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Would You Walk Through Hell to Get to Heaven? (Part 1)

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They say persistence accounts for 90 percent of success. It’s the reason successful people leave a trail of failures in their wake. While most have the creativity, intelligence, opportunity, and passion to achieve their goals and dreams, the reason they don’t is simple: they give up too soon. That’s easy enough to understand, but a bitch to live.

The temptation to stop pushing forward—whether for a rest or total abandonment—is overwhelming when the universe throws up roadblocks at every turn, your once-scintillating dream seems like a lost cause, or you’re drawing your final ounce of physical, mental, and emotional energy before collapse. Try living persistence under those uncomfortable, exhausting, and downright painful conditions and you’ll discover the true meaning of the word.

I’ve been tested like everyone else, and I do pretty well. My type-A personality lends itself to challenge and competition; I’ve been called a bulldog on numerous occasions. But even my persistence gets particularly shaky when the tests don’t let up.

Take a recent trip to Phoenix I’d been looking forward to for months. I was headed to that desert oasis for a digital marketing conference, no big thing in itself, but ah, the stars had aligned. My intentions began humbly enough but grew through a miraculous confluence of synchronicity to galactic proportions as the event presented opportunities on all fronts of my life at once. 

I was to speak at the conference, thereby gaining free access—my initial intention, since online marketing is what I do for a living. The icing on the cake was a) I love Phoenix and b) I’d be able to visit with my brother and sister-in-law, see their new house, and enjoy a little R&R. I’d even be going on a mountain hike with a new friend. 

Yet between getting myself on the agenda and the event itself, the cake was to be elaborately decorated. I’d written a story, which made it to the Huffington Post, about a woman about to become homeless (talk about a lesson in persistence; you can read it here), a big breakthrough for a blossoming writer, and none other than Arianna Huffington was keynoting this digital marketing mixer. I’d have the chance to meet her, I reasoned, get myself on her radar, become a HuffPost blogger. This could be my launching pad … I could become a star (and the fantasies went on from there). 

All of a sudden, there was a lot riding on this trip to Phoenix. I vowed to be there at all costs.

Again, easy enough until after flying from Ft. Lauderdale through Dallas to Phoenix the day before the conference I arrived at midnight Phoenix time with no luggage. Fuming, I shuttled over to the consolidated rental car facility only to wander stranded in the abandoned vehicular shrine—the company I’d rented from was closed, and the one that remained open had no cars. I sat on the bench outside the rental car center, on the verge of tears, deciding American Airlines wasn’t worth them. Then came the What Ifs.

What if this was the universe telling me now is not the right time? What if I had gotten ahead of myself and needed to be knocked down a peg? What if I’m not meant to be at this conference, at all? And as big a sinkhole as that opened in my chest, what if I just had to accept it? Still, I wasn’t about to spend the night on the rental car bench. At 1:30 a.m., I reluctantly made the call to my sister-in-law, dreading it because my brother, a morning newscaster, wakes up at 3:45 a.m. “Help me,” I remember moaning into my iPhone. “Save me” is what I meant, and she generously did.

I was grateful that I had family to call, and a house to stay in complete with food and personal care products, both of which I sorely lacked. Setback though this was, I reminded myself things could be worse. Nonetheless, I was left with no new Elie Tahari dress, no hair products to transform my unruly red mane into straight sleek beauty, no makeup, no jewelry, and no clue when or if any of it would arrive. My perfect plans for presenting my perfectly coifed and decorated self to the audience and Ms. Huffington were shot to hell. Again I reminded myself I’d made it this far; I could’ve been stuck in Dallas. 

Sister-in-law had clothes that fit me, though I’d be trading Tahari for Old Navy, and come Wednesday morning transported me to the open and fully stocked car rental center. That left just enough time to rush back to the house, shower, and race through Walgreens for bargain cosmetics, hair be damned. By then I cared only that the show go on, that I do my piece without collapsing or making an idiot of myself. Anything more was a luxury I could no longer afford. Slapping on makeup at stoplights en route, I arrived fifteen minutes before start time and thankfully, my session went off without a hitch.

Lunch followed my panel session; it was Arianna time. “Forget it,” the little voice whispered. “You’re damn lucky just to be here. Don’t even look for her.” Instead, I spotted a friend at a nearby table; my standards lowered to the point where food and a friendly face would suffice. As I stood about to turn, like an angel of mercy one of the conference organizers I’d worked with in the past approached. “I know you wanted to meet Arianna Huffington. Would you like to sit at her table?” she asked. I slapped on my biggest grace-under-pressure smile, answered with an enthusiastic yes, and skipped over. Oh, there is a God!

Yes I met Arianna, and yes we exchanged business cards, and even yes (cue choir of angels singing) she told me I should submit more to the Huffington Post, on a regular basis. More miraculously, I couldn’t believe what a difference a day had made. There in borrowed clothes, with crazy hair on four hours of sleep and seemingly against all odds, I had managed to end up exactly where I’d wanted to be. If my spirit wasn’t soaring so high, I’d have cried tears of happiness and relief. A different set of What Ifs emerged now. What if, discouraged, I had given up and cancelled? What if I had let my emotions get the best of me? What if I had gone to the airport to wait for my bag instead of opting for borrowed clothes? What if I had sweated how I looked more than showing up?

It felt like passing a test with flying colors. I laugh as I think about it now, because the bigger test was yet to come.

When the universe lines up tests, it doesn’t fool around. Fast forward two days to Friday morning, date of my hike with new friend Kelly, whom I’d met at a summer retreat in Taos. The conference finally over, I was eager to get out of heels and into hiking boots. Kelly, a long-time Phoenix area resident and experienced hiker, promised a scenic and not-too-strenuous seven-mile trek through the Superstition Mountains on the First Water trail. 

Though less experienced a hiker than Kelly, I was no stranger to the Arizona desert. The trail was as varied and surprising as Kelly had said it would be, and the conversation just as rich. At about four miles through, we stopped to rest in a shady grove on the side of a dry creek bed. The area was teeming with butterfly bushes; several species of the delicate winged creatures hovered nearby as we enjoyed a rest and a snack. I made as conscious an effort as I could to breathe in the beauty, to shut my chattering trap and soak up the sights with my eyes, to burn the breathtaking vistas into my brain.

We continued to follow the creek bed, passing the few tiny pools of stagnant water that remained. Suddenly Kelly didn’t feel well. Dizzy, nauseous, she needed to take frequent breaks. It was a little after noon, the day hotter than we’d expected, and we were off-trail.

Please read Part 2 for the story’s conclusion.


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