Life is Like a Trip to Washington DC – My Top 3 “Secrets” for Getting the Most out of Life

I recently took a trip to Washington DC to attend a professional conference followed by a couple days of sight-seeing around the city. Upon reflection, this trip reminded me of some of the most important life lessons I’ve learned over the years – “secrets” that have helped me get the most out of a challenging, rich life for decades. I offer them here as food for thought in the hopes that they would also benefit you.

Each of these three “secrets” warrants a full-length article. However, as they’ve entwined and worked together for my benefit on this one trip, I’m putting them together in this post to paint a broader picture.

Secret #3: Clear Intentions

Having a clear intention is the prerequisite for getting the most out of life.  It means being crystal clear on what you really want. A clear intention is always reflected by the decision we make. No decision, no clear intention. Decision is what to say “Yes” to as much as what to say “No” to. No desired results can be achieved without a clear intention reflected by a decision with inherent trade-offs. Therefore, having a clear intention also means taking conscious, calculated risks.

The day I was scheduled to fly to Washington DC happened to be a day a major winter storm was hitting the east coast of the United States. The weather forecast for the entire area, including Washington DC, was alarming. When I arrived at the local airport to check-in, I was informed that my second flight from Montreal to Washington was cancelled and I was automatically re-scheduled to a flight the next day.

I could still fly to Montreal and potentially catch a later flight to Washington on the same day. “But would you rather come back tomorrow? In case that later flight to Washington is also cancelled, which, giving the weather condition, is more than likely to happen?” The kind agent asked me. “No. I’ll take my chances. I want to be at the conference on time.” I decided, fully aware of the risk I was taking.

The agent was right. A couple of hours after I arrived in Montreal airport, I got an email from Air Canada informing me that the later flight I would be on, the only one to Washington D.C that day was also cancelled. This time, I was scheduled to a flight two day after that, which meant that I would miss half of my four-day conference and be stuck in Montreal at my own expense for two days! It looked as though all hope had been lost. My worst fear had come true.

Secret #2 (Read on, it’ll be revealed soon)

It’s times like this I would have panicked if I hadn’t learned secret #2. It took me many years to learn this secret. And it was about to pay off that day at the Montreal Airport.

Knowing secret #2, I calmly got on the phone with the airline to see whether they could put me on an earlier flight than what was scheduled. I might as well take a long nap instead – thousands of other travellers that day whose flights were cancelled were doing the same thing. There was no end in sight as how long I would have to wait to speak with an agent.

This was when secret #2 became crucial: without it, I would have sunk into deep frustration even despair, likely giving up all together and heading out to find a hotel for the night instead. Had I done so, I would have indeed missed a big part of my conference I was looking forward to.

Fortunately for me, secret #2 has become my second nature thanks to many years of practice and experience. It occurred to me that I should hang up my phone and see whether I could find someone to help me at the airport.  Because most flights were cancelled, that part of Montreal International Airport was almost empty.  It took me a good 20 minutes wandering the empty corridors before finally spotting someone wearing an Air Canada badge. With her help, I found one lone Air Canada agent behind a desk with a barely noticeable sign that says Customer Service.

“How did they even let you through the US Customs?” she greeted me with a puzzled look. “They know your flight is cancelled.”

“I have no idea. Is there any way I can still get to Washington today?” I barely managed to ask, giving the mounting evidences pointing to the contrary.

“Let me see.”

Since there was no line, only me standing before her, the agent bulked down and delved into the computer in front of her. A good 20 minutes passed. She looked and looked, even got on the phone with a couple of her colleagues speaking Air Canada French. Then she looked up at me with a smile: “I have put you on the flight to Boston. From there, you can take the American Airline. They have a flight to Washington tonight. But you’ve got to hurry.”

As it turned out, I had just enough time to board the flight to Boston. When I arrived at Boston Airport, I looked up at the departure board and saw that only my flight was lit up – all other American Airline flights to Washington DC that day, both before and after the one I was put on, were cancelled. It made no sense! What were the odds that I made it on the only flight to Washington that seemed to have been randomly arranged?

Once again, I was floored by secret #2. I have long known the power of this secret – I would not be where I’m in life without it – it did its magic again: despite two cancelled flights and six hours of delay, I arrived at Washington in time for a good night’s sleep before my conference started. And the hotel upgraded my room without me asking and with no additional cost!

So, what is this secret anyway?

Drum rolls please…

Secret #2: Trust

Trust Life. Trust that Life happens for you instead of to you. Despite what appears to be setbacks, during disappointments, even heartaches, trust that all things work together for your highest good. Trust Life’s timing: You’ll have what you truly want at the right time. Trust both the doors that are open and the ones that are closed. Have the courage to enter the open doors in the direct of your heart’s desire even though they lead you into the unknown; let go of the ones that are closed – they are closed so that you cannot go backwards or get sidetracked. Trust that Life is far greater, wiser, and more loving than what our limited minds can ever fathom. Ask Life for help. Keep moving forward. Take inspired actions. And leave the rest to Life with confidence and hope.

In the end, trust is a choice. Only you can make that choice.


Secret #1: Gratitude

Unlike Secret #2 that may require a good deal of patience, secret #1 grants us instant gratification, making it my favorite secret. Whenever I use this secret to take notice of what’s right, good, and beautiful in life, I’m always been blown away by how generously Life gives to us: loving people, nice things, pleasant experiences…when I give thanks for these blessings, big and small, I instantly lift my own spirit and the spirit of those I express gratitude to. In turn, Life seems to give me even more of what’s right, good, and beautiful.

My trip to Washington DC was no exception. Even though some experiences I had hope for didn’t come to pass: the cherry blossom was still a week away; a friend I was looking forward to seeing had to cancel due to a family emergency…there were far more happy moments than disappointments: from the grand, beautiful hotel I stayed in to rich learning and exchanges with my colleagues; from the enchanting evening tour of DC to the unexpected “private tour” of the Capital Building; from a ten-minute chat that made a stranger’s day to a stunning ring at 80% off that made my day…Life has sprinkled so many delights and surprises on this trip for me to notice, embrace, and enjoy. What, other than gratitude, would be a more fitting response for such generosity?

So, here you go, my top 3 “secrets” for getting the most out of life: clear intention, trust, and gratitude. Feel free to use them. Then sit back and watch Life as does Its magic!

Questions for You:

  1. What risk are you willing to take for what you really want?
  2. What would you do or let go of if you were to trust Life in your current situation?
  3. What can you appreciate about your life NOW?

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