation? Or the spouse who took over picking up the kids in school for a month so that the person could focus on the project? Nobody, nobody does everything on their own. Remember this and always offer credit when credit is due. It’s one of the most valuable and inexpensive ways to maintain strong ties to your allies.

4Don’t overdo it

As with any relationship respect your allies’ time and goodwill. Just as you wouldn’t ask of your best friend to pick up your dry cleaning every time you’re out of town, avoid abusing your allies. Don’t ask for support when you could do things on your own or when you could have someone else do something. For instance, if one of your allies is an executive who helps you get high level visibility, don’t ask them to be your reference every time you’re trying to get a stretch assignment. Measure how much you ask of each ally and always try to do for them more than they do for you, so they are always willing to do whatever it is you ask.

To have a robust and fulfilling career requires you to go way beyond networking. It entails an investment in the people who will invest in you. It won’t happen overnight but once it happens, wow. Will your career take off in the most amazing ways!

Supporting each other is key in going beyond networking

Supporting each other is key in going beyond networking. Photo Credit: Hans M. Unsplash.

And as usual, if you’re looking to learn more about skills like building allies, come join our community!

 

How to overcome anxiety inside and outside of work

We live at a time when anxiety is one of the most common disorders. Today I invite you to identify some triggers and explore how to overcome anxiety to live a fuller life.

The feeling of anxiety goes beyond a diagnosis. Here some questions to detect if you feel anxious.

  • Do you feel nervous?
  • Are you always in a hurry or running against the clock?
  • Do you constantly have more things to do than you can?
  • Do you feel the need to do more and more?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions you have probably felt anxious in recent times.

Ferris wheel, a great way to slow down.

Find ways to slow down. Photo Credit: Johannes Daleng. Unsplash.

Anxiety crisis

Sometimes anxiety can end up in a crisis. You may cry, or binge eat, or feel overwhelmed. There are even those who experience panic attacks. We live in an era when time seems to have accelerated, and we seem to speed behind it. We could say that we live WITHOUT time. Everything is NOW, everything has to be IMMEDIATE.

Let’s do an exercise: Pay attention to commercials. How many of them highlight the value of speed, the famous “you can have it now” for a service, for a medication or for a meal? How many ads underscore that by using this or that product, you can continue to do anything without stopping?

None of those ads will tell you: “if your head hurts, rest for a bit,” or “if you’re exhausted, go to sleep.” No. They will tell you what to do if you have a headache so you can go on for a while longer without interruption.

How to overcome anxiety caused by our current work style?

Most people who work in an organization tend to live against the clock. That is, having to deliver projects always faster than is possible. We have the perception that there are more and more demands placed upon us and that whatever we do, it will never be enough. In fact, this is partly true because work is inexhaustible. That “more” that we constantly hear is what causes us anxiety.

New policies being developed in leading companies

Pioneer companies, however, are using research that suggests that working 24/7 and being always “on” is counterproductive to encourage leisure time. Many are forcing their associates to take vacations in order to disconnect and recharge batteries because they know that without these regular breaks you can’t think, produce, endure. Without these recovery intervals, anxiety takes hold.

What to do when we feel anxious?

Candle and book

If you want to overcome anxiety, take time to do what you enjoy like reading a book, or enjoying the smell of a candle. Photo Credit: Ellieelien. Unsplash.

If you’re wondering how to overcome anxiety, there are several ideas you can explore. Hopefully they will trigger others.

1Stop. Check where you are at. Breathe.

We could define the feeling of anxiety as “not having time”, that is, living in a hurry. It is necessary, however, to have time to do something for and for you. And when I say “have time” I don’t mean simply having chronological hours. If the day had one more hour, you would likely do more of the same. You would work harder and you would continue to hurry because you would still not have enough time for all your activities. That’s why I emphasize the lack of time is not just about not having extra chronological time. You need to create human time.

2Humanize time

The only being with time is the human being. Animals do not “have time,” they exist. Time becomes humanized when you find things to do that bring you satisfaction, when you do something you want, that you like, that you love. Have you done something like this in recent times? Or is it an exception for you to take time every so often to do something that is pleasing to you and that has nothing to do with your work?

3Get Bored

Boredom has bad press. But we have seen how important it is for kids and teenagers to get bored. It enables them to find their own resources, develop, discover or invent them. If we are constantly entertaining kids with activities or gadgets, if we never let them get bored, they are likely to become adults who won’t know what to do when they are not working. This is also true for you. Getting bored gives you the opportunity to discover new aspects about yourself and unleashes your creativity. Have you allowed yourself to get bored lately? Or do you spend all your time working or filling up your calendar with various activities?

4Explore slow movements

Human activities require time: cooking, painting, dancing, or practicing a sport. Going to the movies, strolling, sleeping. Building relationships. None of these activities can be done without time. Many have an almost meditative effect. Perhaps some of this is what the slow movements are trying to bring back. Films that last the entire length of a transcontinental trip, filmed with a camera attached to the fuselage of an airplane, invite you to sit and watch for hours as the landscape slowly changes. It is not always possible to live like this, but it is important to make time for yourself.

How to overcome anxiety tip explore slow movements

Watching birds fly can be a great way to slow down time. Photo Credit: Husen Siraaj. Unsplash.

How to overcome anxiety generated by changes at work?

Joining a new company, changing sectors or starting a supervisory role requires certain amount of time to fit, to understand the organization’s culture, to feel that you belong, to develop relationships. And frequently, you don’t control that timing as you depend on others to do their jobs. It is common for people to want to skip these stages. You may feel bad because you started your new job a month ago and you think you should’ve already overcome this or that milestone. Or assume you should have already adapted to the new role or culture. Stop! Respect the process and respect your times.

How to help reduce anxiety in your organization?

Bring cooking courses to your company

If you have a chance to bring ideas to your organization, try this: Cooking classes! Photo Credit: Kloe Arledge. Unsplash.

If you have a chance to offer new ideas in your company you could create a list of activities and interests of your teammates, department or division. This would lead to hiring experts to carry them out and perhaps to establish a series of rotating courses. Here are some options

Painting, sculpting, drawing

Getting involved in any of the art disciplines during working hours can release stress and expand creativity in an unconscious way.

Cooking

Organizations are expressing an increasing interest in fostering good health. What better way to promote your company’s support for healthy eating habits than to offer cooking classes? People can prepare their lunch to eat at work or cook dinner to take home. (Thus alleviating the time it takes to prepare dinner once employees get home.) It is also an excellent opportunity to learn about other cultures and strengthen ties between people from diverse backgrounds.

Literary or film clubs

This type of course leads employees to take time to watch a movie or read a book together or on their own and then meet to have a meaningful conversation.

Knitting & weaving

Knitting and weaving groups have shown excellent results to establish and strengthen connections in different communities. It is also an activity that has an almost meditative rhythm that forces you to slow down.

As you can see, there are many alternatives to foster spaces to create time for yourself. Paradoxically, this time that may seem unproductive at first is critical for your health. It helps reduce the anxiety caused by the feeling of lack of time and it promotes your well-being at work and in your personal life. So take time to make time.

To overcome anxiety take time to make time

How to overcome anxiety: Mainly, take time to make time for yourself. Photo Credit: Roxanne Desgagnes. Unsplash.

Elderly parents: The one thing that works for me

As women, one of the roles most of us face at some point in our lives is caring for our elderly parents. And even if you’re not involved in the daily routine of care giving, as your parents age everyone must adapt to a new situation and embrace change.  Here’s what is working for me.

Let me first qualify my advice: This is my perspective as a daughter. And as such, I’m making everything up as I go. Just like children don’t come with an instruction’s manual neither do parents. And granted, my situation is particular, given that my parents live in Buenos Aires (where my brother and sister live as well) and I live in New York.  But many of you may be able to relate to the story even if your parents didn’t move to Florida to retire or they don’t live far away from you.

For the last thirty years my parents and I have had a consistent pattern: Once a year they come to visit me and once a year I go see them.

You got this sign

You got this sign- Photo Credit: Sidney Rae- Unsplash

In recent years, my mom’s been suffering from severe back pain. Her spine has practically collapsed and she has little cushion left between several of her vertebrae, which has limited her mobility. As walking became increasingly painful, I suggested that she get a wheelchair. Call it prejudice, push back to keep her independence, or hard-headedness, she wouldn’t budge. Of all the changes life requires as we age, this was one she wasn’t ready to make yet.

She still drives, goes food shopping and runs errands daily, and as she’s very sociable, she remains involved in many activities. The problem has been that what she can and can’t do depends on how close to where she’s going she can park her car. As you can imagine, that’s not always possible, so her activities have become more limited.

A few days ago my parents arrived in New York for their annual trip. On the second day I took my mom to an orthopedic pharmacy to rent a portable wheelchair. And as we tried the various kinds and I lifted them to select the lightest one so it would be easy to maneuver in and out of a car we found the perfect one. It was small, light, and comfortable. I said, casually:

“I think you should buy it.”

“But what would I do with it when I leave?” She asked.

“Either you leave it at my house for next year or you take it to Argentina with you,” I replied matter of factly.

And at that moment, without hesitation my mom replied:

“Let’s buy it, and I’ll bring it with me to Argentina.”

End of story. A decision that had seemed so difficult a few years ago, had suddenly become possible given the right circumstances. She was on vacation, relaxed, her mind was more open and her pain had become increasingly unbearable.

True. It was the end of one story and the beginning of a new chapter. Here’s what happened next.

Elderly parents wheelchair bound

Elderly parents wheelchair bound- Photo Credit: Steven Hwg- Unsplash

Helping your elderly parents’s adjust to changes naturally

Right after we purchased the chair, I took my mom to a strip mall nearby, where we proceeded to make several stops. I got the wheelchair out of the trunk, sat my mom down and ran around the strip mall, speeding, laughing, engaging in conversations with people who told her how pretty she was, and who tried to speak Spanish to her as they heard the two of us chatting animatedly. We went in and out of a shoe store, the supermarket, the pharmacy and a restaurant.

I get it: If someone in your family uses a wheelchair, this will all sound trivial to you. Or you may have an entirely different experience than we did. As I said, this is a personal story and it was the first time both for me seeing and pushing my mother in a wheelchair and her first time (other than at airports) out and about in one.

The next day, I enrolled one of her closest friends, who happened to be also visiting New York. She played a critical role in helping my mom feel that having the wheelchair was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. As her friend easily wheeled my mom around, took her to the pool and then to lunch, it proved that the wheelchair gave her a wider access to activities she had given up on.  They immediately started making plans to go out shopping, to art galleries and to the movies together when they both returned from their trips.

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

Two days later we engaged my dad who, for reasons of his own, had probably also been a bit reluctant to give into the idea of his wife being wheelchair-bound. We drove into Manhattan, parked the car and visited the beautiful Hudson Yards. We shopped and had lunch, took pictures, drove to the Meatpacking district and then we took a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. By the end of the day, we had clearly incorporated this new tool that would make my mom’s life easier from now on.

Of course it will be different when she goes back home. For one, the sidewalks in Buenos Aires leave a lot to be desired, but also, because it won’t be all fun and games like it is when she’s here on vacations. There’ll be doctor’s appointments and banking and all the daily things to which she’ll have to adapt with her new chair. But having taken the first step while in a relaxed environment helps.

Staying cool under pressure always helps in times of change.
Wheelchair sign

Wheelchair sign- Photo Credit: Matt Arts. Unsplash

I’m sure part of the fun was that according to my mother, I “drove” the wheelchair like I drive my Mini Cooper: Fast. But here’s my big reveal:By de-dramatizing, de-stigmatizing the fact that she now needs a wheelchair, we made it possible for her to admit it. To take the step and sit on the driver’s seat of her new situation. She could still be her social self, engage with friends and strangers alike, and be an active participant of the world around her. She could see her new circumstances in a brighter light. And most importantly, we were all part of the process rather than have her go through this change alone.

I’m sure some of her fears had to do with becoming less independent as she’d need others to take her places. (She doesn’t have the strength to put a wheelchair in and out of the car herself so she’d always need someone with her.) But by helping her experience this new stage of life in a natural, no-drama way, she was also able to see that having someone who pushes her wherever she wants to go, is not that bad. It may offer a new kind of wind beneath her wings that enables her to continue to live her best life with the necessary adjustments along the way.

Living One Day at a Time: A Short Story

Living one day at a time has been my consistent approach to life. Being present. Enjoying the moment.

Preparing for the future but focusing on the now. Being mindful of what is rather than dreaming about what could have been or how things should be.Granted, it’s not always easy. There have been many times when I got disappointed because I expected things to go one way and they went in a totally different direction. Times when I wished for what I didn’t have. Others when I looked forward to a moment in the future when I’d be enjoying x. But through the years, I found myself coming back to living one day at a time in a very concrete way. I exercise my gratefulness and practice what is now referred to as “mindfulness” and used to be known as “being present.” I find joy in simple things and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments. They help me build my confidence and keep me aligned with the here and now.

This short story deals with this topic. It’s a reminder to make time for yourself every day, no matter where you are, no matter how busy you are. It’s also a reminder of the value of sharing your life with those with whom you spend most of your time. That almost everything is better when it’s shared. That being human together enhances our experience. Enjoy your coffee break!

Living one day at a time at Paul's in London

Living one day at a time at Paul’s in London

Coffee Shots: A short story about living life one day at a time— by Mariela Dabbah

She had been collecting pictures of her coffee drinks for the past ten years. Cappuccinos, lattes, cortados… You’d think she was creating a photographic exhibit or a connoisseur’s guide to the top espresso bars worldwide.  She used the shots to remind her of where she’d been, what she was doing right when she stopped to smell the coffee.

That small instant when she interrupted her journey and froze time in one frame was precious. Put side by side her coffee pictures told the story of her life during the past decade.

Having coffee with medialunas, in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Having coffee with medialunas, in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

She used simple, dark wood frames and carefully hung them around the walls of her home office. From the ceiling to the mid wall, the little frames went round and round like custom-made tridimensional wallpaper.

The effect was mesmerizing. You could even smell the intoxicating aroma as soon as you walked into her house. But that may be because Alexis Beaumont grinded fresh coffee every morning.

As an international sales executive, she practically lived on a plane. Jet lag seemed inevitable until many years ago she discovered that a cup of espresso at the right moment helped her ease into whatever time zone she happened to be in.

Creating a collection of pictures of her drinks gave her the perfect excuse to take periodic breaks during her travels to avoid becoming so sucked into business that she forgot to experience life fully. It reminded her not to take things for granted.

Her husband and teenage kids teased her about her compulsion. They were convinced that had she not be consumed by the coffee shots she’d be doing drugs, or drinking. And perhaps there was some truth to that.

One afternoon, while in Rome, Alexis had taken her team out for a drink. They went to an old restaurant off Piazza di Spagna. Although the cobblestones were still glittering from a recent summer shower, the group decided to sit outdoors under a red awning and take advantage of the cooler air.

The waitress brought a big tray with drinks. And as usual, Alexis’ was the only one who had ordered a cappuccino rather than a glass of wine.

She quickly reorganized the items in front of her. Pushed the salt and pepper shakers out of the way, positioned a small vase with a lovely bunch of wild flowers right next to her cup, and turned the chocolate square that had arrived with her cup, so that the label was facing her. Then she angled her phone just so and took the shot.

Living one day at a time on board the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, having coffee at Cafe al Bacio

Living one day at a time on board the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, having coffee at Cafe al Bacio

She put her phone away and returned her attention to the group. But an obvious silence had fallen over the table. Alexis caught a few furtive looks passing among the members of her team and even perceived that they were avoiding eye contact with her. She wondered what could possibly be going on.

Not one for ducking hard questions, Alexis asked as lightly as she could not to spoil the mood:

“Am I missing something?” A few giggles confirmed she had read the situation accurately, but she was still in the dark as to what had happened. Nobody seemed interested in looping her in. Some took a sip of their wine, others were suddenly immersed in the menu or in their screens. “Come on now, what is it?” she fixed her stare on Jackie, one of her most recent hires. This was her first trip overseas and she had Alexis to thank for.

“Just you taking food pictures… We thought executives didn’t do that,” Jackie turned crimson. Nice going with her new boss.

“You mean my coffee shot? I collect them,” Alexis replied nonchalantly. “I’ll invite all of you to my house one of these days so you can see my private exhibit.”

The group quickly moved on to other, more interesting topics but the episode stayed with Alexis through the evening. She didn’t know what bothered her more, the fact that her own team didn’t know that she was a collector of coffee shots or that she had obviously never bothered to tell them. Had she always taken her pictures when she was alone? How could she have not shared this hobby with the people she worked closest to? Over the past few years they had spent such a large poriton of their lives together, how could that even be possible?

Iced coffee at Aroma, Israel

Iced coffee at Aroma, Israel

The next afternoon, after a long day of visiting clients, Alexis took the group to a favorite coffee shop of hers. This one had a view of La Fontana di Trevi. It was quite a bit more touristy than the place they had gone to the day before but that was part of her plan.

When the coffees, teas, and juices arrived, Alexis asked for a minute of attention.

“I’d like for all of you to capture this moment. Right now. Here, in front of this beautiful place. Focus your camera on your drink,” and Alexis started moving things around her latte while she explained. “Make the table around it look pretty.  Then, place the fountain in the background so you remember where you were, who you were with, what we were talking about… Like this!” she said and showed the picture she had just captured on her phone.

They all bought into it immediately. Comparing shots and helping each other get a better angle or a better composition.

“Now, all of you, text me your pics,” Alexis said.  She quickly created a collage with all their shots. It was really something. It quickly became their thing. Every time they traveled together they took coffee or drink shots when they went out at the end of the day. A moment to take stock of how fortunate they were to be together, to be doing something they enjoyed, or to simply be alive. The nice thing was that when they traveled separately, most of them sent Alexis a coffee shot as a way of saying, I’m okay, making time for myself during this business trip.

Six months later, Alexis invited her team for dinner. It was the first time she had them over at her house so she introduced them to her family and gave them a tour. She left the home office for last. They couldn’t believe their eyes. The walls were covered from ceiling to half the way down with small, white frames of the drink shots they had taken all over the world.

“I realized seeing you take pictures and receiving them on my phone made me happier than my own pictures ever did. So I redecorated a bit. These used to be all my coffee shots,” said Alexis smiling. And without missing a bit, the team posed in front of one of the walls and took a selfie.

Coffee shot with shoe design in El Salvador

Coffee shot with shoe design in El Salvador

I hope you enjoyed the story! Would you share with me any tips and tricks you use in order to remember living one day at a time? Leave your comments here!

 

 

Some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere!

A short story about a real Sky Ladder

A couple of years ago I saw a Netflix documentary about fireworks artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s Sky Ladder. To say that it moved me is a huge understatement. The final scene of the documentary inspired this short story. It speaks about the fact that some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere. And it also speaks about what those who stay by your side during the process go through while you try to fulfill your dreams. I never interviewed Qiang’s wife or anyone else involved in the project so, although the facts about the story are true, everything else is the result of my own imagination. It this were a movie, you’d read a note at the beginning that says “this is a work of fiction based on a true story.”

You may not know (or care) but I’m originally, a fiction writer. Poetry, short stories and novels have been my passion since I was very young. I decided to share some of my short stories in the Red Shoe Movement blog because I believe in the power of fiction to help us see the world through someone else’s eyes and experiences. It helps us discover aspects of ourselves and of humanity that we don’t normally access through non-fiction, and much less through the conversations we have at work. Our workplaces and professional lives could use a little more of the delightfulness we derive from reading short stories and novels. The kind of reading you probably allow yourself to “indulge in” only over your Summer vacation. Well, that’s about to change. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Why is it so hard to make your dreams come true

Introducing a short story in your work day!

Sky Ladder

She had put up with his dream for over twenty years. This outrageous dream of creating a ladder that would connect the Earth with the Universe as some kind of symbolic gesture. Of all the impossible projects Cai Guo-Qiang had ever concocted —most of which he had brought to life, she had to admit— this was by far the most absurd.

She had been there all along. Supporting him while discovering gunpowder as his artistic medium and while he used it to expand the Great Wall of China in a dragon-like pattern across the dunes in the Gobi Desert.  Because that’s what he did. He created art with fireworks. Big, large-scale, unbelievably humbling fireworks.

She stood by him when they left China for Japan and when they moved permanently to New York. She raised his kids and dealt with his ever-increasing fame. His career retrospective at the Guggenheim and his role as director in the visual and special effects in the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

But no success was ever enough. Satisfying enough. Grandiose enough. It was the Sky Ladder that kept him awake at night when everything else was going fine. She wished he’d give up. He had already achieved so much. He had attempted this feat several times before and she had witnessed how each failure had crushed him. She didn’t think she could take one more failed attempt. Not when so much money and time was going into every one of these efforts.

Make your dreams come true through perseverance

But now Cai’s grandmother was approaching 100 and he wouldn’t let go of his obsession. As if igniting this ladder would create a path for her to walk up to Heaven.

She was tired of being okay with everything. Of being by his side come what may. She felt she had earned the right to say enough. But he was unstoppable. Nothing she could say would deter him from his dream.

He continued searching for the perfect location and paradoxically, decided that it would be his small childhood fishing town. He brought experts from all over the world to direct the project. But the village people would build this sixteen hundred feet-long ladder, which would be carried up by a massive hot air balloon.

Cai worked day and night with the energy of a teenager. Nobody could match his intensity. She knew that. She saw his exhaustion and his resistance to give into it. To even show it for fear of bringing the others down. He kept at this ridiculous idea for months and months. Telling everyone this time it would work. It had to. It was the last chance he had to fulfill his promise to his grandma, who had heard him talk about this project since Cai was a kid.

And so, the day came. Or more specifically, dawn came. He had decided to light up his ladder in the wee hours of a Summer day to avoid being penalized by the Chinese government. In the night sky, the white, hot air balloon climbed slowly carrying with it the long, thin ladder over the water. Cai lit a match and slowly, each rung caught fire creating an opening in the dark sky. The small group of family and friends who had gathered to witness this miracle was spellbound as the magnificent ladder, most of them had worked on for months, climbed into space. A ladder made of fire just as Cai had dreamed for so many years.

She held her breath. Her heart beat so fast she thought it might drop to the ground. The silence around them was only made louder by the crackling sound of the explosions above them.

Then she saw Cai climb the ladder. This immaterial ladder that was being drawn out of the darkness for a few moments until the fire consumed it. There he was, climbing into space freeing his soul. The soul he had been attempting to liberate ever since he started using gunpowder as his artistic medium.

She was desolate, left alone on this earth.  Without the man who had given her purpose, the man who had taught her that there were no impossible dreams. Just dreams that had not been made possible yet. She put her hand over her mouth and wept with a grief she had never known. Her body trembled. She felt weak at the knees.

And then Cai put an arm around her.

 

Sky ladder in process of burning- Can Guo-Quiang studio.

Some crazy dreams do come true when you persevere

Nothing more inspiring than reading some of the crazy dreams that came true for you through perseverance and the support of those who love you. I know I could use a lot of that inspiration in my daily life. So, would you please leave me your comments on the story you just read and/or examples of your own dreams-come-true? I’m excited to read them!