I believe that you are meant to learn something from everyone you meet.
Even from those you least expect.
In fact, especially from those you least expect.
This is definitely not a new concept here at TT.com. In the past, I’ve written about unexpected affirmations, surprising acts of kindness, and simple but profound advice—each coming from a new (and sometimes surprising) teacher. While some of these interactions were short-lived ( lasting just five minutes or less, at times!), their impact remains with me to this day. Lessons I’ve learned from random run-ins, chance encounters, and casual conversations continue to inform and influence my decisions every day.
If you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re the same way.
I bet there are a multitude of mantras that you live by, each one gifted to you by a different person.
You may not even realize this...
Perhaps there’s one phrase that your dad used to say when you were growing up that still rings in your ears. Or there might be one lesson you learned from a caring teacher that helped you choose your college or career path. Maybe there’s one message from a supportive friend that touched you in a moment of need, plucked you up out of the darkness, and brought you back to life.
We certainly don’t succeed in this life alone.
But did you catch the subtle difference there?
Generally speaking, these life philosophies tend to come from those closest to us—parents, teachers, or friends. That’s because it’s easy to see, hear, and accept advice that comes from a people who are of familiar, safe, or secure.
But what about the moments—and people—that we don’t expect to have an impact? What about the moments—and people—that are unfamiliar, unsure, or insecure? What about the moments—and people—that are easy to overlook?
Do we let them in? Do we allow them to speak to us?
Do we even notice that they are there?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—people never cease to amaze me. That’s because in the moments that I start to turn away from truth, doubt destiny, or overlook the unexpected, the right person appears provide a much-needed wake-up call. The universe just seems to hand me the perfect reminder to stay the course and keep the faith.
And trust me—I'm no divine discernment diva.
I see these “reminders,” because they are about as subtle as a Mack truck or a pie in the face. They cannot be missed. They cannot be overlooked.
One of my favorite divine “pie in the face” moments happened almost two years ago in one of the most bewildering places on Earth:
Betcha didn’t see that one comin’...
Few places in our modern world evoke as much emotion, confusion, and opinion as China. It’s one of those places that causes an immediate and visceral reaction, even if you've never visited. So much bias and stigma with so little transparency... I guess we just can't handle that.
I was no stranger to these feelings.
In fact, I was afraid to visit China.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into and absolutely no idea how I was going to handle it once I was there. In order to counteract much of this anxiety, I scheduled a “guided” tour of Beijing rather than opting to “go it alone.” The tour would last the entire four days I would be visiting the capital.
I didn’t want to leave anything to chance—dumplings or otherwise.
Thankfully for me, I was not the only one who had some trepidation about traveling to the People’s Republic. There were no less than 150 other Semester at Sea students who decided to take fate into their own hands as well. I figured, if something bad happened in China, at least I wouldn’t experience it alone.
From the moment I entered the airport in Shanghai, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
It was January, so China was in the midst of their New Year of the Snake celebration. Because of this, we were privy to many exciting but unexpected Chinese traditions.
At the airport, a giant, golden, human-operated, dog puppet paraded through the terminal gates. On the airplane, flight attendants served us full-sized meals, free beer, and bottles of water on a flight that lasted no more than two hours. (Try getting that in America…). Once we landed, we were taken straight to the Olympic village to celebrate some of China’s crowning architectural achievements.
These people definitely didn’t miss an opportunity to throw some culture our way.
Over the next four days, we experienced some of the most amazing shows, ceremonies, and circumstances I can possibly imagine.
Just to give you a little taste… Because I know you’re curious.
We saw an acrobatic show that would put Cirque du Soleil to shame. At one point, a man climbed a ladder, while balancing a chair on top of his head, while another guy balanced on the same chair upside down on his own head. Seriously, that happened.
We visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, while they were blanketed with fresh, powdery snow from the night before.
We attended a tea ceremony during which we sampled countless types of Chinese teas (there are over 3,000 kinds, in case you were wondering). These were prepared in the traditional style—fast and hot. We learned to drink our first cups of tea in three sips—one for happiness, one for good luck, and one for a long life.
Cheers to that!
We ate dinner in a Chinese home and helped prepare dumplings right alongside our host family.
We even went to the Great Wall of China—in style! We took ski lifts up to the top, walked around for miles on end, and then rode toboggans to get down. That’s right—we tobogganed down the side of the mountain on which the Great Wall of China was built.
I highly recommend it.
And yet, despite the magnitude of these exciting (albeit touristy) moments of unexpected awesomeness, my opinion of China hadn’t really changed. I still got the distinct sense that China was going to do whatever it took to be viewed by the outside world in a very particular—very rigid—type of way. My eyes, ears, and heart were still closed to the world around me.
That was until I got to know David.
David (or a least that’s what he called himself for us!) was our Chinese tour guide.
A point of clarification to avoid confusion—I said I changed my mind when I got to know David. I actually met David on the first day of our trip to Beijing, but I didn’t truly get to know him until the very last day of our trip. That’s because I had absolutely, utterly, completely overlooked him.
Eyes, ears, and heart closed, indeed.
David was about as ordinary and unassuming as they come. Soft-spoken, appeasing, and easy-going, he managed our crowd of about 40 students with the perfect balance of engagement and detachment. He was always happy, incredibly knowledgeable, and perennially approachable—everything you’d want in a tour guide.
But after four days together, going to and from sites, in and out of events, and back and forth between stops, I realized I barely knew the man.
I mean, how many people would you spend four entire days with, and still not know anything about them?
Hopefully not many…
But on the last day, on our last ride together, he forced me to open my eyes, ears, and heart. He gave me a gift that I don’t think I can ever repay. He provided me with a magnitude of encouragement that I never anticipated while traveling a world away from home.
On our last day, he stood at the front of the bus and shared his life story. He had a small family—a wife and one son. He had decided to become a tour guide to learn English and meet new people. In fact, he had decided to become a tour guide, because he loved speaking English and he loved meeting new people. He implored us—nearly begged us—to follow his lead.
To find work that we loved, chase our passions to the fullest, and never settle for less.
He said, “If you ever find yourself working at a job that doesn’t inspire you, doesn’t make you happy, or doesn’t fulfill you, please leave that job. Instead, share what you love with people that you like, and the money will follow you.”
Share what you love with the people that you like, and the money will follow.
I just about fainted.
It was like he was speaking directly to me...
By that point in my life, I had quit my job on Wall Street, decided to re-enroll in school, signed up for Semester at Sea, and found myself on a trip around the world—some of the craziest decisions I could imagine. And I had done this all in the name of “sharing what I love with the people that I like.” However, by the time I got to China, I was in a rut and had begun to question everything.
David changed everything.
The most unexpected of affirmations to stay the course and keep the faith came from the most unassuming of sources—our tour guide.
All of a sudden, I felt right at home despite being a world away.
If you listen, and I mean truly listen, to you people around you, you can find brilliance, comfort, and reassurance in even the most ordinary and unassuming of places.
In fact, especially in the most ordinary and unassuming of places.
Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to what you can learn from the people around you.
You never know who your next supporter will be.
Now, I want to hear from you!
- When did you last learn a valuable lesson from an unexpected source?
- Who taught you to open your eyes, ears, and heart to the people around you?
Did this story resonate with you or make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.
I believe that stories unite us. These stories can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
If you do believe this, then share it with your friends! Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.